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on 2023.01.30 at 09:54:14 in London

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Ukraine: Boris Johnson says Putin threatened him with missile strike
Tyre Nichols' lawyer urges lawmakers to pass urgent police reforms
Mining giant 'sorry' over lost radioactive capsule in Australia
Ukraine war: Russian athletes cannot be allowed at Olympics, Zelensky says
UPSC: How Indians crack one of the world's toughest exams
Auckland floods: More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand's largest city
Covid in China: Officials say current wave is 'coming to an end'
Erdogan says Turkey may block Sweden's Nato membership bid
German chancellor says he won't send fighter jets to Ukraine
Iran 'foils drone attack' on military facility in Isfahan
South Africa birthday party shooting: Eight killed in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape
Adani Group says Hindenburg fraud claim 'calculated attack on India'
Nigeria floods: Songs and testimonies from a drowning world
Your pictures on the theme of 'together'
AP deletes ‘the French' tweet and apologises after it is widely mocked
Ukraine war: Funeral held for battleground body collector
Nigeria cost-of-living crisis sparks exodus of doctors
Trump's 2024 campaign has a different look, for now
Tyre Nichols: Memphis reckons with police killing by black officers
The new tech offering relief from the misery of period pain
Unanswered questions from videos of Tyre Nichols' arrest
Mensa: What happens when 'child geniuses' grow up

War in Ukraine
Ukraine war: Auschwitz anniversary marked without Russia
Ukraine war: UN accuses Russia of breaking child protection rules over refugees
Ukraine: US sanctions Chinese firm helping Russia's Wagner Group
How tanks from Germany, US and UK could change the Ukraine war
Why Germany delayed sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
Ukraine weapons: What tanks and other equipment are the world giving?
Ukraine war: Zelensky's government launches anti-corruption drive
Ukraine hit by Russian missiles day after West's offer of tanks
Ukraine war: Resilient civilians return to liberated town of Lyman
Ukraine war: Hiding from Putin's call-up by living off-grid in a freezing forest
Ukraine war: Bakhmut defenders plea for Western tanks
Andrey Medvedev: How Russian mercenary says he made an icy escape to Norway

World
Nigeria extends deadline to exchange old cash
Jerusalem shooting: Israel to speed up gun applications after attacks

US & Canada
New US childhood obesity guidelines criticised by families
Toronto struggles with wave of public transport violence
Television frontman Tom Verlaine dies at 73
Bodycam footage shows moment of Paul Pelosi attack
Jeff Zients: The bagel impresario headed to the White House
US to make it easier for gay men to donate blood
George Santos: Drag queen claims embroil embattled congressman
Taylor Swift: Fans search for clues in Lavender Haze video tease
Colorado bear poses for roughly 400 'selfies' on wildlife camera
Tyre Nichols: Family remembers 'a beautiful soul'
Ukraine's new tanks an upgrade - but may arrive too late
Black Americans struggle with 'triggering' Tyre Nichols video
Who is Jeff Zients, Biden's new chief of staff?

Business
Ryanair and EasyJet ready to snap up Flybe staff
Flybe administration: Scramble to change plans after airline ceases trading
Over-50s at work: 'You feel your usefulness has passed'
Adani Group: Fortune of Asia's richest man hit by fraud claims
LVMH: Luxury giant's sales soar despite China losses
'Elon Musk has made me embarrassed to drive my Tesla now'
Jeremy Hunt says significant tax cuts in Budget unlikely
Rolls-Royce is a burning platform, claims new boss
Cost of living: How onions became a luxury in the Philippines
Hemp makes a comeback in the construction industry
Subscription-based bike hire schemes on a roll
Heat pumps: The 'geeks' obsessing over their new heating systems
Eight-year-old Indian diamond heiress who became a nun
Turning problem sea algae into a replacement for plastic

Tech
Lockdowns linked to tenfold rise in child sex imagery
Warning over risky electric blankets sold online
US hacks back against Hive ransomware crew
Microsoft says services have recovered after widespread outage
Elon Musk says Tesla tweet was genuine in fraud case

Science
Government green heating scheme off to slow start
True wild camping on Dartmoor not threatened say landowners
Asteroid 2023 BU: Space rock passes closer than some satellites
Webb telescope hunts life's icy chemical origins


Ukraine: Boris Johnson says Putin threatened him with missile strike

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64397745, today

Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike in an "extraordinary" phone call in the run up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The then-prime minister said Mr Putin told him it "would only take a minute".

Mr Johnson said the comment was made after he warned the war would be an "utter catastrophe" during a "very long" call in February 2022.

Details of the exchange are revealed in a BBC documentary, examining Mr Putin's interactions with world leaders.

Mr Johnson warned Mr Putin that invading Ukraine would lead to Western sanctions and more Nato troops on Russia's borders.

He also tried to deter Russian military action by telling Mr Putin that Ukraine would not join Nato "for the foreseeable future".

But Mr Johnson said: "He threatened me at one point, and he said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute' or something like that. Jolly.

"But I think from the very relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate."

President Putin had been "very familiar" during the "most extraordinary call", Mr Johnson said.

It is impossible to know if Mr Putin's threat was genuine.

However, given previous Russian attacks on the UK - most recently in Salisbury in 2018 - any threat from the Russian leader, however lightly delivered, is probably one Mr Johnson would have had no choice but to take seriously.

[Boris Johnson met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on 1 February 2022]

Nine days later, on 11 February, defence secretary Ben Wallace flew to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.

He left with assurances that Russia would not invade Ukraine, but Mr Wallace said both sides knew it was a lie.

He described it as a "demonstration of bullying or strength, which is: I'm going to lie to you, you know I'm lying and I know you know I'm lying and I'm still going to lie to you.

"I think it was about saying 'I'm powerful'," Mr Wallace said.

He said the "fairly chilling, but direct lie" had confirmed his belief that Russia would invade.

As he left the meeting, he said Gen Valery Gerasimov - Russia's chief of general staff - told him "never again will we be humiliated".

Less than a fortnight later, as tanks rolled over the border on 24 February, Mr Johnson received a phone call in the middle of the night from President Zelensky.

"Zelensky's very, very calm," Mr Johnson recalled. "But, he tells me, you know, they're attacking everywhere."

Mr Johnson says he offered to help move the president to safety.

"He doesn't take me up on that offer. He heroically stayed where he was."


Tyre Nichols' lawyer urges lawmakers to pass urgent police reforms

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64447897, today

The lawyer representing Tyre Nichols' family has called on the US Congress to pass urgent police reform legislation in the wake of his death.

Mr Nichols, 29, was fatally beaten by five police officers in January.

Speaking to US media, Ben Crump urged President Joe Biden to use Mr Nichols's death to gain support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

And he said Mr Nichols's mother was coping her son's loss by hoping that his death could lead to change.

"She believes in her heart Tyre was sent here for an assignment and that there is going to be greater good that comes from this tragedy," Mr Crump said.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced in 2021 after Mr Floyd was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. His death sparked international protests.

The bill would see a federal ban on the use of chokeholds by police and make it easier to bring charges against offending officers.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives - which was then controlled by the Democratic Party - passed the bill in March 2021, but it was later held up by opposition in the Senate.

"Shame on us if we don't use his tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed," Mr Crump told CNN. The lawyer said if the law did not change, deaths at the hand of police would continue.

Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP civil rights group - also called on legislators to take action.

"By failing to write a piece of legislation, you're writing another obituary," Mr Johnson said in a statement. "We can name all the victims of police violence, but we can't name a single law you have passed to address it."

But the Republican House of Representatives Judiciary chair Jim Jordan warned politicians to not rush legislation.

"These five individuals did not have any respect for life... I don't know if there's anything you can do to stop the kind of evil we saw in that video", he told NBC's Meet the Press programme.

[Mr Nichols taking a selfie]

A childhood friend of Mr Nichols told the BBC his legacy would be preserved through legal reform. Angelina Paxton said he "always wanted to change the world".

Ms Paxton said Mr Nichols was "very passionate about Black Lives Matter".

"He always wanted to make a difference," she said. "If it gives anyone any comfort out of all those pain that we're all going through right now, just know that I can guarantee you he's up there right now smiling, because he finally did what he always wanted to do."

On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department disbanded the so-called Scorpion special unit of which the police officers now charged with murder were members.

The unit was a 50-person team that was tasked with bringing down crime levels - particularly car thefts and gang-related offences.

Scorpion stood for "Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods".

The five officers - Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith - were fired from the Memphis police force last week.

Four of the five posted bail and were released from custody by Friday morning, according to jail records.

Lawyers for Mr Martin and Mr Mills have said their clients will plead not guilty.

In an interview with BBC News on Friday, Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said the Scorpion unit was created to be "more responsive" and "more proactive" to gun violence in the city. But she acknowledged that the officers who brutally beat Tyre Nichols "decided to go off the rails".

"We are doing an individual evaluation of all units," she said. "This is a necessary step. We want to be fully transparent to the community."

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr said two deputy sheriffs who "appeared on the scene following" the confrontation have also been suspending pending an internal investigation.


Mining giant 'sorry' over lost radioactive capsule in Australia

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64448879, today

Mining giant Rio Tinto says it is working with authorities to try to find a radioactive capsule that went missing in Western Australia this month.

"We recognise this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused," the firm told the BBC.

The casing contains a small quantity of radioactive Caesium-137, which could cause serious illness if touched.

It was lost between the town of Newman and the city of Perth, a distance of roughly 1,400km (870 miles).

"As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit," Rio Tinto's Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said in a statement.

"As part of this investigation we are working closely with the contractor to better understand what went wrong in this instance," he added.

The company said the capsule left its Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia on 12 January. It was reported missing on 25 January.

"Rio Tinto engaged a third-party contractor, with appropriate expertise and certification, to safely package the device in preparation for transport off-site ahead of receipt at their facility in Perth. Prior to the device leaving the site, a Geiger counter was used to confirm the presence of the capsule inside the package."

A Geiger counter is an electronic device used for detecting and measuring radiation.

State officials have issued a radiation alert across part of Western Australia.

The small, silver capsule, used as a sensor, is just 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm long.

However, exposure to trace quantities of the metal is like "receiving 10 x-rays in an hour, just to put it in context, and... the amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year, just by walking around," said Western Australia's chief health officer Andrew Robertson.

The state's desert is remote and one of the least populated places in the country. Only one in five of Western Australia's population lives outside of Perth, the state's capital.

However, officials say they are concerned that someone could pick up the capsule, not knowing what it is.

"If you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with with skin damage, including skin burns... and if you have it long enough near you, you could cause what is called acute radiation sickness, and that will take a period of time," Mr Robertson added.

[An illustration showing the size of the capsule]

This incident comes as the company is trying to repair its reputation in Australia after it was hit by a backlash for destroying sacred Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto blasted the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge to expand an iron ore mine.

The incident sparked a major outcry that led to several of the company's top bosses standing down.

In September 2020, then-chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques and other senior executives, including the heads of its iron ore and corporate relations divisions, said they would leave the company.


Ukraine war: Russian athletes cannot be allowed at Olympics, Zelensky says

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64448808, today

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Olympics in Paris would amount to showing that "terror is somehow acceptable".

He said he had raised the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Moscow must not be allowed to use the Olympics for propaganda, he added.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as neutrals at the Olympics.

But Ukraine has threatened to boycott Paris 2024 if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.

Attempts by the IOC "to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable", Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

Russia must not be allowed to use the Games "or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism", he added.

The IOC said this week that Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as "neutral athletes", stating that "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport".

But Mr Zelensky says there can be no neutrality in sport while his country's athletes are dying on the battlefield.

He also drew comparison with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin when the Nazis were in power.

"There was a major Olympic mistake," he said. "The Olympic movement and terrorist states definitely should not cross paths."

The UK government has also condemned the plan to allow athletes to compete neutrally as a "world away from the reality of war".

[Ukrainian service men remove a grad rocket in a damaged house in Kherson]

Mr Zelensky's comments came as Russian forces continued to bombard the Ukrainian region of Kherson into the night, after a day of attacks which left at least three people dead.

Six others were wounded, two of them when a hospital was hit, local officials say.

The Kherson regional administration said the region was shelled almost 40 times on Saturday and was pounded continually on Sunday.

Kherson was the only regional capital to have fallen to Russian forces since the February 2022 invasion, but they were forced into a humiliating retreat in November.

President Zelensky said Russia had also stepped up its attacks in the eastern Donetsk region. He said his forces needed new weapons to confront a "very tough" situation of constant attacks.

"Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine," he said.


UPSC: How Indians crack one of the world's toughest exams

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-64316112, today

For close to three years, Gamini Singla stayed away from friends, did not go on a vacation and avoided family meetings and celebrations.

She stopped binging on takeaways, going to the cinema and stepped away from social media. Instead, at her family home in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, she woke up at the crack of dawn, pored over text books and studied for up to 10 hours a day. She crammed, did mock tests, watched YouTube videos of achievers and read newspapers and self-help books. Her parents and brother became her only companions. "Loneliness will be your companion. This loneliness allows you to grow," Ms Singla says.

She was preparing for the country's civil service exams, one of the toughest tests in the world. Rivalled possibly only by gaokao, China's national college-entrance exam, India's Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams funnel young men and women every year into the country's vast civil service.

A million candidates apply to appear in the gruelling three-stage exam every year. Less than 1% make it to the written test, the second stage. In 2021, when Ms Singla sat for the exam, the success rate was the lowest in eight years. More than 1,800 made it to the interviews. Finally, 685 men and women qualified.

Ms Singla stood third in the exam, along with two other women ahead and behind her, a first in the history of the exam. She qualified to become a part of the elite IAS (Indian administrative service), which mostly runs the country through collectors of India's 766 districts, senior government officials and managers of state-owned companies.

"The day my results came in, I thought a weight had lifted. I went to the temple and then went dancing," the 23-year-old says.

[Gamini Singla with family]

In a country where good private jobs are limited and the state has an overwhelming presence in everyday life, the job of a civil servant is a coveted and powerful one, says Sanjay Srivastava, a sociologist at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. A government job also comes with an array of perquisites like loans, rental subsidies, travel and holidays at concessional rates.

Also, the civil service is of great attraction for people from small towns. "Joining the private sector might be easy enough, but moving up requires cultural capital. On the other hand, getting into [the] civil service is itself cultural capital," says Mr Srivastava.

Like most other aspirants, Ms Singla was an engineering graduate - a computer engineer who also interned with banking giant JP Morgan Chase. And like the others, she had her sights set on eventually becoming a bureaucrat. On a trip to the local government transport office to get her driving licence, she saw a bureaucrat there and sought an appointment with her, seeking her guidance. (She got it.) "The journey is so hard. It takes a long time, and the stakes are so high," she says.

Ms Singla's story of relentless endurance and monkish sacrifice at an age when many don't have a clue about what to do with their lives offers a glimpse into India's brutal exam system: endless cramming, involvement of the family, finding ways to save time and avoiding any distraction and a near-total withdrawal from the world. "There are moments of frustration and tiredness. It's mentally very tiring," she says.

[Last week revisions before the prelims 2021!!/Instagram]

Ms Singla followed what seemed like a marathon training plan. To take care of her health and last the distance, she moved to a diet of fruits, salads, dry fruits and porridge. To make sure no time was wasted, she would jump "200-300 times" in her room after every three hours at the study table instead of stepping out for exercise.

Free time needed to be used wisely so she read self-help books. She took scores of mock tests online to test her abilities. How do you, for example, answer 100 questions in a general knowledge objective test in two hours? "When I listened to videos of [previous] toppers, I realised everyone actually knows answers to 35-40 questions, and the rest is calculated guesswork," says Ms Singla.

Since one of the key exams is held in the winter, she would try to step "outside my comfort zone and experience a cold and disagreeable environment" by choosing the "coldest room with the least sunlight" for mock tests. She tried out three different jackets and chose the one that felt most comfortable. "I had heard of aspirants discussing their inability to write in their ill-suited, heavyweight jackets. So it is all worth it," says Ms Singla. "You are just giving it your best in every way."

The marathon also became a shared experience with her family. Ms Singla's parents, both government doctors, joined enthusiastically. Her father, she says, read at least three newspapers daily - "newspapers make up 80% of your preparations for the exams" - and marked the important news to speed up his daughter's current affairs knowledge. Her brother helped with the mock tests. Her grandparents simply prayed for her success.

No effort was spared to make sure that Ms Singla was undisturbed. When construction work on two buildings opposite her home created a racket and blocked sunlight, her family demolished a room on their terrace to create a quieter and better lit place for her to study. To shield her from inquisitive relatives who wondered why their daughter was missing at family functions, her parents "stopped socialising and avoided family gatherings so I did not feel left out or isolated".

"They are part of my journey. They trod the same path. It's [the exam] a family effort," says Ms Singla.

[Students of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, India ( Lal Bahadur Shastri IAS Academy, Apex training institution in the country for senior members of the civil services in India )]

Ms Singla belongs to India's privileged middle class who face fewer obstacles to their dreams of joining the bureaucracy. But the exams have also created a path of upward mobility for students from deprived backgrounds. Their families sell land and jewellery to send their children to coaching schools in big cities, says Frank Rausan Pereira, who produced a popular current affairs show on state-run TV, which became a hit with civil service aspirants.

Mr Pereira says most of today's aspirants come from India's teeming small towns and villages. He spoke of a young civil servant who was the son of a manual scavenger - someone who cleans human and animal waste from buckets or pits; it's a job performed mostly by members of low-caste communities - and who studied at home, cracked the exam and joined the prestigious foreign (diplomatic) service.

"I know aspirants who have prepared for 16 years after failing to crack the exam more than a dozen times in as many years," says Mr Pereira. (Aspirants have six attempts until the age of 32 - some underprivileged caste groups can sit for the exams as many times as they want. Aspirants can first take the exam on turning 21.)

[Students wearing face masks are seen checking for their enrolment numbers with their admission cards in hand at the examination centre before taking UPSC civil services prelims 2020.]

Ms Singla says becoming a civil servant gives her a "great opportunity to make a true difference and impact many lives" in a vast and complex country. She has written a book on what it takes to "crack the world's toughest exam". It has chapters on 'How to make sacrifices', and 'Dealing with tragedies beyond your control' and 'Handling the pressure from your family', among other things.

Ms Singla told me she sometimes thinks she's "forgotten how to relax". She's able to relax a bit now as she's now training and travelling the country to prepare for her first assignment in the districts. "Life will become hectic again," she says. "And it will become difficult to relax again."

Read more India stories from the BBC:


Auckland floods: More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand's largest city

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-64449248, today

Kiwis in flood-hit northern New Zealand are bracing for more heavy rains as officials issued severe weather alerts.

At least four people have died and a state of emergency was declared in Auckland, which on Friday experienced its worst downpour on record.

About 350 people needed emergency accommodation, New Zealand's prime minister Chris Hipkins said.

"There has been very significant damage across Auckland," Mr Hipkins told the state-owned TV station TVNZ on Monday.

Describing it as a "very significant disaster, the newly appointed PM acknowledged that he was aware of criticism from locals that communications over the floods had been "too few and far between". He added that his government has been supporting local authorities.

With the unprecedented amount of rainfall Auckland has seen since Friday, even "ordinary" torrential rain in the days ahead could cause more flooding and damage than it would usually, the city's mayor Wayne Brown said in a tweet on Monday.

"In parts of the city, the weather looks a bit better - but, don't be fooled, our region is not out of the woods yet," he said.

[Clean up begins at a historic home that was knocked off its foundations in a large slip on January 29, 2023 in Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand.]

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the country's climate science body, said Friday was the wettest day on record for a number of locations in Auckland.

Footage and images online showed people trapped in waist-deep floodwater, rescuers carrying out evacuations on kayaks and grocery items floating down the aisles of several flooded supermarkets.

Auckland Airport, which was temporarily closed due to damage from heavy flooding, has since reopened.

New Zealand media has identified two individuals who died in the floods. Daniel Newth, a 25-year-old arborist, died while kayaking near his North Shore home, and Daniel Mark Miller, 34, was found dead in a culvert in the Auckland suburb Wairu Valley.

[Presentational white space]


Covid in China: Officials say current wave is 'coming to an end'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-64449226, today

Chinese health officials say the country's current wave of Covid-19 infections is "coming to an end".

The number of severe Covid cases and deaths is trending downward, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report.

It also said there had been "no obvious rebound" during Lunar New Year holidays last week, where millions reunited for family gatherings.

There have long been questions raised about China's Covid reporting.

But experts say the decline reported now corresponds with the expected timing of an end to this major wave.

The virus tore through Chinese cities and towns after authorities lifted zero-Covid restrictions in December. However fever clinic visit rates have dropped over 90% through January and hospitalisation rates are down over 85%.

Fears that the virus could surge again during the festive period have also not yet been realised.

In its report, the CDC said: "There has not been an obvious rebound in Covid cases during the Lunar New Year holidays.

"In this time, no new variant has been discovered, and the country's current wave is coming to an end."

It also reported a sharp decline in the daily Covid death toll reported by hospitals - from a peak of 4,300 deaths on 4 January to 896 deaths on 23 January.

Infectious diseases expert Hsu Li Yang told the BBC: "This drop in deaths follows the decline in the first huge wave of cases after China relaxed its restrictions, which is understandable and has been seen in virtually every country experiencing a large Covid wave.

"We will know soon if the Lunar New Year celebrations will trigger another surge in China cases, but it is unlikely to match what was experienced in December and the earlier part of January 2023."

One of China's leading epidemiologists - and former head of the CDC Zeng Guang -had earlier this month warned that cases would surge in rural areas during the new year.

The BBC has also found evidence of a considerable number of Covid-related deaths in China's rural regions, as the virus spread from big cities to more remote areas with older populations.

However the CDC said there had been no immediate spike following the festive period.

It's estimated that 226 million passenger trips were taken during the Lunar New Year festive season from 22-27 January - a 70% increase from last year when pandemic restrictions were still in place across many parts of China.

According to CDC data, Covid deaths halved in consecutive weeks in January. A total of 12,658 deaths were recorded between 13-19 January, while 6,364 deaths were recorded the following week.

In December, Beijing abruptly ended draconian Covid curbs that had seen millions of its citizens locked down over the past three years.

That led to a severe spike in Covid infections and deaths, with some experts estimating a majority of the population contracted Covid in the weeks following.

A Peking University study said that as of 11 January, some 900 million people in China had been infected with the coronavirus, amid multiple reports of overcrowded hospitals and crematoria.

However, Chinese authorities initially maintained that there had only been seven deaths since the end of zero-Covid on 7 December, after narrowing its definition of what counts as a Covid death.

The National Health Commission later reported almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths between 8 December and 12 January, after it began including deaths from underlying conditions as well as respiratory failure caused by Covid.

China's official Covid data is believed to be vastly underreported, and authorities stopped releasing daily caseload reports last month.

Beijing has said it has been sharing Covid data in "a timely, open and transparent manner in accordance with the law."


Erdogan says Turkey may block Sweden's Nato membership bid

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64446439, today

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Ankara may agree to Finland joining Nato, but not Sweden.

He criticised Sweden's refusal to extradite dozens of people allegedly tied to Kurdish militant groups and other critics of his government.

"If you absolutely want to join Nato, you will return these terrorists to us," said Mr Erdogan.

His comments come days after Turkey suspended talks to accept the two Nordic nations as members.

The move was prompted by a series of controversial protests in Stockholm, including one during which a copy of the Koran was burned.

Swedish officials have condemned the protests, but defended the country's free speech laws.

In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied to join Nato last year, ending decades of military non-alignment.

Their application must be unanimously approved by all current Nato members, but Turkey and Hungary have failed to ratify their bids.

In his speech, Mr Erdogan suggested Turkey might now "give a different response concerning Finland," adding that "Sweden will be shocked".

"We gave Sweden a list of 120 persons and told them to extradite those terrorists in their country," said Mr Erdogan. "If you don't extradite them, then sorry about that."

[A puppet hanging upside down with Stockholm City Hall visible in the background]

Sweden has a larger Kurdish diaspora than Finland, and its talks with Ankara over Nato membership have been heated.

Turkey has called on Sweden to distance itself from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

In response, Sweden approved a constitutional amendment which allows it to create tougher anti-terror laws demanded by Turkey.

Both Sweden and Finland have also lifted bans on the sale of military equipment to Turkey, introduced after Ankara's military intervention in Syria in 2019.

But Turkey has heavily criticised Sweden over recent protests in Stockholm, including one by a Kurdish support group which hung an effigy of Mr Erdogan from a lamp-post.

Earlier this month, Mr Erdogan said Turkish elections had been brought forward by a month to 14 May.

Helsinki's Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, has since suggested the "pressure" of the looming ballot has caused discussions to become "heated" within Turkey and that negotiations should be paused.

The diplomat also stressed his country should join at the same time as Sweden - appearing to backtrack on his earlier suggestion that Finland could be forced to join without its Nordic neighbour.

[Map of Nato members and when they joined]


German chancellor says he won't send fighter jets to Ukraine

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64446937, today

The German chancellor has ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, just days after committing to supplying tanks.

In an interview with a German newspaper, Olaf Scholz warned against a bidding war for weapons.

But Ukraine has asked allied nations to create a "fighter jet coalition" to bolster their capabilities.

The US said it would discuss the idea of supplying jets "very carefully" with Kyiv on Thursday.

In an interview with Tagesspiegel, Mr Scholz said his focus was on the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

"The fact we've only just made a decision [on sending tanks] and the next debate is firing up in Germany, that just seems frivolous", he said.

On Wednesday Germany committed to supplying 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, after weeks of pressure from allies.

Following Germany's commitment to send the tanks, the US said it would provide Ukraine with its M1 Abrams tanks.

Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, Andrii Melnyk, has called for the creation of a "fighter jet coalition" that would provide Ukraine with US F-16s and F-35s, Eurofighters, Tornados, French Rafales and Swedish Gripen jets.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine's Freedom Television Network they also needed missiles "to drastically reduce the Russian army's key weapon".

And Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky echoed that in a daily video address where he said the country needed the US-made ATACMS missile, which has a range of 185 miles (297km).

He said the missiles would help Ukraine anticipate Russian attacks on urban areas and civilians.

Washington has so far refused to provide that weapon.

In the Tagesspiegel interview, Mr Scholz reiterated that Nato was not at war with Russia, "we will not allow such an escalation," he said.

He confirmed that he speaks regularly to Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, with the most recent call between the two in December 2022.

"We need to talk to each other," he said, but added that he was always clear that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was absolutely unacceptable and only the withdrawal of its troops would resolve the situation.


Iran 'foils drone attack' on military facility in Isfahan

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-64445306, today

The Iranian defence ministry says it has foiled a drone attack on a military facility in the city of Isfahan.

The ministry said three drones were involved but there were no casualties.

One drone was destroyed by air defence systems and two were caught by "defence traps", causing minor damage to a building, the ministry added.

The extent of damage to the site has not been confirmed by the BBC, and there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.

It comes amid heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and its supply of arms to Russia's war in Ukraine.

The country has also been wracked by internal turmoil in recent months, spurred by the death of a woman who was detained for violating Iran's strict dress code.

In a statement to Iranian state media, the defence ministry said the drone strike happened on Saturday night at around 23:30 local time (20:00 GMT).

Local authorities did not comment on activities at the site, but called it a "workshop". The IRNA news agency said the strike had targeted "an ammunition manufacturing plant".

Isfahan province is home to a large air base and several nuclear sites, including including Natanz, which is at the centre of Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

In a separate incident on Saturday, the IRNA new agency reported a fire broke out at an oil facility near the north-western city of Tabriz. No details about the cause have been revealed.

In recent years, there have been a number of explosions, fires and cyber attacks on Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities.

Iran accused Israel of sabotaging Natanz in 2021. In response, Israel's defence chief said the country's operations in the region "are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy".

And in 2020 Iran accused Israel of assassinating one of its top nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.


South Africa birthday party shooting: Eight killed in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-64450603, today

Eight people have been killed and four others injured during a mass shooting at a birthday party in Gqeberha city in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.

Two unidentified gunmen "randomly shot at guests" who were dancing and mingling at a house party in Kwazakhle township, police say.

No arrests have been made but a manhunt is under way.

Those killed and injured have not been identified but police said the owner of the attacked house was among them.

"These victims were killed by criminals, and we will not rest until we find out what happened and who was responsible for [this] callous and cold-blooded attack on these unsuspecting victims," said Eastern Cape Police Commissioner Nomthetheleli Lillian Mene about Sunday afternoon's attack.

The police minister and the national police commissioner are expected to visit Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth, on Monday.

South Africa has one of the highest gun crime rates in the world but random mass shootings are uncommon.

Last year, the country saw a string of shootings in separate taverns which left more than 20 people dead. Those shootings are still under investigation.


Adani Group says Hindenburg fraud claim 'calculated attack on India'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64448880, today

The company owned by Asia's richest man Gautam Adani has issued a detailed rebuttal of allegations of wrongdoing by short seller Hindenburg Research.

In a document, which runs to more than 400 pages, Adani Group says the report is a "calculated attack on India".

Later on Sunday, Hindenburg said "Adani failed to specifically answer 62 of our 88 questions" detailed in its report.

Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate, had more than $50bn ($40.4bn) wiped off its stock market value last week.

It also said that it had complied with all local laws and had made the necessary regulatory disclosures.

"All transactions entered into by us with entities who qualify as 'related parties' under Indian laws and accounting standards have been duly disclosed by us," Adani Group said in a 413-page document issued late on Sunday.

It went on to accuse the Hindenburg report of being intended to enable the US-based short seller to book gains, without citing evidence.

"This is rife with conflict of interest and intended only to create a false market in securities to enable Hindenburg, an admitted short seller, to book massive financial gain through wrongful means at the cost of countless investors," it added.

"Short-selling" is when someone bets against a company's share price in the expectation that it will fall.

In response Hindenburg said: "To be clear, we believe India is a vibrant democracy and an emerging superpower with an exciting future."

"We also believe India's future is being held back by the Adani Group, which has draped itself in the Indian flag while systematically looting the nation."

It comes as Adani Group's flagship firm, Adani Enterprises, is this week pushing ahead with a $2.5bn share sale.

Last week, a report published by Hindenburg questioned the Adani Group's ownership of companies in offshore tax havens such as Mauritius and the Caribbean.

It also claimed Adani companies had "substantial debt" which put the entire group on a "precarious financial footing".

