All The News

on 2023.03.27 at 07:31:53 in London

Mass Israel protests after Netanyahu fires defence minister
Mississippi tornado: Why was it so destructive?
More storms feared after Mississippi tornado
Afghanistan girls' education: 'When I see the boys going to school, it hurts'
Strike brings Germany's public transport network to halt
Ukraine war: Drone downed over Russia, Moscow says
Online trolls are taking a toll in China
Silicon Valley Bank: Collapsed US lender bought by rival
Jonathan Majors: Creed III actor arrested on assault charges
Myanmar army chief vows to crush resistance in rare speech
Poisoned to death: Japan indicts man for killing student with thallium
'God, guns and Trump': Thousands turn out for Texas rally
Rare show of Northern Lights dazzles North America
Guo Wengui: How a Chinese tycoon built a pro-Trump money machine
The web firm that wants to stop you getting 'cancelled'
Kerala: A ghost town in the world's most populated country
Turkish earthquake: Survivors' haunting search for missing relatives
Technology has become the double-edged sword of Asia's protests
Eurovision 2023: Mae Muller and other hopefuls get pre-parties started across Europe
Kamala Harris Africa trip: Can US charm offensive woo continent from China?

War in Ukraine
Nato condemns 'dangerous' Russian nuclear rhetoric
No Ukraine offensive without more weapons – Zelensky
Ukraine war: Battle for Bakhmut 'stabilising', says commander
Ukraine war: How a Russian child's drawing sparked a police investigation
Ukraine war: The front line where Russian eyes are always watching
Ron DeSantis says his Ukraine remarks 'mischaracterised'
Will Vladimir Putin ever face a war crimes trial?
Ukraine war: What support is China giving Russia?
Ukraine conflict: What war crimes is Russia accused of?
Yevgeny Prigozhin: From Putin's chef to Wagner founder
Video shows moment Russian fighter jet hits US drone over Black Sea
Bakhmut: Russian casualties mount but tactics evolve

Elon Musk: Twitter says parts of source code leaked online

US & Canada
Gwyneth Paltrow trial: Actress denies hit-and-run in ski crash
US-Canada agree to turn back asylum seekers at border
Principal resigns after Florida students shown Michelangelo statue
US bombs Syria targets after deadly drone attack
Fake Trump arrest photos: How to spot an AI-generated image
Utah is first US state to limit teen social media access
Waco, Texas: Donald Trump rallies on anniversary of deadly standoff
Biden visits Canada: What's bothering America's friendliest neighbour?
Candida auris: What is the deadly fungus sweeping through US hospitals?
Why Trump supporters are wary of joining protests he called for
Fingerprints and a mugshot: What happens if Trump is arrested

Firms hit back at Bank governor in prices row
Deutsche Bank share slide reignites worries among investors
Bank governor warns firms raising prices ‘hurts people’
Castlederg hardware and drapery shop closes after 121 years
Do Kwon: Fugitive 'cryptocrash' boss arrested in Montenegro
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's Congress showdown: Five takeaways
Interest rate rise: Bank of England more hopeful on UK economy
Jack Dorsey business target of Hindenburg report
Crewless container ships appear on the horizon
US firms 'more negative' about doing business in China
‘I left teaching to train as a heat pump engineer’
Are romance authors at risk from book-writing chatbots?

Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder and creator of Moore's Law, dies aged 94
Into the ‘lion’s den’: Questions the TikTok CEO will face from Congress today over a possible ban
ChatGPT bug leaked users' conversation histories
Could the US government actually block people from accessing TikTok altogether?
Bill Gates: AI is most important tech advance in decades
Bard: Google's rival to ChatGPT launches for over-18s
Amazon to cut another 9,000 jobs
Zhao Weiguo: Chinese regulator accuses chip tycoon of corruption
The revolution underway in India's diamond industry
Could waste plastic become a useful fuel source?

OneWeb launch completes space internet project
Have we found the 'animal origin' of Covid?
Commercial development of gene-edited food now legal in England
What is gene-edited food and is it safe to eat?
Claude Lorius: Pioneering French climate change scientist dies aged 91
Europe risks being 'a spectator in next space race'
3D printed rocket takes to the sky over Florida
Five things we've learned from UN climate report
UN climate report: Scientists release 'survival guide' to avert climate disaster
UN warns against 'vampiric' global water use
Extreme weather: What is it and how is it connected to climate change?
James Webb telescope detects dust storm on distant world

Mass Israel protests after Netanyahu fires defence minister, today

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister.

Yoav Gallant had spoken out against controversial plans to overhaul the justice system.

In Jerusalem, police and soldiers used water cannon against demonstrators near Mr Netanyahu's house.

A week of disruption had already been planned over the new law.

The reforms include plans that would give the government full control over the committee which appoints judges.

They would also make it harder for courts to remove a leader deemed unfit for office, which has angered many who consider it in the interests of the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an ongoing trial for corruption.

After protesting outside Mr Netanyahu's home, the demonstrators - many flying Israeli flags and banging pots and pans - then evaded police forces to arrive at Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

One government employee told the BBC that she felt Mr Netanyahu "crossed every line we have as a democratic country".

"We're defending the last bit of democracy we have and I can't go to sleep this way. I can't do anything until we stop this craziness", she said.

[Protesters duck below a stream of water fired from a water canon]

Mr Gallant is a former soldier, who for weeks has heard from reservists who were unhappy with the proposed law change.

In early March, fighter pilots in an elite Israeli Air Force squadron vowed not to attend training, in an unprecedented protest against the government.

They later agreed to attend and hold talks with their commanders.

Mr Gallant spoke out against the law on Saturday, where he said members of the Israeli Defence Forces were angry and disappointed.

Mr Netanyahu - who was out of the country at the time of Mr Gallant's TV appearance - said he no longer had faith in him as defence minister.

The prime minister wants to get the new legislation through parliament by the end of the week.

The two politicians are a member of the same Likud party and while the defence minister won the backing of some fellow members, others on the far right called for him to go.

After he was fired, Mr Gallant took to Twitter to reaffirm: "The state of Israel's security has always been and will always be my life's mission."

Israel's opposition leader Yair Lapid described Mr Gallant's sacking as "a new low" for the government.

"Netanyahu can fire Gallant, but he can't fire reality or fire the people of Israel who are fronting up to resist the coalition's madness," Mr Lapid added.

Mississippi tornado: Why was it so destructive?, today

An unusual and powerful tornado in Mississippi has left storm chasers and meteorologists in shock as it left a devastating trail in its path.

At least 25 people have been killed in the state with search and rescue efforts continuing into Sunday.

The tornado looked enormous as it approached the small town of Rolling Fork, with some calling it a "wedge tornado".

The National Weather Service estimates the storm lasted more than an hour.

"I still can't get over what I saw," said Stephanie Cox, a storm chaser based in Oklahoma who witnessed the tornado as it rolled into Mississippi.

Ms Cox told the BBC that she initially was not able to determine how large or strong the storm would be. But she then heard a massive roar, she said, followed by a lightning strike that illuminated what she described as a "monster" of a tornado.

"I've never seen one that violent or heard one just make that roar sound - that sounds like a train horn coming right at you, " she said.

The NWS estimates the tornado, which began hitting western Mississippi on Friday night after it formed over the Mississippi river, travelled 59 miles (94 kilometres) with a width of three-quarters of a mile, and lasted about an hour and 10 minutes.

It developed from a supercell storm - a rotating storm where the updraft and the downdraft are separated. It is caused by warm, unstable air near the ground and changing speed and direction of the wind at increasing heights.

These storms are some of the least common but among the most destructive, according to the NWS.

[A photo of the tornado taken by a storm watcher as it rolled in]

Supercell storms are also known for being able to sustain themselves for longer than normal.

"The conditions were just perfect for the storm to last a very long time, and that is usually not common," said Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the NWS in Jackson, Mississippi.

"It caused that tornado to just wreak havoc for a long distance," he said.

Ms Cox and others have described it as a "wedge tornado" - an unofficial term used to describe tornadoes that appear to be wider than their length as they are approaching.

Those types of tornadoes are known for being destructive because their width causes damage over a larger area.

Homes and buildings in Rolling Fork were flattened in the aftermath of the storm, and vehicles were tossed around and destroyed.

Samuel Emmerson, a member of the radar research group at the University of Oklahoma, said the tornado flung debris 30,000 feet (9km) up in the air.

[A map showing the impacted areas along Mississippi and Alabama]

Preliminary findings have registered the tornado a four on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, meaning it had a three-second gust of 166 to 200 mph, Mr Perrilloux said.

He added the tornado lifted up after it rolled through Rolling Fork. It then descended again about 76 miles (122 kilometres) north-east into the town of Black Hawk, Mississippi, where it was downgraded to a three on the EF scale. Parts of Alabama were also hit by tornadoes.

Another factor that contributed to the devastation in Mississippi is the timing that the storm rolled in.

It hit the town of Rolling Fork around 20:00 local time (02:00 GMT), and the NWS only issued a tornado warning about 20 minutes prior.

Studies have shown that night-time tornadoes can be twice as deadly as those that occur during the day, partly because they are hard to see coming.

More storms feared after Mississippi tornado, today

More severe weather could be on its way to the US state of Mississippi following the tornadoes which killed 26 people, the governor has warned.