But on Thursday, Adani Group said it was evaluating "remedial and punitive action" against Hindenburg Research in the US and India.

Adani said it had always been "in compliance with all laws".

Also on Thursday, Hindenburg responded to Adani's comments, saying the firm had not addressed "a single substantive issue we had raised".


Nigeria floods: Songs and testimonies from a drowning world

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-64416131, yesterday

Communities hit by Nigeria's worst recorded floods are at the centre of an exhibition by photographer Gideon Mendel. He took portraits of people standing amid their drowned homes in the southern state of Bayelsa:

In late November last year I travelled to Nigeria, more than a month after the floodwater had arrived and I found many houses were still inundated.

With the water slowly receding, my subjects were able to take me to their homes, often travelling by canoe.

[Gift Ikuru standing in flood water in her home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"This is the third time I have experienced a flood, but this is by far the worst," said Gift Ikuru (pictured above) from Ogbia municipality.

"All of my belongings are destroyed. There is no shelter for us, so we have been sleeping on the roadside."

I was repeatedly moved by the welcome I received in this community - from people dealing with such difficult circumstances. So many people wanted to have their experience documented that I often had a queue of people waiting to be photographed.

My subjects embraced this moment of witnessing, facing the camera with such dignity, like Shiphrah Timbiri Otuoke (above).

She broke into spontaneous song as she stood outside her home, expressing sorrow but also a resilience shown by so many in Ogbia where many own small plots of land to grow crops.

"On our farm the water was above our heads so we had to take the risk of diving to harvest our cassava," she said.

"It brought so much destruction and hunger to our community. I am a sociology student and the flood was a disaster to me academically. I lost so many learning hours. My textbooks, handouts and notebooks are all damaged. I don't know where to start from now because I support myself with farming as a student."

[Floodwater at Dorca Executive Apartments (student accommodation) in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

The residents living on the lower level of Dorcas Apartments, accommodation for university students, have been all flooded.

"None of us have had any assistance in this terrible situation," said Joy Christian, whose husband is a caretaker of the building.

[Eruabai Ase standing in flood water in her home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"We have seen huge rains this year, more than ever, but we know that this flood came from a dam being opened in Cameroon," said Eruabai Ase Otuaba (above).

"We thought the 2012 floods were the worst but the level is much higher this time. There is nowhere to sleep and the water came with sickness. With so many mosquitoes malaria is here.

"I am living with my family on the top level of the incomplete building. We have to use this contaminated water for washing and drinking."

[Satellite dishes at Dorca Executive Apartments (student accommodation) in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

Ms Otuaba said the displaced families had received no help from the government.

"The floodwater destroyed our store of food supplies from our family farm so we have nothing to feed on. The foundation of our house is also damaged. We do not know if it still will be standing after having so much water inside.

"But in our community we support each other. When there is food we share it. I have a degree in business studies, but I am not employed at present. I work on our family farm."

[Prince Ogiasa Lume standing in flood water in his home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"We were told that a flood is coming but we did not prepare for something of this magnitude, particularly because in this community flooding is rare," said farmer Prince Ogiasa Lume Otuoke (above).

"The flood came suddenly. There was no time for preparation as the water was overflowing with extreme force. I did not have the chance to dive into the water and save my crops.

"Our main crop here is plantain, and for the planting we need the suckers. But they will have all rotted away under the floodwater."

[People playing in flood water flood waters outside Dorca Executive Apartments (student accommodation) in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

According to the UN's disaster relief agency (Ocha), the flooding in Nigeria affected more than three million people.

More than 600 people lost their lives and another 1.5 million people were forced to flee their homes. It extensively damaged houses, farms and basic infrastructure and decimated livelihoods across the country.

"The damage to staple foods such as cassava, rice, and plantain, among other crops, risks aggravating the already alarming food and nutrition crisis across Nigeria," said Ocha's Matthias Schmale.

[Edigiraru Donald and Iruaro Robert standing in flood water in their home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"The experience was not easy. We have been moving from one place to another for shelter. We are now living in the upstairs of an incomplete building," said Iruaro Robert Otuaba, a school student (above right).

"We lost our personal belongings but I was most upset to see all my children's schoolbooks in the water," said his mother Edigiraru Donald (above left).

"All the crops from our farm are destroyed. We are seriously suffering now because I can't do any business to survive."

[Greater Evangelical World Crusade Church in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

This is the outside of a church in Ogbia, showing how slow it was taking for the waters to recede.

"I remember the flood when 2012 when I was a boy, but that was not nearly as bad as this. Nobody in our community expected it to be this huge," said Mr Otuaba.

[Orubo Oro standing in flood water in her home in Yenagoa Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

For farmer Orubo Oro Tombia (above), from neighbouring Yenagoa municipality, the worst aspect has been the loss of cassava stems: "It is a disaster to me in so many ways and the cause of so much stress.

"The farmland is submerged so all the stems are dead. That means there will be no crop in the coming year."

[Toilets at the Greater Evangelical World Crusade Church in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"We know that many things caused this flood. A dam over the border in Cameroon released water, and our government has failed to prepare for this by building a dam to curtail it," she said.

"I also believe that climate change caused the unusual rains and the overflow of the dam. I have a canoe, so at least I am able to move around and return to my home."

[Fidelia Shedrack standing in flood water in her home in Yenagoa Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

Fidelia Shedrack Igbogene (above), also in Yenagoa, said her family were the only ones left on her street as they had an upper floor: "Where we are here there is no comfort because the building is unfinished. Mosquitos feast on us. The situation is terrible and bad.

"I make a living farming fish and we had two fishponds. They were washed away and I have lost all my fish."

[Winner Odums standing in flood water outside her home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"I am a university student. Many of my academic books are damaged, and how can I study when I am living like this?" said Winner Odums (above) in Ogbia.

"It's hard for my family to survive with food prices so high and all of our farm produce destroyed. With all the water still here it makes life unbearable."

[Rain and flood waters outside Dorca Executive Apartments (student accommodation) in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

Many people have been struggling to find refuge - this is Dorcas Apartments where only the upper levels were accessible.

"Someone gave us his place to stay but now he has just asked us to leave so we are now staying by the roadside," said Aruaman Ase in Ogbia.

[Alawei Christian standing in flood water in his home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"I work in a student building and most of their belongings under my watch as the apartment caretaker are gone, submerged under floodwaters," said Alawei Christian (above).

"This is my fourth experience of flooding, but it is much worse this time, the biggest of all of them. It has really affected my family. We have lost so much, including 25 chickens."

[Floodwater outside a door at Dorca Executive Apartments (student accommodation) in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

"There has been some help offered, but not nearly enough," said Mr Christian.

"Imagine a bag of rice and beans for hundreds of people in the community. We received just a single cup measure of rice and beans."

[Janet Eke standing in flood water at her home in Ogbia Municipality, Bayelsa State, Nigeria - November 2022]

Farmer Janet Eke Otuoke is sleeping at her brother's home in Ogbia: "We are seven people in that small room with our children, living and managing together.

"I also lost all my cassava stems, so for us to plant next year it means we would need to buy them. But each stem goes for more than a 1,000 naira [$2.20, £1.75], which is far beyond our means.

"My appeal to government is that they should help us to continue farming and also help with the properties that have been so damaged."

Interviews by Tife Owalabi and Stanley Boroh.

Gideon Mendel's exhibition Fire / Flood is showing in London at the Soho Photography Quarter, part of The Photographers' Gallery, until May 2023.

Images subject to copyright.


Your pictures on the theme of 'together'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-64424297, yesterday

We asked our readers to send in their best pictures on the theme of "together". Here is a selection of the photographs we received from around the world.

[Blue ring]

[Great Crested Grebes on Lake Wanaka in New Zealand]

[Shadow of family on sand]

[Dancers]

[Vultures]

[Land Couples sculpture]

[Feet marks in sand]

[Family stone at Leeds United Football Club]

[Elephant and calf]

[Silhouetted figures]

[Man and his dog]

[Teddy bears]

[Pears]

[A girl and her dog]

[Lego figures]

[Family heading to the coast]

The next theme is "winter walks" and the deadline for entries is 7 February 2023.

The pictures will be published later that week and you will be able to find them, along with other galleries, on the In Pictures section of the BBC News website.

You can upload your entries on this page or email them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk.

Terms and conditions apply.

Further details and themes are at: We set the theme, you take the pictures.

All photographs subject to copyright.


AP deletes ‘the French' tweet and apologises after it is widely mocked

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64436973, 2 days ago

The Associated Press, the biggest news agency in the United States, has apologised after it was ridiculed for warning journalists against referring to "the French".

The AP stylebook Twitter account had recommended writers avoid using "the" in phrases like "the disabled, the poor and the French".

It said this could be dehumanising.

The French embassy responded by briefly changing its name to the "Embassy of Frenchness in the United States".

"We just wondered what the alternative to the French would be," Pascal Confavreux, the embassy spokesman, told the New York Times. "I mean, really."

The original AP tweet received more than 20 million views and 18,000 retweets before being deleted.

It was widely mocked on social media.

The writer Sarah Haider joked that there was "nothing as dehumanizing as being considered one of the French" and that a better term was "suffering from Frenchness".

Ian Bremmer, a political scientist, suggested "people experiencing Frenchness" as an alternative.

After it deleted the tweet, the AP stylebook said its reference to French people was "inappropriate" but that it "did not intend to offend".

"Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But "the" terms for any people can sound dehumanising and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals," it wrote.

"That is why we recommend avoiding general 'the' labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the wealthy, the disabled, the college-educated," it wrote.

For example, a better term than "the poor" was "people with incomes below the poverty line", it added.

Lauren Easton, the vice president of AP corporate communications, told the French daily newspaper Le Monde: "The reference to 'the French' as well as the reference to 'the college educated' is an effort to show that labels shouldn't be used for anyone, whether they are traditionally or stereotypically viewed as positive, negative or neutral."

The AP stylebook is considered one of the best style guides for journalists and other writers, particularly in the US.


Ukraine war: Funeral held for battleground body collector

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64446436, today

Against a backdrop of muffled booms from the frontlines to the south and east, people sank to their knees and threw roses in front of the van as it inched past them.

Then, as the back door opened and a wooden coffin was pulled out, the sobbing began.

"My son! Why?" cried Ludmilla Sosnenko, clutching her daughter for comfort.

There have been many untimely, unexpected funerals in this northern Donbas town in recent months, but this one, unusually, was not for a soldier or a regular civilian.

Denys Sosnenko - a 21-year-old former Ukrainian national kickboxing champion - volunteered last year to work as a body collector for a charitable organisation known as Black Tulip, who scour the frontlines for the abandoned corpses of soldiers, both Ukrainian and Russian.

"Denys - there are many angels on your shoulders today - the angels of those you brought back home," said Alexey Yukov, the local head of Black Tulip, addressing the crowd. "Because of your work so many soldiers, who died in places no one would ever have looked, have been reunited with their families."

[Denys Sosnenko's father, mother and sister pictured at the funeral]

Sosnenko died last week when the van he was driving - a van very much like the one that carried his body into the town square - hit an anti-tank mine close to the frontlines.

"He always said 'this is my mission - I have to do this'. It was dangerous work, but he would reassure us, saying 'don't worry, we are protecting the souls of the dead,'" his mother Ludmilla said. "He was always cheerful and had big plans for life after the war."

Last year, the BBC filmed Sosnenko and his team at work more than once.

He spoke of the horrors of the job, picking bodies up, piece by piece, and of the constant dangers - not just from the war raging around them, but from boobytraps often hidden beneath corpses, allegedly by retreating Russian troops. The team often use drones and other equipment to search for explosive devices.

[Image of people gathered around a coffin at Denys Sosnenko's funeral]

But Sosnenko and his colleagues also talked passionately about the importance of their work.

Many of the bodies they've collected over the past 11 months have been those of Russian soldiers which have then been exchanged, across the frontlines, for the bodies of missing Ukrainian servicemen.

"We feel a sense of grace in doing this, in bringing people home to their families," Artur Semeyko - who worked alongside Sosnenko - said, recalling the peace they had brought to people who had previously been unable to arrange a proper funeral for their missing relatives.

[Image of people gathered around a coffin at Denys Sosnenko's funeral]

Speaking after Sosnenko's funeral, in a snow-bound cemetery on the edge of Slovyansk, Mr Semeyko insisted that nothing had changed.

"We are glad we were able to bury him with honour," said Mr Semeyko. "He accomplished so much in such a short life, but now we must continue our work to bring more people home."

"We will return to work as soon as possible," agreed Mr Yukov.

"We will go back, even if it costs us our lives," he added. "We realise that we don't have time to mourn, because the war goes on and so many lads are dying. They too, must be brought home."


Nigeria cost-of-living crisis sparks exodus of doctors

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-64417130, today

Africa's largest economy, Nigeria, is in the process of introducing new banknotes for the first time in more than 20 years. The move is an attempt to reignite confidence in the currency, the naira, which is under severe pressure. With inflation at more than 20%, people are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. It is leading to the largest exodus of young professionals in years.

"Imagine going to the grocery store one day, and everything has tripled in price? How do you even cope? You have a family at home. What do you cut out of the budget?" Oroma Cookey Gam tells me by Zoom, her face incredulous.

The fashion designer left Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, with her young family a year ago for the UK capital, London. Her husband and business partner Osione, an artist, was granted a Global Talent visa, which enables leaders in academia, arts and culture, as well as digital technology to work in the UK.

She says it had become too expensive to raise their young family in Lagos. "Our money was buying us less and less. We weren't able to pay our bills, we weren't able to do normal things that we were doing."

Oroma studied law at the UK's University of Northumbria and moved back to Nigeria almost 20 years ago, keen to use her degree to help develop her country. Along with Osione, she eventually set up This Is Us, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand that uses local materials and artisans, including cotton grown and dyed in northern Nigeria.

Initially, the cost of living crisis wasn't impacting them.

"Because we are 100% sourced in Nigeria, things were not as terrible for us as it was for other people," Oroma says. "So when everyone was increasing their prices, we skipped a couple of increases because we could manage."

[Oroma Cookey Gam]

But eventually their Nigerian customer base was finding it harder to afford non-essential items like clothing - particularly when food accounts for 63% of their spending. This means when the price of food goes up, people have less disposable income.

Oroma says it is particularly bad for young Nigerians. "Speaking to my mum, one thing that I realised is that when they were younger, things were a lot easier for them. They could afford to buy houses, cars.

"I always felt like: 'What is going on with me?' I'm failing because I can't do all the things my mum was doing, but I realised that the country is not working for me."

She is not the only one to feel this way. Nigeria is experiencing its worst wave of emigration in years. Reliable statistics are hard to find, but the number of Nigerians granted UK work visas has quadrupled since 2019. And 700% more visas have been awarded to Nigerian students.

There are long queues outside immigration processing centres and embassies every day, and everyone here seems to know someone who's leaving or trying to relocate abroad.

The term "japa", which means "to run, flee or escape" in Yoruba, has become a popular topic of conversation online, as well as on radio and TV chat shows.

Most of those who can afford to leave the country legally are well educated. They include doctors, nurses, engineers and IT professionals. It's led some to call the exodus a "brain drain".

The Nigeria Medical Association, says at least 50 doctors leave Nigeria every week to work abroad. Poor working conditions, coupled with bad pay and the rising cost of living are the main factors.

Kunle Ibisola is a junior doctor who used to work at the University College Hospital (UCH), in the south-western city of Ibadan. He now works for NHS Scotland.

[Dr Kunle Ibisola]

"My story is the story of most Nigerian doctors," he tells me over the phone. "I never wanted to leave Nigeria. My intention was to start my residency there, become a consultant and practice in my country.

"The main reason I left is salary, and the cost of living. In the UK, if I work six to eight hours of locum work [overtime] and I convert that to naira, it will be the equivalent of my monthly salary in Nigeria. And that's not even including my main UK salary."

He says a year ago his hospital in Nigeria started haemorrhaging doctors.

"Some doctors didn't get paid for six to nine months, because there was an issue with the federal payment system. Some senior colleagues couldn't afford to drive to work or send their children to school. That was an eye-opener for a lot of people."

His wife and children are planning to join him in Scotland soon. When I ask him what he thinks the future holds for Nigeria, he grows pensive.

"If I think about it too much, it's depressing because even people currently in medical school are all planning to leave. If you aren't planning to leave, people think you're unfortunate or you don't have money."

I have spoken to half a dozen doctors, all with similar stories. Overworked and underpaid, they all decided to relocate over the past two years.

For those left behind, the pressure is immense. Cheta Nwanze, an economic analyst at SBM Intelligence, says Nigeria's current high rate of inflation is mainly caused by food inflation.

"SBM has this proxy for food inflation called the Jollof Index," he explains, referring to the tomato-based rice dish, popular across West Africa. "We calculate the average cost of making a pot of jollof rice for a family of five. It was just under 4,000 naira at the start of 2016, and now it's around 10,000 naira [$22, £18] - so it's more than doubled in five years."

[Jollof rice]

He explains that although Nigeria has been affected by some of the same drivers of inflation as elsewhere in the world, namely the war in Ukraine and the 2020 pandemic, there are additional factors unique to the country.

He says that many farmers in the north, where much of the country's food comes from, have been unable to plant their crops in recent years because of attacks by Islamist militants and kidnappers.

"When you couple that with the government's protectionist policies with respect to food imports, and Nigeria's growing population, it means there's less food for more mouths to feed, which drives up inflation."

The impact of this can be seen in the country's markets. In Ajah, a small food market in a residential suburb of Lagos, there are fewer people than usual.

Omowunmi Ajekigbe, a market trader, is grating okra under a huge parasol. "Things weren't too expensive last year," she tells me, "but this year, it's too much. You used to see lots of customers rushing about, but now... you barely see anybody.

At a nearby stall, Cordelia Fidelis, a young woman with long braids and a big smile, is haggling with a vegetable seller. She owns a catering business and comes to the market every day.

"The cost of goods is alarming - in just two months the price of yams has more than doubled. It's crazy, I swear it's crazy, everything is so expensive. A box of egg is expensive, beef is expensive, palm oil is so expensive."

[Crowds of people walking through Lagos]

Some have started taking drastic action to manage their expenses. Angela Chukwulozie is a retired teacher who now sells Italian shoes. "Since the price of everything has gone up, I've cut back on how many meals my family and I eat every day. Instead of eating three times in a day we now eat twice."

The economy is one of the key concerns for voters in next month's elections. Despite being Africa's largest economy, four out of 10 Nigerians live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. All of the main candidates have promised to improve the country's economy if elected, but there is scepticism as to whether they can deliver.

The Central Bank says the change of currency, which must be completed by 10 February when the old banknotes will no longer be legal tender, will help bring some of the cash currently being hoarded by individuals and companies back into the banking system.

It says 80% of the notes currently in circulation are outside banks. The organisation hopes the change will give it a better understanding of the money circulating in the economy so it can better manage inflation. Whether or not it will be successful is debatable.

Back in London, Oroma is optimistic, despite the hardships her country is facing.

"There's no place like home. I go back to Nigeria every three months, because when I haven't been there, I literally feel like I'm dying.

"I feel like Nigeria is at the point where, if we can change now, it's not too late. We just need some basics: people need to be educated, we need electricity, we need roads. If we can just do these three things and improve security, I think the potential in Nigeria is amazing."

[Nigeria election graphic]

[Nigeria election graphic]


Trump's 2024 campaign has a different look, for now

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64442720, yesterday

Donald Trump's announcement that he's running for US president in 2024 wasn't a lark, or a ploy to avoid prosecution, as some have speculated. He's hitting the road and laying the kind of groundwork necessary for a serious bid to recapture the White House.

Nearly three months after announcing his campaign, the former president made his first campaign foray out of his adopted home state of Florida on Saturday.

In New Hampshire, he addressed a meeting of the Republican Party and announced the outgoing state party chair would be a senior adviser to his campaign. And at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina, he received the endorsements of the state's governor, Henry McMaster, and Senator Lindsey Graham.

The latter, a Trump confidante who expressed some disillusionment after the Capitol riot on 6 January 2021, is now back firmly in the fold.

"How many times have you heard, 'We like Trump policies, but we want somebody new?" Mr Graham asked the crowd. "There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump. I was there."

Mr Trump once again denied his 2020 defeat and told supporters that he - unlike any possible Republican alternatives - would be the most effective nominee in 2024.

"To change the whole system, you need a president who can take on the whole system and a president who can win," he said from the state capitol's main hall.

In both stops, Mr Trump touted what he said was his record of success during his presidency and attacked President Joe Biden's record on crime, immigration and the economy.

Across the street, Todd Gerhardt, a Republican district executive committee member from nearby Charleston, sold honey in Trump-shaped plastic bottles.

Mr Gerhardt was an early supporter of Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, organised a rally for him on South Carolina's posh Kiawah Island, and recently visited the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate for a fundraiser and to provide his honey for the campaign's gift bags.

He said Mar-a-Lago had a festive atmosphere as the Trump team geared up for the coming fight and he dismissed concerns that Republican voters, in South Carolina and across the US, might be looking for a different nominee this time around.

"When people talk about other candidates running and they say I'm going to do this, or I'm going to do that, Trump has actually done it," Gerhardt says. "He has all the oxygen in the room."

[Todd Gerhardt and his business partner, Jeff Fitzharris]

Earlier in the day, at a street market a few blocks away from the capitol, however, Mr Trump's visit to Columbia seemed hardly to register. A patron at a local coffee shop groused about it being inappropriate for the former president to hold a campaign event on state property, but most did not even know he was in town.

"There doesn't seem to be the same enthusiasm for Trump this time around," said another local.

It's no coincidence that the first two stops of Mr Trump's third presidential campaign were South Carolina and New Hampshire. The two states could prove to be central to Mr Trump's strategy to retake the White House.

While Iowa is the first state to hold a Republican presidential nomination contest in 2024, Mr Trump finished third there in 2016 and the evangelical Christians who dominate the state's Republican electorate could be eying other possible candidates, like former Vice-President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

New Hampshire and South Carolina, however, provided Mr Trump with a one-two punch that catapulted him to the front in 2016 - a lead he never relinquished.

They could do the same in 2024. In fact, every Republican presidential nominee since 1980 has won the South Carolina primary, making it unique among the traditional early-voting states.

South Carolina could prove to be a unique challenge for Mr Trump this time around, however. He faces potential challenges from Senator Tim Scott as well as the state's former governor, Nikki Haley.

If this is a pivotal moment for Mr Trump, it comes at a time when public opinion polls are starting to stabilise for him after his support dropped in the aftermath of Republicans' disappointing results in November's midterm congressional elections.

An Emerson Poll conducted earlier this week found 55% of Republican voters supporting Mr Trump, well ahead of the 29% for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has not announced a presidential bid but is viewed to be the former president's most formidable rival. A Monmouth poll in December had Mr DeSantis ahead by double-digits.

Earlier this week, Meta announced that it was lifting the suspension it had placed on Mr Trump's accounts in the aftermath of the attack on the US Capitol by his supporters. Although the former president has yet to resume posting to his accounts, his return could provide yet another opportunity for voter outreach - and fundraising - as his still minimally staffed campaign gears up for its 2024 run.

If rallies and Facebook donations were the fuel for Mr Trump's past White House bids, his South Carolina stop was a different kind of operation.

With only 300 announced attendees, it was a decidedly low-key event compared to his typical arena gatherings, with their carnival atmosphere. Attire tended toward sport coats and dresses, not Make America Great Again hats and Let's Go Brandon t-shirts.

To win a third Republican presidential nomination, however, Mr Trump will need the support of the political rank-and-file in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as his rally-going loyalists. And while Mr Trump's national polls show continued strength, a recent South Carolina survey had nearly half of Republican voters expressing a preference for "someone else" besides Mr Trump.

"Someone else" will not appear on primary ballots, however. And with just over a year until voting begins, while he is still the only announced candidate, Donald Trump is testing out new ways to make that pitch.

"They said he's not doing rallies and he's not campaigning, maybe he's lost his step," Mr Trump said in New Hampshire. "I'm more angry now and I'm more committed now than I ever was."


Tyre Nichols: Memphis reckons with police killing by black officers

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64434333, 2 days ago

At the VIP Barbershop less than a mile away from where Tyre Nichols was attacked by five Memphis Police officers, PJ, the shop's owner, described the moment he realised that Mr Nichols was from his community.

He recognised him as the quiet young man who would skate through his shop's parking lot.

"He would ride his skateboard with headphones on, just coasting and minding his business," he said. "He never bothered anyone."

As PJ spoke about Mr Nichols, 29, his violent death and the video of his beating that's soon to be released, the barbershop's lunchtime crowd nodded in agreement.

"It's a shame, it's embarrassing," said a man named London, adding that it's painful to add yet another name to the long list of unarmed black men killed by police.

More difficult to discuss perhaps, was the race of the police officers themselves. All five of the men, now facing murder charges, are black too.

"I heard a couple of them were just standing around looking instead of saying, 'Hey man don't do that, stop!' You're just as guilty if you just stand there and let that happen," PJ said.

It makes Mr Nichols' death feel different, he added.

It looked different, too, from some of the most infamous cases of police violence or killings involving black victims and primarily white officers: Rodney King in Los Angeles, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But experts on race and policing told the BBC that the involvement of black officers in Mr Nichols' death was unsurprising.

"I wasn't surprised because Memphis is a majority black city," said Alexis Hoag-Fordjour, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice. She practised law in Memphis for a decade. "The elected officials, those that work for the city, the county, there's a lot of black leadership."

Indeed, under Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis - the first black woman to serve in that role for the city - the majority of the force is black, according to the city's website.

But there is no clear answer as to why these officers attacked Mr Nichols and how, exactly, the race of all six men may have led to his death.

Chief Davis told the BBC News she still struggles to explain what happened, two weeks after she first saw the video of Mr Nichols' beating.

"The mentality of what I saw, it's very difficult to explain," she said, adding that she "can't answer" if the encounter would have ended differently had Mr Nichols been white. "It doesn't matter what colour these officers were, doesn't matter what colour the driver was. If you look at the video, race has nothing to do with it," she said.

Mr Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, told the BBC that it was the race of the victim - in this case her son - and not the race of the perpetrators that mattered.

"It's not about the colour of the police officer. We don't care if it's black, white, pink, purple. What they did was wrong," she said.

"And what they're doing to the black communities is wrong. We're not worried about the race of the police officer. We're worried about the conduct of the police officers."

Professor Hoag agrees. The race of police officers is not the primary issue, she said. Instead, it's a problem of policing.

"Policing in this country is focused on control, subordination and violence - regardless of the race of the officer," she said. "Society views black people as inherently dangerous and criminal... even if you have black people in the position of law enforcement, that doesn't mean that proposition goes away."

According to data collection by Mapping Police Violence, black people in the US are approximately three times more likely to be killed in comparison to their white counterparts.

The picture is less clear on the race of officers who perpetrate police brutality.

"We do know that there is more anti-black bias among white officers than black officers but we also know that black people and black officers have anti-black bias too. We're talking about a difference in degree," said Khalil Gibran Muhammad a professor of race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

The Stanford prison experiment tells us that "bad things happen in places built to do bad things", he said. "Anyone who dons the uniform is more likely on average to engage in abusive behaviour directed toward a black person."

Rodney King, in his memoir, talked about being abused by white and black officers alike.

Frank Sykes, a former Tennessee deputy sheriff, who is also African American, told the BBC this abusive behaviour comes down to how officers are trained - something that caused him to leave the force.

Officers "will judge a person off a look because you've been trained if 'they look this way, they're bad'", he said. Until Americans take a closer look at how officers are taught, he said, these tragic incidents of police brutality would continue to happen.  

"It's bigger than just the personal officers, it's something that within the whole process of training, that keeps pushing these things to happen," he said. "And it's going to continue creating the same outcome of us vs them."

On Friday afternoon, the family of Mr Nichols held a press conference. As their lawyer, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, spoke, PJ turned the volume up on the barbershop TV.

But if he and the VIP patrons were looking for a straightforward answer to this latest incident of police brutality, they wouldn't get one.

Mr Crump urged the country to focus on changing the culture of policing that allows any officer - regardless of race - to have such a callous disregard for the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.

As Mr Crump spoke, one man shook his head. "Memphis is complicated man," he said.


The new tech offering relief from the misery of period pain

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64397795, today

When Paula Fischer first read about the development of a wearable bodysuit that helps to relieve menstrual pain, the 33-year-old says she was "very excited to try it".

Like many women, she experiences severe discomfort during her periods, and she was hoping to find an alternative solution to painkillers, which only helped for a couple of hours.

"I was often in so much pain during my periods that I couldn't get up from the couch to do my work," says Paula, who lives in Budapest, Hungary. "This affected everything - my mood, motivation, my ability to perform."

Then two years ago, she saw a notice on social media from a Hungarian start-up called Alpha Femtech, asking for volunteers to help in the testing and development of a new bodysuit that aims to reduce period pain.

Applicants had to complete a survey about their menstrual cycle, and then a doctor who specialises in women's health chose the most suitable participants. Paula was one of those picked.

The resulting bodysuit, called Artemis, will be available to buy in the UK and the EU for the first time later this year. It works via built-in heat panels and tens (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) gel pads.

[Two models wearing Artemis bodysuits]

The latter, which are often used by women during childbirth, emit electrical pulses. These are said to block pain signals from reaching the brain. Meanwhile, the heat panels soothe the uterus and surrounding muscles.

To power the bodysuit the user attaches a small, palm-sized, combined battery pack and tens machine that fits in a small pocket on the suit, or can just be clipped on. This then connects wirelessly by Bluetooth to an app on the user's smartphone, which is used to adjust both heat and electricity levels.

Paula says that when she wore the bodysuit during testing her periods were "a completely different experience", with little to no pain. She adds that the bodysuit's material, which is made of a blend of merino wool and artificial fibres is "comfortable... nice to wear".

The only side effect she says she had was that her period was heavier than usual. "I assume due to the muscle-relaxing effects."

The bodysuit is the brainchild of Alpha Femtech's co-founder Anna Zsofia Kormos, who has a doctorate in wearable smart tech, focusing specifically on menstrual health. Her business partner, Dora Pelczer, comes from a marketing background.

"We spoke to 350 women about their menstrual habits, so that we could develop the most user-friendly product," says Ms Pelczer. She adds that she and Ms Kormos wanted the €220 ($140; £194) bodysuit to look more like a fashion item than a medical device.