Governor Tate Reeves said significant risks remained in parts of the state.

Hundreds of people have been displaced in the wake of the tornadoes which tore through Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night.

The mayor of one of the worst affected towns said he had lost personal friends in the disaster.

Friday's tornado was the deadliest in the state of Mississippi in more than a decade. At least 25 people have died in the state, with one person confirmed dead in neighbouring Alabama.

Trees have been uprooted, trucks have overturned into houses and power lines have been brought down by the tornado - classified as "violent" and given the second-highest rating possible.

On Saturday, survivors of the disaster could be seen walking around, dazed and in shock. Sunday, on the other hand, has been a hive of activity.

Volunteers, some coming from neighbouring Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, have been helping with the clean-up operation.

President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency and deployed federal resources to help with the rescue and response in some of the worst-hit towns.

The devastation is so great, it must be difficult to know where to begin. Crews are working to remove broken trees that are pinning down power lines, with thousands of people losing power during Friday's storm.

Stations have been set up outside some of the few buildings still partially standing where people can collect water and sandwiches.

But while local communities are grappling with the response, there are warnings of further severe storms to come.

Speaking at a news conference convened in the western town of Rolling Fork, Governor Reeves said: "What we've seen, much like the storm that occurred Friday night, is in the 24-36 hours that are leading up to this afternoon, it appears that the risks seem to be getting worse and worse, not better.

"And when you stand here and see this, what feels like a beautiful weather day in Mississippi, please be aware and please know: if you are south of I-55 in Mississippi today there are significant risks. We are prepared."

The governor said it had been "heartbreaking" to see the loss and devastation caused by the twister, but said he was "damn proud to be a Mississippian" after seeing how locals had responded.

"Because Mississippians have done what Mississippians do," he said. "In times of tragedy, in times of crisis, they stand up and they show up, and they're here to help themselves, help their neighbours."

In the town of Rolling Fork, the extent of the devastation is still difficult to comprehend.

As you approach the town from the south, you can clearly see the tornado's path. A straight line of trees have been stripped of their branches and uprooted, while others to either side are untouched.

Debris is strewn across the acres of farmland that surround the town, where parts of buildings and vehicles were deposited.

Mayor Eldridge Walker, also speaking at Sunday's news conference, said the town would come back "bigger and better than ever before" to rounds of applause from those who gathered.

"I'm not only just the mayor of this community, but I've lost personal friends," he said.

"I'm also the local funeral director - now I'm having to meet those who have lost loved ones and help them make it through."

US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has pledged to help the people of Mississippi, "not just today but for the long haul".

"It is inspiring to see the people of Mississippi come together... and the people of this country come together to assist those in dire need," he said.

Afghanistan girls' education: 'When I see the boys going to school, it hurts', today

"Every day I wake up with the hope of going back to school. They [the Taliban] keep saying they will open schools. But it's been almost two years now. I don't believe them. It breaks my heart," says 17-year-old Habiba.

She blinks and bites her lip trying hard not to tear up.

Habiba and her former classmates Mahtab and Tamana are among hundreds of thousands of teenage girls who have been barred from attending secondary school in most of Afghanistan by the Taliban - the only country to take such action.

One-and-a-half years since their lives were brought to a halt, their grief is still raw.

The girls say they fear that global outrage over what's happened to them is fading, even though they live with the pain every day - intensified this week when another school term started without them.

"When I see the boys going to school and doing whatever they want, it really hurts me. I feel very bad. When I see my brother leaving for school, I feel broken," says Tamana. Her voice trembles and tears roll down her cheeks but she goes on.

"Earlier, my brother used to say I won't go to school without you. I hugged him and said you go, I'll join you later.

"People tell my parents you shouldn't worry, you have sons. I wish we had the same rights."

Any hopes they might have had of schools being reopened have been dented by the increasing restrictions the Taliban government has imposed on women.

"There was a little freedom at the beginning, but gradually that changed," Habiba says.

The first restriction following the secondary school ban came in December 2021, when the Taliban ordered that women would have to be accompanied by a male relative if travelling more than 72km (48 miles).

In March 2022, the Taliban government announced that secondary schools would reopen for girls, only to close them within hours.

Less than two months later, a decree was passed that women would have to wear clothing that covered them from head to toe, including a face veil.

In November, women and girls were barred from parks, gyms and swimming pools. Girls were no longer allowed to choose subjects such as economics, engineering and journalism at university.

A month later, a massive blow was delivered when universities were closed to female students, and women were banned from working in domestic and international NGOs except those in the health sector.

"If these limitations increase, I don't think this life is worth living anymore for women. We don't have access to our basic rights as human beings. Life has no meaning without education. I think death is better than a life like this," Mahtab says.

Mahtab had been injured in a bombing at Sayed Ul-Shuhada school in May 2021, when the Taliban were fighting the forces of the previous government of Afghanistan.

"I had injuries on my neck, face and foot. They were painful. But I was determined to continue studying," she says. "I even attended my mid-term exam, but soon after the Taliban came and it was all over."

The Taliban have said that schools and universities are only temporarily closed to women and girls until a "suitable environment" can be created. It is evident that there are divisions within the Taliban government on the issue, but so far any efforts by those who believe girls should be allowed to study have yielded no results.

Regarding some of the other restrictions, the Taliban say they were imposed because women were not wearing a hijab (head covering) or following Islamic laws. Enforcement of the Taliban's rules isn't uniform across provinces, but the regulations create an environment of fear and confusion.

"We always wear a hijab. But it doesn't make a difference. What do they mean? I don't understand," Tamana says.

In our time in Afghanistan before and after the Taliban takeover, we have never met an Afghan woman not wearing a hijab.

To counter the shrinking public spaces for women, Laila Basim had co-founded a library for women in Kabul which we visited in November last year. Thousands of books were neatly stacked on shelves that covered three walls of the room. Women came in to read books, and sometimes just to meet each other - an escape from being indoors in their homes.

Now the library is closed.

"Twice when the Taliban shut the library, we managed to reopen it. But the threats increased day by day. I got phone calls saying how dare I open a library for women. Once they came to the library and told women that they had no right to read books," says Laila. "It became too risky to run it, so I had to take the inevitable decision to shut it down."

[Laila Basim (photo taken in her library in November 2022)]

She says she will continue to find other means to fight the Taliban's policies.

"Of course, I am scared, but the closure of the library is not the end of the road. There are other approaches through which we can raise the voices of Afghan women. It is difficult and will require sacrifices, but we have started it and are committed to it," she adds.

For women who are the only earning members of their families, it's hard to even get from day to day.

Meera (name changed) is a widow in her mid-forties. She used to work as a cleaner at a girls' school, supporting her family of 10. She lost her job when the school closed, and, amid an economic crisis in the country, she's not found much work since.

She now begs on the streets of Kabul.

"I feel like I'm not alive. People know I have nothing so they try to help me out. It is better to die than to live a life without dignity," she says, weeping inconsolably. "If I get potatoes one day, I peel them and cook them. The next day I cook the peelings to feed my family."

Even amid her struggles, Meera wishes her daughters could go to school.

"If they could be educated, they could get jobs. One of my daughters wants to study law and another wants to study medicine. I tell them that I will find money for their education, even if I have to beg for it, but they can't go to university because the Taliban don't allow it," she adds.

"There is nothing except pain or sorrow in every house now," she says.

Additional gathering in Kabul.

Strike brings Germany's public transport network to halt, today

Germany's transport network will be at a near standstill on Monday as two of the country's largest unions strike.

Staff at airports, ports, railways, buses and subways walked out shortly after midnight for a 24-hour stoppage.

Unions are demanding higher wages to help their members cope with the rising cost of living across the country.

There have been multiple smaller walkouts by other public service sectors, but Monday's will be the largest in decades in the country.

The two unions involved in the strike are among the largest in Germany.

Verdi represents around 2.5 million employees across the public sector including in public transport and at airports.

EVG represents around 230,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn - Germany's national rail operator, and other bus companies.

They hope it will increase pressure on employers ahead of another round of pay negotiations on Monday.

Frank Werneke, the chief of Verdi described the pay rise as "a matter of survival for many thousands of employees, according to local media.

"The people are not only underpaid, they are hopelessly overworked," he said.

Verdi wants to secure a 10.5% pay rise for staff, while the other union involved, EVG, wants a 12% raise.

Germany's national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, condemned the plans and described it as "completely excessive, groundless and unnecessary".

At Munich Airport on Sunday, multiple flights were disrupted by the walkout.

Germany's airport association said about 380,000 air travellers would be affected by the strike but added that it was "beyond any imaginable and justifiable measure".

Some employer representatives warn the unions are making unreasonable demands which risk alienating the public.

However, some unions have succeeded in winning wage increases, including postal workers who won an 11.5% pay rise in early march.

Ukraine war: Drone downed over Russia, Moscow says, today

A Ukrainian drone has been shot down by Russian air defences, Moscow says.

The drone came down in the town of Kireyevsk - some 400km (249 miles) from the Ukraine border - on Sunday, the defence ministry has said.

Russia state media is reporting that at least three people had been injured in an explosion after it was brought down.

Ukraine has dismissed previous claims that it has attacked Russian civilian targets with explosive drones and has not yet commented on this incident.

Moscow has deployed hundreds of drones against Ukraine.

Russian law enforcement authorities say the drone - said to be a Strizh-type (Tu-141) UAV packed with explosives - was brought down at 15:20 local time (13:20 BST), causing a large crater in the heart of the town.

Several apartments have reportedly been damaged in the town - which lies in the Tula region, 220km (137 miles) south of Moscow - but there have not been any serious injuries.

In a statement on its Telegram channel, the Russian Defence Ministry accused Ukraine of attempting to carry out a strike.

"The grouping of Russian air defence systems deployed in Tula region - S-300 and Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as Pole-21 electronic warfare systems - provide reliable cover from this direction," the defence ministry said.

"In particular, the Pole-21 electronic warfare complex handled the Ukrainian strike drone, which resulted in its navigation system being disabled."

In December, Moscow said three Russian air force personnel died after being wounded by falling debris from a drone that was shot down at the Engels airbase in the south of the country.

The Engels air base has been repeatedly used by Russia to carry out missile strikes on various targets in Ukraine since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion last February.

Online trolls are taking a toll in China, today

Six months after sharing a photograph on Chinese social media celebrating her graduate school admission with her bedridden grandfather, Zheng Linghua died.

The 23-year-old had shared the image on the platform Xiaohongshu - sporting pink hair and visibly excited, she announced to the world that she had earned a spot to study music at East China Normal University.

"Grandpa has been my pillar of support since I was little... One of my motivations for applying to graduate school was so that my grandfather could see me get in, and be proud of me," she wrote.

But her joy was short-lived.

Within days, she had become a target of bullying online. Her photograph was shared with false, and often insulting, captions. She then became the target of relentless taunting, with some calling her a "nightclub girl" and an "evil spirit".

It's unclear how Zheng died but last month a friend of hers broke the news on Xiaohongshu: "Because of bullying online and in school, Zheng Linghua's life ended on January 23, 2023".

While so-called cyber bullying happens everywhere, China's collectivist culture and the lack of pressure on social media companies to stamp out abuse lend the phenomenon a particular momentum. A poll of more than 2,000 social media users in China found that about four in 10 respondents have experienced some form of online abuse. It also found that 16% of the victims had suicidal thoughts. Almost half experienced anxiety, 42% insomnia, and 32% depression.

Zheng initially had plans to confront her online abusers with legal action - one of her Weibo posts last September was on "how to sue people who madly attack you from behind the screens?" But she was later diagnosed with and medicated for depression, which she revealed on her social media, sharing details about how she had been battling sleeping and eating disorders. In November, she shared pictures of herself in a hospital ward with the caption: "actively fighting depression".

Her death is the latest in a string of deaths that have been linked to online bullying in China.

In January 2022, Liu Xuezhou from the city Xingtai killed himself after a reunion with his birth parents turned sour. As their row played out online, some people accused him of being selfish. The 17-year-old, who was orphaned at the age of four, left behind a note detailing his past experiences with bullying and depression.

History teacher Liu Hanbo from central Henan province died in November that same year after trolls gate-crashed her online classes repeatedly. They hurled insults, played loud music, and spammed the group conversation. Authorities ruled out foul play in Liu's death but said they would investigate if she had been bullied online.

Last month, online influencer Sun Fanbao killed himself - his wife said the 38-year-old was repeatedly insulted by one of his followers and became depressed in the months before he died. Sun shot to fame in 2021 after documenting his 4,000-kilometre trip from Shandong to Tibet on a tractor.

Collectivism meets lack of accountability

In collectivist cultures such as China, those perceived as going against the norm tend to be severely punished, experts say. What makes it worse, they add, is a pervasive culture of shame.

"A strong sense of collectivism in China can mean that cyberbullying, when perpetrated as a symbolic act of violence or aggression towards another in a public setting, may lead to drastic measures, such as suicide, to escape that sense of humiliation," says K Cohen Tan, a vice-provost at University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

[Passengers looking at their smartphones in a subway station in China]

Reading through the posts and comments, it's hard to know what drew the trolls to Zheng. It could well have been her unconventional pink hair, which appears to have bothered some of her online attackers. Others even suggested she was romantically involved with an elderly man, a possible reference to her grandfather.

Dr Tan says online bullies typically "stigmatise individuals for their personal actions or choices" and that is "later compounded by herd instinct". The combined effect, he says, "leaves victims feeling helpless".

While online vitriol is not always politically charged, the Chinese government "tolerates a specific type of cyberbullying" by right-wing nationalists, says Fang Kecheng, a journalism professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The subjects of such attacks have largely been people who were seen as tainting China's image in the eyes of the world.

Michael Berry, who translated Wuhan Diary - a journal published by writer Fang Fang during her time under Covid lockdown in Wuhan - has been a target of such trolling.

"Some threatened to kill me and my family if we ever came back to China," Dr Berry said in an interview with WhyNot, a US-based magazine. "Many of these messages contained serious threats and spoke of a deep hatred. Some users were sending me threats like this on a daily basis."

Fang Fang too faced a backlash online, with some accusing her of giving foreigners "a giant sword" to attack China.

The New Yorker magazine's staff writer Fan Jiayang and her mother were also attacked by Chinese nationalists online, calling them traitors, after she publicised her mother's struggle with ALS, a motor neurone disease, in the midst of the pandemic.

Many believe social media platforms in China should be held to greater account, as platforms are elsewhere in the world.

"It has been very difficult for victims to seek legal protection and redress," assistant professor Fang says. "There has been very few cases in which the offenders and the platforms are punished."

This is partly because bullying online is not prioritised as a problem by social media companies or Beijing, which instead runs an extensive censorship machine to stifle dissent or any form of a political conversation.

Social media platforms in China reportedly abide by a growing list of censored search terms - in recent times, these have included words like "Urumqi" and "Shanghai", cities where anti-Covid protests have taken place.

"China has robust technological tools for monitoring online content. More of those resources should be redirected toward curbing cyberbullying. [The government] should not condone the culture of fostering online 'hate campaigns'," says Jonathan Sullivan, a China specialist and political scientist at the University of Nottingham.

[Sun Fanbao shot to fame in 2021 after documenting a 4,000-kilometre trip from Shandong to Tibet on a tractor]

Some are also calling for more public education on online safety.

Schools should implement emotional and social learning programmes that teach students how to resolve disagreements and make responsible decisions, said Janis Whitlock, who directs the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery at Cornell University.

More fundamentally, mental healthcare should be strengthened in China, Dr Sullivan says.

Experts say nearly three years of strict and abrupt Covid lockdowns may also have increased time spent online, leading to more instances of bullying.

"What else are you going to do if you are locked down for months on end? This in turn, has also led to an exponential increase in online violence and cyberbullying. Part of this comes from the fact that people were out of work, frustrated, and angry," Dr Berry says.

"People felt like they needed an outlet to vent. And in many cases, they turn to 'keyboard justice', unleashing attacks against celebrities and other public figures," he adds.

In one of her last Weibo posts in October, Zheng reflected on so-called "black swan events" that she experienced last year. Among other things, she listed online abuse, internet violence, depression, and graduate school applications.

"Yes, my dramatic life is fast-paced and fluctuates a lot. But these things have helped me muster courage to go through life's ups and downs, and not lose my way… Next year will definitely be better," she wrote.

By then, she had dyed her pink hair black.

Zheng went silent on social media soon after, but up until last month, friends and followers have been leaving comments on her Weibo account, many expressing regret and shock over her death.

"I can't believe this at all. You were such a wonderful human being," one of them wrote.

Another said: "My sadness is unspeakable. I am so disappointed with this world."

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, help and support can be found at this BBC Action Line.

In the UK you can call for free, at any time, to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066. In China, you can get help here.

Silicon Valley Bank: Collapsed US lender bought by rival, today

The assets and loans of collapsed US lender Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) are being bought by rival First Citizens BancShares.

All 17 former SVB branches will open under the First Citizens brand on Monday, the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) said.

SVB was seized by US regulators earlier this month after a run on the bank.

It triggered fears about the stability of other lenders, sparking sharp falls in bank shares around the world.

Since then the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse has had to be rescued after depositors began pulling their money out of the bank.

In a statement, the FDIC said SVB customers should continue to use their current branch until they receive notice from First Citizens Bank that their account has been fully moved across.

First Citizens is based in Raleigh, North Carolina and calls itself America's biggest family-controlled bank. It has been one of the largest buyers of troubled banks in recent years.

It has bought around $72bn of SVB's assets and loans at a discount of $16.5bn. The FDIC will still hold about $90bn of SVB's assets.

Jonathan Majors: Creed III actor arrested on assault charges, today

Creed III actor Jonathan Majors has been arrested on strangulation, assault and harassment charges.

The New York Police Department said Majors, who stars alongside Michael B Jordan in the recently released film, was involved in a domestic dispute with a 30-year-old woman on Saturday.

"The victim informed police she was assaulted," a police spokesperson said.

Majors was briefly taken into custody. A representative for the 33-year-old actor denied any wrongdoing.

The NYPD said they were called around 11:14 local time after receiving a 911 call from an apartment in Manhattan's Chelsea district.