Dubliner Rebecca Powderly not only has painful periods, but she also has to endure a medical condition called endometriosis.

Said to affect one in 10 women, endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows elsewhere inside the body, such as around the ovaries and bladder. This build-up leads to internal lesions and scars, and the pain can be extreme.

To try to offer herself some comfort, Rebecca says she used to walk around with a hot water bottle. The 28-year-old would even do so on nights out, which she says resulted in her getting "a few odd looks".

But since September, Rebecca has swapped the hot water bottle for another wearable tech product that has been designed to reduce period pain.

[Rebecca Powderly]

Called the Myoovi, it is a small, wireless tens machine that the user sticks on her skin either below the belly button or on the lower back.

A disc-shaped central unit with a diameter of around 8cm (three inches) houses a tens gel pad, a USB-charged battery, and the control buttons. This slots into a replaceable strip of butterfly-shaped fabric, which, like a large plaster, is sticky on one side, and is said to be good for between 20 and 30 uses before you need to use another one.

"The tens is a strange sensation alright," says Rebecca. "It is a hard one to describe. On the higher settings the pulses can get intense, but it really does work for my pain.

[A woman wearing a Myoovi pad]

"For me the pain relief kicks in instantly. It doesn't completely get rid of the endo stabbing pains I get, but it does reduce them. I find the biggest relief I get is from the constant, dull cramping pain I experience."

The Myoovi was launched in October 2021, with prices from £60. For that you get one of the discs, and two of the sticky strips.

The product is made by a Manchester-based start-up of the same name. Its chief executive, Dr Adam Hamdi, came up with the idea after seeing the effectiveness of tens machines first-hand while working for the NHS.

He wanted to create a portable, discreet version with no wires, so women with period paid, endometriosis, or another condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, could use it anywhere.

[New Tech Economy]

New Tech Economy is a series exploring how technological innovation is set to shape the new emerging economic landscape.

Dr Karen Morton, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and founder of Dr Morton's medical helpline, explains how tens machines work. "They use the 'gating theory of pain' - by putting a stimulus into the spinal cord above where the pain comes in, they block the route of the pain from getting to your brain," she says. "Heat can do the same thing."

However, she stresses that any women suffering from bad period or other gynaecological pain should first get the matter medically investigated.

Dr Steve Allder is a consultant neurologist - a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases of the brain, spinal cord and wider nervous system.

He says that while studies have shown that tens machines are effective in reducing pain, there are potential issues to using them. "It's not exactly clear what the optimal duration, number, and frequency of treatments are, because of the possibility of the development of habituation and tolerance in repeated usage of tens."

Dr Hamdi from Myoovi insists that there is no limit on how long such tens devices can be used, and that it instead depends on how comfortable the person is with the electrical sensation.

Back in Budapest, Paula says she is keen to get an Artemis bodysuit that she won't have to hand back. "I can't wait for it to be on the market so I can finally use it regularly."


Unanswered questions from videos of Tyre Nichols' arrest

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64442019, yesterday

Everyone who has seen the footage of Tyre Nichols' fatal encounter with five Memphis police officers has come to the same conclusion: something went horribly wrong that night.

Lawyers for his family said the officers acted like a "pack of wolves" and beat him "like a human pinata".

Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who is the first black woman to serve in the role, told the BBC she was shocked. "Something happened that we can't explain," she said.

The videos prompted the authorities to fire the five officers earlier this week, and then to charge them with offences including second-degree murder.

On Friday evening, the videos were released to the public. The footage did show the harrowing events that led to Mr Nichols' death, but many questions still remain.

Why did police pull him over?

While the four videos contain over an hour of footage total, capturing multiple angles taken from police body cameras and a pole-mounted surveillance camera, one crucial element is missing: how did all this begin?

His family has said that Mr Nichols, an avid photographer, was out driving so he could take pictures of the sunset.

Officers initially said Mr Nichols was pulled over for alleged reckless driving, but police on Friday said there is no evidence to substantiate that claim.

The footage released only begins after police confront him at an intersection at 8:24pm local time - police say the initial traffic stop was not filmed but we don't know why.

[Tyre Nichols]

He is immediately dragged out of the car and thrown to the ground by officers with guns drawn.

"I didn't do anything!" Mr Nichols says early on, and he complies with the officers' instructions.

An officer shouts: "Put your hands behind your back before I break your [expletive]."

"You guys are really doing a lot right now," Mr Nichols says to the officers. "I'm just trying to go home."

Later in the video, we hear an officer telling other officers who have arrived at the scene that Mr Nichols swerved and almost hit his police vehicle, but we see no evidence of this.

Another officer claims he thinks Mr Nichols may be "on something," which implies they believed he may have been using drugs. There is no known evidence that this was the case, and later in the video, officers say they did not find anything in his car.

Why were the officers so aggressive?

From the get-go, the officers are very hostile, cursing at Mr Nichols and telling him to lie on the ground or they will tase him.

In the videos, Mr Nichols is initially compliant, if confused, by the officers' hostility. He lies down on the ground as instructed, as they attempt to handcuff him.

But when one of them tries to tase him, he breaks free and tries to run, at which point police pepper spray him.

How he broke free, and why police were so aggressive in the first place, is not clear.

"It was incomprehensible, from beginning to end," Greg Donaldson, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the BBC.

"From the car stop, the state of agitation of the police when they pulled the car over, to the pursuit, to the lack of training and lack of strategy in containing and subduing the person they had stopped."

Why did they continue to assault him?

Mr Donaldson says the video seems to show that police anger grows "as their incompetence seems to be more revealed".

Spraying his eyes with water after feeling the effects of the pepper spray himself, one of the officers says they should "stomp" him when they catch him.

That is exactly what they do in the videos that captured the second encounter which began at 8:32pm. For several minutes, police punched and kicked him, in the body and the head, while Mr Nichols cried for his mother. One officer is seen wandering away, breathing heavily. Almost a minute later, he returns to the scene, pulls out his extendable baton and strikes Mr Nichols repeatedly.

None of the officers try to stop him, or another who is seen punching Mr Nichols in the head at least five times.

"This incident just ran out of control," Mr Donaldson says.

Why did no one help him?

It is evident from the footage that Mr Nichols is in distress after the beating. He writhes on the ground before being slumped up against a car, unable to properly sit up himself.

[Still from footage of Tyre Nichols brutal encounter with police]

"The worst part of it was was the lack of humanity after the incident," Mr Donaldson says.

The officers "stood around like its as just an afternoon on the street," he says, while leaving Mr Nichols "laying there on the ground like a piece of garbage".

There are more officers on the scene than bodycams released, and we do not know if there is additional footage.

Medics arrive to examine Mr Nichols at 8:41pm. Twenty minutes later a stretcher comes into view in the video and then an ambulance arrives. We don't know how long it is before Mr Nichols is taken to hospital.

What is the cause of his death?

Although it is clear Mr Nichols was severely beaten, we still do not know what actually caused his death in hospital three days later.

In the video, we do see police kick him in the head twice, and there is blood visible around his face.

Attorneys for his family have said that an independent autopsy found that he suffered "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating," but the full report has not been made public.

With additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann, Barbara Plett Usher and Nada Tawfik


Mensa: What happens when 'child geniuses' grow up

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64426333, yesterday

A four-year-old boy made headlines this week after becoming the UK's youngest member of Mensa, the society for people with sky-high IQ.

Teddy - who can count to 100 in six languages including Mandarin - is already far more advanced than his peers.

But what happens to children like Teddy when they grow up?

Two decades ago, Christopher Guerin was in a similar position to Teddy. He was crowned Britain's brainiest kid aged 12 in 2002, beating thousands of other kids on the TV show.

"It was something that me and my family didn't expect at all," says Mr Guerin, now 32, from Birmingham. "My face was in all the papers, on the BBC News website." (You can see our report from the time here.)

With an IQ of 162, he was already a member of Mensa - something he joined after watching an episode of The Simpsons and seeing Lisa Simpson sign up.

Mensa accepts people who score within the top 2% of the general population in an approved intelligence test.

His win opened up plenty of opportunities, including being invited to watch his beloved Aston Villa play with the club's chairman, and a free trip to Ireland from the Irish tourist board - both his parents were from there.

There was an expectation on him to excel - but he didn't find it to be a negative. In fact, it spurred him on. "I personally responded well to that," he says.

"I think even if I hadn't won it I still would have wanted to excel at what I was doing anyway but it definitely gave another angle of it.

"I went to a state grammar school, so that meant that being academically competitive was a big part of the school ethos anyway, so it was a really good environment to be part of and most people responded to it positively."

Britain's brainiest kid went on to achieve three masters degrees including one from Cambridge, and is currently studying for his PhD.

[Chris Guerin]

His day job is an assistant principal at a secondary school, where he says he uses his experience to encourage his pupils.

"I've done assemblies about... making the most of opportunities," says Mr Guerin, who got married in the summer. "It doesn't have to be quizzing or academic things, but whatever you've got some sort of an interest in, it's a really enjoyable thing to do."

Arran Fernandez, 27, was another gifted child - and says he also did not face any extra pressure.

He was just 15 when he went to Cambridge University to study mathematics, becoming the youngest Cambridge student since 1773. By the age of 18, he was the university's champion mathematician, known as senior wrangler.

Mr Fernandez - who was home-educated in Surrey - says: "My [university] experience certainly wasn't typical, but I also don't feel like I missed out. Every experience is unique in its own way.

"Socially I've never cared much about comparing my age with others, so I didn't feel different from my peers due to my age. Starting at university for the first time is a life change and a new experience for everyone, whether at 15 or at 18."

[Arran Fernandez]

Mr Fernandez, who is now an associate professor of mathematics at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus, says he always tried to perform as well as he could in his work - but "that's for my own satisfaction rather than external pressure".

"I found that people generally had high expectations of me, thinking I must be a 'genius' because of my age, but I didn't let strangers' perceptions or expectations affect my psychology or put undue pressure on me."

But he says he dislikes the term "child genius".

"I wasn't - and am not - a genius, just someone who was given exceptional educational opportunities and was able to make the best of them."

He says the opportunities and support he had do not make him "better" than anyone else - if anything they have inspired him to "pay it forward and try to support others to achieve similar opportunities and successes", he says.

Of course, being gifted as a child doesn't mean you have it all your own way all the time.

Jocelyn Lavin, who grew up musically talented and was accepted into the prestigious Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, says being a considered a child genius did not affect her negatively while growing up.

But she adds that in adult work life, people often want things done a certain way - "and they don't like when you don't fit the mould and have your own way of thinking and seeing things".

[Jocelyn Lavin]

She has worked as a teacher and secretary among other jobs, and a few weeks ago she applied for her "perfect role".

"So I filled out their questionnaire on the application and emphasised that I felt I could do the job well with my researching skills and being able to find things out.

"However, they responded that my answers to their questions on the form were the opposite of what they were looking for in the role, which made me feel like the skills I have are holding me back in the job search."

Those of us who weren't child geniuses needn't worry - Wendy Berliner, an education journalist, says that often for adults who go on to be exceptional, "it is more to do with character, things like determination, drive, curiosity".

"Support is also very important - with people who go on to be high achievers you will usually find there is someone very supportive in the background who encourages them," she says.

Parenting a Mensa child can be 'exhausting'

Mensa's gifted child consultant, Lyn Kendall, says one thing she notices about Mensa children is how driven they are - they have a "need" to learn, she says.

She says Mensa runs a support group for parents of gifted children that currently has around 300 families. Being a parent of a Mensa child is demanding, she says. "It's exhausting, it's frustrating, it nearly ruins marriages."

Journalist Ms Berliner says that anyone who thinks they have a gifted child should avoid "treating children as something which makes us as parents look good".

Instead, "encourage them as people that you just want to be comfortable and happy in their lives, that's the most important thing", she says.

And plenty of parents might be in that very position right now.

After four-year-old Teddy made the news for his high IQ, Ms Kendall says she received 38 emails from parents of three or four-year-olds.

They were asking for help and telling her: "We've got one like that."

What is Mensa?

Mensa counts 140,000 people around the world as members - including 18,000 in the UK and the Irish Republic.

The organisation describes itself as "the world's leading high IQ society", and says it provides its members with a space for like-minds to socialise, stretch themselves intellectually and engage in interesting activities.

More here


Ukraine war: Auschwitz anniversary marked without Russia

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64429625, 3 days ago

For the first time a Russian delegation was not invited to a ceremony marking the liberation of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in modern-day Poland.

Russia is usually represented at the event, as the camp in occupied Poland was liberated by the Soviet Army.

But this year, following Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum declined to invite Russian officials and its director likened the Ukraine war to the horrors of the Holocaust.

In response, Russia accused the museum of attempting to "rewrite history".

At the event on Friday, museum director Piotr Cywinski said Auschwitz was created by Nazi "megalomania" and a "similar sick megalomania" and "similar lust for power" had driven Russia's destruction of Mariupol and Donetsk.

Speaking to an audience including camp survivors, he warned that "once again, innocent people are being killed en masse in Europe".

"Russia, unable to conquer Ukraine, has decided to destroy it. We see it every day, even as we stand here. And so it is difficult to stand here today."

Reacting to the decision, Russia said Soviet soldiers who freed Auschwitz would not be forgotten.

"No matter how our European 'non-partners' contrived in their attempts to rewrite history in a new way, the memory of the Soviet heroes-liberators and horrors of Nazism cannot be erased," Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote in a pointed social media post.

Auschwitz survivors also expressed their fears over the fallout of the war in Ukraine at the event.

Polish survivor Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk said she was "scared to hear what is happening in the East".

She told the audience that she had arrived in Auschwitz as an 11-year-old following the Warsaw Uprising, a failed attempt by the Polish resistance in 1944 to liberate the city from the German occupiers.

She and her 7-year-old brother remained in the camp until the Soviet army liberated it.

"The Russian armies that liberated us are now waging war on Ukraine. Why? Why? That's what politics is," she said.

The Polish nation has stood firm in its support for Ukraine during the conflict, with Poles housing hundreds of thousands of refugees in their own homes and offering military support to its neighbour.

Russian officials have taken part in their own commemorative events, with Vladimir Putin meeting Russia's top rabbis on the eve of the remembrance day on Thursday.

The Russian leader said he was "pursuing a policy meaning nothing like this in the history of mankind will ever happen again".

Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar has spoken about his regret that Russia has been excluded from the commemoration, warning that "these political games have no place on Holocaust day".

[Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar attends a candle lighting ceremony at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow]

He told AFP: "For us, this is clearly a humiliation because we perfectly know and remember the role of the Red [Soviet] Army in the liberation of Auschwitz and in the victory over Nazism."

Friday's event marks the 78th anniversary of the Soviet army liberating the concentration and extermination camp in German-occupied Poland, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was created as a part of the Holocaust, a process that started with discrimination against Jewish people, and ended with six million Jews being killed because of who they were.

In total, 1.1 million people died in the camp, around one million Jews from across Europe as well as Poles, Soviet POWs, Roma and Sinti.


Ukraine war: UN accuses Russia of breaking child protection rules over refugees

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64429377, 2 days ago

The head of the United Nations' refugee agency has accused Moscow of violating "fundamental" child protection principles by giving Russian passports to unaccompanied child refugees.

Filippo Grandi added that Russia had then been putting these children up for adoption by Russian families.

He said the UNHCR would try to get access to those affected and try to find solutions in their best interest.

However, Mr Grandi admitted he did not know how many children were affected.

"In the situation of war, you cannot determine if children have families or guardianship. And therefore, until that is clarified, you cannot give them another nationality or having them adopted by another family," Mr Grandi said.

According to the most recent UNHCR data, nearly three million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded in Russia - more than in any other European country. It is unclear how many of these are children.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said earlier this month almost 14,000 children had been "deported" to Russia from occupied parts of Ukraine, and accused it of kidnapping them. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.

Mr Grandi has said the UNHCR is seeking access to Russia "all the time" but that so far this has been "rare, sporadic and not unfettered".

His comments come after the United Nations' top rights official expressed concern in July that Ukrainian children had been taken from orphanages in the eastern Donbas region and "forcibly deported" to Russia. There was also concern Moscow was "modifying existing legislation" to fast-track this process.

Michelle Bachelet said at the time that she could not confirm the allegations or the number of children potentially affected.

Then in September, the assistant UN secretary-general for human rights said there were "credible allegations" of "forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself".

Mr Grandi was speaking at the end of a six-day visit to Ukraine and told local residents that "the whole world admires you because you are strong people."

He said it was possible more refugees could return to Ukraine in the summer, as happened last year, but warned that more fighting could lead to greater displacement, especially internally.

Mr Grandi also painted a bleak global outlook when it came to refugees - predicting the number of displaced people would "almost inevitably" grow from the current figure of around 103 million in the coming years.


Ukraine: US sanctions Chinese firm helping Russia's Wagner Group

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-64421915, 3 days ago

The US has sanctioned a Chinese company for allegedly providing satellite imagery of Ukraine to support the mercenary Wagner Group's combat operations for Russia.

Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute is among 16 entities slapped with curbs by the Treasury Department.

The firm, also known as Spacety China, has offices in Beijing and Luxembourg.

Wagner supplies Russia thousands of fighters in the Ukraine war.

Spacety China had provided Terra Tech, a Russia-based technology firm, with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite images of locations in Ukraine, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said in a statement on Thursday.

"These images were gathered in order to enable Wagner combat operations in Ukraine," it said. The department has also sanctioned Spacety's Luxembourg-based subsidiary.

Under the sanctions, there can be no transfer, payment, or export of any property or interests in the United States to the targeted entities.

Spacety China has yet to respond to the move.

China, a close ally of Russia, has attempted to position itself as a neutral party with regard to the Ukraine war. It has been criticised by the US and its allies for refusing to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On its website, Spacety China describes itself as a "pioneer" in providing commercial SAR technology and says it wants to "make SAR imagery of every point on earth accessible and affordable" to users all over the world.

SAR is a type of radar technology that can deliver higher resolution images using shorter antennas.

Its chief executive officer Yang Feng sits on China's Ministry of Science and Technology's panel of experts, according to the company's website.

The site also lists a number of working partners including state-owned enterprises China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, as well as the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

[Screengrab from Spacety's website]

In addition to Spacety China, 15 other entities, eight individuals and four aircraft - many of them based in Russia - that allegedly form part of Wagner's global support network also received US sanctions.

These include Sewa Security Services based in central Africa and Kratol Aviation based in the United Arab Emirates, which allegedly provided aircraft to move personnel and equipment between central Africa, Libya and Mali.

Wagner now commands some 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, according to estimates from the White House. The organisation plays a key role in Russia's war efforts, and has been heavily involved in attempts to capture Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine.

It is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"Today's expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin's ability to arm and equip his war machine," said US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.


How tanks from Germany, US and UK could change the Ukraine war

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64422568, 2 days ago

Is this the week when the war dramatically turned in Ukraine's favour? It was certainly a decisive moment, with a coalition of Western nations confirming they were finally willing to supply modern-made main battle tanks.

Germany said it would send Leopard 2 tanks and the US said it would send M1 Abrams tanks. Both the UK and Poland have already made concrete pledges, and other nations are expected to follow. Some commentators have described the move as a potential "gamechanger".

But is it really enough to win the war?

Ben Barry, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS), tells the BBC that Western tanks will make a difference. But the former British Army Brigadier also warns that the pledges made so far are unlikely to prove decisive.

In modern warfare, tanks have been a key element for offensive operations - to punch through enemy lines and retake territory.

Used effectively, they provide mobile firepower, protection, shock and surprise. Concentrated in numbers, they can dislocate an enemy's defences. But they also need the support of artillery to first weaken those defences and then the support of infantry to hold retaken ground.

History shows tanks alone don't win battles. The British first used hundreds of tanks at the battle of Cambrai in November 1917 - to end the deadlock of static trench warfare. Initially they made significant advances, but many tanks soon broke down and a German counter offensive turned British gains into losses.

Tanks can also be used in defence. In 1940 they were used by the retreating British and French armies at Arras to stall the Nazi invasion, allowing the subsequent evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk.

But Ukraine has made clear that it wants weapons not just to stall any potential Russian spring offensive, but to retake its own territory - to go on the attack.

How Ukraine might use tanks as attack spearheads

It would make little sense for Ukraine to disperse its additional tanks across a frontline of more than 1,000km (621 miles). To break through Russian defences, Ukraine will need to concentrate its forces - possibly over an area of between five and 20km (between three and 12 miles).

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former colonel in the British Army's Royal Tank Regiment, says numbers do matter for a breakthrough. An armoured brigade for a significant offensive operation would normally include at least 70 tanks. So more than 100 Western battle tanks could make a big difference, he says.

If Ukraine had more it could try to conduct simultaneous offensive operations in different places, as it did last year in the north and the south.

Then there's the additional support required for what the military call "combined arms manoeuvre".

The UK is not just sending Ukraine 14 Challenger tanks, but also 30 artillery self-propelled guns and armoured vehicles to carry and protect troops.

That new package of military support also includes mine breaching and bridge-laying vehicles. In other words, the essential elements needed for any offensive operation.

The US is also providing Ukraine with more than 100 Bradley and Stryker armoured vehicles, and Germany 40 of its Marder infantry fighting vehicle - as well as tanks.

Tanks are the tip of the spear, designed to move quickly over open ground. The Challenger 2, Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams are faster than most Russian-made tanks with speeds of more than 25mph (40km per hour) on rough terrain.

To take ground quickly, with any element of surprise, they would likely avoid urban areas where they would be more vulnerable to attack. Russia showed early on in this war, in its failed attempt to surround Kyiv, that a long column of armour on a road is an easy target.

Mr Barry, of ISS, says any spearhead attack would look for an enemy's weak points. But he also warns that Russia has spent the last few months reinforcing defensive positions with trenches and tank traps.

Western tanks are also about 20 tonnes heavier than their Russian counterparts. The additional armour gives better protection but it also means the tanks may be too heavy to cross some makeshift bridges. Russia and Ukraine have both blown bridges to slow down advances.

Surprise attacks at night

Mr de Bretton Gordon, who commanded a squadron of British Challenger tanks, says one of the big advantages of Western-made tanks is their ability to fight at night.

Night sights and thermal imaging camera are standard. Only Russia's more advanced tanks - like the T-90 - are fitted to fight at night. Attacks under the cover of darkness also add to the element of shock and surprise.

The greatest challenge for Ukraine will be logistics - maintaining the flow of fuel, ammunition and spare parts. Ukraine is not just having to maintain its old Soviet-era arsenal, it is also having to worry about an increasingly complex inventory of Western supplied weapons.

Britain's Challenger 2 tanks, for instance, do not use the same Nato standard ammunition as the Leopard and Abrams. The Challenger 2 is no longer in production and even the British Army has had to cannibalise some spare parts from its existing fleet.

Mr Barry says Ukrainian engineers may be familiar with repairing diesel engines - like those in the Leopard and Challenger. But he says the US-made Abrams runs on a more complicated gas turbine engine. It also consumes about twice the amount of fuel as a German-made Leopard.

[A German Leopard tank during exercises]

If Western pledges are firmed, Ukraine's armed forces could be boosted by more than 100 tanks. That would still fall well short of what Ukraine's overall military commander asked for.

Last October, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi said Ukraine needed an additional 300 tanks, 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers for his planned offensive this year. It might end up with just half of that.

The training required on the weapons will take time too - weeks if not months. And it's still not clear when all this equipment will arrive.

The US has indicated that its 31 M1 Abrams tanks might not be ready for months. Ukraine is also waiting for the West to respond to its repeated request for modern warplanes. An army attacking on the ground will need protection from the air.

Western officials had hoped that Ukraine may be able to mount an offensive as soon as this spring. They believe there is now a window of opportunity while Russia struggles to recruit and rebuild its battered forces, and to replenish its dwindling supplies of ammunition.

Ukraine has managed to prove the doubters wrong in the past - but it will still need more Western support if it is to achieve its goal of expelling Russian forces.


Why Germany delayed sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64402928, 5 days ago

Ukraine's argument for wanting battle tanks is clear.

It insists they can make all the difference - helping to push Russia back from Ukrainian territory and handing Kyiv the initiative.

Germany produces the vast majority of modern heavy tanks in Europe - the Leopard 2s. Around 2,000 of them are spread out amongst European allies. And Germany owns all the export licenses for them.

This meant that while it dithered, others like Poland - desperate to deliver tanks to Ukraine as soon as possible - were prevented from doing so. They lacked the green re-export light from Berlin.

Ukrainian soldiers still need to be trained in how to use the vehicles, of course, and it's unclear how many and how soon they might arrive for use in Ukraine.

But Berlin's prolonged hesitance, even as Russia committed human rights abuse after human rights abuse in Ukraine, led to huge pressure amongst Western allies who, up until now, had been oh so keen to display a determined sense of unity in the face of Russian aggression.

Chancellor Scholz's indecision divided his country too, including his governing coalition and even his own Social Democrat Party. "Free the Leopards!" was the slogan shouted at regular demonstrations outside the German parliament, while inside the debate to send, or not to send tanks, raged amongst German MPs.

What was it then, causing Olaf Scholz so much consternation?

Of huge significance is the weight of history felt by German modern-day leaders. It can't be over-emphasised.

This Friday is Holocaust Memorial Day. A huge sign proclaiming "We Will Not Forget" hangs at the Reichstag in Berlin.

As the aggressor in two world wars, many Germans are wary of being the main provider of battle tanks in Ukraine.

The "Zeitenwende" or "turning point" in Germany, announced by Chancellor Scholz soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, is hugely significant. For Germany itself but also Europe as a whole.

Berlin promised to massively invest in its depleted, outdated military and to take a far more assertive role in European defence. A real break with Berlin's post World War Two timidity and preference for allies to lead in security matters.

This "transformation" has been peppered by setbacks and is by no means complete but it is certainly under way and that is a big change for Germany.

Since World War Two, Berlin has been reluctant to take the lead, but as the Europe's biggest economy, that's exactly what allies often look to Germany to do.

[Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz]

Other issues with sending tanks

Returning to the tank debate, another sensitivity for Germany to overcome is that their Leopard 2s would be used against Russian soldiers.

Germany feels deep responsibility for the slaughter of millions of Russians during World War One and Two.

A further, not entirely separate issue, is that large sections of German society - particularly in the formerly communist east of the country, where many express a disappointment in how western society functions - feel traditionally close to Russia.

NGOs monitoring Russian disinformation in Europe report that many Germans are fallible.

That said, the overwhelming majority of Germans sympathise with ordinary Ukrainians caught up in the current conflict.

But in a survey shortly before Christmas, 40% of Germans who took part said they understood the Kremlin's blaming of the West for its invasion of Ukraine - because of the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance.

Olaf Scholz is an avowed transatlanticist but his SPD party historically - though far from entirely, these days - looks east to Moscow, with many party members a bit suspicious of the US and its Nato dominance.

For all these reasons - and a few more I'll illustrate - Chancellor Scholz didn't want Germany to go it alone, nor be the central facilitator on the battle-tanks-to-Ukraine front.

Another German concern has been that, while European countries including the UK, Poland and the Netherlands, say it's clearly the Kremlin that is escalating this conflict, many in Germany say they fear delivering heavy tanks and other offensive weaponry to Ukraine could push Vladimir Putin to even wilder extremes. Even the use of nuclear weapons.

It's thought one of the reasons Chancellor Scholz has pushed so hard for Washington to also send tanks to Ukraine is so Europe can feel that nuclear power US on board and by its side.

Overall, Olaf Scholz didn't want Germany to stand out and alone in being the main provider of heavy tanks to Ukraine.

His sudden U-turn could well be because he realised if he continued to hold those tanks back, he could find himself isolated amongst his own allies.

Something else to bear in mind is that, despite the current and previous controversies over foot-dragging by Chancellor Scholz in providing and enabling the delivery of other military equipment, Germany is amongst the top three single donors of military aid and one of the main providers of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.


Ukraine weapons: What tanks and other equipment are the world giving?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-62002218, 5 days ago

Germany and the US have confirmed that they are sending tanks to Ukraine in a show of support for the government in Kyiv.

The German government said it will be sending 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, while the US is planning to deliver 31 Abrams in the coming months.

Germany has also given the go-ahead to a number of other European countries which want to send their own German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The UK, which has already committed 14 of its own tanks, has welcomed the announcements.

More than 30 countries have provided military equipment to Ukraine since Russia's invasion in February 2022.

Tank

Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelensky has said his forces need Western battle tanks urgently to defend its territory and to push Russian troops out of occupied areas.

Some Western officials believe that Russian forces are currently in a weak position and that these more advanced tanks could help Ukraine to push Russian troops back.

The Leopard 2, used by a number of European countries, is easier to maintain and requires less fuel than some western alternatives.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the German-made Leopard 2 tank. The Leopard 2 is heavier and better armoured than Russian or Soviet-made tanks and uses Nato-standard ammunition.]

In the months which followed the Russian invasion, Western nations were keen to offer Ukraine Warsaw Pact rather than Nato standard weaponry, because Ukraine's armed forces had a ready supply of trained crew, spare parts and maintenance capabilities.

Switching to Nato standard tanks would have required a range of logistical support which Ukraine did not have in place.

Kyiv believes its forces are now in a position to use more Nato standard equipment.

The UK has agreed to provide 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. The Challenger 2 is the British army's main battle tank.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the British-made Challenger 2 tank. The Challenger 2 is heavier and better armoured than Russian or Soviet-made tanks.]

The Challenger 2 was built in the 1990s, but is significantly more advanced than other tanks available to Ukraine's armed forces.

Ukraine used Warsaw Pact designed T-72 tanks prior to the invasion, and since February 2022 has received more than 200 T-72s from Poland, the Czech Republic and a small number of other countries.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the Soviet-era T-72 tank. The T-72 is lighter and slower than most modern tanks, but is one the most common tanks in Ukraine's arsenal.]

Announcing the US decision to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, President Joe Biden described them as "the most capable tanks in the world".

He said the US would start training Ukrainian soldiers to use them immediately but it remains unclear how long it will be until the tanks themselves are delivered.

The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Washington says the funding process for the tanks means they may not be deployed for several months.

[Graphic showing details of the US M1 Abrams tank. Updated 24 Jan]

Combat vehicles

Military professionals point out that success on the battlefield requires a vast range of equipment, deployed in coordination, with the necessary logistical support in place.