They added the woman suffered minor head and neck injuries and was taken to hospital.

He was released from custody by Saturday night, an NYPD spokesperson told the Associated Press news agency.

A representative for the actor told the LA Times: "He has done nothing wrong. We look forward to clearing his name and clearing this up."

Majors' arrest comes just weeks after the actor presented an award at the Oscars.

His career took off after breaking through in 2019's The Last Black Man in San Francisco, before going onto to star in Netflix western The Harder They Fall and Marvel Comics film Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.

Majors plays Jordan's adversary in Creed III, a boxing film released earlier this month.

[Michael B Jordan and Jonathan Majors at the Oscars presenting an award]

[Across the BBC banner]

[Across the BBC footer]

Myanmar army chief vows to crush resistance in rare speech, today

The head of Myanmar's military government has pledged to deal decisively with what he called "acts of terror" by armed resistance groups.

Min Aung Hlaing also accused countries critical of his regime's human rights record of being terror supporters.

Since seizing power in 2021, the military has been locked in a bloody civil war against resistance groups.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than a million people.

But General Min Aung Hlaing, who was giving a rare speech at an annual armed services parade in the capital Naypyidaw, had an unyielding message: the Myanmar armed forces won't stop fighting those opposing their rule, whatever the cost.

The 66-year-old also noted that martial law was being increasingly imposed in "important townships" to fight "terrorists who seek to ruin the interest of people". He said that elections would be held eventually and power handed over to "the winning party", although it is unclear when this will happen, given the ongoing conflict.

The parade marks the 78th anniversary of the founding of Myanmar's national army during World War Two to fight the Japanese invasion.

But in recent years the pageantry has taken on special significance. An increasingly isolated Myanmar continues to display the military might it has been using to devastating effect against rebels, some less than 50km from the capital.

The country, however, retains the support of China and Russia, whose officials were at the parade. Russian MI35 gunships were on display, alongside Chinese K8 ground attack aircraft and FTC2000 jets recently purchased from Beijing. Many of these weapons have been used since the coup in rebel strongholds, often killing civilians and even children.

Units saluting the coup-leader at Monday's parade include many accused of unspeakable atrocities such as massacres of civilians, which have drawn international censure and sanctions.

[Tanks on display in a parade]

Last Friday, the United States announced further sanctions against Myanmar, targeting the supply of jet fuel to the military following air strikes in areas populated by civilians.

Along with other Western countries, it had already launched sanctions targeting junta members, the military government's agencies, and military-run companies, seeking to curb their ability to raise money.

But in the security of their fortified citadel, Myanmar's military believes that brute force, used on an increasingly exhausted population, will eventually cement their regime.

Poisoned to death: Japan indicts man for killing student with thallium, today

Prosecutors in Osaka have indicted a man for murdering a female acquaintance with thallium, which was used as rat poison.

Kazuki Miyamoto, 37, is accused of killing 21-year-old university student Hinako Hamano last October by lacing her drink with thallium.

Thallium was also recently found in his female relative, who has been in a coma since 2020, local media reported citing sources.

Just 1g of it could kill an adult.

But police have not found a motive, nor how he had laid hands on the poison. The suspect was arrested on 3 March in Kyoto.

Thallium is a soft metal which dissolves in water and has no taste or smell- making it hard to detect outside a laboratory setting.

Mr Miyamoto, a real estate agent, is believed to have administered thallium to Ms Hamano sometime around 11 and 12 October when he visited her flat in Kyoto.

He had told police the two were dining out on the night of 11 October before heading to Ms Hamano's home for drinks, the Japan Times said, citing investigators.

According to Mr Miyamoto, Ms Hamano experienced severe coughing fits. He then contacted her family, who took her to a hospital the next day.

Hamano died on 15 October of severe respiratory failure - thallium was found in her vomit and urine, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Police suspect that Mr Miyamoto had spiked Ms Hamano's drink when they were alone at her flat. While analysing Mr Miyamoto's smartphone, police found internet searches for thallium from before the time Ms Hamano was hospitalised.

Local media reported that Hamano first met Mr Miyamoto through a part-time job. In addition to his real estate business, Mr Miyamoto also runs an entertainment-related business involving maikos, or apprentice geishas.

"Miyamoto and Hamano sometimes wined and dined together, and they appeared happy in each other's company," said the Asahi Shimbun, quoting acquaintances.

A female relative of Mr Miyamoto's, who was hospitalised in Kyoto since July 2020 and is now unconscious, was also found to have ingested thallium. The Mainichi reported that this relative is in her 60s and had suddenly collapsed around the summer of 2020.

The substance is strictly regulated in Japan. In most cases, researchers or companies buy it from specialist businesses.

In 2015, a female university student in Nagoya was convicted of attempting to murder two classmates with thallium while she was in high school.

The same chemical had been used in lethal doses by the Islamic State group on its prisoners.

Some countries, like the US, have banned it.

'God, guns and Trump': Thousands turn out for Texas rally, yesterday

In his first public appearance since speculating a week ago that he would soon be arrested, Donald Trump lashed out against the multiple criminal inquiries that have bedevilled him since he left office in January 2021.

At an airfield rally in Waco, Texas, in front of thousands of supporters, the former president called the New York City investigation into hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels an expletive.

"The district attorney of New York under the auspices and direction of the 'department of injustice' in Washington, DC, is investigating me for something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanour, not an affair," he said, before belittling Ms Daniels' personal appearance.

Every piece of his personal, financial and business life, he said, has been "turned upside down and dissected" - but professed that he was "the most innocent man in the history of our country".

For the past week, Mr Trump has been posting increasingly menacing statements about "death and destruction" if he were to be indicted on his social media website, but he avoided any such dire warnings during his speech. And earlier on a sunny afternoon in Waco, Texas, the gathering felt more like the carnival-atmosphere campaign rallies of Mr Trump's 2016 presidential bid.

Thousands of the former president's supporters wandered through Trump merchandise tents, where they bought t-shirts emblazoned with "God, guns and Trump" and "Trump won". Then they packed onto the asphalt tarmac of the local airport hours before Mr Trump's private jet was scheduled to land.

[T-shirts with 'god, guns and trump' written on them]

They waited in the heat as songs by Abba, Frank Sinatra and Bon Jovi blared on the loudspeakers and cheered as a litany of familiar Trump supporters took turns warming-up the crowd.

Rock star Ted Nugent played what was billed as a "fire-breathing" rendition of the US national anthem on his electric guitar, interrupted by an obscenity-laced diatribe that included attacks on the "jack-booted thugs" in the federal government who he said have been wrongfully imprisoning Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also had their moment on the stage, lobbing pointed attacks on New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who will decide in the days ahead whether to indict Mr Trump.

"This attack is an egregious weaponisation of our justice system designed to influence the 2024 presidential race," Greene said. "This is nothing but a witch hunt against President Trump, and he is completely innocent."

[Marjorie Taylor-Greene speaks to the crowd during the Trump rally]

The crowd - which the Trump campaign estimated will reach 15,000 - offered some boos when Mr Bragg's name was mentioned, but few seemed all that concerned by the New York investigation.

"I don't listen to the negative stuff," said Debbie Harvey of Midlothian, Texas, a town near Dallas. "I'm praying that he doesn't get indicted. God still answers prayers."

"There doesn't seem to be much to it," said Brian Novie, who lives in nearby Copperas Cove. "And now they seem to be struggling with whether prosecute at all."

Novie and his friend Richard Tarner, who like Harvey were attending their first Trump rally, bought commemorative t-shirts that read "Trump in Texas: I was there - where were you?" They said that, even with what is likely to be a range of choices in the 2024 Republican primaries, they were sticking with Mr Trump.

"He's proven he can get things done," Tarner said, noting that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Mr Trump's most formidable rival, had yet to demonstrate that he could perform on the national stage.

In the run-up to the Waco rally, a number of media outlets and Trump critics had questioned why the former president was holding his first mega-rally of the 2024 campaign in Waco, where 30 years earlier federal and state authorities engaged in an armed standoff with the Branch Davidian religious cult that ended with the death of 86 people.

[Trump supporters hug at the rally]

It was an incident that helped fuel an anti-government movement in the US, as terms like Nugent's "jack-booted thugs" were frequently used to describe federal law officers.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told the crowd that such connections were an expletive and "fake news".

"I picked Waco," he said. "The president called me several weeks ago and said: 'I'm coming to Texas. I want you to pick a great town.'

The former president's plane arrived early evening in the kind of dramatic airfield landing he made a signature of his campaigns in 2016 and 2020. The new "Trump Force One" circled the airfield as the song Danger Zone, made popular by the film Top Gun, blared on the loudspeakers. Meanwhile, a speed-artist painted a scowling portrait of the former president on the stage.

The work turned out to be an accurately foreshadowing of the mood the embattled former president brought to his appearance. While he would eventually tout his record and make promises about a bright future for America if he is elected, it was clear that his legal troubles - and possible impending arrest - were foremost in his mind.

Rare show of Northern Lights dazzles North America, 2 days ago

Hues of pink, purple and green streaked the skies in North America overnight in a dazzling display of Northern Lights.

Weather officials said the aurora, which was seen from California to New York, as far south as Arizona and north into Canada, was "fairly unusual".

The event was categorised as a "severe geomagnetic storm" and received the second highest rating in strength, a G4. The strongest would be a G5.

A less severe storm is expected this weekend.

"We got more of an impact than we expected," Bill Murtagh, programme co-ordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather and Prediction Center, told the BBC.

[The Northern Lights appear in the sky on March 23, 2023 in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada.]

Mr Murtagh explained that the Northern Lights phenomenon experienced last night was due to "several eruptions on the sun", which released high energy particles that collided with Earth's atmosphere "like a big magnet getting shot out of the sun".

"When these clouds of particles and magnetic fields from the sun hit the Earth's magnetic fields, we see these high energy particles will interact with the Earth's upper atmosphere and that will create the Northern Lights," he said.

An event like this will happen about 50 times every solar cycle, he said, which is 11 years. But this was the most severe geomagnetic storm in almost six years, according to

Mr Murtagh said we are currently approaching a point in the solar cycle where more eruptions on the sun will occur, in a period defined as the solar maximum.

Throughout the solar minimum, when activity on the sun is lower, less severe geomagnetic storms more commonly occur, and are typically seen in northern states like New England and along the Canadian border, he said.

But more frequent high level solar storms are on the way.

"The next coming years we are going to see the most solar activity," he said.

Guo Wengui: How a Chinese tycoon built a pro-Trump money machine, 2 days ago

When Chinese tycoon and notable dissident Guo Wengui was charged with masterminding a $1bn fraud, it was only the latest chapter in the saga of a man with connections to powerful people in China, the US and the UK.

In early June 2020, at the tail end of the city's first Covid lockdown, a fleet of small planes baffled New Yorkers.

They circled overhead towing banners that read: "Congratulations to the New Federal State of China" and flew an unfamiliar-looking blue flag.

Was it a prank? A stunt? Weird propaganda?

The mystery was solved a few days later when Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon appeared live online.

Together on a boat near the Statue of Liberty, with the same blue flag in the background, they awkwardly took turns speaking to the camera.

"We must eliminate Marxism-Leninism, the pariah and totalitarian regime of the Chinese Communist Party," Mr Guo declared.

It was the latest collaboration between the two men, who built large networks of online followers based on their shared obsessions: opposition to China's rulers, fealty to the Trump wing of the Republican Party, and conspiracy theories about Covid and vaccines.

[A screenshot from the video featuring Mr Bannon and Mr Guo]

The money trail

According to prosecutors, however, Mr Guo used his connections and online influence to defraud his supporters.

Thousands of Chinese dissidents - most living abroad - sent money, thinking they were buying shares in his businesses and cryptocurrency.

But instead of being invested, authorities say, the money was used by Mr Guo and a London-based business partner, Kin Ming Je, to fund extravagant purchases - including expensive properties, a yacht, sports cars, risky hedge fund investments, $1 million worth of rugs and a $140,000 piano.

The BBC spoke to several followers who say they gave thousands of dollars to Mr Guo's organisations.

"I watched his livestreams every day," said Coco, a Chinese immigrant who has been living in the US for a decade. We are not using her full name because she fears retribution from Mr Guo's followers.

"The videos are very sensational… and we trust[ed] him completely," she said.

Like many of his followers, Coco was drawn in by Mr Guo's opposition to the Chinese Communist Party, and his claims to have access to dirt on senior Chinese officials.

She became suspicious after investing in GTV, a media company founded by Mr Guo and Mr Bannon. She got invited to a WhatsApp group promising exclusive access to the tycoon, and joined protests outside the home of one of Mr Guo's opponents. She says the protesters were meant to get paid, but never did.

"We slowly discovered that he never fulfilled his promises," she said.

[The custom-built Bugatti sports car]

Coco says she invested $6,000. One of her friends apparently gave more than $100,000 in order to become a "chair" - a member of Mr Guo's inner circle.

Prosecutors said victims were promised huge returns on their investments.

Despite the vast sums of money pumped into Mr Guo's companies and foundations, he declared bankruptcy last year, claiming less than $100,000 to his name.

Rags to riches

By all accounts, Mr Guo knows what it's like to be broke. Born in 1970, he grew up in poverty as one of eight children in China's north-eastern Shandong Province, according to a profile published in The New Yorker last year.

He spent time in prison, then embarked on a career in property development which made him one of China's richest people. By his own admission, he cultivated contacts in the country's intelligence services.

Mr Guo would later say that his wealth and connections gave him inside knowledge. But those same connections have led detractors to accuse him - including in a US court - of being a double agent working for the Chinese government.

[Pangu Plaza, a torch-shaped building in Beijing developed by Guo Wengui, pictured in 2017]

In 2014, after a business dispute and the arrest of one of his intelligence contacts, Mr Guo fled China for London, then New York.

In both cities he fell in with important people. In 2015, he donated £2.1m ($2.5m) to a foundation run by Tony Blair. The former prime minister later wrote him a letter of recommendation as part of Mr Guo's application to buy the penthouse of an exclusive Manhattan apartment building - the same apartment that FBI agents raided this month.

Unlike other dissidents living abroad, Mr Guo was not content to keep a low profile. He became an outspoken critic of China's rulers, accusing several top officials of corruption.

The ill feeling was mutual. Chinese officials accused him of bribery, kidnapping, fraud, money laundering and rape, and sent a "red notice" seeking his arrest though Interpol.

In 2017, Mr Guo started a Twitter account and steadily built up a following on a number of social media platforms. He claimed political asylum in the United States, alleging persecution by Chinese authorities.

Later that year he met Mr Bannon, who had just been shunted out of his White House post. The pair found common ground, and started frequently appearing on each other's podcasts and online videos.

According to leaked documents, one Mr Guo's businesses paid Mr Bannon $1m in consulting fees. They later co-founded GTV.

[Mr Guo owns the penthouse of this luxury apartment building in Manhattan]

Kyle Weiss, a senior analyst at Graphika, a social media analytics company, authored a 2021 report on how Mr Guo's online presence blossomed into a movement, supported by a blitz of content on social media.

"When he began speaking out in 2017 and granted interviews to media outlets, he was quickly able to build a following by spilling the tea on the Chinese Communist Party," Weiss says. "That's certainly compelling and something you don't see a lot of."

That analysis was backed up by BBC interviews with Mr Guo's former supporters.

"He has won the hearts of many because he was calling on the end of the Chinese Communist Party," said Sarah, a Chinese immigrant, who did not want to use her full name. She lives in the US and says she gave around $50,000.

'Punishing the traitors'

The Bannon-inspired content production formula worked, and thousands of Mr Guo's fans took action, online and off.

At the extreme end, some of his followers rallied outside the homes of Mr Guo's enemies. Most of those enemies were themselves dissidents, who had somehow crossed the tycoon, prompting him to accuse them of being Chinese spies.

Although he has denied encouraging violence, Mr Guo launched what he called a "punishing the traitors" campaign.

Several of those targeted allegedly received death threats. At least one was beaten by Mr Guo's followers.

Teng Biao, a dissident who fled China and is a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, was one of the people targeted in the "traitors" campaign. He said that he began writing about Mr Guo in 2017, believing that the businessman was discrediting the work of Chinese dissidents.

Mr Guo sued Mr Teng for defamation, but the case was dismissed.

That did not stop the attacks.

For two months starting in late 2021, up to 30 activists rallied every day outside of his house in New Jersey, Mr Teng told the BBC.

"They were standing in front of my house and holding banners and signs calling me a [Chinese Communist Party] spy and they kept filming my house, livestreaming, and cursing me and my children and my family," Mr Teng said. "His followers sent me death threats."

Coco, the investor who has since turned against Mr Guo, said she participated in a rally outside the house of another Chinese dissident, Bob Fu.

Fu is a pastor and religious freedom activist who left China in the 1990s. Mr Guo accused him of being a Chinese spy.

"I regret joining these actions very much," Coco said. "Those people are not Chinese Communist Party spies as Guo said."

Another former follower who worked for Mr Guo as a volunteer translator, but did not want to be named for fear of retribution, told the BBC that his companies collected personal information on followers who gave money, claiming they were "know your customer" checks like those regularly used by banks.

"He has all their personal information, passport, identity cards, address, email, phone numbers, you name it," she said.

The result, she alleged, is that many followers - especially those still living in China - are afraid of speaking out because they worry this information will be leaked.

Fraud allegations

But Mr Guo's network came crashing down last week when US authorities charged him with orchestrating a billion-dollar fraud.

According to the indictment, 5,500 investors sunk a total of $452m into GTV, which Mr Guo claimed was worth $2bn. In reality, it is alleged, it was a new business and had no revenue.

[The 145-foot luxury yacht]

Possible signs that things were unravelling date back all the way to August 2020, when Mr Bannon was arrested aboard a yacht owned by Mr Guo, accused of defrauding donors to a not-for-profit company which aimed to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. He pleaded not guilty.

As Mr Guo and Mr Bannon were cementing their partnership in the New Federal State project, US authorities had begun investigating their business activities.

It led to Mr Guo's companies facing allegations of misleading investors, forcing him to pay $539m to settle a lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US financial regulator.

The SEC alleged that Mr Guo illegally sold cryptocurrency and stock in GTV to investors.