The Stryker is one of the many armoured vehicles that have been donated to Ukraine. The US recently confirmed that 90 Strykers would soon be dispatched.

[Graphic showing the characteristics of the Stryker armoured fighting vehicle. The Stryker is a fast armoured transport and reconnaissance vehicle, which has been optimised for complex urban terrain.]

Among the other vehicles donated by the US recently were 59 more Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. They were used extensively by US forces in Iraq.

[Characteristics of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Bradley is heavier and better armoured than Russian equivalents. Its weapons include a 25mm chain gun and anti-tank missiles, making it effective against infantry, light and even heavily armoured vehicles.]

Air defences

In December, the US also announced it was sending the Patriot missile system to Ukraine - and Germany and the Netherlands have recently followed suit.

This highly sophisticated system has a range of up to 62 miles (100km), depending on the type of missile used, and requires specialised training for Ukrainian soldiers, likely to be carried out at a US Army base in Germany.

But the system is expensive to operate - one Patriot missile costs around $3m.

[Graphic showing how the radar, control station and missile launcher of the Patriot missile system work to detect, target and destroy enemy threats.]

Since the start of the conflict, Ukraine has been using Soviet-era S-300 surface-to-air systems against Russian attacks.

Before the conflict began in February, Ukraine had about 250 S-300s and there have been efforts to replenish these with similar systems stockpiled in other former Soviet countries, with some coming from Slovakia.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the Russian-made S300 air defence system, including its modified use to target ground targets.]

The US has also provided Nasams (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) to Ukraine. The first Nasams arrived in Ukraine in November.

In addition, the UK has provided several air defence systems, including Starstreak, designed to bring down low-flying aircraft at short range.

[Graphic showing details of the Starstreak system. Starstreak missiles can be shoulder-launched or vehicle-mounted. They are optimised for flying targets and cannot be stopped by many countermeasures.]

Germany has also provided air defence systems, including the IRIS-T air defence systems which can hit approaching missiles at an altitude of up to 20km.

Long-range rockets

Among the long-range rocket launchers sent to Ukraine by the US are the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or Himars. Several European countries have also sent similar systems.

Himars are believed to have been central to Ukraine's success in pushing Russian forces back in the south, particularly in Kherson in November.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the Himars multiple rocket launcher system. Himars systems can launch GPS-guided missiles and are able to fire and reload more quickly than Russian alternatives.]

Crucially, the range of Himars, and many other systems, varies according to the munitions used, and it is believed that western donors have not provided the ammunition with the longest range.

The munitions thought to have been supplied to Ukraine give the system a range of about 50 miles (80km), which is further than the Smerch system on the Russian side.

Himars systems are also much more accurate than the equivalent Russian systems.

[Graphic comparing ranges of common artillery systems used by Russia and Ukraine, showing the overall superiority of Western-supplied systems.]

Howitzers

In the months following the invasion and Russia's retreat from Kyiv, much of the war centred on the east of the country where supplies of artillery to Ukraine were in heavy demand.

Australia, Canada and the US were among the countries to send advanced M777 howitzers and ammunition to Ukraine.

The range of the M777 is similar to Russia's Giatsint-B howitzer, and much longer than Russia's D-30 towed gun.

[Graphic showing the characteristics of the M777 artillery system. The M777 howitzer has greater range and better accuracy than Russian equivalents when using GPS-guided munitions.]

Anti-tank weapons

Thousands of Nlaw weapons, designed to destroy tanks with a single shot, have also been supplied to Ukraine.

[Graphic showing details of the Nlaw anti-tank weapon. It requires little training to use and is effective against moving targets at close range and distance.]

The weapons are thought to have been particularly important in stopping the advance of Russian forces on Kyiv in the hours and days following the invasion.

Drones

Drones have featured heavily in the conflict so far, with many used for surveillance, targeting and heavy lift operations.

Turkey has sold Bayraktar TB2 armed drones to Ukraine in recent months, whilst the Turkish manufacturer of the system has donated drones to crowd-funding operations in support of Ukraine.

[Graphic showing characteristics of the Bayraktar TB2 drone. The Bayraktar TB2 is a low-cost alternative to US-made drones and can be used to directly attack or coordinate attacks with other systems on targets.]

Analysts say the Bayraktar TB2s have been extremely effective, flying at about 25,000 feet (7,600m) before descending to attack Russian targets with laser-guided bombs.

Additional reporting by Tom Spencer. Graphics by Gerry Fletcher and Sana Dionysiou.


Ukraine war: Zelensky's government launches anti-corruption drive

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64401190, 3 days ago

It's been a political reshuffle with a difference.

At the time of typing this, 11 officials have either resigned or been sacked as Kyiv tries to tackle government corruption.

It's led to some politicians in the US calling for aid to Ukraine to be restricted.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is trying to quickly restore public faith, but the allegations are serious, and the timing is bad.

Several claims have surfaced thanks to Mykhaylo Tkach, an investigative journalist for the news website Ukrayinska Pravda.

He has recently reported that the company of a senior official's personal trainer allegedly received millions of pounds since the full-scale invasion, as well as a story about President Zelensky's deputy head of office.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko quit two months after Tkach reported that he'd moved his family to the mansion of a well-known property developer.

The journalist also published footage which appeared to show the official driving an expensive Porsche for a few months.

Mr Tymoshenko has denied doing anything wrong.

"Quite often, with MPs and officials, if the source of their money isn't clear, they register assets to people close to them," explains Tkach.

[Mykhaylo Tkach]

"These are signs of non-transparency, at a time when every step of an official should be clear for society."

The reporter concedes corruption exists in many countries. It's why he thinks the reaction to it is most important.

From her bakery in Vorzel, near Kyiv, Ivanna is less than impressed with her government being accused of agreeing to pay inflated prices to an unknown firm, a deputy minister allegedly accepting a bribe worth £300,000 ($372,000), and an official's expensive taste in cars.

"I don't like it," she says, while her husband Vyacheslav stirs dough in the back room.

"It would be better for this money to go towards something good for Ukraine."

She pauses: "We need to replace all those politicians who've been there for many years. They've got used to it; it feeds them."

For Ukraine, receiving billions of dollars in military, humanitarian and financial aid brings responsibility and scrutiny.

It also increases the likelihood of money ending up in the wrong hands.

"We are talking about Ukraine's existence," says Tkach. "It's not just some ordinary year for our country. So, I think this wave of resignations, initiated by the president, is an important acknowledgement and necessary action."

[Ivana the baker]

Ever since Ukraine declared independence 31 years ago, corruption has plagued its public services and most of all its politics.

In 2014, a popular revolution toppled the last Moscow-leaning government because people wanted to finally live under a democracy.

Ever since, Ukraine has attempted a series of reforms, notably driven by Russia's subsequent campaign of aggression towards the country. Change was seen as essential to securing the West's continued support.

New anti-corruption agencies were then set up, along with new systems for government spending, a new police force, and politicians were forced to disclose their wealth - often with eye-watering confessions.

"We wanted results," Yaroslav Yurchyshyn tells me. He's an MP and deputy head of the parliamentary anticorruption committee.

"Yes, we have some leftovers from corruption in the past, but at least now we are not silent about it. The next stop will be prevention."

Mr Yurchyshyn believes there's no better time to expose ministerial wrongdoing, even with Western help being put at risk.

"Western partners understand we have two wars," he says. "The first is against Russia, then there's our internal war for the future of Ukraine."

Before the full-scale Russian invasion of February 2022, Western allies like the European Union and the US weren't happy with the pace of Kyiv's efforts to combat corruption.

While it's not clear what the political damage of the 2023 allegations will be for President Zelensky, his response to them this time has been described as "quick and decisive" by the US.

With more allegations expected to surface, he'll be hoping other supporters feel the same.

Additional reporting by Hanna Chornous and Siobhan Leahy


Ukraine hit by Russian missiles day after West's offer of tanks

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64411259, 4 days ago

Russia launched a wave of missiles at Ukraine on Thursday, a day after Germany and the US pledged tanks to aid Kyiv's fight against the invasion.

Eleven people died and 11 others were injured after 35 buildings were struck across several regions, the state's emergency service said.

It added the worst damage to residential buildings was in the Kyiv region.

Officials also reported strikes on two energy facilities in the Odesa region.

The barrage came as Russia said it perceived the new offer of military support, which followed a UK pledge to send Challenger 2 battle tanks, as "direct" Western involvement in the conflict.

In what was a sustained and wide-ranging attack, the head of the Ukrainian army said Moscow launched 55 air and sea-based missiles on Thursday.

Valery Zaluzhny added that 47 of them were shot down, including 20 around Kyiv.

Earlier, Ukraine's air force said it had downed a cluster of Iranian-made attack drones launched by Russian forces from the Sea of Azov in the south of the country.

A 55-year-old man was killed and two others wounded when non-residential buildings in the south of the capital were struck, officials reported.

The offensive was a continuation of Russia's months-long tactic of targeting Ukraine's infrastructure. The freezing winter has seen power stations destroyed and millions plunged into darkness.

After Thursday's strikes, emergency power cuts were enforced in Kyiv and several other regions to relieve pressure on the electricity grid, said DTEK, Ukraine's largest private power producer.

A day earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks, following weeks of international pressure. They are widely seen as some of the most effective battle tanks available.

The heavy weaponry is expected to arrive in late March or early April.

President Joe Biden later announced the US would send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks, marking a reversal of longstanding Pentagon arguments that they are a poor fit for the Ukrainian battlefield.

Canada has also promised to supply Ukraine with four "combat-ready" Leopard tanks in the coming weeks, together with experts to train Ukrainian soldiers in how to operate them.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that 12 countries had now joined what he called the "tank coalition".

But for tanks to be "game-changer", 300 to 400 of them would be needed, an adviser to Ukraine's defence minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The sooner we defeat Russia on the battlefield using Western weapons, the sooner we will be able to stop this missile terror and restore peace," Yuriy Sak said.

Speaking on the same programme, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said sending tanks to Ukraine would make a big difference to the country's ability to win the war.

He also warned that Russia was planning a fresh offensive, just as reports began emerging from Ukraine of missile strikes following drone attacks overnight.

On Thursday, the US designated Russia's Wagner group, which is believed to have thousands of mercenaries in Ukraine, a transnational criminal organisation.

It also imposed fresh sanctions on the group and their associates to "further impede [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's ability to arm and equip his war machine", Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.


Ukraine war: Resilient civilians return to liberated town of Lyman

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64367346, 8 days ago

Two Ukrainian fighter jets roar low overhead as we emerge from a dense, snow-bound forest and drive into the railway junction town of Lyman, in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

It is nearly four months since Russian troops were forced to retreat from here, pushed back some 25km (about 15 miles) to the east. But the boom of artillery fire, close to the front lines, is still audible every few minutes, and this town - much of it in ruins - is not yet safe from Russian missiles.

"I live on the seventh floor. The rocket hit the fifth floor, early this morning, at around five. But I'm fine," says Alexander Rogovitz, a 73-year-old retired businessman and the only remaining resident of a large apartment block on the edge of town.

He bends over to share out some dried food to the eight cats - seven of them strays, abandoned by neighbours - he now looks after.

That resilience, and a strong collective spirit, seem to be widespread here, among those who have clung on amid the snow and rubble.

[Valeri Dmitrenko, 45, chops wood to heat the basement where he and 21 neighbours have been sheltering for the past nine months]

In a nearby courtyard, beside a giant bomb crater, a 45-year-old railway technician named Valeri Dmitrenko is busy chopping wood to heat the basement where he and 21 neighbours have been sheltering for the past nine months. Lyman still has no running water or central heating system, and the daytime temperature has been hovering around freezing.

"What can we do?" Valeri shrugs, stroking the head of a stray dog he and his wife, Ira, recently adopted and named Princess Diana. When he's not busy with his axe, Valeri helps neighbours repair broken doors and windows in their badly damaged apartment building.

Ira walks past, hurriedly, with buckets of water she has pumped from a well in the yard.

"I still find it stressful to stay outside, in the open, for long," says Ira, a 41-year-old accountant, before heading down a dark flight of stairs and into the cramped cellar of 6 Railway Street.

Despite heavy fighting continuing in the Donbas, civilians are trickling back to liberated Ukrainian towns close to the front line - against the advice of local authorities. In Lyman, devastated by Russian forces last year, some 13,000 residents are living, precariously, in gruelling winter conditions.

[An apartment block in Lyman that has been part-destroyed by Russian missile strikes]

As Russia's forces approached Lyman last June, 41,000 civilians fled, leaving about 10,000 people behind. Many of those were elderly, or poor - or, like Ira and Valeri, had sick relatives who refused to leave. For the next four months, about 60 people squeezed into the same cellar on Railway Street.

"It was difficult at times. People are different. Some became aggressive - we're not used to living all together like this," says Ira. Adding to that stress was the fact that, by Ira's reckoning, about a third of those who had chosen to stay in the cellar were pro-Russian, actively hoping that Ukraine would lose the war.

"Yes, there were people who supported Russia. But they left when Ukraine started liberating territory. When the so-called Russian authorities moved out, they went with them, taking their children. Probably because they were scared of what would happen to them here," adds Ira.

On 3 October, Lyman was liberated by Ukrainian forces and soon afterwards the town's mayor, Alexander Zhuravlov, returned to discover that "80%, maybe 90%" of the buildings had been damaged or destroyed. The railway lines that pass through the centre of town are still a mass of broken overhead cables and blocked tracks.

In recent months, the mayor and his team have managed to restore electricity to most of the town and the surrounding villages. Pensions are now being paid, on time, and some shops have reopened.

[Ira, a 41-year-old accountant]

The government and humanitarian groups have brought in wood stoves and distributed logs. Every day one aid group brings in hundreds of packed lunches to distribute free of charge. There are roughly 700 children living in Lyman and the mayor estimates that another 3,000 residents have returned since the town was liberated. But he's urging the rest to stay away.

"At the moment we do not recommend people to return here. On the contrary, they're better off in safer places and cities. There are no comfortable living places here, for now. People will be accepted in other regions and will be provided with accommodation and food," he says, driving to the site of a two-week-old missile attack that ripped the entire wall off a nine-storey apartment block.

The mayor says local police are still dealing with "a handful" of Lyman's residents suspected of working for the Russian occupiers. But he believes the experience of the past year has persuaded many pro-Russian residents to change their views.

"I think those people now understand that they made a mistake. They were led astray by the media - watching Russian propaganda on television every night and thinking it was the truth. They were in a minority, and they have already changed their minds. They see that this Russian world is not the one they'd been led to expect," says Zhuravlyov.

[Aid groups provide food, which is distributed free of charge]

A 62-year-old woman called Valentina, queueing for food at the local hospital, seems to reflect that change of heart, when asked about the security situation in Lyman since it was liberated. In recent months, pro-Russian civilians have often hinted at their allegiance by implying that both sides are equally guilty of shelling towns, and that it is therefore impossible to assign blame.

"The bombardment hasn't stopped. The shells still hit the town. We don't know who is firing," she begins.

But then, unprompted, Valentina changes her mind.

"I suppose it must be the Russians. Yes, no doubt," she says, adding: "We're Ukrainians. This is a Ukrainian town. The shops are open. Our pensions come on time. The state has not abandoned us."

[Map shows the town of Lyman, in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine]


Ukraine war: Hiding from Putin's call-up by living off-grid in a freezing forest

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64346971, 8 days ago

When Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation of Russian men in September last year, it took Adam Kalinin - not his real name - a week to decide that the best thing he could do was move to the forest.

The IT specialist was against the war from the start, receiving a fine and spending two weeks in detention for sticking a poster saying "No to war" on the wall of his apartment building.

So when Russia said it was calling up 300,000 men to help turn things around in a war it was losing, Kalinin did not want to risk being sent to the front line to kill Ukrainians.

But, unlike hundreds of thousands of others, he did not want to leave the country.

Three things kept him in Russia: friends, financial constraints and an unease about abandoning what he knows.

"Leaving would have been a difficult step out of my comfort zone," Kalinin, who is in his thirties, told the BBC. "It isn't exactly comfortable here either but nevertheless, psychologically, it would be really hard to leave."

And so he took the unusual step of saying goodbye to his wife and heading for the forest, where he has lived in a tent for nearly four months.

He uses an antenna tied to a tree for internet access and solar panels for energy.

He has endured temperatures as low as -11C (12F) and exists on food supplies brought to him regularly by his wife.

Living off-grid, he says, is the best way he can think of to avoid being called up. If the authorities can't hand him a summons in person, he can't be forced to go to war.

"If they are physically unable to take me by the hands and lead me to the enlistment office, that is a 99% defence against mobilisation or other harassment."

In some ways, Kalinin continues his life as before. He still works eight hours a day in the same job, although throughout winter - with its limited daylight - he doesn't have enough solar power to work full days and so makes up his hours on the weekend.

Some of his colleagues are now in Kazakhstan, having also left Russia after mobilisation began, but his internet connection via a long-range antenna strapped to a pine tree is reliable enough that communication is not a problem.

He is also a lover of the outdoors, spending many of his past holidays camping in southern Russia with his wife. When he made the decision to move permanently to the wilderness, he already had much of the equipment he needed.

[A saw for chopping wood hangs from the roof of a tent]

His wife, who visited Kalinin's camp for a couple of days over the new year, plays a big role in his survival. She brings supplies every three weeks to a drop-off point where they are briefly able to see each other in person. He then takes the supplies away to a safe place which he visits every few days to stock up. He cooks using a makeshift wood-burning stove.

"I have oats, buckwheat, tea, coffee, sugar. Not enough fresh fruit and vegetables of course, but it's not too bad," he says.

Kalinin's new home is a large tent of the type used for ice-fishing. When he first arrived in the forest, he set up two camps five minutes apart; one with internet access where he worked, the other in a more sheltered spot where he slept.

As winter approached and the weather got colder, he brought the two areas together to live and work under one canvas.

Recently, the temperature dropped to -11C, colder than he had expected. But now the days are getting longer again and the snow is beginning to melt, he plans to stay where he is.

Although Kalinin hasn't received a call-up himself, he says the situation is constantly changing and he fears he could receive a summons in the future. Officially, IT workers like Kalinin are exempt from the draft, but there are numerous reports in Russia of similar exemptions being ignored.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilisation on 21 September, shortly after Ukraine's lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region during which it reclaimed thousands of square kilometres of territory from Russian troops.

He said the mobilisation was necessary to defend Russia against the West. But many in the country protested, and there were chaotic scenes on Russia's borders as hundreds of thousands of people fled.

The call-up had a profound effect on Russia. Until then, many Russians were able to continue their lives much as they had before the war. True, some Western brands disappeared and sanctions made financial transactions more difficult, but the direct impact on society was mostly limited.

Mobilisation brought the war crashing on to the doorsteps of many Russian families. Suddenly, sons, fathers and brothers were deployed to the front line at short notice, often with poor equipment and minimal training. If the conflict seemed distant before, now it was all but impossible to ignore.

Yet, public acts of protests are rare inside Russia - something that has been criticised in Ukraine and in the West. But Kalinin says people are rightly scared of what might happen to them.

"We have a totalitarian state that has become so powerful. In the last six months, laws have been brought in at an incredible pace. If a person speaks out now against the war, the state will pursue them."

[Inside view of Kalinin's tent]

Kalinin's life in the forest has brought him a certain level of popularity online, with 17,000 people following his near-daily updates on Telegram. He posts videos and photos of his surroundings, his daily routine, and of how his camp is organised. Wood-chopping features heavily.

Kalinin claims not to miss much about his previous life. He calls himself an introvert who doesn't mind being alone, although he misses his wife and would like to see her more often. However, he points out that his current situation is still preferable to being sent to the front line or to prison.

"I've changed so much, that the kind of things I might have missed have faded into the background," he says. "The things that seemed important before don't have their power any more. There are people in a much worse situation than us."

[Tree stumps covered in snow]


Ukraine war: Bakhmut defenders plea for Western tanks

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64294653, 13 days ago

As the UK and other European nations prepare to send tanks to Ukraine to help it liberate more territory from Russia, our correspondent Andrew Harding has been to visit members of a front-line Ukrainian tank unit already engaging Russian forces near the fiercely contested towns of Bakhmut and Soledar.

The explosions come every few seconds, sometimes in rapid clusters of six or more short blasts, sometimes deep and long and rib-cage-rattling, thundering across the snow-speckled hills that stretch along the front lines close to Bakhmut and Soledar.

Then come the distant booms, the shorter punch of a mortar round blasting off on the roadside, and, occasionally, the bone-chilling, fizzing whoosh of an incoming artillery shell that sends us diving for cover on the frozen fields.

This is the daily, constant, percussive chorus of war in the Donbas, where Ukrainian and Russian artillery, rocket and tank crews are slugging it out, trading blows in a fierce, but largely inconclusive struggle to break a months-long deadlock.

"We have a target," said Roman, a Ukrainian tank unit commander, suddenly pulling off his gloves, clambering up onto the slippery, snow-covered turret of a dark green T-72 tank, and swinging open a heavy steel hatch.

[Vasyl, Volodymyr and Bogdan]

Another crew member, Vlad, scrambled out of a nearby fox hole, where he had been warming his grimy hands over a fresh fire, to help out.

Seconds later, a skull-shaking explosion echoed across the valley and towards Bakhmut, as a US-supplied tank shell tore out of the gun barrel with a flash of orange, heading towards Russian positions on the opposite hillside.

"T-72s are old tanks - this one's the same age as me," said Bogdan, a 55-year-old Ukrainian volunteer, turning to pat the huge, squat, Soviet-era machine behind him. "I used to drive one of these nearly 40 years ago - I can't believe I'm doing it again. But it works. It does the job."

"But a Leopard would be better," said Volodymr, another member of their three-man crew, with a low chuckle.

[Khan quotebox]

Plans to send German-made Leopard tanks and UK Challengers to the front lines here in the Donbas have been greeted with visible excitement by Ukrainian forces, who have been taking heavy casualties in recent weeks, around Bakhmut, and, more particularly, during the ferocious struggle for the nearby town of Soledar.

"There were very heavy losses. It's very pitiful. It's hard," said Danylo, an officer in charge of repairing tanks for the 24th Mechanised Brigade. He said the current deadlock would not be broken unless foreign tanks arrived in significant numbers.

"Yes, we'll be stuck here. We need these [Western tanks] to stop Russia's aggression. With infantry, covered by tanks, we'll win for sure," he said.

"Leopards, Challengers, Abrams - any foreign tank is good for us! I think we need at least 300. And we need them now!" said Bogdan.

The Ukrainians all acknowledged that Russia had more modern tanks but were scathing about their tactics.

"The Russian tanks are a bit better than ours. They're fully modernised. But mostly the Russians are strong because they push forwards en masse, advancing over the bodies of their own soldiers. Our commanders care more about the lives of their crews, so we try to destroy [the enemy] while losing as few of our own men as possible," said Bogdan.

A more senior company commander in the 24th Brigade, with the code name Khan, took us to a rear position, past fresh trenches being dug in the fields by specialised machines, where several tanks were hidden under camouflage nets in a wooded area.

[A tank firing on the front lines of Ukraine]

"These T-72s have proved effective in winter conditions. But they're old, and not really suited for modern warfare. These days it's all about drones and the latest technology." Khan said he believed it would take very little time for his crews to adapt to more modern European equipment.

"If you're a tank driver you're already someone of above-average intelligence. They'll be able to learn and adapt quickly," he said.

Suddenly, an incoming Russian artillery shell landed several hundred metres away. Seconds later, another landed closer, and then closer still, sending soldiers and journalists diving for cover.

The war in Ukraine has, in many ways, been a distinctly old-fashioned conflict, based on attrition, on devastating artillery strikes, and on dug-in positions reminiscent of the trenches of World War One. But the war has also revealed the limitation of tanks - most clearly in the first weeks of the conflict when nimble Ukrainian infantry destroyed many huge Russian armoured columns with shoulder-launched rockets.

"In the old days, it was all about tanks. Now it's about these new rocket systems," said Volodymr. But the coming months could yet see Western tanks - if deployed quickly, and in large numbers - play a decisive role.

[Map shows the Donbas region and the areas of Bakhmut and Soledar, where intense fighting continues]


Andrey Medvedev: How Russian mercenary says he made an icy escape to Norway

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-64303652, 13 days ago

As Andrey Medvedev dashed towards the remote Russia-Norway border, he claims he could hear the sound of attack dogs snarling behind him.

Their arrival, he says, meant the men hunting him were closing in. But the border - and the Western world - were in reach.

Two months earlier, the 26-year-old claims he deserted from the Russian mercenaries, the Wagner Group. He was about to become the first of their troops to defect to the West.

The specific claims of his apparent escape from Russia to Norway cannot be corroborated.

Founded in 2014, the Wagner Group is run by the businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. It is believed to make up about 10% of Russia's forces in Ukraine, and has conducted operations in Syria, Libya and Mali.

The group, and its often inhumane methods, are now internationally known. But information about how it operates - and how it is funded - has remained behind a veil of secrecy. Medvedev's escape could allow Western intelligence officers to tear that veil away.

Why he chose to defect through Norway is unclear. The frozen tundra where Russia meets Nato is one of the most heavily guarded border regions in the world.

Watchtowers, staffed with soldiers, have strong searchlights to break through the winter Arctic gloom. Teams on both sides mount regular patrols.

But in a video released by the Russian human rights group Gulagu.net, the former Wagner commander recalls sneaking past those watchtowers. All the while, he claims, the Russian troops hunting him were gaining ground.

At around 2am local time on Friday, Medvedev says, he finally scrambled over the barbed wire guarding the Norwegian border as Russian guards closed in.

As he climbed, he says he could hear dogs behind him. And, as spotlights from the guard towers picked him up, the shrill whistle of Russian bullets shot past him, he claims.

After scrambling past the wire, Medvedev ran towards a forest - the Norwegian forest - in the hope of finding someone to help him.

Moving through the woodland, Medvedev says he saw lights from a small settlement in the distance - around two kilometres away. He ran toward the light.

He was too afraid to look behind him, he says, scared the dogs pursuing him had also navigated the fence.

He banged on the first door he came to. After pleading with locals in broken English to call the authorities, he was detained by Norwegian border guards.

His journey - from soldier in Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, to the relative safety of the West - was over.

[The point where Medvedev crossed into Norway]

Before his arrival in, and defection from Ukraine, Medvedev had not lived a particularly unusual life.

After serving a brief period in the Russian army - as almost all 18-year-olds must - he was jailed for a short period in around 2017, Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin told the BBC. His offence is not known, although some reports say it was theft.

But it was Russia's violent invasion of Ukraine that changed his life.

As the conflict approached stalemate, and Russia tried to fill the gaps created by mounting casualties, the Wagner Group started to recruit heavily.

Medvedev, likely induced by the prospect of a steady wage, signed a four-month contract on 6 July until 6 November. Wagner recruits are reportedly paid around $10,000 (£8,186) per month, far more than the standard Russian salary.

As a man with previous military experience, Medvedev was appointed a unit commander in the eastern Donbas region.

Mr Osechkin told the BBC that Wagner supplied Medvedev with about 30-40 troops per week, many of them convicts recruited from Russian prisons.

Much of the most intense fighting in Ukraine in the past six months has occurred in the Donbas, and Wagner is believed to be heavily involved in two of the bloodiest battles - in Soledar and Bakhmut.

Medvedev's lawyer in Norway, Brynjulf Risnes, told the BBC that Medvedev witnessed a host of war crimes - including seeing "deserters being executed" by the Wagner Group's internal security service.

And Mr Osechkin said Medvedev decided to leave Wagner after witnessing the group's "terroristic methods".

"He gave to me testimony about what he saw in the war," he said, "and how the special forces of Wagner Group kill Russians who don't want to fight against Ukraine."

In November 2022, Medvedev was told that, despite completing his four-month contract, the group had decided unilaterally to extend his service. It was unclear for how long.

This seems to have been the final straw for Medvedev. "In short he felt betrayed and wanted to leave as soon as possible," Mr Risnes told the BBC.

[Norwegian troops on patrol along the Russian border]

After fleeing Ukraine and returning to Russia, Medvedev entered a Wagner recruiting centre in the Russian city of St Petersburg where he returned his dog tags. This appears to have attracted the group's attention.

"When he left Wagner Group, the security office of Wagner did a lot of things to find him and he was at risk of dying," Mr Osechkin said.

With security agents searching for him, Medvedev was forced to go into hiding to avoid the brutal kind of retribution he had seen the group impose upon deserters in Ukraine.

It was at this point that he approached Gulagu.net - an exiled human rights organisation - for help.

"When he was at risk of dying, his friend wrote a letter to Gulagu and to me, to help save Andrey's life," he added. "We did something then to help him to leave Russia."

After attempting to cross twice into Finland, Medvedev travelled to Russia's far north and made the passage across the Norwegian border.

As the story broke on Monday, Wagner chief Mr Prigozhin issued a sarcastic statement claiming Medvedev is a Norwegian citizen who led a non-existent unit from the Scandinavian nation.

A picture of Medvedev's passport shared with the BBC showed he is indeed a Russian citizen from a village in the central province of Tomsk.

Mr Risnes told the BBC he believes the former mercenary had taken some evidence of war crimes with him to Norway, and that he intends to share his information with groups investigating war crimes.

While the value of Medvedev's testimony could prove valuable to future war crimes investigators, it is likely to be Western spies who are truly excited to get their hands on the mercenary.

His experiences, and his part in Russia's bloody invasion, could help shed light on the group's operations around the world.

But for now, Medvedev remains in custody in the Oslo area, waiting to hear the outcome of his asylum application - far away from the conflict that changed his life, and shot his name into the headlines.


Nigeria extends deadline to exchange old cash

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-64444896, today

Nigeria's central bank has extended the deadline to exchange old banknotes for redesigned ones.

There have been long queues at some banks as Nigerians have struggled to meet the original deadline of Tuesday.

People now have until 10 February to do the swap.

The redesign of the higher denomination naira notes has been heavily criticised with analysts saying six weeks was not enough time for Africa's most-populous country to phase out the old currency.

It is happening a few weeks before the country goes to the polls in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Local media has been reporting that there are not enough of the new notes in circulation, with people unable to withdraw them from banks.

The move by the the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is seen as a push to encourage Nigerians to embrace digital payments in a society where cash is king.