It was not the end of his legal and financial troubles, however, and culminated in the arrest last week for wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.

In a statement issued through Mr Guo's foundations, his representatives called the allegations against him "fabricated and unwarranted" and accused the US justice system of being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, without providing evidence. They did not respond to further questions and declined an interview request.

A lawyer for Mr Je - Mr Guo's business partner - says he vehemently denies the allegations.

Mr Bannon was not named in the indictment, and did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In the days after the FBI raid, he covered a range of topics on his podcasts - including Covid, the 2020 election, and China.

But Mr Guo's arrest was not one of them.

The web firm that wants to stop you getting 'cancelled', today

A supporter of Donald Trump made headlines last year when he said: "We are uncancellable by big tech."

The defiant claim came from Devin Nunes, who is the chief executive of Trump Media and Technology Group, the firm set up by Mr Trump in 2021 to run his social media app Truth Social.

Appearing on Fox News, Mr Nunes added: "This is the future of taking on woke companies."

His defiance is not based on the technology of Truth Social, rather it relies on a relatively unknown Canadian internet company called Rumble.

Rumble started out in 2013 as a video-streaming website. While that is still its main focus, in recent years it has branched into web-hosting - offering computing services for companies like Truth Social.

[Videos on Rumble's website]

Aiming one day to rival the likes of Google and Facebook, what makes Rumble controversial is its pledge to rally against censorship, and allow freedom of speech as much as possible.

As a result of this, Rumble has become the home to a great many video channels - more often politically conservative - where people can say things that might get them kicked off other social media sites, like YouTube and Twitter.

A US-Canadian comedian and political commentator called Steven Crowder is a case in point. He is now predominantly to be found on Rumble after YouTube temporarily suspended him in 2021 for breaking its rules on "hate speech". This followed comments he made on transgender issues.

Rumble is now at the forefront of so-called "alt-tech" - internet service providers and social media sites that critics say are popular with conspiracy theorists and the alt-right.

But for Rumble's supporters, such as Mr Nunes, who moved Truth Social across to Rumble's infrastructure last year, it means "we are not relying on any tech tyrants".

BBC Radio: What is Rumble?

Mr Nunes is on one side of a debate about how social media should be managed.

In one camp there are those who advocate for greater content moderation. They say that sites like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube need to make a greater effort to tackle hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.

On the other side are the people who argue this has become too politicised, and see it as censorship.

For years, the battle has largely been played out on the big social media websites. Now, companies like Rumble are trying to change that.

In a note on its website, Rumble chief executive Chris Pavlovski wrote: "Rumble is creating the rails to a new infrastructure that will not be bullied by cancel culture."

In this vision of the future, there would be a rival, alternative internet, making its own rules. Yet at the same time, Rumble denies that it only attracts users with right-wing viewpoints.

It described itself to the BBC as a "neutral platform that welcomes a wide variety of views". For example, Rumble is now home to left-leaning UK comedian turned political commentator Russell Brand.

What is undeniable is that Rumble's user numbers have risen sharply in recent years, at the same time as its bigger rivals have raised their content moderation efforts. For example, in 2020, YouTube removed more than 34 million videos around the world. These included videos deemed to be harassment, incitement to violence, hate speech or misinformation.

"People get kicked off the major platforms, and they don't disappear," says Evelyn Douek, assistant professor at Stanford Law School, and an expert on the regulation of online speech. "They look for a new home."

[Prof Evelyn Douek]

There was a market opportunity and Rumble took it, emphasising its commitment to "free speech". Its monthly active user count reportedly jumped from 1.6 million in mid-2020 to 33 million at the start of 2021.

Prof Douek says that the events of 6 January 2021, when thousands of demonstrators stormed the US Capitol Building, gave Rumble and its plans for an independent internet a boost. She says the aftermath was "one of the radicalising moments for alt-tech".

She points in particular to Parler - a twitter-like platform popular with Trump supporters - being removed from the Apple and Google app stores. Parler's website was also dropped by Amazon, upon whose cloud-based Amazon Web Services servers it had been based.

"Losing access to the cloud and losing access to these app stores can really hamstring a platform," says Prof Douek. She adds that the episode showed people in the alt-tech space that their apps and websites couldn't rely on mainstream internet providers.

So, Rumble has been building its own infrastructure, which also includes its own advertising and payments-processing technology. To help fund all this, the firm raised $400m last year when it floated on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York.

[Russell Brand, left, at a Rumble event]

However, Prof Douek says there are big challenges ahead for Rumble. Perhaps most pressingly, while it might not want to censor content, governments may legislate to force it to.

"We have seen a proliferation of legislation, bills, proposals over the last few years from governments around the world," says Prof Douek. "The big package - possibly the most consequential - is the European Digital Services Act."

This is due to come into force in 2024, and Prof Douek says it may mean that Rumble has to change the way it operates in the EU, including publishing more information about how it's applying the rules.

Rumble has already shown that it will fight what it sees as government overreach. When the French government told it to remove Russian state broadcasters from its platform, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Rumble refused.

[New Tech Economy]

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

Rumble is also in a legal battle with Google, which it accuses of "unfairly rigging its search algorithms" towards YouTube, which Google owns. Google counters that Rumble content is ranked as highly as it deserves on the search engine.

"This is going to be years of litigation," says Prof Douek. "There are going to be fights... and I don't know what our internet is going to look like in a few years as a result of these."

As the alt-tech space develops, some think the internet could divide further into political spheres - left and right.

"Do I think that it is a good future if we have red platforms and blue platforms?," says Prof Douek, referring to the colours of the two main political parties in the US. "I don't think that that is necessarily how we want public debate to play out."

Katerina Eva Matsa, an associate director at the Pew Research Centre think tank in New York, says that while people with different politics "are living in very different media worlds", there is also "overlap".

Pew recently conducted a study into alternative social media sites, including Rumble and six of its peers - BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Telegram, and Truth Social. It found that nearly three quarters of Americans who consume news on these sites also get news from YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

"So they haven't completely abandoned the larger sites," says Ms Matsa.

This raises questions about how separate a potential future alternative internet ecosystem would be, if its user base straddles both alt-tech and the mainstream.

"I think it's a very difficult space to pinpoint whether we're going into further polarisation or less," Ms Matsa adds. "We honestly don't know the outcome."

Kerala: A ghost town in the world's most populated country, today

As India overtakes China as the world's most populous nation, there is a crisis of population in parts of the country where fertility has fallen below replacement levels and migration has left behind ghost towns inhabited by the elderly. The BBC's Soutik Biswas travels to Kumbanad, a town in Kerala state which is grappling with the consequences of an ageing society.

For years, schools in a drowsy town in Kerala have been facing an unusual problem: students are scarce and teachers have to go out looking for them. They also have to pay from their pockets to bring students to the school.

A 150-year-old government upper primary school - which educates students up to the age of 14 - in Kumbanad has 50 students on its rolls, down from about 700 until the late 1980s. Most of them are from poor and underprivileged families who live at the edge of the town. With only seven students, grade seven is the largest class. In 2016, the class had only one student.

Getting enough students to the school is a challenge. Each of its eight teachers fork out 2,800 rupees ($34; £28) every month to pay for auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) ferrying students from home to school and back. They also go door-to-door looking for pupils. Even the few private schools in the area are sending out teachers to look for students - the biggest one has barely 70 students.

On a muggy afternoon recently at the upper primary school, you could barely hear the hum of lessons and hubbub of squeals that form the soundscape of a busy schoolhouse. Instead, teachers taught a few children in dark, quiet classrooms. Outside, in the sun-baked courtyard ringing the building, a few students wandered around desultorily.

[Shut house]

"What can we do? There are no children in this town. I mean, there are barely any people living here," said Jayadevi R, the principal, wryly.

She is right. Kumbanad lies at the heart of Kerala's Pathanamthitta district where the population is declining and ageing. This in a country where 47% of people are below the age of 25; and two-thirds were born after India liberalised its economy in the early 1990s.

Kumbanad and half-a-dozen verdant villages around it are home to some 25,000 people. Some 15% of the 11,118 homes here are locked up because the owners have migrated or live with their children abroad, says Asha CJ, the local village council chief. There are 20 schools, but very few students.

One hospital, a state-run clinic, more than 30 diagnostic centres and three old-age homes are pointers to its greying population. More than two dozen banks - including eight branches within less than half a kilometre - vie for remittances from townspeople who live and work all over the world. Around 10% of the $100bn in remittances that India mopped up from Indians living abroad last year came to Kerala.

Kerala - along with neighbouring Tamil Nadu - is some sort of an outlier in teeming India: the decadal rise in population here between 2001 and 2011 - when the last census was conducted - was lowest (4.9%) among states. A new-born in Kerala can expect to live for 75 years against the national average of 69.

Fertility rates in the state have dipped below replacement levels - 1.7 to 1.9 births per woman - for at least 30 years now. Smaller families ensure that children are educated well. This leads to the young migrating quickly within and outside the country for opportunities, leaving their parents at home.

"Education makes children aspire for better jobs and lives, and they migrate," said KS James of the Mumbai-based International Institute for Population Sciences.

"Their native places are then populated by their elderly parents, many of them living alone."