It hopes the exchange will bring some of the cash currently being hoarded by individuals and companies back into the banking system.

When the bank announced in October that the 1,000 ($2.18, £1.75), 500 and 200 naira notes were to be replaced, it said 80% of the notes in circulation were outside banks.

The CBN believes that with the redesigned currency it will have a better understanding of the money circulating in the economy so it can better manage inflation.

The bank governor said the new deadline of 10 February would allow more people in rural areas, where there are very few bank branches, to exchange the old notes.

He added that Nigerians would then have a further seven days to deposit old notes directly with the CBN.


Jerusalem shooting: Israel to speed up gun applications after attacks

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-64438905, yesterday

Israel's security cabinet has approved measures to make it easier for Israelis to carry guns after two separate attacks by Palestinians in Jerusalem over the past two days.

The attacks took place after an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank killed nine people.

The new measures also include depriving an attacker's family members of residency and social security rights.

The full cabinet is due to consider the measures on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised a "strong" and "swift" response ahead of the security cabinet meeting.

Israel's army also said it would be reinforcing troop numbers in the occupied West Bank.

"When civilians have guns, they can defend themselves," the controversial far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, told reporters outside a Jerusalem hospital.

The measures will revoke the rights to social security of "the families of terrorists that support terrorism", the security cabinet said.

The proposals are in step with proposals from Mr Netanyahu's far-right political allies, who allowed him to return to power last month.

The announcement came after Israeli police said a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was behind a shooting in Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood on Saturday that left an Israeli father and son seriously wounded.

An Israeli police force spokesperson previously said the assailant ambushed five people as they made their way to prayers, leaving two in a "critical condition". The 13-year-old was shot and injured by passers-by and is being held in hospital.

In a separate shooting on Friday at a synagogue in East Jerusalem, seven people were killed and at least three more injured as they gathered for prayers at the start of the Jewish Sabbath. The gunman was shot dead at the scene.

The man behind Friday's synagogue attack was identified by local media as a Palestinian from East Jerusalem.

Police have arrested 42 people in connection with that attack.

Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai called it "one of the worst attacks we have encountered in recent years".

Palestinian militant groups praised the attack, but did not say one of their members was responsible.

Mr Netanyahu called for calm and urged citizens to allow security forces to carry out their tasks, while the military said additional troops would be deployed in the occupied West Bank.

"I call again on all Israelis - don't take the law into your hands," Mr Netanyahu said. He thanked several world leaders - including US President Joe Biden - for their support.

Tensions have been high since nine Palestinians - both militants and civilians - were killed during an Israeli military raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Thursday.

This was followed by rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, which Israel responded to with air strikes.

[Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu]

Since the start of January, 30 Palestinians - both militants and civilians - have been killed in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended its security co-operation arrangements with Israel after Thursday's raid in Jenin.

Friday's synagogue shooting happened on Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the six million Jews and other victims who were killed in the Holocaust by the Nazi regime in Germany.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attack, saying that one of the victims was a Ukrainian woman.

"Terror must have no place in today's world - neither in Israel nor Ukraine," he said in a tweet.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wrote on Twitter: "To attack worshippers at a synagogue on Holocaust Memorial Day, and during Shabbat, is horrific. We stand with our Israeli friends."

President Joe Biden talked to Mr Netanyahu and offered all "appropriate means of support", the White House said.

Shortly after the incident, Mr Netanyahu visited the site, as did Mr Ben-Gvir.

The controversial national security minister promised to bring safety back to Israel's streets, but there is rising anger that he has not yet done so, the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem said.

[Israeli emergency service personnel close-off the site of a reported attack at a synagogue]

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "deeply worried about the current escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory", a spokesperson said.

"This is the moment to exercise utmost restraint," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

On Saturday, the European Union expressed alarm at heightened tensions and urged Israel to use lethal force only as a last resort.

"The European Union fully recognises Israel's legitimate security concerns - as evidenced by the latest terrorist attacks - but it has to be stressed that lethal force must only be used as a last resort when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life," said the EU's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of the international community.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the future capital of a hoped-for independent state.

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New US childhood obesity guidelines criticised by families

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64427931, yesterday

In the US, new guidelines on how paediatricians should treat childhood obesity have been met with some criticism.

The American Academy of Paediatrics has recommended intensive therapy for children as young as six and weight loss drugs and surgery for those in their early teens.

But some fear this approach will come at the expense of a healthy and active lifestyle.

One child in five is obese in the US.

Doctors say early treatment is needed to prevent lifelong conditions, such as diabetes.

I meet Tracy and her 14-year-old daughter, Jaelynn, in a suburb of Washington. They live in a residential complex surrounded by highways and a few patches of green grass.

Tracy is upset - she's just received the news that Jaelynn's school is getting rid of the Physical Education class and replacing it with a health course taught in the classroom.

She's worried because her daughter already doesn't get much chance to move and socialise with her classmates. She thinks the new class will make it even more difficult.

Jaelynn tells me that last year she enrolled in a summer camp organised by the YMCA. She would go on field trips during the day and spend plenty of time outside.

"It was really fun," she says. "I felt better, I felt healthier, and I loved making friends."

Jaelynn has suffered from kidney disease since she was a child, and her being overweight negatively impacts her condition. But her mum says during the summer things started to improve.

"She lost twelve pounds in three months," Tracy says. "Her nephrologist was really impressed that she could lose so much so quickly. Her health improved and her confidence as well."

This change, Tracy tells me, showed her how important it was for her daughter to do activities outside.

For years, doctors have promoted a healthy lifestyle as the best way to fight childhood obesity. But in recent weeks the debate over this issue has reignited, as the American Academy of Paediatrics issued new guidelines for the first time in 15 years.

They say that eating well and exercising is not always enough.

"Medical treatment and prevention need to go hand in hand," says Dr Nazrat Mirza, one of the authors of the guidelines.

"Obesity is a chronic medical condition and in addition to healthy lifestyle changes, we have shown that medication works, and surgery also works."

Dr Mirza says the guidelines want to shatter the double standards that people with obesity face by making medical treatments readily available, like for any other condition.

"Just like asthma, just like hypertension," she says. "In hypertension you would tell somebody to cut salt, but then the blood pressure is still high, so you're still going to give them medication."

But some doctors are concerned by the emphasis on intensive early intervention.

Dr Katy Miller works with teenagers struggling with eating disorders at Children's Minnesota, and she fears these guidelines might be "setting kids up for a challenging relationship with their bodies".

"We are proposing treatment strategies that are expensive and even in the best circumstances are often unsuccessful," she says.

She thinks the focus should be more on the societal factors that impact childhood obesity.

"How can we ask someone to diet when we're not addressing things like poverty, food scarcity and housing instability?"

"I had a 15-year-old patient who had been told by doctors to lose weight," she adds, "and his family has been living in extreme poverty. They had a change in their financial circumstances, and he said to me 'do you know what the best part about having money is? You can buy fruit that isn't mouldy'."

On a cold grey day, I meet Julia. She's a mum of three and she has just finished a year-long support group on healthy cooking organised by the YMCA.

[A woman hold out food for her child]

"I am the one who cooks at home," she tells me proudly, "so if I cook healthy food, my family stays healthy."

She was referred to the program because she had been diagnosed with high cholesterol and prediabetes during pregnancy. Her teenage son, she tells me, was starting to have health issues as well, and that motivated her.

While she cuts some fruit for her toddler, I ask her what she thinks of the new guidelines.

She shakes her head.

"As a parent, I'd first try changing the food we eat and getting my children to do sports," she says.

"In our country, kids don't have that many opportunities to exercise, schools don't have enough sports programs. Only if I had tried everything, then I might consider it."

On the opposite side of town, Tracy agrees. "Surgery and medication should be the last resort," she says.


Toronto struggles with wave of public transport violence

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64408450, yesterday

Commuters in Toronto have been navigating the city's public transport system with growing unease, following a surge of violent incidents targeting both riders and operators.

As of Friday, there were seven reported incidents of violence in the last seven days on the transport system of Canada's largest city.

This includes a woman who was stabbed multiple times by a stranger on one of Toronto's iconic streetcars. The next day, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in the torso on a bus.

In another incident, a bus operator was shot with a BB gun by two teenagers. Four days later, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) said two other employees were chased by a person with a syringe at a subway station.

The wave of seemingly random violence has alarmed residents, and has dominated the conversation in Toronto over the last week.

"Every time I'm on the subway, I literally need to hide," said one Toronto woman in a TikTok posted on Thursday. "It's definitely scary, I'm concerned for my safety and (that of) others as well," said another in an interview with local news outlet BlogTo.

On Thursday, the Toronto Police Service responded by announcing that it will deploy more officers to patrol transit stations. During the announcement, Police Chief Myron Demkiw stressed that Toronto remains a safe city.

"A million people travel our city every day using (TTC) subways, streetcars, and buses, safely," he said.

Recent reports show that this issue is not unique to Toronto. A similar surge of violence on transport systems has been observed throughout 2022 in cities across North America, including New York City, Chicago and Washington DC.

How much has violence risen on public transit?

The Toronto Star newspaper has reported that violent incidents on the city's transit system have gone up, even while ridership remains lower than pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021, the paper reported that the TTC recorded 734 instances of violence against customers, including assault, sexual assault, robbery and harassment - a 10% increase from 2019.

In the first half of 2022, the TTC reported 451 instances of violence, putting the year on track for a higher rate of violence than in 2021. Overall major crime in Toronto is up 3% from 2019, according to Toronto Police data.

Violent incidents targeting operators also appear to be increasing. More than half of Toronto's transit workers said in a recent survey that they have experienced violence or harassment on the job.

A similar issue has been observed in other cities like Edmonton and Vancouver, prompting the national union of transit workers to call for a task force to tackle violence against its members.

[People wait to board a "C" line subway train at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station on January 22, 2023, in New York City.]

In the US, cities across the country have also reported significant spikes in crimes on local transit systems.

In New York City, statistics released in January show that subway crime alone rose 30% in 2022 compared to the previous year, despite the deployment of thousands of police officers.

In Chicago, statistics show that the rate of violent crimes per million rides is double what it was pre-pandemic.

Raw number of violent crimes on the city's Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in the first 11 months of 2022 stood at 591, compared to 489 in the same time period the previous year.

Officials have noted that ridership also grew during this time, meaning that the ratio of violent crimes per million rides actually fell slightly from 6.8 per million rides to 6.2.

What is contributing to the rise, and what can cities do to address it?

Experts have said that it is difficult to say definitively what is behind this rise, as each violent incident is unique. But the difficulties following the Covid-19 pandemic may play a role.

"Transit is a microcosm of the city, and we know that the pandemic shook something loose," Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, told the BBC.

But Mr Siemiatycki noted that without more information on each incident and the perpetrators, it is tough to pinpoint the root cause of this violence.

Jerry Flores, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and an expert on the escalation of violence, said incidents like these are often multifaceted without a single solution.

He said the pandemic has caused significant hardship for many people who have lost work or are struggling to make ends meet, and that people are still getting used to interacting with one another again as they emerge from isolation.

Public transit, Mr Flores added, "serves as a de facto respite location" for people experiencing distress, addiction and housing insecurity, due to lack of services elsewhere.

He said he believes some of the issues seen on public transit could be alleviated if "people's basic needs are met", and that policing alone may not solve the problem.

In Chicago, CTA president Dorval Carter suggested that rising crime rates are at least partly a function of decreased numbers of riders.

"Unfortunately, because there are fewer riders on the system, for a long stretch of time, this in turn has led some people to feel a little bit more emboldened to engage in unacceptable behaviour," he said.

Some commuters have suggested increasing the frequency of bus and subway arrivals as a solution, to help commuters avoid having to wait alone on platforms and at stations for extended periods of time.

Whatever the response may be, Mr Siemiatycki said it is vital for cities to act on this issue. "Transit is the lifeblood of a big city," he said, connecting people to their homes, jobs and broader community.

"Anything that puts transit at risk and causes riders to have second thoughts about using it, is really a risk to the systems themselves and the broader city as a whole."

Additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann in Washington, DC


Television frontman Tom Verlaine dies at 73

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-64442824, yesterday

Guitarist Tom Verlaine, who rose to fame in the 1970s New York punk scene as the frontman of rock band Television, has died at the age of 73.

In their heyday, Television scored three UK Top 40 hit singles and were acclaimed for their albums Marquee Moon and Adventure.

But they had more success in Britain than their native US and split in 1978.

Verlaine's death was announced by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of long-time associate and collaborator Patti Smith.

She did not specify a cause, saying that he died "after a brief illness".

Verlaine was considered one of the more skilled musical practitioners to emerge from the now-defunct CBGBs club in New York's Bowery, where their contemporaries included Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads.

Although they came to prominence because of the punk movement, their music was more complex than that of their rivals, with Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd trading lengthy solos and intricate jazz-influenced riffs.

Verlaine was born Thomas Miller in New Jersey, but adopted his stage name in homage to the French symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine.

After Television split, he released a string of solo albums, with his song Kingdom Come inspiring a rare cover version by David Bowie on his Scary Monsters album.

Television reformed in 1992, releasing a self-titled third album, and were sporadically active in later years, hailed as a prime influence on the alternative rock of the 1980s and 1990s.

Among those paying tribute to Verlaine was Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who tweeted: "Tom Verlaine has passed over to the beyond that his guitar playing always hinted at.

"He was the best rock and roll guitarist of all time, and like Hendrix could dance from the spheres of the cosmos to garage rock. That takes a special greatness."

Will Sergeant, guitarist of Echo & The Bunnymen, said: "Tom Verlaine's playing meant the world to me. If I ever played anything that sounded like him I was happy. He set me on my path as a guitarist, thank you Tom."


Bodycam footage shows moment of Paul Pelosi attack

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64428041, 3 days ago

A US court has authorised the release of footage showing the hammer attack on the husband of former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Body-camera footage shows the moment police arrive at Paul Pelosi's door and confront the attacker last October.

Its release follows a San Francisco court ruling that the district attorney's office must make the materials public.

Alleged attacker David DePape has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges.

The video shows San Francisco police entering Mr Pelosi's home on the night of 28 October, where they see Mr DePape and Mr Pelosi both holding a hammer.

They direct him to drop the hammer before the attack occurs.

In a statement on Friday, Mrs Pelosi said she has "absolutely no intention of seeing the deadly assault on my husband's life".

"I won't be making any more statements about this case, as it proceeds, except to again, thank people [for well-wishes] and inform them of Paul's progress," she said.

Court documents filed last year allege Mr DePape had planned to hold Mrs Pelosi - a Californian congresswoman who was not home at the time of the attack - hostage and break "her kneecaps" if she "lied" to him.

Mr DePape told police at the scene that he was sick of the "lies coming out of Washington DC".

Police have previously said Mr DePape told them he was on a "suicide mission" when he smashed in the glass backdoor of the Pelosi home in the upmarket Pacific Heights neighbourhood.

He is facing numerous charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.

The 42-year-old Canadian national also pleaded not guilty to federal charges of attempting to kidnap a federal official and assaulting a federal official's family member filed by the US Department of Justice.

No trial date has been set for Mr DePape.

Mr Pelosi was sent to the hospital after the attack, where he underwent surgery for a skull fracture. He also sustained injuries to his hands and right arm.

He was discharged within six days and has been making a slow recovery, and had his first public appearance in early December.


Jeff Zients: The bagel impresario headed to the White House

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64407273, 3 days ago

Jeff Zients, who will be replacing Ron Klain as chief of staff in Joe Biden's White House, is a man of many hats. He has led the president's Covid task force, served as a top economic adviser and been on the board of prominent, profitable multinationals.

And for many in Washington DC, he is also known as the co-founder of a wildly popular and much beloved chain of "Jew-ish" bagel shops favoured by local officer workers and President Joe Biden alike.

The restaurant promises to deliver bagels that are a cross between a "classic New York style bagel" and the "sweeter, Montreal-style bagels from our friends up north".

The chain, "Call Your Mother", was founded in 2018, when Mr Zients was working in the private sector as a member of Facebook's board of advisors and the CEO of Wall Street investment firm Cranemere.

One of the chain's co-founders, Andrew Dana, told the BBC that the successful bagel business was born over an equally delicious meal - pizzas - after he was introduced to Mr Zients by his father, who had been a summer camp companion of his in New Hampshire in the 1960s.

At the time of the meeting, Mr Dana recalled, he was unaware of Mr Zients experiences as top economic advisor under the Barack Obama administration.

"My dad told me he was interested in opening a restaurant. That was all the background I got. I was expecting to go sit with some 24-year-old," he said.

"We had lunch, hit it off and decided to do something together. Then I went home, Googled him and saw his Wikipedia page. I was like 'whoa nelly!'"

The meeting ended with the unlikely pair hitting it off.

"Over that lunch we decided to do something together and come up with a fun concept," Mr Dana said. "I went back to the drawing pad with my wife and partner Daniela, and we drew up what would become Call Your Mother - and he was stoked about it."

Far from being a quiet, behind-the-scenes investor, Mr Dana said that Mr Zients was actively involved in the creation of the first restaurant, including a long series of taste tests.

"Every weekend for about nine months before we opened, Dani and I would take bagels over to his house and do live taste tests to see how the bagel recipes were coming along," he said.

Backed by Mr Zients, Call Your Mother became a runaway success. Even as other Washington DC restaurants suffered during the pandemic, the chain flourished, and now boasts seven locations, with another on the way.

In January 2021, Call Your Mother also became the first restaurant in which Joe Biden dined out in Washington as president.

The president's visit, however, came after Mr Zients had divested from the restaurant and taken a role in the Biden administration as Counselor to the President and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator.

On Friday, Mr Biden formally announced that Mr Zients would be taking over in early February as his chief of staff, managing his schedule and driving his policy agenda.

Mr Dana and Mr Zients, however, have remained friends. Mr Dana said that he occasionally still takes bagels over to his home.

His favourite bagel? "A sesame bagel, scooped hard and double-toasted," Mr Dana said.


US to make it easier for gay men to donate blood

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64433434, 3 days ago

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced it will be changing a current three month abstinence policy for blood donations from gay men.

Current rules only allow donations if a man has not had sex with another man for that period.

Under new "individual risk-based" draft rules, all potential donors would be asked about new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months.

The FDA hopes this change will encourage more blood donations.

"This proposal for an individual risk assessment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will enable us to continue using the best science" to ensure an adequate and safe blood supply, said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in a statement on Friday.

Advocacy groups have for years called the current restrictions discriminatory against the LGBT community since modern technologies screen blood for infectious diseases.

According to the draft recommendations, all people seeking to donate blood will be asked if they've had new or multiple sexual partners within three months and if they have had anal sex. If the answer is yes to both, a person would have to wait three months to donate blood.

Anyone who has tested positive HIV will still be barred from donating blood.

All blood will continue to be screened for diseases like HIV, and Hepatitis B and C.

Country bans on blood donations from gay and bisexual men started in the 1980s in an effort to curb the Aids epidemic.

It was only in 2015 when the FDA changed its lifetime ban to a one year abstinence policy for blood donations from gay men.

The changes will take a few months as the FDA will receive public feedback for 60 days before finalising the guidelines.

"We feel confident that the safety of the blood supply will be maintained," said Dr Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA.

Just last year Canada lifted its three month abstinence policy. The UK, France, Greece, Israel, Hungary, Denmark and Brazil also recently lifted restrictions on blood donations.


George Santos: Drag queen claims embroil embattled congressman

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64388524, 3 days ago

He admitted he was guilty of "embellishing" his biography and resume - but Republican lawmaker George Santos said he was definitely never a drag queen.

Or at least that was until photos and videos of what appears to be the New York congressman performing in drag during his younger days in Brazil surfaced online.

"I was young and had fun at a festival," Mr Santos, 34, insisted to the pack of reporters chasing after him at the airport on Saturday.

More evidence has since circulated, further corroborating that the performer known to friends in the Rio de Janeiro area as "Kitara Ravache" is in fact the newly elected member of Congress.

An unbowed Mr Santos took to Twitter on Monday, calling those impersonating him on late-night television "embarrassing" and then feuding with drag personality Trixie Mattel.

The congressman was only sworn in barely three weeks ago, but is already facing multiple calls to step down. He has allegedly lied about his college degrees, his work experience, his campaign finances, his animal charity and even his faith. He has also falsely claimed that his grandparents survived the Holocaust and that his mother died in the 9/11 terror attack.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Mr Santos would be removed from Congress if the House Ethics Committee finds he broke the law.

But the revelations of his apparent drag queen past have left even more questions to answer as he settles into the ranks of a Republican Party increasingly hostile to drag culture.

While no Republican members of Congress have directly addressed the Santos drag allegations, drag has become a hot-button issue in the party.

At least eight states have introduced Republican-backed legislation to restrict or censor drag shows, according to the Pen America free-speech group.

Right-wing groups across the country have targeted drag story hours - in which drag queens read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores - and parental rights' activists have opposed drag events, which many in conservative media claim are "grooming" and "sexualising" children.

Moms for Liberty, one conservative group, argues drag should be confined to "adult spaces" and that "bringing drag into our children's schools is intentionally provocative. They want to provoke people to react to this."

Mr Santos' own colleague, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, has said the drag "agenda" is "targeting our children".

Critics of that position argue it sits within a long history of anti-LGBT rhetoric.

"It's a backlash to 50 years of increasing freedom of dress and increasing visibility for the LGBTQ community," says Michael Bronski, a Harvard University professor who has written extensively on sexuality and LGBT politics.

[Jeff Livingston - aka Annie Manildoo - performs at a drag story hour event]

Organised opposition of this kind was last seen in the 1970s, he says, when activists and evangelical Christian leaders launched a "moral panic" that came to be known as the Save Our Children coalition.

Drag opponents today are employing the same "old line of attack", Mr Bronski notes, but are up against an LGBT community that has made "inescapable" advances woven into the fabric of American culture.

Political attacks against drag culture growing

There is little indication yet of where Mr Santos, who ran his campaign as an openly gay Republican, stands on the right's anti-drag legislation and rhetoric - but he has embraced other anti-LGBT talking points prevalent in some Republican circles. In 2020, he said same-sex couples are "an attack on the family unit" and children raised in such households tend to grow up "troubled". He is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Florida law that restricts LGBT education in primary schools, labelled "Don't Say Gay" by its critics.

Jeff Livingston, a drag queen from Long Island - a portion of which is represented by Mr Santos - has performed for nearly a decade at clubs and story hours under the name Annie Manildoo. As Republicans have ramped up their rhetoric against the drag community, he has encountered more protests at his drag events in the past year and typically does not leave events in full drag anymore, for safety reasons, he said.

But he is not perturbed.

"Drag has become so mainstream that it's an easier target now," he says. "Any time a minority group grabs any kind of power, the majority gets a little anxious about it."

[Screaming Queens drag performers dressed as the New York skyline]

With a background in acting and education, he also works regularly at theatres and summer camps. "There are a lot of queer folks who work regularly with kids of all ages with no issues ever arising, despite the image conservatives try to paint of us being sexual deviants," he said.

At the New York-based Screaming Queens company, Alex Heimberg manages over 100 drag performers, who he says are more in demand than ever, for everything from birthdays to fundraising galas.

"The country is very divided [but] it's not like everybody hates drag and is protesting," he said.

Mr Heimberg, 55, who performed in the 1990s and 2000s as the prominent drag queen Miss Understood, says he thinks it is hypocritical for Republicans to keep George Santos in Congress while decrying drag.

"His misdeeds are more important than the fact that he was a drag queen," he added. "The fact that he was a drag queen is just an extra reason to have a giggle at his expense."


Taylor Swift: Fans search for clues in Lavender Haze video tease

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-64428443, 3 days ago

Taylor Swift surprised fans on Thursday by announcing a music video was being released for her song Lavender Haze.

It is taken from her 10th studio album Midnights, which came out in October last year.

The song is the second official single from the album, but the third to be made into a music video.

Like many Swift videos, it contains several Easter Eggs - hidden messages for fans to decipher about what the singer's next move could be.

The video has already been dissected by the singer's fans (known as Swifties) who think they've cracked which album the pop artist could be releasing next.

The 33-year-old has committed to re-recording her first six albums, after the rights to her original masters were sold to an investment fund for a reported $300m (£242m).

The singer's first record deal, with Nashville's Big Machine Recordings, did not give her full control of her music, which meant the master recordings could be sold when her deal with them expired.

As a result, Swift re-recorded her second album Fearless in 2021 and fourth album Red in 2022.

Fans believe the next album to be re-recorded will be her third, Speak Now, which was first released in 2010.

'All-encompassing love glow'

The meaning behind the title Lavender Haze was explained by the singer before the release of Midnights last year, where she explained it came from watching the Emmy award-winning TV show Mad Men.

"I looked up [the phrase] because I thought it sounded cool. And it turns out that it's a common phrase used in the '50s where they would describe being in love," she said in an Instagram video.

"If you're in the 'lavender haze,' then that meant you were in that all-encompassing love glow," she said. "And I thought that was really beautiful."

Swift went on to explain that she and many others living in the age of social media know what it's like being in love while in the spotlight.

"Like my relationship for six years we've had to dodge weird rumours, tabloid stuff, and we just ignore it. This song is about the act of ignoring that stuff to protect the real stuff," she added.

Swift describes the video as a "sultry sleepless 70s fever dream" and says story boarding the music video for Lavender Haze helped her "conceptualise the world and mood of Midnights".

So of course, there are lots of lavender references in the video (which contains explicit language) - Swift is seen swimming in a purple pool, whilst her home appears in lilac hazy hues.

Purple might even be a clue pointing towards the re-recording of Speak Now, the original album cover for which saw Swift wearing a purple dress.

The colour was also one of the themes in Swift's previous music video, Bejewelled, which saw the singer in an elevator pressing a purple-coloured button for the third floor - a possible reference to her third album.

It could be a tenuous link, but there's another possible clue in the shape of a fish.

On her Speak Now world tour, Swift often performed with a guitar that had koi carp fish painted on it and in both the Bejewelled and Lavender Haze videos, koi fish pop up a few times too.

There are lots of other Easter Eggs in the music video that aren't related to Speak Now but just Swift in general, meaning you have to watch it several times to get a sense of what's going on.

Of course, there are lots of Midnights themed scenes in the video - an alarm clock strikes midnight (and no points for guessing what time the video itself came out).

At another point, the camera pans to a stack of vinyl album covers. The top one is titled Mastermind, which is the name of the 13th and final song on Midnights.

The vinyl cover has its own album art - which sees a Sagittarius star sign (Swift's) aligning with a Pisces one (her partner Joe Alwyn's sign).

The fish imagery seen elsewhere in the video could also be a possible reference to the Pisces sign.

The number 13 is referenced in almost all Swift videos in some way and is her lucky number because she was born on 13 December.

In a scene in the video, she is watching the weather forecast on TV and Nashville, where she lives, appears to be 13 degrees.

As Americans measure temperature in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius, that would be pretty cold.

If that's not enough of an Easter Egg - the weather forecast also says 'Midnight Rain'.

This is not the first time Swift has been in the news this week, as away from her music videos, her upcoming Eras Tour has attracted lots of unwanted attention.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation were in charge of selling tickets for the tour in the US but left thousands of fans disappointed after system crashes meant they failed to buy tickets in November 2022.

The company apologised on Wednesday to both fans and Swift herself, saying "we need to do better".

It comes after the US Senate committee on consumer rights launched an investigation into Ticketmaster.

Politicians and fans have argued the company - which sells 70% of tickets in the US - has too much control over the live music market.

Swift is yet to announce tour dates for the UK and Europe.


Colorado bear poses for roughly 400 'selfies' on wildlife camera

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64428039, 3 days ago

A black bear in Colorado has been pausing and posing in front of motion-detecting cameras, snapping hundreds of "selfies".

On one camera, roughly 400 out of 580 images were of the same bear.

Most of the other animals at Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) in Boulder simply walk by, searching for food or resting places. But not this bear.

This animal "took a special interest" in the cameras, an OSMP spokesperson said, and seized the "opportunity."

"These pictures made us laugh, and we thought others would, too,"spokesperson Philip Yates said in a statement

The OSMP posted some of the images on Twitter and the surprise selfie star soon caught the eye of many social media users.

"Sure, it's cute when the bear takes 400 selfies with the trail cam. But when I do it, I get a letter advising me that I should have taken a left at the trail split and that I was on private property," said Twitter user @EscpFrmFlatland.

Another Twitter user joked: "I think I look ok from the front but what about the side? Is my snout too long?"

[Bear on camera in Colorado]

There are 9 motion-detecting cameras positioned across the park's 46,000 acres. They are activated when an animal walks by. Once triggered, the cameras either capture still photographs or short videos.

Bears, birds, foxes and owls are just a few of the animals captured by the park's cameras. Officials hope to learn "how local species use the landscape around us" - including bear selfies - "while minimizing our presence in sensitive habitats".

The cameras are placed in high-traffic areas, determined by the presence of footprints and animal-cleared pathways.

"These cameras help us to learn what animals are really out there," said Christian Nunes, a wildlife ecologist with OSMP, "and what they are up to over the course of a day, a week, or even years."


Tyre Nichols: Family remembers 'a beautiful soul'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64424829, 2 days ago

The family of Tyre Nichols, a black man whose death following a traffic stop in Tennessee has placed a fresh spotlight on police brutality in the United States, describes him as a "beautiful soul" with a passion for skateboarding, sunsets and photography.

"Nobody's perfect, but he was damn near," his mother RowVaughn Wells said at a press conference flanked by family members and supporters.

A visibly grieving Ms Wells broke into a rare smile as she described her son - who worked for FedEx and had a four-year-old son - having a tattoo of her name on his arm.

"That made me proud," she said.

Mr Nichols, 29, loved to skateboard, a passion he'd had since he was six years old, and his favourite activity was to head to the local park to skate.

His stepfather, Rodney Wells, said he had recently joked to his stepson that he was too old to skateboard.

"You've got to put that skateboard down. You've got a full-time job now," he remembered saying. "He looked at me like 'Yeah right' because that was his passion."

He also had a passion for photography and sunsets, and his mother said that each night he would go to nearby Shelby Farms Park, on the eastern outskirts of Memphis, to watch the sunset and take pictures.

Mr Nichols died days after he was stopped by police on 7 January. Five now-fired police officers - who like Mr Nichols are all black - are facing murder charges.

Bodycam footage of the encounter was published on Friday, and showed him being severely beaten by police.