[Annamma Jacob]

Behind the tall metal security gates of her two-storey red tiled home in Kumbaud, Annamma Jacob, 74, has been living alone for as long as she can remember.

Her husband, a mechanical engineer with a state-owned oil company, passed away in the early 1980s. Her 50-year-old son has been living and working in Abu Dhabi for more than two decades. A daughter lives a few miles away, but her husband has been working as a software engineer in Dubai for three decades.

Her next-door neighbours are absent: one locked up her house and took her parents to Bahrain, where she worked as a nurse; the other moved to Dubai and rented their place to an elderly couple.

The neighbourhood is a picture of desolation. Amidst a lush landscape of tapioca, banana, and teak trees, handsome houses with expansive yards stand vacant, their driveways scattered with dried leaves and cars covered in dust. CCTV cameras have taken the place of guard dogs.

In vivid contrast to the cacophony of India's chaotic and bustling towns, swathes of Kumbanad are surreally deserted and half-frozen in time. It is a town abandoned by many of its inhabitants but it is not languishing in ruins. The deserted houses are painted regularly, almost like they expect people any day. Except, they hardly come.

"It is a very lonely life. I am also not keeping good health," Ms Jacob said.

Despite her heart disease and arthritis, Ms Jacob has travelled abroad to spend time with her son and grandchildren, and has vacationed in Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Israel with her children.

[Chacko Mammen]

The things strewn around in her carpeted living room tell you something about her links with the world: imported paracetamol tablets, pistachios and cashew nuts, yellow paper flowers stuffed in China-made vases; and a bottle of imported body wash.

I asked her why she built a sprawling 12-room house only to live alone. "Everyone builds big houses here," she smiled. "It's about status."

She spends a lot of time in her backyard farm where she grows tapioca, bananas, ginger, yam and jackfruit. At other times, she meditates and reads newspapers. She has a dog called Diana in a kennel outside.

"Some days, I only talk to Diana. She understands me."

At her age and with her failing health, it is exhausting to work on the farm. Ms Jacob said she cannot afford a farm hand. A shortage of labour has meant steep work wages for the few who look for work. A daily labourer charges a thousand rupees for a six-hour day looking after the farm. Even Ms Asha's village council is not able to find and afford people to digitise its records.

A few lanes away, Chacko Mammen, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes, works in his little farm for four hours every day, growing bananas. The 64-year-old worked in Oman for three decades as a salesperson before returning home. He shut a small business after six years because he did not find enough people to work for him. Now, after a lot of effort, he grows and sells about 10kg of bananas every day from his farm. "I just cannot afford a worker," he said.

Shoring up the work force in an ageing society is always difficult. Even migration of workers from other states doesn't always work, sometimes because of a distrust of outsiders. Ms Jacob said she did not prefer hiring a migrant.

"I live alone. What if they kill me?" she said.

[Elsykutty Thomas police]

In this mellow town of elderly people and shuttered homes, there is very little crime.

The police said thefts are rare because people don't keep much money and valuables at home. They don't remember the last time a murder took place here.

"It's all very peaceful. We only get complaints about cheating. Old people being cheated by their relatives or domestic helps who forge their signatures and withdraw their money from banks," said Sajeesh Kumar V, the chief inspector of the local police station.

A year ago, a relative of an elderly resident embezzled nearly 10m rupees by faking her signature. Last year the police arrested four promoters of a private financial firm which set up shop in the town and promised steep returns on deposits. When it began to default in what looked like a ponzi scheme, some 500 local depositors went to the police.

"That was a big crime for this area," said Mr Kumar. "Otherwise we are mainly dealing with minor fights among residents - about some noise, or rubbish being dumped outside their home, someone's wild tree branch encroaching on a neighbour's farm. Those sort of things."

The lack of crime means that the police spends most of its time looking after the old. They regularly check in on 160 single and ailing people; and have given away mobile alarms in some of their homes so they can alert neighbours during emergencies. In 2020, the police broke down the door of a house when no one answered the doorbell and found the resident, an elderly woman, lying on the floor.

"We took her to the hospital, where she recovered, One of our jobs is also moving residents to old-age homes. We check on old people, we take them to doctors," said Mr Kumar.

[old age home]

"Old age is the only problem here," said Father Thomas John, who runs a geriatric centre in Kumbanad.

The town has three wheelchair accessible old-age homes with open spaces, wide doorways and hallways. The Alexander Marthoma Memorial Geriatric Centre, a five-storey building alongside a 150-bed hospital, takes care of more than 100 locals, aged between 85 and 101. Almost all are bedridden, and their families pay 50,000 rupees every month for their care. Sometimes the children come and stay with them at the 16-year-old centre.

"Most of the children live abroad and have no option but to move the very old parents to old-age homes," said Father John.

Not far away, the 75-year-old Dharmagiri Old Age Home houses 60 locals, all above 60 years of age. Last year there were 31 new admissions. There are separate buildings for men and women. The waiting list is growing: a new 30-room building that can accommodate 60 elders is coming up.

"Most of the women who stay with us are victims of cheating. Some of them have been abandoned by their families," said Father KS Mathews, who runs the home.

The ailing elderly, old-age homes, labour shortages, migration of the young, declining population, ghost towns.

"This is a story of any demographic change. This will be the story of the whole of India, finally," said Mr James.

Read more India stories on population from the BBC:

Turkish earthquake: Survivors' haunting search for missing relatives, today

It has been seven weeks since two huge earthquakes hit Turkey and northern Syria, and Orhan Kosker has not stopped searching for his nephews.

Ismet and Sirac, aged 13 and nine, were asleep in their home in the south-eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Their mother, father and sister were all killed in the quake. Their bodies were found nine days later, and removed from the rubble.

But there was no trace of the two boys.

Gaziantep was one of 11 Turkish cities that suffered widespread destruction on 6 February.

In Turkey alone 50,000 people have died. Almost 6,000 more lives were lost in northern and western areas of Syria.

For Turkey, the financial cost is estimated at more than $100bn (£81bn).

While mammoth efforts are being made to give quake victims some form of normality, there are still hundreds of families searching for their missing loved ones, hoping to find them either dead or alive.

[Ismet and Sirac's mother and father]

Eyewitnesses told Orhan that his nephews' building collapsed after a minute or two, and that many people had managed to escape. He was convinced the boys could have survived too.

Since the earthquakes, nearly 2,000 unaccompanied children have been rescued from under the rubble and registered with the authorities, according to official figures provided by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs.

Almost 200 of them are yet to be identified and reunited with their relatives.

Turkey's health ministry has set up a helpline for quake victims and relatives of the missing.

Orhan said he called the helpline every day to check the list of recently identified children in case his nephews are on it. His family has also handed over DNA samples.

"We want to find our children even if they're dead. Even if it's just their bones we find, we will carry on searching. May God help us," he said.

There is no official figure for the number of missing people across Turkey following the earthquakes. But it is believed that at least 1,400 bodies are yet to be identified.

For Abdulkudus Kazan, the search for her sister Hicran has been overwhelming.

[Hicran Karadag]

Hicran Karadag, 44, was rescued from under the wreckage of her apartment within hours of the earthquake. She was taken to hospital by ambulance, but for the next month her family were unable to find out whether she was alive or dead.

They searched for her across dozens of cities.

Finally they received a tip-off that almost 1,000 victims of the quakes had been buried at a cemetery in Narlica, just outside the city of Antakya.

Abdulkudus travelled to the newly built site, a mass grave of the missing victims.

[Narlica Cemetery]

Before unidentified bodies were buried at the cemetery, Turkish authorities had taken photographs, collected DNA samples and taken fingerprints. Each unidentified victim had a number on their grave.

Abdulkudus went through some 1,500 photographs in search of his sister. She even opened body bags and checking corpses to see if Hicran was there.

It was with tears of relief as much as sorrow that she learned that a DNA sample taken at the site matched a body that had been buried at the cemetery.

The death certificate showed that Hicran had lost her life as a result of cardiovascular arrest due to body and head trauma. It was not clear whether or not she had received any treatment at the hospital.

However, the certificate mentioned that her body had been left out in the open in a carpark at the field hospital for two days. She was then buried without proper identification.

"It is very difficult to search for your missing relative," said her sister.

"You don't know whether they are dead or alive, so you always have hope.

"Even when the officials told me the DNA samples matched, I was still hoping they might be wrong, that my sister could be alive. Now I'm just relieved that she has a grave of her own."

Technology has become the double-edged sword of Asia's protests, yesterday

It began with a simple call - come and mourn the dead.

On 27 November, many in China were reeling from the news of a deadly apartment fire. After nearly three years of strict zero-Covid lockdowns, the incident struck a deep, angry chord.

Across Chinese social media and messaging apps, calls to hold candlelight vigils began spreading spontaneously. Thousands responded. Holding up blank sheets of paper, chanting slogans denouncing their leaders, they transformed the vigils into mass demonstrations.

China's White Paper protests were far from an anomaly in the region. From Sri Lanka to Thailand, Asia has in recent years seen a rash of protests that erupted seemingly out of nowhere: some ebbed as they lost traction, and others were silenced in swift crackdowns. In Myanmar, pockets of resistance continue despite a descent into civil war.

This is no coincidence. Scholars point to a larger, worldwide phenomenon: as mass protests become increasingly common, they're also more likely to fail.