Ms Wells spoke of the grief the family has been experiencing since Mr Nichols' death.

"All I know is my son Tyre is not here with me anymore. He will not walk through that door again," she said.

"He will never come in and say 'Hello parents', because that's what he would do. I'll never hear that again," said Ms Wells, adding that she would work tirelessly for justice because "no son deserves this".

Mr Nichols' stepfather described his stepson as "a good kid" who was the baby of the family - he had two older brothers and one older sister.

"I was Tyre's stepfather, but you can take the 'step' out of it because that was my son," Mr Wells said of the pair's relationship. They also worked together at FedEx, where Mr Nichols had worked for the past nine months.

Mr Wells said he had watched the police incident video, describing it as "horrific" and something which "no father, mother should have to witness".

He said the family would do everything they could to seek justice, but said anyone holding protests in Mr Nichols' name should do so peacefully, and should not carry out damage or looting.

"That's not what Tyre wanted and that's not going to bring him back," he said.


Ukraine's new tanks an upgrade - but may arrive too late

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64408336, 4 days ago

The M1 Abrams tanks the US will send to Ukraine are a significant upgrade in the arming of Kyiv, but will not make any difference to the next phase of the war.

The decision to send them is an abrupt reversal after longstanding Pentagon arguments that they are a poor fit for the Ukrainian battlefield.

But the announcement itself does make a difference.

"It unlocks the German decision to send Leopard 2 tanks and for others who have Leopard tanks to send them as well," Kurt Volker, the former US Special Representative to Ukraine, told the BBC.

Western allies want to build up Ukraine's armoured vehicle capacity in the next six to eight weeks to help prepare it for an expected Russian spring offensive.

It will take much longer than that to get the Abrams to the battlefield and to train Ukrainians to look after them. German-made Leopards, on the other hand, can be deployed relatively quickly and are easier to operate.

American and German officials did not publicly link the two issues. But they co-ordinated their announcements today, resolving a growing dispute in the Western alliance that had concerned Washington.

From the beginning of the war the Biden administration and its allies have carefully calibrated their weapons deliveries to avoid provoking a Russian escalation.

But they began to drop their taboos after a string of Ukrainian battlefield successes. And the prospect of a renewed Russian offensive has shifted the focus to tanks - necessary especially for Ukraine's ability to fight in open terrain in the east of the country.

With some 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks deployed throughout Europe, Berlin came under increasing pressure from some allies to send its own or to give approval for other countries to export them.

But the Germans did not want to be seen as the only Western power deploying battle tanks against Russia - and Britain's announcement that it was planning to contribute more than a dozen wasn't enough.

[National Security Council spokesman John Kirby]

Until a few days ago, Pentagon officials were saying that the M1 Abrams weren't an option.

While the high-tech tanks are among the best in the world they're also complicated, expensive, difficult to maintain, and require extensive training.

None of that has changed.

But there was debate within the administration about how to respond to the European rift, and a number of phone calls between President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in recent weeks.

One senior administration official said Biden was focused on transatlantic unity.

"What this decision does do is show how unified we are with our allies and partners and doing all of this in a co-ordinated way," agreed the spokesman for the National Security Council John Kirby.

"Coupled with this near term commitment by the Germans, the Abrams represent the long term commitment," a US official said.

A former US ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, has a more hardnosed view of that long term commitment.

"The administration was not necessarily keen on tanks," he said.

"But then they saw how the debate was proceeding. They saw the public perception. I think they did make a good faith effort to persuade the Germans.

"But to make that work, they had to agree on the Abrams so they did. That's not something they were keen on doing. And that's why the Abrams are taking a very, very slow boat to Ukraine, so to speak."

Whatever the case, the Abrams will be a long time coming, given the complications and the method of procurement. The tanks will be purchased from private contractors, not sent from Pentagon stocks, so it will take many months - maybe even a year - before they get to Ukraine.

In the meantime, military analysts say the addition of Leopard tanks will be a significant boost to Ukraine's offensive ability but not a silver bullet: they will have to be merged into a combined arms team along with infantry and artillery.

That will be an important element of whether this is a game-changing moment in the conflict.

It may also be a measure of whether the goalposts on weapons will shift again - to eventually include longer range missiles and war planes.


Black Americans struggle with 'triggering' Tyre Nichols video

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64442369, yesterday

Angelina Paxton had been friends with Tyre Nichols for more than half her life.

As teens, she said, they spent their days at the skate park, and their afternoons watching the California sunset while talking on the hood of a car.

And that's exactly how they spent a final afternoon together, in 2020, when Ms Paxton visited Mr Nichols in Memphis.

Three years later, after footage of officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols was made public, Ms Paxton said she refuses to replace those happy memories with images of the attack that allegedly led to his death.

"I have done everything I can to avoid any exposure (to the video)," she said. "The last images in my head are not going to be that."

[Tyre Nichols with Angelina Paxton]

Police and state officials have said that they chose to release nearly an hour of footage of the violent arrest in order to be transparent, but many Americans are still trying to make sense of what it shows.

Those closest to Mr Nichols, like Ms Paxton and his mother, RowVaughn Wells, have said just hearing about the brutality of the attack was enough.

And among the wider black community here in Memphis, a clear divide has emerged between those who have seen the video and those who can't bring themselves to watch.

And while people, no matter their race, will struggle with the violence depicted, experts and psychologists warn these images can be especially traumatic for people of colour. They urge caution when deciding whether to watch the footage.

"Because of the history associated with violence to black and brown bodies, when we watch a video like this, in a sense, we're not only watching that video but we're revisiting the history of violence to black and brown bodies in this country," said Dr Alex Pieterse, a professor and clinical psychologist whose research focuses on race-based trauma.

"I would never say to someone, 'don't watch it'. But for me, it's a healthier choice not to."

Dr Amanda Calhoun, a Yale University clinical psychiatry resident who specialises in the mental health effects of anti-black racism, said the instinct to hide from the violence of the video is rational and understandable.

But the added element of knowing the same thing could happen to you because of your race, she said, makes watching the footage especially traumatising for some black Americans.

"If you feel you need to bear witness to it, you want to see exactly what happened to him. I think that's also okay, I would just caution it may cause symptoms," she said.

For anyone trying to decide whether to watch the footage, but especially people of colour, here's what experts and psychologists suggest.

Monitor how you are feeling

Dr Pieterse suggests first checking in with how the coverage of Tyre Nichols death has made you feel, especially if you've experienced violence in the past.

"If you do want to watch it, recognise that it may actually trigger memories, you have of your own individual, you know, trauma, so I would offer a word of caution."

Know the symptoms

"You might find that after you watch the video, or actually even hearing about the video, you notice you're having headaches, you're having stomach aches," Dr Calhoun said. "Understanding that those that can be your body's response to stress is really important."

For hours or even days after watching the video, Dr Calhoun says people might experience symptoms that mirror anxiety and depression.

She said other reactions can also include low mood, a change in appetite and sleep and "anhedonia," or difficulty enjoying activities that once made you happy. If these symptoms persist, she suggests speaking with a health care professional.

Talk to your kids

Even if you're trying to shield your children from the graphic content in the video, Dr Calhoun said it may be necessary to have a conversation with them about the footage.

She advises taking a cue from your child or teenager and having a frank discussion as a family before deciding whether to view the view.

"Your kids may have exposure to social media already so you want to make sure that if they're going to watch the video, that they watch it with you, as opposed to on their own or with a bunch of friends that may or may not know how to process it in a way that's healthy," she said.

You are not alone

While it might seem like common sense, Dr Pieterse advises talking about your emotions and feelings with people who know and understand what you're experiencing.

"I think part of what has made our experience of people, as people of colour more challenging in this country is that our trauma often is unrecognized, or it's almost not even validated," he said.

"Know what you're experiencing is real and it's connected to how you've had to navigate this world as a person of colour."


Who is Jeff Zients, Biden's new chief of staff?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64433494, 3 days ago

President Joe Biden has named Jeff Zients, who previously oversaw the administration's coronavirus response, as the next White House chief of staff.

The current chief of staff, Ron Klain, is to step down after the State Of The Union address on 7 February.

The role is considered to be one of the most powerful jobs in the US government.

"I promised to make government work for the American people. That's what Jeff does," Mr Biden said in a statement.

The White House will hold an official transition event in the coming days.

Mr Zients' return to the White House comes at a crucial moment for the US president as his staff begin to turn their attention to a potential re-election campaign in 2024.

President Biden is also facing a special counsel investigation into the handling of classified documents found at his private office and at his home in Delaware.

He first joined the Biden administration when he was tasked with managing the Biden administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the distribution of vaccines in 2021 - a logistical public-health effort of historic scope.

By the summer of 2021, more than two-thirds of Americans had received the first round of vaccinations against Covid-19.

The White House was criticised at times for its handling of the pandemic, particularly scarcity of inexpensive tests during the omicron variant surge during the winter of 2021-22. When Mr Zients left the White House in April 2022, however, Mr Biden sang his praises.

"Jeff put his decades of management experience to work formulating and executing on a plan to build the infrastructure we needed to deliver vaccines, tests, treatment, and masks to hundreds of millions of Americans.," the president said in a statement. "I will miss his counsel and I'm grateful for his service."

But his departure from the White House was short lived.

Mr Zients returned in the autumn to help the Biden administration handle personnel changes as it entered the second half of its first term. It turns out one of the biggest changes would be Zients himself taking over the chief of staff job.

Mr Zients' resume is extensive, although his time in government service is limited.

He spent most of his professional career as a management consultant. He served as chair of the Corporate Executive Board and ran the Advisory Board Group, which he would later help take public with a multi-million-dollar stock offering. He also founded Portfolio Logic, an investment management firm focusing on the healthcare and business-services sectors.

His first government job came during Barack Obama's presidency, when he served as deputy director of the White House budget office and director of the National Economic Council, an administration advisory group. He also helped the Obama administration fix problems with the rollout of the Obamacare insurance exchange system, including the chaotic launch of the programme's website.

Mr Zients reported his net worth at around $90m on government disclosure documents in March 2021, which would make him the wealthiest of Mr Biden's top-level appointments.

His ties to the corporate world, including a stint on Facebook's board of directors after leaving the Obama administration, has opened him up to criticism from some government watchdog groups.

"Americans are appalled by profiteering in healthcare - Jeff Zients has become astonishingly rich by profiteering in healthcare," said Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser in a statement. "Americans are aghast at how social media companies have built monopolies and violated privacy laws. Zients served on the Board of Directors of Facebook as it was defending itself against growing attacks from both political parties."

Mr Zients also helped the 2020 Biden presidential campaign with financial management and co-chaired the president-elect's transition team, which faced numerous additional obstacles because of Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge defeat.

But to Washingtonians, the incoming chief-of-staff is also known for co-founding the locally beloved chain of bagel purveyors known as Call Your Mother, which boasts several colourful establishments around DC.

Kayla Epstein contributed to this report.


Ryanair and EasyJet ready to snap up Flybe staff

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64445669, today

Staff who have lost their jobs due to the collapse of regional airline Flybe should apply for roles with EasyJet and Ryanair, say the two budget operators.

Flybe went into administration on Saturday, putting 277 staff out of work.

The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) said it had received phone calls in the early hours of Saturday morning from worried Flybe staff.

But the union's leader, Martin Chalk, said there were jobs "out there".

EasyJet said it had 250 vacancies for cabin crew.

Ryanair posted a message on the careers section of its website saying that it had vacancies in all categories, including pilots, engineers and ground staff.

"Of course there is upset and concern," said Mr Chalk, Balpa general secretary.

Some staff had already been through a similar experience when Flybe collapsed three years ago, he said. When this happened, the airline shed 2,000 staff and then relaunched in April last year.

"The advantage is, this time around, the market is somewhat more buoyant than it was, now that Covid is largely in the rear view mirror," said Mr Chalk.

Airlines are also determined to avoid a repeat of last year's catastrophe, when staff shortages led to thousands of flight cancellations, leaving passengers stranded and demanding compensation.

'Jobs for all'

Flybe has cancelled all planned flights to and from the UK after going into administration - affecting 75,000 passengers in total. Passengers have been scrambling to find alternative ways to travel.

However, most Flybe staff are unlikely to be left high and dry, said airline analyst John Strickland.

"My expectation is that airlines haven't completed all their recruitment for the summer, so there will be gaps and opportunities," he said.

A post on Ryanair's website encouraged Flybe staff to apply for new roles with the airline.

"[Ryanair has] positions for all of you, across all areas of our business, including flight crew, cabin crew, engineers, ground staff and office staff," it said.

EasyJet said it was not currently advertising for pilots, but would encourage Flybe cabin crew to apply for the 250 vacancies it has at Gatwick and Luton airports.

Flybe cabin crew would be fast tracked and could start work after 10 days, EasyJet said. Successful applicants for head office roles could be fast tracked within 14 days.

Optimism

Flybe first went into administration in March 2020, knocked off course by the pandemic, which saw almost all flights grounded. It was rescued by Thyme Opco, a firm linked to US hedge fund Cyrus Capital, and relaunched in early 2022, but as a much smaller operator.

This meant many fewer jobs were at stake this time round, said airline analyst John Strickland.

"[And] it's definitely a more hopeful time for the staff," he said. "The original Flybe company collapsed with around 70 aircrafts and we were just going into the industry-wide shock that Covid created.

"Contrast with this the revived Flybe, with only around five aircrafts, going into a period when we are looking to put Covid substantially behind us, a period when airlines are optimistic about bookings."

Both Ryanair and EasyJet appear to be in a strong position to take on staff, he added.

Ryanair has already returned to being profitable, defying the challenges of last year, and chief executive Micheal O'Leary recently told the Financial Times he sees "no signs" of the current economic slowdown hitting airlines.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told the BBC his firm has experienced a bounce-back in sales, reducing its losses.

Mr Strickland said Flybe had not succeeded in taking advantage of the return in travel demand, due to stiff competition, rising fuel prices and because the airline lacked "a clear and defensible business strategy, given that regional flying is the toughest segment to be in".

Balpa's Mr Chalk said he would like to work with the sector and the government to try to ensure there was a more stable market, rather than "the churn" of companies picking up staff from each other.


Flybe administration: Scramble to change plans after airline ceases trading

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64439107, yesterday

For Sophie Levy, a relaxing break to visit family in Windsor was scuppered when Flybe declared on Saturday that it was cancelling all flights.

The airline said it had ceased trading, with 277 out of 321 staff being made redundant.

Sophie is one of 2,500 people who were forced to change their Saturday travel plans last minute.

She flew with Flybe on Friday from Newquay in Cornwall to Heathrow, with a return flight scheduled for Sunday.

"I will now be getting a train at short notice that will put me out of pocket," she told BBC News.

"My relaxing weekend turned out to be manic."

Sophie is in the Royal Navy, based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, and said she was under pressure to return to her base in time for a promotional course.

The airline has cancelled all planned flights to and from the UK after going into administration - affecting 75,000 passengers in total.

Flybe said it would not be able to help passengers arrange alternative flights.

Many customers have said they only found out about the cancellations while travelling to the airport.

Freddy McBride, 61, from Balham in south London, was due to fly with his wife from Heathrow to Belfast on Saturday morning but had to rebook with Aer Lingus.

He said he got up at the "crack of dawn" trying to check in, as he had been unable to do so the night before.

"I left my wife to do it while I got the train," which was before 07:00 GMT, he said.

"I got to Hatton Central [station] and I checked my email and it says they've gone into administration. It's just outrageous."

'£100 out of pocket'

Natalie Punshon from Darlington was in Belfast after her Sunday Flybe flight back to Newcastle was cancelled.

"This morning I woke up to two emails, one saying the flight was cancelled and another that I could check in for the flight," she said.

She said she had booked a flight back with Easyjet, but that she was now £100 out of pocket.

Chris Donnelly, who was scheduled to fly from Belfast City to Heathrow at 07:25 GMT, also said his flight had been cancelled.

At 03:07 GMT he received an email from Flybe stating that the company had gone into administration, he said. The email advised passengers not to travel to the airport.

Mr Donnelly, a school principal and political commentator, was on his way to the airport when he saw the email.

[Chris Donnelly - head of St John the Baptist Primary School in Belfast]

He was able to book an alternative flight from Belfast to Gatwick, but doing so at short notice was inconvenient, he said.

He added that he had booked train tickets from Heathrow into central London for £50 - which he now did not need.

'I don't know what has happened'

Neil Baker from Teesside made a Flybe booking on Friday through a third-party website. He bought tickets for his mother, who is 87, and her friend to travel during the May bank holiday, he said.

"I received an email that there would be a delay in getting a booking confirmation which has happened to me before," he said.

"Now I hear that Flybe has gone into administration, I don't know what has happened to the flights."

He said he is now waiting to hear from the third-party website to find out if his booking went through.

[Neil Baker and his mother]

Flybe's administrator confirmed 277 of its 321 staff were being made redundant.

Financial advisory firm Interpath said the rest of the company's staff would be retained.

Until the most recent collapse, Flybe operated flights on 21 routes from Belfast City, Birmingham, and Heathrow to airports across the UK as well as to Amsterdam and Geneva.

A statement published on the Flybe website early on Saturday said the High Court had appointed joint administrators for Flybe Limited.

It added that anyone who had booked a flight with the airline via an intermediary should contact that intermediary directly.

The government said its "immediate priority" would be to support anyone trying to get home and Flybe staff who have lost their jobs.

What to do if your flight is cancelled

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the body which overseas air travel in the UK, has issued advice to customers:

* Those who booked directly with Flybe with a credit, debit, or charge card should contact their card provider for a potential refund

* Card providers may ask for a "negative response" letter, proving the status of the airline. This will published on the website of the CAA

* The CAA may launch an operation to repatriate stranded passengers, but this has not been announced yet. It is worth checking their website

* Customers who booked their flights as part of a package deal with a travel agent may be ATOL-protected (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) and are advised to speak to their agent

* Most Flybe bookings are not part of a package holiday and are unlikely to be ATOL-protected, but may still be covered through travel insurance if it covers scheduled airline failure

* For further information customers are advised to contact Flybe's administrator Interpath at flybecustomers@interpathadvisory.com

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If you are a Flybe employee or you were due to fly with the airline how have you been affected by Flybe going into administration? Tell us by emailing: haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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Over-50s at work: 'You feel your usefulness has passed'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64441775, today

Michael O'Reilly from Bexhill wants a job, but says he can't find one because companies don't want people his age.

"It's horrible," he says. "You feel your usefulness has passed."

His experience is not unusual. New research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests firms are much less open to hiring older workers than they are to bringing in younger talent.

Yet at the same time the chancellor is urging people who retired early to return to work.

In a speech on Friday, Jeremy Hunt said there were almost 300,000 fewer people in employment than before the pandemic, and warned firms would find it difficult to grow if they could not find enough staff.

"So, to those who retired early after the pandemic, or haven't found the right role after furlough, I say: Britain needs you," Mr Hunt said.

But the CMI, a professional body focusing on management and leadership, warns that to bring more older workers back into the workforce, employers will also need to "shift their attitudes" towards hiring.

The CMI surveyed more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services. It found that just four out of 10 (42%) were open "to a large extent" to hiring people aged between 50 and 64.

The survey, carried out at the end of October 2022, found that most employers were more open to hiring workers in younger age groups.

Almost three quarters, 74%, of managers were open to a large extent to hiring younger workers between the ages of 18 and 34.

Slightly fewer, that is 64%, were very open to hiring those aged between 34 and 49.

The number dropped furthest for applicants in the over-65 aged group. Just 18% of managers said they were open to a large extent to hiring people in that category.

The findings are despite the benefits older workers can offer. Mr O'Reilly has decades of experience working in the banking sector, starting as a programmer and moving up to global IT management positions. He is over 50, although he avoids giving his exact age to potential employers.

"What tends to happen is, over the phone the initial conversation is fine, but when you do video calls or face-to-face interviews the dynamics change. You can tell by their manner and their body language, they're not really paying attention to you," he told the BBC.

Leadership failings

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said it was employers, as much as older workers, who needed to hear the chancellor's message about encouraging them back to the labour market.

Employers were complaining of severe labour shortages, she said, while also admitting that they are hesitant to bring in older workers.

"[That] points to both cultural and leadership failings in businesses of all sizes, and that needs to change," she said.

Ms Franke said that older workers could be lured back, if they were offered training and flexible working options.

"But unless those doing the hiring revisit their attitudes, older workers will continue to be excluded, just when the labour market needs them the most," she said.

Wasted talent

Many sectors across the economy are suffering from acute staff shortages. But at the same time around a quarter of people of working age - about 10 million people - don't have jobs. Some are looking for jobs, others are students or carers, or are unable to work due to ill-health.

[Middle-aged man working at laptop]

In his speech on Friday, Mr Hunt said if students were excluded from the figure, there were 6.6 million people who were "economically inactive", describing it as "an enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential".

A significant number of those, more than one million, are people between the age of 50 and 64, who have retired early.

Some firms are welcoming the move to encourage retirees back to work. Emma Harvey, a human resources executive from the insurance company, Axa UK, said bringing more over-50s back into work would help provide the "talent and the skills" that Axa needed, as well as ensuring the firm's workforce properly reflected its customer base.

"Given that we've got such a shortage of workers, it's absolutely a space where every business should be looking, and it's certainly one that's a critical one for Axa," she said.

Learning

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said firms repeatedly told her they could not hire the staff they needed.

While improving childcare and other strategies could also help bring younger workers back into the workforce, luring back the over-50s was also "part of the answer" to filling those labour shortages, she told Sky News on Sunday.

Advising companies how they can embrace a multi-generational workforce could also help shift attitudes, Mr O'Reilly believes.

So, while he is still looking for employment, he has also set up the Age Diversity Network, an organisation which works with employers highlighting the benefits of hiring older workers.

"I, and many other older workers, still have a lot to offer," he says.

"I still want to learn, and am more than happy to work at a lower level and give something back based on my experience and to help others gain from that experience."


Adani Group: Fortune of Asia's richest man hit by fraud claims

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64431235, 3 days ago

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani saw more than $20bn (£16bn) wiped off his fortune on Friday, after investors fled his companies for a second day prompted by fraud claims made by a US investment firm.

The Adani Group has dismissed the report as malicious, but the response has failed to stem the uproar.

India's main opposition party has demanded an investigation.

The firm's publicly listed companies have lost about $50bn in market value.

Shares in the firm's flagship Adani Enterprises dropped by nearly 20% on Friday, while some of the group's other publicly listed firms tumbled even further, triggering automatic halts in trading in Mumbai.

Mr Adani has dropped from the third richest person in the world to the seventh on Forbes' rich list, maintaining an estimated net worth of more than $96bn, according to the publication.

The fallout comes just days after Hindenburg Research, a firm that specialises in "short-selling", or betting against a company's share price in the expectation that it will fall, published a report accusing the Adani Group of engaging in decades of "brazen" stock manipulation and accounting fraud.

Its report came ahead of a planned share sale for Adani Enterprises, which is now seeing little demand.

Mr Adani is a self-made tycoon who has built a fortune with investments in ports, airports, renewable energy and other industries. His wealth has soared in the past three years, as the value of shares in his firms skyrocketed.

His firm said it was considering legal action against Hindenburg.

An ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Adani has long faced claims from opposition politicians alleging that he has benefited from his political ties, which he denies.

Many Indian banks and state-owned insurance companies have either invested in or loaned billions of dollars to companies linked to the Adani Group.

In interviews with Reuters, some of India's leading public sector banks said they were not worried about risks stemming from their exposure to the firm.

But the wider stock market has been hit by the episode, helping to send India's benchmark Nifty 50 stock index down more than 1% on Friday.


LVMH: Luxury giant's sales soar despite China losses

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64408724, 3 days ago

The world's biggest luxury group has reported strong sales driven by the holiday shopping season.

LVMH said they experienced a second straight record year with revenue and profits despite geopolitical tensions and high cost of living.

Sales reached almost $25bn (£19.9), a 9% increase in the final three months of the year.

The company saw strong growth in Europe, US and Japan which made up for losses in China due to Covid lockdowns.

In Asia, LVMH did experience a 20% drop in growth in the first nine months as the world's second largest economy doubled down on its zero-Covid policy.

However, LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault said he felt cautiously optimistic about "green shoots" in China.

"We have every reason to be confident, indeed optimistic about China," Mr Arnault said at the group's earnings presentation.

He pointed to their Macau stores as a sign of what could come. "Business is back, the Chinese are buying," he said.

LVMH brands include Tiffany's, Christian Dior, Sephora, Hennessey and Moët.

Its designer label Louis Vuitton did exceptionally well. Its revenue surpassed $21.7bn for the first time. The label recently launched a new collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, who is known for her art made of colourful dots.

LVMH's earnings are viewed by analysts as a bellwether in the luxury market.

Bain and Company said they see a boost in spending on personal luxury goods overall.

"The personal luxury market is projected to see further growth of at least 3-8% next year, even given a downturn in global economic conditions," according to a report from the consulting company.

Earlier this month, LVMH made changes to its leadership staff. Mr Arnault, one of the world's richest men, appointed his daughter as the head of the fashion house Dior. Delphine Arnault, 47, replaced Pietro Beccari - who took over as chief executive of Louis Vuitton.

All five of Mr Arnault's children hold management positions at brands in the group.


'Elon Musk has made me embarrassed to drive my Tesla now'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64376727, yesterday

When Anne Marie Squeo received her fiery red Tesla sports utility vehicle in 2020, the 55-year-old marketing and communications professional felt like she had joined a special "club" of people who were doing something to help the environment, while still driving with style.

But last year, as Tesla boss Elon Musk shared right-wing conspiracy theories on Twitter, posted a picture of guns by his bedside, and proposed terms to resolve the war in Ukraine that were adamantly rejected by many of the country's top leaders, Anne Marie's satisfaction gave way to shame.

"It's been very depressing, and sometimes embarrassing to be driving this car around," says Anne Marie, a former journalist who lives in Connecticut and wrote an article about her discomfort. "I wondered if people were making a judgement about me that I wasn't looking for."

Once hailed as the secret to Tesla's success, Elon Musk now appears to be one of its biggest problems, as his steady stream of politically charged social media posts alienates key parts of Tesla's customer base, just as increased competition starts to eat away at the firm's dominance of the electric car market.

The value of Tesla shares plunged by roughly two-thirds last year - the biggest decline since the company went public in 2010 - reflecting the worries, as well as concerns about disruptions to production and the effect of high borrowing costs and a weaker economy on demand.

In December, major investors - many of them long-time allies of Mr Musk - went public with their alarm, accusing him of abandoning Tesla after his $44bn (£36.4bn) takeover of Twitter in October and damaging the car company's brand.

[A line chart showing the price of Tesla stock, which peaked at $410 in November 2021, is now $172 per share.]

The fact that Mr Musk sold roughly $20bn worth of Tesla shares last year - sales that weighed on the stock and were prompted at least in part by the Twitter purchase - did not help.

"It's cost everybody a tonne of money. Certainly it didn't protect Tesla shareholders," says investor Ross Gerber, who is now seeking a seat on Tesla's board of directors and calling for changes, including starting to spend money on advertising, which Tesla has long prided itself on being able to do without.

Mr Gerber, the head of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management and a self-described friend of Mr Musk, says he remains optimistic about the company's fortunes, and has increased his firm's holdings as the stock has tumbled.

But he says the company needs to have a dedicated chief executive and create its own voice, one distinct from Mr Musk.

"It's very hard to believe now that Elon is a positive advertising force for Tesla," he says.

Mr Musk, who has more than 127 million followers on Twitter, this week rejected suggestions that his unfiltered style on social media was hurting the Tesla brand, saying his mass following "speaks for itself".

But in recent weeks, facing concerns about buyer demand, Tesla announced major price cuts in the US, Europe and China - running as high as 20% on some models in the US.

Analysts expect the move to blunt some of the brand damage, as financial considerations outweigh buyers' moral qualms.

But the move will hurt the firm's profit margins, and for some car purchasers there is no turning back.

Indie Grant, who works in the insurance industry in New Zealand, ruled out a Tesla due to Mr Musk's politics when buying an electric car last year, opting for a Peugeot instead.

[Indie Grant]

"With him being so tied to the brand, buying a Tesla feels very much like a passive but regular announcement of 'I think Elon is great. I love everything he does,'" the 35-year-old says.

"That really wasn't the message we wanted to give and with so many options, taking that out of the running didn't affect the choices too much."

There is little that would prompt a Tesla purchase now, Indie says. "My opinion of Tesla would only change if he weren't associated with it anymore."

Mr Musk has landed in hot water for his social media posts before.

[Elon Musk]

One - about considering taking Tesla private in 2018 - sparked fraud accusations from regulators, which the firm and Mr Musk each paid $20m to settle. He was in court again this week defending the post in a class-action suit brought by shareholders who said they lost money in the share price gyrations that followed its publication.

Another - calling a man involved in the rescue of Thai schoolboys a "pedo guy" - led to a defamation case, which Mr Musk won, after saying he did not think the insult would be taken seriously.

Now, though, Mr Musk isn't just another person tweeting; he is the owner of the platform.

That has raised the prospect of his political views, which he shares with increasing frequency, affecting how Twitter moderates the content on its site - a matter described by many, including Mr Musk, as important to American democracy.

After taking over, Mr Musk moved quickly to remove the ban on former US President Donald Trump, also issuing a tweet that read: "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci" - referring to Dr Anthony Fauci, the public face of the US Covid-19 response - causing outrage among liberals, who are the most likely to buy electric cars in the US,Tesla's biggest market.

"This is largely a political story," says Jordan Marlatt, tech analyst at Morning Consult, which tracks public perception of thousands of brands in the US, and has seen a sharp decline in favourability towards Tesla among Democrats since April, when Mr Musk first announced the Twitter deal.

"He's been a lot more outspoken on his personal politics than he has before and that's bleeding over to consumer sentiment."

Mr Marlatt says brands typically recover from damage stemming from politically charged incidents within 90 days.

"What's different for Twitter and for Tesla is that steady drumbeat," he says. "It's every day, almost every hour sometimes."

Anne Marie, who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, says prior controversies felt like one-off events, but the flood of commentary last year wore her down.

"Elon Musk being a bit of a wild card is not new," she says. "What was different was this level of consistency in doing it every day and the fact that he was really going after social issues with the seeming intent of riling people up."

She says at the moment she can't imagine buying a Tesla the next time she needs a car.

"At the end of the day, there's a lot of variety to choose from - are you going to really align yourself with a company that maybe doesn't represent your values anymore? I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it."


Jeremy Hunt says significant tax cuts in Budget unlikely

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64417101, 3 days ago

Jeremy Hunt has warned it is "unlikely" that there will be room for any "significant" tax cuts in the Budget.

The chancellor has been under pressure recently from some in his party to cut taxes to stimulate the UK economy.

But Mr Hunt said that a pledge to halve the rate of inflation "is the best tax cut right now".

He admitted the UK was going through "a difficult patch" but insisted the country "can get through it and we can get to the other side".

On Friday, Mr Hunt set out a plan to help lift the UK's economic growth.

After a turbulent autumn, when financial markets pushed up the country's cost of borrowing, Mr Hunt said he was determined to show that the UK was responsible.

That meant "showing the world, showing the markets that we are a responsible nation, that we can pay our way, that we can balance our books", he said.

He added that "it is unlikely that we would have the room for any significant tax cuts" at the Budget in March.

Government borrowing - which is the difference between spending and tax income - rose to a record £27.4bn in December. It was the highest amount for that month since 1993.

Borrowing was driven by the cost of helping households and businesses with rising energy bills. Higher inflation also pushed up interest payments on debt owed by the government.

The rate of price rises - or inflation - has begun to slow, but at 10.5% remains close to a 40-year high.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to halve inflation by the end of the year.

But some economists have said prices will begin to fall back naturally, without government policies, due to commodity prices and shipping costs decreasing towards the end of last year. Energy prices are also expected to ease in the second half of 2023.

Mr Hunt said: "The biggest tax cut that we can give the British people is to halve inflation, that means the value of their weekly shop won't continue to go up, the value of their pay packet won't continue to be eroded and that's what we are focused on."

Four 'Es'

The chancellor also unveiled a plan to grow the UK economy, though it drew a mixed reaction with some business groups criticising a lack of detail.

He said the strategy would focus on four pillars, or "four Es": enterprise, education, employment and everywhere.

He said that while it was not a series of measures or announcements, it would provide "the framework against which individual policies will be assessed and taken forward".

But the Institute of Directors (IoD) suggested Mr Hunt add a fifth E for "empty" after not issuing concrete plans.

IoD chief economist Kitty Ussher said businesses needed "government action to counteract the negative mood", such as continuing the capital investment super-deduction and bringing in tax credits for employers who invest in skill shortage areas.

Mr Hunt said the government planned to achieve growth in multiple sectors across the UK, including digital technology, green industries, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and creative industries.

The TUC said the lack of the mention of public sector pay in the speech was the "elephant in the room".

"Public servants will be deeply worried about the chancellor's warnings of further restraint. We know that is usually code for cuts," said the union's general secretary Paul Nowak.

Craig Beaumont, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the contents of Mr Hunt's speech had "all the right elements", but warned the "proof will be in the pudding in the years ahead".

'A lack of clarity for business'

[Brian Palmer]

Brian Palmer, founder of robotics firm Tharsus in Blyth, Northumberland, said the "themes" that the government was talking about were important, but said firms "need to see the detail".

"There is a lack of a clear long-term strategy. Without that long-term plan, businesses can't get behind it, can't have the confidence that the government's going to follow through with the policies."

Brian, whose company makes high-tech equipment for companies such as Ocado, warned some firms were already holding back on investment because of a lack of confidence.

"The government needs to provide industry with a clear idea of what the playing field is going to look like going forward," he added.

Many have interpreted Mr Hunt's speech as an attempt to respond to criticism that the government has no long-term plan for growth.

Carmakers articulated that idea this week. On Thursday, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed the number of new cars made in the UK has sunk to its lowest level for 66 years, with the SMMT warning that the UK was lagging behind other countries, particularly on offering state aid to manufacturers.

Make UK, which represents the manufacturing industry, said there had been "some hugely damaging big picture issues caused by the absence of an industrial strategy which are impacting on some of our strategic sectors".

Mr Hunt said he wanted to tackle poor productivity and said the UK's exit from the European Union would encourage risk-taking and changing regulation.

'Cold comfort'

Looking at the wider picture, Mr Hunt said that "declinism about Britain" was wrong and praised what he called "British genius and British hard work".

"Some of the gloom is based on statistics that do not reflect the whole picture," he said.

But Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney said: "Jeremy Hunt's speech is cold comfort for families and pensioners facing unbearable price rises."

Labour's shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said that "13 years of Tory economic failure have left living standards and growth on the floor, crashed our economy, and driven up mortgages and bills".

"The Tories have no plan for now, and no plan for the future," she added.


Rolls-Royce is a burning platform, claims new boss

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64429451, 3 days ago

The new boss of Rolls-Royce described the engineering giant as a "burning platform" and said the company's performance is "unsustainable".

Tufan Erginbilgic, a former executive at oil giant BP, told staff that they faced a "last chance" to change.

"Every investment we make, we destroy value," he told employees, according to the Financial Times.

Rolls-Royce told the BBC Mr Erginbilgic had been "honest about our financial underperformance" compared to others.

Rolls-Royce is one of the UK's flagship companies. Its engines and systems are on planes such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

It was one of many firms hit hard by the Covid pandemic when air travel was grounded for months and it axed 9,000 jobs.

But in a broadcast to staff, Mr Erginbilgic said Rolls-Royce had "not been performing for a long, long time".

The ex-oil executive added that the company was a "burning platform", meaning it is imperative to get out of the situation it finds itself in.

"It has nothing to do with Covid, let's be very clear. Covid created a crisis, but the issue in hand has nothing to do with it," Mr Erginbilgic said. "Given everything I know talking to investors, this is our last chance."

Mr Erginbilgic took over as chief executive of Rolls-Royce from Warren East, who led the firm for eight years, earlier this month.

He is charged with significantly improving the performance of the company, which analysts have said is often less profitable than US rival General Electric in the aircraft sector.

Mr East had said in 2021 that company was "set it on track for growth in the future" and that the worst times were behind, after huge losses of £4bn in 2020. led to thousands of job cuts.

[Rolls-Royce engine]

The new boss stressed to staff he was convinced he could improve the company, but warned employees needed to "think differently, act differently, make a difference so this business corrects itself and we don't have much time".

A spokesman for Rolls-Royce said Mr Erginbilgic "laid out his priorities for all of us and stressed the need for everyone within the business to work together in order for Rolls-Royce to succeed".

Some analysts believe Mr Erginbilgic has a tough task ahead.

"The challenge is that there may not be easy solutions," said George Zhao, an analyst at Bernstein.

"Many rounds of restructuring and asset sales were already undertaken under prior chief executive Warren East, putting to question just how much more can be implemented."


Cost of living: How onions became a luxury in the Philippines

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64327724, 3 days ago

"No onion toppings. Every restaurant is facing a shortage of onions. You see the signs everywhere."

According to official statistics, the price of onions surged in the Philippines to around 700 pesos ($12.80; £10.40) per kg last month.

That is more than the cost of meat, and the Southeast Asian country's daily minimum wage.

Although prices have eased in recent weeks, onions are still a luxury for many consumers, says Rizalda Maunes, who runs a pizzeria in the central Cebu city.

"We used to buy three to four kilogrammes of onions a day. Now we buy half a kilo which is all we can afford," Ms Maunes told the BBC.

"Our customers understand because it is not just restaurants... households are having a hard time as many dishes are sweetened with onions," she adds.

The staple ingredient in Filipino cuisine has become a symbol of the rising cost of living.

It comes as inflation, which measures the rise in prices of everything from food to fuel, reached a new 14-year-high in the tropical country last month.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is also the agriculture secretary, has called rising food prices an "emergency situation". Earlier this month Mr Marcos approved the import of red and yellow onions in an attempt to boost supply.

Experts say that the reopening of the Philippines economy is driving demand, while harsh weather has affected the production of food, including onions.

"Back in August, the Department of Agriculture had forecast a potential shortage of the root crop. A few months later, the Philippines was hit by two powerful storms that caused substantial crop damage," says Nicholas Mapa, a senior economist at ING Bank.

"We have also seen a stark pickup in demand as the economy recovers sharply," Mr Mapa said.

Widespread impact

Rising prices have also hit street food stalls in Cebu, which are popular with locals and tourists.

Fried vegetables, meat and seafood, are typically served with an onion and vinegar dipping sauce.

"Onions are a big part of our dishes. It adds a flavourful crunch [and] sweetness to contrast the saltiness of our food," says Alex Chua, who has cut back on onions at his stall.

"We are thankful that the government is implementing measures to stop the increase of prices. We hope that they continue to implement such measures to bring prices down further," he adds.

Onions have been so sought after that April Lyka Biorrey chose to carry a bouquet of the crop at her wedding in Iloilo City.

"I asked my groom if we could use onions instead of flowers, since after the wedding the flowers would wilt and end up being thrown away," Ms Biorrey told a local newspaper.

"So why not onions? It's practical in a way that it could still be used after the wedding," she quipped.

[Newlyweds April Lyka Biorrey and Erwin Nobis.]

Others have gotten in trouble for smuggling onions into the country.

Earlier this month, 10 crew members from Philippine Airlines were investigated for attempting to smuggle nearly 40kg of onions and fruits into luggage bags.

Customs officials later said they will not face charges but warned travellers against carrying produce without permits.

Growing crisis

The crisis has put pressure on Mr Marcos, who had promised to boost food production as agriculture secretary. Some lawmakers have called for him to appoint a replacement.

Speaking at a hearing on the country's rising food prices, Philippines Senator Grace Poe said, "Before it was sugar, now, it's onions. We'll end up having a hearing for everything in the kitchen."

Marie-Anne Lezoraine from the Kantar Worldpanel consultancy says climate change is also a major threat to the country's food security.

"Purchasing power is tight for most consumers who already afford only the essentials. If climate change causes shortages and therefore prices to soar, it will cause a very damaging impact on a large proportion of consumers in the Philippines," Ms Lezoraine says.

But Mr Mapa believes that the price of onions could stabilise as the government imports more of the crop.

"However the timing may be unfortunate as it coincides with the February harvest season for locally produced onions," he says. "Prices may actually drop dramatically once both harvest and imports hit the market almost simultaneously."


Hemp makes a comeback in the construction industry

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-63666195, 3 days ago

Weary of his life as a computer engineer, in 2010 Elad Kaspin packed his bags and travelled the world.

Mr Kaspin wanted a break from Israel, describing life in the country as complicated. "I knew I didn't want to live there, in spite of having a good life with a good salary," he says.

After two years of travelling, he arrived in Colos, a village in southern Portugal, between the towns of Odemira and Ourique. He liked it so much he decided to stay.

He was not the only one. In recent years the region has seen a wave of migrants, attracted by the dramatic, vast and empty plains, a laidback way of life, good weather, and cheap property.

But that popularity was not generating good, stable jobs.

So, with the help of childhood friend Palestinian Omer ben Zvi, Mr Kaspin decided to start a company, Cânhamor.

Their idea was to take advantage of Portugal's relaxation of laws governing the cultivation of hemp, part of the cannabis family of plants.

With official permits, the cultivation of cannabis and hemp has been permitted since 2018.

The laws have been refined since then, but with authorisation from the General Directorate of Food and Veterinary Affairs, farmers can grow hemp as long as there is oversight from regulators.

[Hemp crop ready for harvest]

It marks a revival for hemp in Portugal. It was an essential raw material for the nation's maritime expansion, which began in the 15th Century, when it was used to make cords, ropes and sails.

Hemp fibre was prized for its durability, a quality which has caught the attention of today's construction industry.

Not only is it tough, but hemp also has the potential to make big savings in carbon dioxide emissions.

The plant traps carbon dioxide when cultivated and can, when made into blocks, replace concrete, which is a carbon-intensive product.

According to a European Commission report, the carbon sequestering properties of hemp are remarkable.

In just five months one hectare (2.5 acres) of hemp can trap between 9 and 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Mr Kaspin wanted to exploit those properties by setting up his own business making hemp construction blocks.

With an initial investment of €1m (£880,000; $1m), Cânhamor was formed at the beginning of 2021, and production began a few months later.

[Hemp block production]

The blocks are made of so-called hempcrete, a mix of hemp plant parts, water and limestone powder.

According to Mr Kaspin, the blocks have several advantages over traditional building materials.

As well as being much less carbon intensive to make, he says hemp blocks are better at insulating from heat and sound than brick and concrete.

He also says that they are very resistant to fire.

In 2019 researchers in Australia conducted tests on hemp walls, including simulating a bush fire, and found the material very resistant to fire damage.

However, hemp blocks have to compete with concrete which is cheaper, stronger and well known to builders.

The cost of hemp blocks also reflects the cost of growing hemp which includes expensive inputs like fertiliser.

[Hemp blocks being used in construction]

In the early days, Mr Kaspin struggled to convert customers to hemp blocks.

"The construction sector is a very conservative sector with almost non-existent changes. Many architects and builders do what they have always done. It is not easy to introduce new things," he says.

But after several trials, they found some customers and have been building up the business ever since.

Currently Cânhamor produces between 4,000 and 10,000 blocks every month, enough to build about three houses.

Demand is strong and the company has a new factory planned, which should produce about 120,000 blocks a month.

So the next problem is sourcing enough hemp to feed the new factory.

At the moment Cânhamor buys hemp from abroad which pushes up the cost of its blocks. The plan is to persuade more local farmers to cultivate the plant.

"There was no factory because there was no cultivation, and there was no cultivation because there was no factory. We have the opportunity and the privilege to break this cycle," Mr Kaspin says.

"With local materials, and with larger capacity, production costs will drop significantly. In 2024 we will be able to offer our blocks at much lower prices," he predicts. "Even cheaper than concrete."

More technology of business:

To produce enough hemp fibre, he estimates that 1,000 hectares of hemp will need to be cultivated.

"We are in talks with several farmers. We offered to buy their whole crop. And we know that there are people who want to buy not only blocks, but every hemp by-product that we will make in the new factory."

They will start tests in January with a handful of experienced local farmers, planting hemp in a cultivation area of up to 10 hectares, "so they can try and see," says Mr Kaspin.

He expects to be able to tap up to 150 hectares of local hemp production by the end of this year. For 2024, the target is 500 hectares. But it will depend on Alentejo's farmers' willingness to change tack towards the leafy plant.

[Hemp seeds]

Cânhamor will have to compete with larger European companies such as Belgium's Isohemp.

Its factory, located in central Belgium, has a production capacity of five million blocks per year, or enough to build around two houses a day.

Unlike Cânhamor, it can source most of the hemp it needs locally, from the north of France and the south of the Netherlands.

But the two firms do share one similar challenge.

"The construction sector is indeed a very traditional market and habits take time to change. The current obstacles are the lack of knowledge of the product," says Charlotte De Bellefroid from Isohemp.

Back in southern Portugal, Cânhamor is set to become one of the biggest local employers, raising its number of workers to 30, up from the current six who work on the production line.

Marcelo Guerreiro, Ourique's Mayor, tells the BBC: "We weren't acquainted with hemp's potential but we dealt with the proposal with an open mind."

The local council gave Cânhamor the land it needs for the new factory. Cânhamor has raised the money needed to build the factory, estimated at €5m.

"Thirty jobs is very significant for Ourique and Cânhamor will become one of the biggest employers of the town," the mayor says.

"We are satisfied with the recent evolution concerning cannabis in Portugal, not only in legislative terms but in terms of society acceptance," he adds.


Subscription-based bike hire schemes on a roll

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64371657, 4 days ago

Lianne Fonseca says her life has been "transformed" by the electric bike she started using during the pandemic.

"It's game changing," claims the 31-year-old product manager who lives in Toronto, Canada.

"I wasn't a cyclist whatsoever before. Toronto isn't really a bike-friendly city, although it's getting better.

"But the pandemic meant it was empty of cars, and so I started biking a little. I now e-bike to see my friends, to do my grocery shopping, and it enables me to arrive at the office non-sweaty."

Surprisingly, the e-bike Ms Fonseca is referring to isn't actually her own. Instead she is one of a growing number of people on both sides of the Atlantic renting their bikes long-term through a subscription model.

Ms Fonseca rents hers for 149 Canadian dollars ($112; £91) a month through an e-bike rental company called Zygg. For her this generally means from March to October, pressing pause to avoid the harsh Canadian winter season when temperatures in Toronto can fall to below -30C.

Still, why rent? "It's really expensive to buy an e-bike," she responds. "They can be worth a few thousand dollars, and I don't have the confidence to select which one to buy. And I'm not confident I could fix it if it went wrong."

Instead, if anything stops working on her rented e-bike then the hire firm repairs it.

Over the past decade or so, we've seen a boom in short-term bike hire schemes as a way to navigate cities. First came docked bike systems, such as London's Santander Cycles or "Boris bike" scheme.

These require you to remove a bike from a docking station, and then return it to one.

[Santander Cycles bikes]

They were subsequently followed by bike, and then e-bike and e-scooter hire schemes that did away with the need for the stations. Instead you use an app to locate where the nearest bikes and scooters have been left at random spots on the nearby pavements by the previous users.

Such has been the global growth of these "dockless" systems that they have long been criticised as a form of street litter.

Putting aside this controversy, the business model of these street-side dockless and docked schemes is that you hire the bike or scooter for a single journey, the half an hour or so that you need it for.

By contrast, the new trend is that you hire a bike or e-bike for the long term, by paying a monthly subscription fee.

Zygg chief executive Kevin McLaughlin launched the business in Toronto in 2020, followed by Vancouver last year. He now hopes to expand to other Canadian cities and across the US.

[Kevin McLaughlin]

In addition to serving members of the public, the firm also rents out the e-bikes to couriers and food delivery companies.

"The idea is to take an expensive asset worth around C$4,000 and give that to someone for about C$150 a month, and we'll take care of all the hassle," says Mr McLaughlin.

"We're trying to provide a way to move forward when it comes to climate change, and traffic safety, and urban transport. It's more environmentally beneficial if more people use bikes instead of cars."

In London, Jean-Michel Chalayer hires a bike long-term from Buzzbike. The 36-year-old uses it to pedal all across the capital, from his home to his office, to meetings in the City, and to his weekly football games.

Mr Chalayer estimates that he cycles up to 50km (31 miles) a week. The founder of mobile beauty app LeSalon pays for it via the UK-wide Cycle to Work scheme, whereby £20 is deducted from his monthly pay packet.

[Jean-Michel Chalayer]

"My other bike was second-hand and I got fed up of spending loads of money on maintenance all the time," says Mr Chalayer. "Plus I was never confident it wouldn't be stolen.

"This way I get a really good bike and I never stress too much about leaving it anywhere. If I have a problem with it, then I just message them and they come around and fix it when it's convenient for me."

One of the pioneers of long-term bike subscription is Dutch company Swapfiets, which means "swap bike". Launched in 2014, it now has 280,000 active users across 60 European cities including Amsterdam, Vienna and London.

[Two Swapfiets users in Amsterdam]

Rentals start from £16.90 a month for a one-speed, standard bike, and from £59.90 for an e-bike, which now accounts for about 15% of its subscriptions.

"Sustainability is an angle now, but when we started what we really wanted to do was solve the problem of bike ownership, which can create hassle due to the need for bike repairs if it's not maintained," says Swapfiets' co-founder Richard Burger.

"If we can't repair the bike onsite, we'll give you another one to get you on your way again."

[Richard Burger]

Who is their target audience? "We do see a lot of expats that just want access quick to a bike, and then drop it back when no longer needed six to 12 months later," says Mr Burger. "But we also have young professional students who hire for three or four years."

It's not just adults who can join in the long-term bike rental trend. London-based Bike Club is aimed at children aged from four to 12, and has 55,000 active members across the UK and Germany, where it recently launched.

"We realised that a kid's subscription model made sense as they grow physically and need to have lots of different bikes," says co-founder Alexandra Rico-Lloyd.

"When a family no longer needs a bike, they send it back. Then another family will get use of it. As it's serviced fully each time, it extends the lifespan of that bike."

Bike Club offers 100 different styles of bike, which cost between £5 to £25 a month to rent.

[Kids on bikes hired from Bike Club]

John Parkin, professor of transport engineering at the University of the West of England, says the bike-docking hire schemes helped enable the long-term subscription businesses to take off. This is because more people got used both to cycling and to using a bike that they didn't own.

However, Prof Parkin, who is also deputy director of the university's Centre for Transport and Society, says a major challenge for the companies involved is the sheer capital expenditure of buying all the bikes in the first place. "It's massive capital and it's burning capital," he says.

"I'm not sure where the profitability lies, as maintenance and moving them across cities is a massive cost, so keeping a lid on costs is probably a challenge for such companies."

Global Trade

More from the BBC's series taking an international perspective on trade.

Zygg's Mr McLaughlin agrees it is difficult. "It's a challenging time to grow a heavy assets business and raise capital," he says.

As Zygg and others in the sector are small, private firms they are not obliged to report their sales and profit figures.

Still, the environmental benefits are huge. Prof Parkin adds: "Any way of making cycling and cities more efficient rather than people moving round in big vehicles so they can get to their final destination easier is good news."

Back in Toronto, Ms Fonseca is looking forward to hiring her next bike once the Canadian winter is out of the way.

"It's so much more convenient than going by car, and it feels nice riding through leafy neighbourhoods."


Heat pumps: The 'geeks' obsessing over their new heating systems

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64261457, 6 days ago

He's got heat meters fixed to the pipework. Room temperature monitors. And gadgets tracking how much electricity his solar panels are generating.

The jewel in the crown of this system, though, is a recently installed heat pump.

"It's like a geek's paradise, really," says Mick Wall of his 1930s semi-detached house in Sheffield.

Mr Wall, who works in IT, has made a hobby out of monitoring his household energy consumption and honing his heat pump's performance in a dogged pursuit of maximum efficiency.

The UK government has set a target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028.

Builders are moving towards the technology as well. Redrow, which builds more than 5,000 homes in the UK a year, announced that it will fit heat pumps as standard in upcoming housing developments - the first UK builder to make that commitment.

But currently, fewer than 50,000 are fitted in British homes annually and the UK is bottom of the heat pump installation league table in Europe.

There is, however, an intrepid band of pioneers out there. Eager adopters who say the country is ready to go heat pump crazy - and that they can prove it with their own hard data. These are the heat pump geeks.

Mr Wall is one of a small number of enthusiasts who regularly publish data online about how their heat pumps are doing. "I'm putting myself out there to say, 'This stuff does work, here's the evidence,'" he says.

A website, heatpumpmonitor.org features real-time results from 12 homes around Britain, including Mr Wall's. The data is processed via OpenEnergyMonitor, a digital platform that allows people to track their household energy consumption.

Heat pumps work by absorbing a small amount of heat from the outdoors into a refrigerant, the fluid that circulates within the device. A compressor then pressurises the refrigerant, increasing the temperature, and heat is subsequently passed on into the house.

A well-installed heat pump might get three kilowatt hours (kWh) of heat for each kWh of electricity it consumes. This ratio is called the coefficient of performance, or COP - the higher it is, the better. Heat pump-watchers tend to use this figure as a means of judging how well their device is working, sometimes in friendly competition with other heat pump owners.

The COP varies depending on things such as the weather or how hot you choose to have your radiators.

"Right now it's 4.5," says Mr Wall, excitedly. "It's six, seven degrees [Celsius] outside here and I'm getting 4.5."

A COP of 3 or above is deemed very good because it means that the cost of running the heat pump should be cheaper than a gas boiler, for the equivalent heat output - depending on energy tariffs.

There are caveats, though. Mr Wall did have to spend thousands on upgrading radiators and pipework in his house, among other adjustments, before he decided it was heat pump-ready.

He chose an air source heat pump that draws heat from the air, even when it is very cold outside, and adds that it is important for the device to be correctly sized and installed, to ensure it runs efficiently. His solar panels also help him to reduce how much he pays for electricity.

More technology of business:

But some homes may be suitable for a heat pump already, perhaps without their owners realising, suggests Richard Lowes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy-focused non-governmental organisation.

As a rough rule of thumb, if you can still heat your home reliably after turning your fossil fuel boiler down so that it sends water at roughly 50-55C or lower to your radiators, you might be able to replace the boiler with a heat pump, explains Dr Lowes.

A professional heat loss calculation and heat pump survey can confirm this.

The cost of installing a heat pump will vary depending on what size of device you need and what work, if any, your home requires to make it heat pump-ready.

According to an online calculator set up by the charity Nesta, putting a heat pump into a 1930s semi-detached house in the West Midlands, for example, could cost around £12,000. Currently, households in England and Wales may apply for a £5,000 grant, under certain conditions, to lower the overall cost.

Although installing a heat pump is expensive, the device is likely to pay for itself within its lifetime. Given the volatility of energy prices, it is hard to say when that breakeven point will be, but high gas prices have made heat pumps much more cost-competitive with oil and gas boilers.

[Richard Lowes, Regulatory Assistance Project]

Dr Lowes is an ardent scrutiniser of his heat pump system. His heating cupboard is bristling with heat and electricity measuring devices, which track energy consumed and the heat output of the heat pump.

"I do enjoy it, it's quite fun," he says. "Every time I look at it, I'm amazed."

He's been averaging a COP of 3.5 across the year, which is even better than he had hoped.

Dr Lowes' property is a renovated terrace in Cornwall, which he ensured was well insulated before getting the heat pump.

Most people who install a heat pump will not get access to detailed data on how it is running automatically, he notes. But with monitoring devices clipped on to the system, he and others such as Mr Wall are able to track things more closely. Mr Wall notes that he spent around £600 on his monitoring kit.

"Because we're nerds and we've had them installed and tweaked them, we can also say how we can make it better," argues Dr Lowes. "There's this really valuable knowledge, I think, being built up."

[Jess Britton, an energy policy researcher at the University of Edinburgh]

Still, many won't want or require this level of information. Dr Jess Britton, an energy policy researcher at the University of Edinburgh and former colleague of Dr Lowes, had a heat pump installed in her 1930s home in Falmouth last year and hasn't yet used any heat metering devices.

"I kind of want to know that it's operating efficiently. Beyond that I'm not that interested in the data," she says.

"Our early estimates are it was a good move in terms of our energy costs."

It wasn't that long ago that research suggested heat pumps weren't able to outperform gas boilers in terms of running costs. Nick Kelly at the University of Strathclyde published such findings in a study in 2011, for example.

With rocketing gas prices and evolving heat pump tech, the situation is different now, he suggests, though he says it is paramount for a heat pump to be sized and installed properly.

Gathering detailed heat pump performance data can help prove that the devices are working as intended, he adds. "You can compare that to what was effectively promised by the manufacturer or installer."

Mr Wall, for one, is very happy with the figures he's getting. The heat pump ticks along, automatically adjusting itself to changes in the weather, while keeping the house warm.

What's more, other members of the household haven't questioned the heating once, he says: "In my book, that's a very positive sign."


Eight-year-old Indian diamond heiress who became a nun

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-64327940, 6 days ago

Eight-year-old Devanshi Sanghvi could have grown up to run a multi-million dollar diamond business.

But the daughter of a wealthy Indian diamond merchant is now living a spartan life - dressed in coarse white saris, barefoot and going door-to-door to seek alms.

Because last week, Devanshi, the elder of the two daughters of Dhanesh and Ami Sanghvi, renounced the world and became a nun.

The Sanghvis are among 4.5 million Jains who follow Jainism - one of the world's oldest religions, which originated in India more than 2,500 years ago.

Religious scholars say the number of Jains renouncing the material world has been rising rapidly over the years, although cases involving children as young as Devanshi are uncommon.

Last Wednesday's ceremony in Surat city in the western state of Gujarat, where Devanshi took "diksha" - vows of renunciation - in the presence of senior Jain monks, was attended by tens of thousands.

Accompanied by her parents, she arrived at the venue in the city's Vesu area, bejewelled and dressed in fine silks. A diamond-studded crown rested on her head.

After the ceremony, she stood with other nuns, dressed in a white sari which also covered her shaved head. In photographs, she is seen holding a broom that she would now use to brush away insects from her path to avoid accidentally stepping on them.

[Devanshi with her parents Dhanesh and Ami Sanghvi at the ceremony]

Since then, Devanshi has been living in an Upashraya - a monastery where Jain monks and nuns live.

"She can no longer stay at home, her parents are no longer her parents, she's a Sadhvi [a nun] now," says Kirti Shah, a Surat-based diamond merchant who is a friend of the family and also a local Bharatiya Janata Party politician.

"A Jain nun's life is really austere. She will now have to walk everywhere, she can never take any kind of transport, she'll sleep on a white sheet on the floor and cannot eat after sundown," he added.

Sanghvis belong to the only Jain sect that accepts child monks - the other three admit only adults.

Devanshi's parents are known to be "extremely religious" and Indian media has quoted friends of the family as saying that the girl was "inclined towards spiritual life since she was a toddler".

"Devanshi has never watched television, movies or gone to malls and restaurants," the Times of India reported.

"From a young age, Devanshi has been praying thrice a day and even performed a fast at the age of two," the paper added.

A day before her renunciation ceremony, the family had organised a huge celebratory procession in Surat.

Thousands watched the spectacle as camels, horses, ox carts, drummers and turbaned men carrying canopies walked the streets, with dancers and performers on stilts providing entertainment.

Devanshi and her family sat in a chariot pulled by an elephant, while crowds showered them with rose petals.

[Devanshi with her parents in a huge procession a day before the renunciation ceremony in Surat]

Processions were also organised in Mumbai and the Belgian city of Antwerp, where the Sanghvis have businesses.

Even though there's support from within the Jain community for the practice, Devanshi's renunciation has led to a debate, with many asking why the family couldn't wait for her to reach adulthood before making such important choices on her behalf.

Mr Shah, who was invited to the diksha ceremony but stayed away because the idea of a child renouncing the world makes him uncomfortable, insisted that "no religion should allow children to become monks".

"She's a child, what does she understand about all this?" he asked. "Children can't even decide what stream to study in college until they are 16. How can they make a decision about something that will impact their entire life?"

When a child renouncing the world is deified and the community celebrates, it can all seem like a big party to her, but Prof Nilima Mehta, a child protection consultant in Mumbai, says the "difficulty and deprivation the child will go through is immense".

"Life as a Jain nun is very very tough," she says.

Many other community members have also expressed unease at a child being separated from her family at such a young age.

And since news broke, many have taken to social media to criticise the family, accusing the Sanghvis of violating their child's rights.

Mr Shah says the government must get involved and stop this practice of children renouncing the world.

But it's not very likely to happen - I reached out to the office of Priyank Kanungo, chief of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), to ask if the government was going to do anything about Devanshi's case.

His office said he did not want to comment on the issue because it's a "sensitive matter".

[Devanshi after the ceremony]

Activists, however, say that Devanshi's rights have been violated.

To those saying that the child is turning ascetic "out of her own free will", Prof Mehta points out that "a child's consent is not consent in law".

"Legally 18 is the age where someone makes an independent decision. Until then a decision on her behalf is made by an adult - such as her parents - who has to consider whether it's in her best interest.

"And if that decision deprives the child of education and recreation, then it is a violation of her rights."

But Dr Bipin Doshi, who teaches Jain philosophy at Mumbai University, says "you cannot apply legal principles in the spiritual world".

"Some are saying a child is not mature enough to take such decisions, but there are children with better intellectual capabilities who can achieve much more than adults at a young age. Similarly, there are children who're spiritually inclined, so what is wrong if they become monks?" he asks.

Besides, Dr Doshi insists, Devanshi is not being harmed in any way.

"She may be deprived of the traditional entertainment, but is that really necessary for everyone? And I don't agree that she'll be deprived of love or education - she'll receive love from her guru and she will learn honesty and non-attachment. Is that not better?"

Dr Doshi also says that in case Devanshi changes her mind later on and thinks that "she took a wrong decision under the mesmerising effects of her guru", she can always return to the world.

[Devanshi]

Then why not let her decide when she's an adult, asks Prof Mehta.

"Young minds are impressionable and in a few years, she may think this is not the life she wants," she says, adding that there have been cases where women have changed their mind once they have grown up.

Prof Mehta says a few years ago she dealt with the case of a young Jain nun who had run away from her centre because she was so traumatised.

Another girl who had become an ascetic at nine caused a scandal of sorts in 2009 after she turned 21 and eloped and married her boyfriend.

In the past, petitions have also been filed in court, but Prof Mehta says any social reform is a challenge because of the sensitivities involved.

"It's not just among Jains; Hindu girls are married to deities and become devadasis [though the practice was outlawed in 1947] and little boys join akhadas [religious centres], in Buddhism children are sent to live in monasteries as monks.

"Children are suffering under all religions, but challenging it is blasphemy," she says, adding that families and societies need to be educated that "a child is not your possession".

Read more India stories from the BBC:


Turning problem sea algae into a replacement for plastic

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64317261, 7 days ago

Excessive outbreaks of seaweed and microalgae are clogging up waters from the Caribbean to the Baltic. Now both are being harvested alongside farmed crops to create ingredients for cosmetics and food products.

Mari Granström says it was her passion for scuba diving that opened her eyes to the continuing problem of toxic microalgae blooms in the Baltic Sea.

The outbreaks occur when tiny cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, suddenly multiply rapidly, stretching out on top of the water for potentially kilometres.

Also called eutrophication, it is a form of marine suffocation, and it is a significant environmental concern in the Baltic Sea. It can occur in 97% of the total area of the sea, according to official figures.

The blooms impact on other marine life, by causing oxygen deficiency, reducing water quality, and blocking out light.

[A microalgae bloom in the Baltic Sea]

The problem is caused by too many nutrients entering the water, typically nitrogen and phosphorus from artificial fertilisers. These are carried into the sea by the rivers of the surrounding countries - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

While the use of such fertilisers has reduced in recent years, the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, the intergovernmental organisation that aims to improve water quality in the sea, says "the effect of these measures has not yet been detected".

Some six years ago Ms Granström, a Finnish biochemist, determined to tackle the problem herself. She'd harvest the microalgae and use it to make ingredients for a host of products. In addition to cosmetics and human food, the microalgae extracts can be used in detergents, animal feed, packaging, and even as a replacement for plastic.

This comes as there is a growing trend for seaweed to be harvested for such purposes, as a replacement to oil-based ingredients.

[Extracts from blue-green algae]

"I saw with my own eyes - or perhaps couldn't see - how it was affecting the marine ecosystem, and decided to do something," she says. "There was too much finger pointing and not enough action."

Ms Granström says she worked on the project as "a hobby for a long time", before in 2019 setting up a company called Origin by Ocean (ObO). She is the chief executive.

The business, which has attracted both commercial investment and European Union funds, is now continuing with a pilot production scheme ahead of aiming to be fully operational by 2025-26.

ObO collects the microalgae off the coast of Finland, where it is sucked on to boats and then separated from the water. The firm is also importing invasive sargassum seaweed from the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

[ObO staff harvesting blue-green algae]

Vast blooms of that seaweed have plagued that region for a number of years. "There are 25 million tonnes of sargassum blooming in the Caribbean every year," says Ms Granström.

"It stops people fishing and harms tourism. We are now buying several tonnes of sargassum from the Dominican Republic, and this volume will increase."

The company further sources unwanted seaweed from Portuguese and Spanish waters.

ObO's pilot processing is done at a facility in northern Finland. It uses a patented biorefinery technology it calls "Nauvu" to separate the algae into numerous useable materials.

These are then sold to food, cosmetics, textiles, packing and agricultural companies.

[New Tech Economy]

New Tech Economy is a series exploring how technological innovation is set to shape the new emerging economic landscape.

To help grow the business ObO is working with one of its investors, Finnish chemicals and industrial group Kiilto. "If this can be successfully scaled up here, then ObO can replicate similar processes around the globe," says Ville Solja, Kiilto's chief business development officer.

ObO already has plans to set up a refinery in the Dominican Republic.

Across in Sweden, a separate business called Nordic Seafarm is showing just how versatile seaweed can be.

"We make algae-based gin and beer, both locally produced," says director Fredrik Gröndahl.

Nordic Seafarm, which grows its own seaweed, is a commercial spin-off from Seafarm, a Swedish government-funded project that helps commercialise aquaculture research.

"If this market [for seaweed] gets big, and we think it will, we are ready to scale up," adds Prof Gröndahl, who is also project leader of Seafarm, and head of department for sustainable development, environmental science and engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

"Just imagine if Ikea asked for algae-based meatballs globally, which could happen."

[Fredrik Gröndahl]

Prof Gröndahl also hopes that in the future algae will become a key ingredient in animal feed, to replace environmentally-damaging fish meal, which is common in pigs and poultry diets. "Algae is also cheaper than existing ingredients as there is no cost for feeding and irrigation."

Back at ObO, Ms Granström says the aim is for shoppers around the world to "play a part in cleaning up the Baltic Sea" by simply buying a number of consumer products.

"We wanted to do something to help at both ends of the process, upstream and downstream, as it were - cleaning the seas, but also monetising a change in consumer behaviour."


Lockdowns linked to tenfold rise in child sex imagery

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-64415015, 3 days ago

Imagery of young children carrying out sexual acts on camera has risen by more than tenfold since the pandemic lockdowns, new data suggests.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) says its data highlights how predators took advantage of the situation.

Social media websites exploded in popularity in early 2020 when the pandemic began.

Last year the IWF logged more than 63,000 webpages showing the material compared to 5,000 before the pandemic.

"During the pandemic, the internet was a lifeline but we are only now unpacking the full effects," said IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves.

"What is clear to us is that younger children are being pulled into abusive situations by rapacious predators, often while they are in their own bedrooms."

Overall the IWF tracks, investigates and attempts to remove hundreds of thousands of incidents of child sexual abuse material from around the internet worldwide.

The charity says it is confident that the rise in self-generated material it is seeing is because of an increase in activity, because reporting levels have remained relatively similar in recent years.

Self-generated child abuse videos and images now make up two-thirds of imagery investigated by analysts.

This refers to imagery of children sexually abusing themselves on camera while coerced by a predator over the internet.

Researchers say many of the videos are recorded or livestreamed from bedrooms or bathrooms, with sounds of a busy household in the background.

They are often done on a live chat, and recorded without the child's knowledge to be shared and sold by paedophiles.

IWF is a UK-based organisation and says it is often hard to ascertain where the children are based from the videos. However, it passes on cases to authorities if a school uniform or other identifiers are visible.

Of the imagery, which the charity estimates is of seven to 10-year-olds, more than 8,000 items contained what is classed as Category A material.

This is the most severe kind, and can include penetrative sexual activity, images involving sexual activity with an animal, or sadism.

In one video seen by IWF analysts, a nine-year-old girl is instructed by adults over an online platform to perform sex acts while in her bedroom surrounded by cuddly toys.

She is asked to perform "super dirty" dares over a webcam, and is interrupted when a presumed family member, who is oblivious to the abuse taking place, calls up to ask her to run a bath for her (presumed) little brother.

The IWF is calling on the UK government to do more to protect children through the long-delayed Online Safety Bill.

The bill is currently being amended to potentially make tech platform bosses criminally liable for any failures to prevent, identify and remove child sexual abuse and exploitation content.

But the IWF says the material it processes is coming from all over the world and most of it is not hosted in the UK.

The United States National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children did not have figures for 2022, but reported an increase of child sexual abuse material in 2021. The charity's CyberTipline received 29.4 million reports, up from 21.7 million in 2020.


Warning over risky electric blankets sold online

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-64418949, 3 days ago

Illegal electric blankets are being sold online which could cause electric shocks, a consumer group warns.

Which? found some of the products being sold are made "so poorly" they could pose "a serious risk".

Separately charity Electrical Safety First says it found "highly dangerous" electrical products for sale by third party sellers online.

It wants new regulations to bolster consumer protection.

The cost of living crisis has seen a huge rise in the popularity of electric blankets as people try to minimise use of their central heating.

Nine out of the 11 electric blankets, throws and shawls Which? bought from third-party sellers on AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish should not be sold legally in the UK.

The consumer champion group identified problems with how the products are made, the packaging, markings and instructions.

Which? found some products with electric wires that could easily be pulled out and others lacked the proper safety standard marks.

In addition to safety concerns, some of the blankets were incredibly inefficient and did not work properly.

All those flagged by Which? as having issues have now been removed by the online marketplaces.

Which? is calling for sites to bear more legally responsibility for allowing unsafe and illegal products to be sold on their platform.

The current approach puts most of the responsibility on the third-party sellers.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which? said buying these products cheaply on online marketplaces can put people's safety at risk.

"The government must urgently act to give online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for unsafe and illegal products sold on their sites so that consumers are no longer put at unnecessary risk of harm," she said.

Last week a Private Member's Bill was tabled by Labour MP for Gateshead, Ian Mearns, to implement more regulation in this area.

The Bill, supported by the charity Electrical Safety First, aimed to "close a gap in the law" which has allowed online marketplaces to operate "without any responsibility" for ensuring that the products sold via their sites are actually safe.

Electrical Safety First found "highly dangerous" electrical products for sale by third party sellers across major online marketplaces, including Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Wish.com.

Boss Lesley Rudd said: "Households are perpetually being left at risk from products, such as dangerous electric blankets, as people seek to keep heating costs down.

"Without changes to the law, people will continue to be left exposed and vulnerable."

AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish.com all said they take safety very seriously and removed the listings that Which? flagged to them.

None of the third-party sellers of the products provided a comment to Which?.


US hacks back against Hive ransomware crew

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-64418723, 4 days ago

The US has revealed it infiltrated a prolific cyber-crime gang to secretly sabotage their hacking attacks for more than six months.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed the FBI gained deep access to the Hive ransomware group in late July 2022.

Officers were able to warn victims of impending attacks.

They also gave more than 300 decryption keys to those hacked, saving them, they estimate, more than $130m (£105m).

Ransomware gangs use malicious software that encrypts victims' files, locking them up and making them inaccessible unless a ransom is paid to obtain a decryption key.

The US estimates Hive and its affiliates collected over $100m (£81m) from more than 1,500 victims, including hospitals, school districts, financial companies and critical infrastructure, in more than 80 countries around the world. One hospital was left unable to accept new patients.

The FBI says it worked with local law enforcement agencies to help victims recover including the UK's National Crime Agency which says it gave around 50 UK organisations decryptor keys to overcome the hacks.

The US said on Thursday that it ended the operation by taking down Hive's websites and communication networks with the help of police forces in Germany and the Netherlands.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said: "Last night, the Justice Department dismantled an international ransomware network responsible for extorting and attempting to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from victims in the United States and around the world."

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O Monaco said: "Simply put, using lawful means, we hacked the hackers."

The DOJ said it would pursue those behind Hive until they were brought to justice.

"A good covert operation can degrade confidence in operational security and inject suspicion among actors," Mandiant Threat Intelligence head John Hultquist said.

But he added: "Until the group is arrested, they will never truly be gone. They will have to reconstitute, which takes time, but I'll bet they reappear in time."

[The seizure notice which now appears on Hive crew's websites]

Researchers and cyber authorities have long accused Russia of harbouring ransomware groups.

In November 2021, alleged members of the REvil gang were arrested around the world, with US authorities retrieving more than $6m in cryptocurrency in a "claw back" hacking operation.

A similar operation by the US, in June 2021, took the Darkside gang offline and recovered $4.1m in stolen funds.

And in January of the same year, the ransomware group NetWalker's darknet websites were also taken offline and a key affiliate arrested in Canada.

In all three cases, the hacking groups largely disbanded but are thought to have re-formed into other collectives.

The latest action comes as research suggests ransomware crews saw a 40% drop in earnings, as victims in 2022 are refusing to pay.

"We expect initiatives like this to only grow stronger between allied cyber-powers, to ensure that governments, organisations, and citizens will be better protected," Nominet government cyber-services expert Kim Wiles said.


Microsoft says services have recovered after widespread outage

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-64397643, 5 days ago

Microsoft services have recovered after tens of thousands of users reported its products, including Outlook and Teams, had stopped working.

The company tweeted that its "impacted services have recovered and remain stable".

Downdetector, which tracks website outages, showed dwindling numbers of users reporting problems.

Microsoft blamed the outage on a change it made to its "Wide Area Network", which had now been "resolved"

In a statement to the BBC, Microsoft explicitly ruled out a cyber-attack as a potential cause of the issue.

Knock-on effect

Wednesday's problems affected a range of widely used Microsoft products.

Services including Teams and Xbox Live were also reported as not working.

Microsoft said cloud computing service Azure also experienced problems which affected "a subset of users".

The service provides computing power to many other businesses, some of which reported they were facing problems as a result.

[Analysis box by Zoe Kleinman, technology editor]

Many people and businesses will be breathing a sigh of relief now Microsoft services have come back online.

But for the thousands who lost access to services, it's been a significant inconvenience. It is also a reminder of how much so many of us rely on Big Tech to help us run our lives and our businesses with products we can't control when they go wrong.

Systems and networks are always more vulnerable when maintenance or upgrades are under way, as there's more potential for the tiniest thing to either go wrong or not to plan - and the ripple effects, as we've seen today, can be widespread.

Eurostar, for example, tweeted that it was having problems with its services as a result of the outage affecting Azure - a popular rival to Amazon Web Services, and used by many big businesses for both storage and extra processing power.

Reports of problems came in from many countries, with Downdetector receiving thousands of reports in India and Japan alone.

But the impact seems to have been uneven, and relatively modest given the number of users of some of the affected systems.

Microsoft Teams, for example, is used by more than 280 million people globally, primarily in businesses and schools, where it can be of critical importance for calls, meetings and general service organisation.

Some users shared memes celebrating an unexpected break from work, or disappointment that their workplace Teams seemed unaffected.

As well as Teams and Outlook, the services affected, according to the Microsoft 365 status page, included SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Graph, PowerBi, and Microsoft 365 Admin Center.

Job cuts and sales down

The disruption came a day after Microsoft reported its sales rose only 2% in the three months to December, to $52.7bn (£42.8bn) - with overall profits falling by 12% to $16.4bn.

The slowdown in sales accounts for the corporation's smallest quarterly increase in more than six years.

Meanwhile, on 19 January, Microsoft announced it would reduce its workforce by roughly 5%, eliminating 10,000 jobs.

It is the latest round of staff redundancies to hit the tech industry, and will cost the business $1.2bn in severance and reorganisation costs.


Elon Musk says Tesla tweet was genuine in fraud case

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64384278, 6 days ago

Elon Musk has told a court that he was trying to do the "right thing" when he issued a tweet claiming he had enough backing to take Tesla private.

The boss of the electric car company is on trial after investors claimed the 2018 tweet cost them millions of dollars when a deal did not go ahead.

Mr Musk claims that he had met with a Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund which indicated support for a deal.

But he admitted he never discussed a specific funding amount.

Mr Musk is accused of defrauding investors after he tweeted on 7 August 2018 that he had "funding secured" to take Tesla private at $420 (£341) per share, and that "investor support is confirmed".

The tweet sent shares in Tesla soaring, but weeks later they fell back when Mr Musk said the plan was no longer going ahead, causing a significant backlash for the billionaire.

He was forced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US regulator, to step down as Tesla's chairman and had to have any tweets related to Tesla vetted by an independent committee.

He and Tesla were also fined $20m each to settle a claim by the SEC that he had committed securities fraud.

At the jury trial in a San Francisco court on Tuesday, Mr Musk and his attorney argued that the deal was seriously considered for about two weeks, with discussions with major investors and other firms.

Mr Musk said he eventually scrapped the plan after his discussions with smaller investors led him to believe they would prefer that the firm remain publicly traded on the stock market.

"I felt it was important to be responsive to their wishes," he said, later citing a letter he received from Cathie Wood, chief executive of Ark Investment, a firm that manages billions of dollars worth in assets.

Mr Musk said he thought sharing his consideration of the potential buyout was the "right thing" to do because he was worried an article in the Financial Times about Saudi Arabia's stake in the company would put ordinary investors at a disadvantage.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," he said on Tuesday, his third day testifying in the case.

"I was concerned when receiving the Financial Times article that the information had leaked and that some investors would be aware that I was considering taking the company private and this would disadvantage other investors, especially small shareholders."

On Monday, Mr Musk told a court in San Francisco that he had met with people from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund on 31 July, 2018.

He said that while a price for taking Tesla private was not discussed, he claimed that the representatives from the fund made it clear they backed a deal.

Mr Musk claimed Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the fund's governor, then appeared to backpedal on the pledge.

"I was very upset because he had been unequivocal in his support for taking Tesla private when we met and now he appeared to be backpedaling," he said.

'Not a joke'

Mr Musk was also questioned about how he decided on a price of $420 a share and whether it was a reference to marijuana.

[Elon Musk]

In American counterculture, the significance of 420 is said to have come from a group of students in California in the 1970s who used to meet after school at 4:20pm to smoke and to search for a patch of cannabis plants.

Later on, 20 April became a day when thousands of people gathered to celebrate marijuana. In the US, dates are written with the number of the month first, then the day - in this case 4/20.

Mr Musk, who has smoked cannabis in public but claimed not to be a regular user, told the court: "420 was not chosen because of a joke; it was chosen because there was a 20% premium over the stock price."

He added that there was "some karma around 420", though "I should question whether that is good or bad karma at this point."

Mr Musk, who bought the social media platform Twitter for $44bn last year, had told the court on Friday that he did not think that his tweets had affected Tesla's share price.

"Just because I tweet something does not mean people believe it or will act accordingly," he told jurors.

'Off his rocker'

Mr Musk will continue testifying on Tuesday. He had attempted to have the trial moved from California to Texas due to concerns that a jury would be biased against him due to media coverage of the businessman.

Following his takeover of Twitter, which is headquartered in San Francisco, thousands of staff lost their jobs.

"We don't think we can get a fair trial in this district, period, full stop," said Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Mr Musk.

Mr Spiro claimed: "The media reports are character assassinations."

The request was denied by Judge Edward Chen.

During jury selection, potential jurors expressed a wide range of opinions about Mr Musk. Some described him as "smart" and a "genius".

Another said he was "a little off his rocker".

One woman suggested that "he is not a very likable person,"

When asked by the judge whether that meant she would not be impartial towards him, the woman responded:  "A lot of people are not necessarily likable people…. sometimes I don't like my husband."


Government green heating scheme off to slow start

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64414493, 4 days ago

A major new grant scheme to replace gas boilers in England and Wales has got off to a slow start, government figures released on Thursday show.

Under The Boiler Upgrade Scheme households can apply for vouchers to help them switch to a heat pump.

The government aims to give out 30,000 vouchers annually but only managed 9,888 between the scheme's launch in May and the end of the year.

The government told the BBC it was on track to meet its targets.

Switching to heat pumps helps lower heating emissions and therefore will help the UK meet its climate targets.

Since May last year households across England and Wales have been able to access a £5,000 grant to replace their boiler with a more environmentally-friendly heating system.

The government set aside £450m for this scheme, and said it would fund 90,000 pumps over three years.

Based on new figures released on Thursday, at the current rate, by March 2025 when the scheme is due to end only 42,000 vouchers would be issued.

A spokesperson for the UK's Climate Change Committee, the government's advisory group on climate, told the BBC that although the number of retrofits is broadly in line with their models "the government could increase uptake of Boiler Upgrade Scheme, specifically by raising public awareness and providing further funding".

A government spokesperson told the BBC that it has recently launched a targeted marketing campaign to increase public awareness in the scheme.

Jess Ralston, head of energy at policy think-tank Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told the BBC she was not surprised by the scheme's slow start: "In terms of government schemes they all have teething issues in the first year."

Industry experts say the delay in getting the scheme online deterred installers from offering their services.

The scheme was set up by the government to reduce the climate impact of heating UK homes - which produces 14% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Heat pumps run on electricity rather than gas and are three times more efficient, so also offer households an opportunity to save money.

The scheme had already come under criticism for providing funding for just 90,000 vouchers when the government is targeting 600,000 installations by 2028.

But it said that the scheme was about creating a demand for heat pumps to allow the market to grow.

Ms Ralston said that the scheme will certainly help the industry get ready but there "is still a massive scale of difference, and in other countries we are seeing long-term policy plans. Three years isn't very long and people need the confidence to invest".

Currently the UK is one of the poorest performing countries for heat pump installation in Europe. In 2020, nearly 400,000 heat pumps were installed in France compared to the UK's 37,000, according to energy analysts.

The application and issuing of vouchers also differs significantly across the regions of England and Wales.

The top four of the five regions for heat pump installations in this scheme were in the south of England.

Voucher deployment is dependent upon households applying for the scheme but the cost of living crisis may be putting some people off as the voucher only covers between 75% and 50% of the cost, said Ms Ralston.

[Table showing the ranking of different regions for vouchers issued]


True wild camping on Dartmoor not threatened say landowners

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-64418161, 4 days ago

Landowners at the centre of a row over the future of wild camping on Dartmoor have said it is "perfectly understandable" that people are upset.

A High Court judge ruled on 13 January that wild camping without permission was not allowed.

Alexander Darwall and his wife Diana, who brought the case, said it was "very regrettable that this has caused unnecessary worry".

Dartmoor National Park Authority is considering an appeal.

Thousands of protesters gathered on Dartmoor on Saturday calling for the ruling to be overturned.

[Ten Tors]

Before the judgment there was an assumed right that people could camp without landowners' permission.

They will now be restricted to specific areas, marked on an interactive map published on the park authority's website.

Mr Darwall, a hedge fund manager, and his wife, who have owned 4,000 acres (16 sq km) on southern Dartmoor since 2013, said in a statement: "The truth is that there is no threat to access or true wild camping.

"Dartmoor is increasingly under pressure from fly campers, litter, raves and so on - a small number of people who spoil it for everyone.

"We want to keep Dartmoor unspoilt with the principle of leave no trace.

"We also have legal and environmental responsibilities which we take seriously.

"We wanted improved cooperation and understanding with the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA).

"We are now in a much better place to cooperate and work with the DNPA in a positive way for the best outcome for everyone."

[Crowd of people stand in the middle of a square holding signs and banners]

An "agreement in principle" was made after the judgment between the DNPA and landowners, which brought in a fee payable to landowners by the park authority for allowing wild camping.

According to campaigners it also reduced the land available to wild campers by more than 12,000 acres (49 sq km).

"We expect the final agreement to be finalised very soon so that organised camping like Ten Tors and Duke of Edinburgh's awards, and individual wild campers can continue," said the Darwalls.

They added: "It is perfectly understandable that people have been upset about the perceived threat to wild camping on Dartmoor.

"And it is very regrettable that this has caused unnecessary worry."

Follow BBC News South West on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Send your story ideas to spotlight@bbc.co.uk.


Asteroid 2023 BU: Space rock passes closer than some satellites

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64411469, 3 days ago

Now it's over, we can say it: a biggish asteroid passed by Earth a short while ago.

About the size of a minibus, the space rock, known as 2023 BU, whipped over the southern tip of South America just before 00:30am GMT.

With a closest approach of 3,600km (2,200 miles), it counts as a close shave.

And it illustrates how there are still asteroids of significant size lurking near Earth that remain to be detected.

This one was only picked up last weekend by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov, who operates from Nauchnyi in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Follow-up observations have refined what we know about 2023 BU's size and, crucially, its orbit.

That's how astronomers could be so confident it would miss the planet, even though it came inside the arc occupied by the world's telecommunications satellites, which sit 36,000km (22,000 miles) above us.

The chances of hitting a satellite are very, very small.

The time of lowest altitude was accurately calculated to be 19:27 EST on Thursday, or 00:27 GMT on Friday.

[Asteroid]

Even if 2023 BU had been on a direct collision course, it would have struggled to do much damage.

With an estimated size of 3.5m to 8.5m across (11.5ft to 28ft), the rock would likely have disintegrated high in the atmosphere. It would have produced a spectacular fireball, however.

For comparison, the famous Chelyabinsk meteor that entered Earth's atmosphere over southern Russia in 2013 was an object near 20m (66ft) across. It produced a shockwave that shattered windows on the ground.

Scientists at the US space agency Nasa say 2023 BU's orbit around the Sun has been modified by its encounter with Earth.

Our planet's gravity pulled on it and adjusted its path through space.

"Before encountering Earth, the asteroid's orbit around the Sun was roughly circular, approximating Earth's orbit, taking 359 days to complete its orbit about the Sun," the agency said in a statement.

"After its encounter, the asteroid's orbit will be more elongated, moving it out to about halfway between Earth's and Mars' orbits at its furthest point from the Sun. The asteroid will then complete one orbit every 425 days."

There is a great effort under way to find the much larger asteroids that really could do damage if they were to strike the Earth.

[Graphic: Asteroid populations]

The true monsters out there, like the 12km-wide rock that wiped out the dinosaurs, have likely all been detected and are not a cause for worry. But come down in size to something that is, say, 150m across and our inventory has gaps.

Statistics indicate perhaps only about 40% of these asteroids have been seen and assessed to determine the level of threat they might pose.

Such objects would inflict devastation on the city scale if they were to impact the ground.

Prof Don Pollacco from the University of Warwick, UK, told BBC News: "There are still asteroids that cross the Earth's orbit waiting to be discovered.

"2023 BU is a recently discovered object supposedly the size of a small bus which must have passed by the Earth thousands of times before. This time it passes by only 2,200 miles from the Earth - just 1% of the distance to the moon - a celestial near miss.

"Depending on what 2023 BU is composed of it is unlikely to ever reach the Earth's surface but instead burn up in the atmosphere as a brilliant fireball - brighter than a full moon.

"However, there are likely many asteroids out there that remain undiscovered that could penetrate the atmosphere and hit the surface to cause significant damage - indeed many scientists think we could be due such an event."


Webb telescope hunts life's icy chemical origins

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64380397, 6 days ago

The new super space telescope James Webb has ventured into the freezer.

It's been probing some of the darkest, coldest regions in space for clues about the chemistry that goes into making planets, and perhaps even life.

This newly released image shows a segment of the Chameleon I molecular cloud, some 630 light years from Earth.

It's here, at temperatures down to about -260C, that Webb is detecting types of ice grains not previously observed.

Eventually, such clouds will collapse to form stars and, around them, planets. And the chemistry being spied by Webb will be incorporated.

You can see this in action at top-left of the image.

The orange "hourglass" feature is a protostar - a star in the mode of formation, pulling material from the cloud on to itself.

The orange stars underneath are more mature and bright enough that they generate the distinctive six spikes that have now become familiar in Webb pictures and are artefacts of the telescope's segmented mirror design.

But to detect the ices, Webb is ignoring all of these stars to the side and looking to stars behind the blue wispy Chameleon I.

As the light from these objects shines through the cloud, some of it is absorbed by the ices to betray their composition.

"It's sort of like a shadow puppet," explained Dr Melissa McClure from Leiden University, Netherlands.

"You have some kind of shape that makes the shadow. The ices make an absorption at particular wavelengths of light and you add all those up into a spectrum to see what chemical species you have," she told BBC News.

This is work done principally on Webb by its near-infrared and mid-infrared spectrometers (NIRSpec and MIRI), and to a degree by its near-infrared camera (NIRCam) which produced the beautiful image at the top of the page.

[Webb graphic]

In addition to simple ices such as water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and methane, Webb sees several other compounds, including carbonyl sulphide and the more complex organic (carbon-containing) ice methanol. And there are hints too of chemical species with multiple carbon atoms, such as acetone, ethanol, and acetaldehyde.

It is much easier for astronomers to see these targets in space when they're gases. Webb is breaking new ground by seeing them in the solid state, as ices.

It will aid scientists as they try to understand where the chemistry for life came from and how it built the sophistication it now displays on our planet.

"Even though we detected more ice than ever previously reported, the amount of 'light elements' (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur) present within them is still less than we expect," explained Dr Helen Fraser, from the Open University, UK.

"For astronomers that is exciting, because it means there is something we don't yet fully understand about interstellar chemistry - and that challenges us not just to keep observing, but also to experiment in the laboratory."

[Stars]

Close in to a newly forming star, the icy dust grains like those in Chameleon I would mostly evaporate, but further out they could survive and clump together to make comets.

"These comets would then have a large chemical inventory in them and they would likely bombard planets, certainly early in their history," said Prof Martin McCoustra from Heriot-Watt University, UK.

"In the case of Earth, the belief today is that the load delivered by comets was part of that organic soup from which life evolved," he told BBC News.

The telescope is a joint endeavour of the US, European and Canadian space agencies.

The latest Webb observations are part of the James Webb Space Telescope Ice Age project and are reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.