What's more, the tool that's proven crucial in powering these demonstrations - technology - has also hobbled them.

Data gathered by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace since 2017 shows that anti-government protests have been steadily increasing around the world, peaking in 2022.

But last year was also the least successful year for protests, according to Carnegie's definition, with the lowest percentage of movements that resulted in an immediate change in policy or leadership.

On a much broader scale, but using narrower definitions, academics at Harvard University have been tracking demonstrations and civil resistance since 1900. Counting non-violent "maximalist" campaigns - movements that aim to topple a government, expel a military occupation, or secede - they found a huge spike in the last two decades, but also a concurrent drop in the success rate.

One theory for why this is happening is the rise of social media and messaging apps.

In the past, protests would be organised via community networks built on years of activism, which made them harder to stamp out, experts say. But with unprecedented connectivity, it's never been easier to spontaneously mobilise people - and also to track them down.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Ho-fung Hung, a Johns Hopkins University professor specialising in political economy and protests.

"Individuals need to find their grievances are not, in fact, individual - that others share their sentiments and there's a sense of community. So they mobilise. But if you rely too much on social media to organise, authoritarian regimes can also use it to censor and employ techniques of surveillance. The whole thing can be shut down quite easily."

[Protesters take part in an anti-government demonstration near the president's office in Colombo on April 30, 2022, demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksas resignation over the country's crippling economic crisis.]

Governments are relying increasingly on what Professor Erica Chenoweth, one of the academics behind the Harvard study, calls "digital authoritarianism". And it goes beyond mere surveillance.

During the protests against the Myanmar coup in 2021, authorities shut down the internet entirely to cut off demonstrators from communicating with one another.

In Hong Kong and mainland China, police have attempted to track down protesters by searching phones and encrypted messaging apps. Chinese activists recently said they were approached by users of fake social media accounts posing as reporters, raising fears that this was yet another way to for authorities to gather information on them.

Another tactic is counter-attacking protesters to discredit them and their movement's legitimacy. This often plays out on social media where disinformation spreads quickly, fuelled by well-coordinated trolling and smear campaigns.

Blaming "foreign forces" for instigating protesters is one example - seen in the Indian authorities' response to the 2020 farmer demonstrations, and also a common refrain in Chinese state media that is echoed online by nationalist bloggers.

But digital authoritarianism is also just one of the many ways regimes have gotten better at shutting down protest movements, observers say.

Other methods include launching stealth or pre-emptive crackdowns; shoring up internal support to prevent dissatisfied sections of the establishment from joining protesters (a key factor of the success of any movement); and using emergency powers during the Covid pandemic to quash dissent.

With democracy on the backpedal particularly in Asia, authoritarian governments can increasingly get away with this despite international criticism. "Now there is a solidarity of authoritarian and autocratic regimes, they are supporting each other… they crack down hard, and when there are international sanctions imposed on them, they can help each other out," Prof Hung said.

[Protesters hold up a white piece of paper against censorship during a protest against Chinas strict zero COVID measures on November 27, 2022 in Beijing, China]

Seeding a legacy

But what if there was more than one way to think about the success of a protest?

Getting masses of people out on the streets could already be considered an achievement, especially in authoritarian countries where people have been politically disengaged, argues Diana Fu, an associate professor of political science from the University of Toronto.

The White Paper protests, for example, marked a political awakening "in so far as many Chinese citizens dared to say 'no' to their government for the first time in their lives. The protests were a turning point from compliance to dissidence, especially among the younger generation," Dr Fu said, adding that the protests spurred authorities to roll back Covid restrictions.

It's for these reasons that some Chinese activists view the protests as a success in the end, despite the crackdown.

"None of us could have foreseen that there would be such resistance in today's China," a spokesman for activist group CitizensDailyCN said. "The most important thing is that the protests made many 'deeply closeted' rebels realise there are actually many people travelling the same path, that they are not alone."

Pointing to other demonstrations that have flared up in China since the White Paper protests, they said: "If the White Paper protests had not come first, they would not have happened... or would not have attracted the same level of attention."

The success of a protest, some argue, could be measured not just by whether it achieves its immediate goals but also its long-term impact.

Protests, even so-called failed ones, could lay the groundwork for future demonstrations. They not only seed the idea that people-power can lead to change, but could also provide practice for something bigger and more successful down the line.

"When you have musicians that have played together, the next time they gather they can play together more effectively," said Jeff Wasserstrom, a history professor with the University of California Irvine.

Most social movements "get small concessions at best" before they fizzle out, he noted. "But that doesn't mean there isn't anything left for people to build on... even a failed movement can have a legacy in terms of providing templates and scripts."

The Milk Tea Alliance, a loose coalition of pro-democracy protesters across Asia, is one such example.

Some of the 2019 Hong Kong protesters' tactics - hand signals, flashmobs, the use of umbrellas and traffic cones to combat tear gas - were later adopted by demonstrators in Thailand and Sri Lanka. It showed how as authoritarian regimes build alliances, so too can protesters from different countries and social movements cement solidarity.

[Protesters put out a tear gas grenade at Din Daeng intersection during the demonstration in Thailand, August 2021.]

It was also evident in China, where anti-government and anti-Xi Jinping slogans which emerged from the Bridge Man protest flourished again in the White Paper protests weeks later. Many of these slogans and ideas were "kept alive" by overseas Chinese who, unfettered by censorship, continued to repeat them online and in protests abroad, Prof Wasserstrom noted.

CitizensDailyCN was instrumental in this. Leveraging social media, it has acted as an information hub by disseminating protest details and political memes, becoming a key player in Chinese dissent online.

"The White Paper movement has come to an end, but resistance itself has not," said their representative, who wished to remain anonymous for their safety.

"The ideal situation is that there continues to be voices of rebellion within the country, leading the resistance, and overseas solidarity maintains the enthusiasm. But at this stage… we can only wait for the next opportunity. I still think there will be a next time.

"The next rebellion may not be called the Bridge Man or White Paper Protest - but it will have a new symbol."

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Eurovision 2023: Mae Muller and other hopefuls get pre-parties started across Europe, today

Every true Eurovision fan knows the song contest is much more than one Saturday night in May.

There's the anticipation of a host city announcement, the national final season when acts are chosen, and the bit we're at now - the pre-party stage.

Across Europe, over the next month, participants will perform at fan-organised events in preparation for the competition in Liverpool.

This weekend, thousands attended the first pre-party of 2023 in Barcelona.

"This is the best thing ever," this year's UK entrant Mae Muller explains as she meets some of her fellow competitors for the first time. "I get to go and see all these amazing places and people."

For Muller, it's not just an opportunity to take selfies and join WhatsApp group chats. It's also the first live performance of her entry I Wrote A Song, which she admits beforehand she's nervous about, but says "the excitement outweighs the nerves".

The bookies' odds can change during this build-up period as fans react to live vocals and choreography, and the artists see who their biggest competition is - but not every act takes part in these side events.

"I think for the fans it's so important the participants do this to show they actually care and they love the contest," 2015 winner Måns Zelmerlöw explained on the BBC's Eurovisioncast.

As well as live performances, over three days of events in the Spanish city, seminar talks on the song contest were held, a walking tour of the city was organised and, of course, fans could dance until the early hours to music from 67 years of Eurovision in clubs.

I began covering Eurovision for the BBC in 2019 and I've seen the pre-parties get bigger each year. I was stunned on Saturday when I saw the queue to get into the venue - only to discover it was actually a line for a Robbie Williams gig at the same Palau Sant Jordi complex, which was used for the 1992 Olympics.

But the true scale (next door) of the pre-parties, and how many there are now, was still a surprise to the Lithuanian contestant Monika Linkytė, who previously took part in 2015.

[Fans at Barcelona Eurovision Party]

This time around, she says, she can enjoy the experience more because she knows what's to come as the days to Liverpool are marked off on her calendar.

"These pre-parties are about fun," she tells me. "In the two weeks in Liverpool it's going to be stressful, but now you can just chill out."

Linkytė is one of four artists who have previously represented their country and are returning to the Eurovision stage this year, with a lot of discussion surrounding the bookies' current favourite - 2012's Swedish champion Loreen. After witnessing thousands in Barcelona singing back Linkytė's song Stay, she could easily place in the top 10 with her impressive live vocal.

[Joker Out]

At the pre-parties, you get a sense of who is a seasoned performer and who needs to build confidence before singing on one of the most-watched TV events in the world.

Joker Out, who were last year's best-selling act in Slovenia - and one of this year's many groups competing - can command a stage and have no struggle getting the crowd going.

"We've proved in the past few years [in Slovenia] we were worthy to be picked.

"We were talking with San Marino that this year looks more like a high school battle of the bands than Eurovision," they joke.

With only her dancers for support, Muller was one of the most anticipated performers over the weekend.

Her catchy lyrics have resonated with Europe, and she performed despite posting on Instagram she wasn't feeling well.

But as soon as she got off stage, she beamed: "Oh my goodness, I feel alive! I was very very nervous but I'm really happy it went well and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves."

There's room for improvement, and that's why Muller is doing "intense" rehearsals between now and May.

With her first ever performance of I Wrote A Song out of the way, it was time to relax, hanging out with Ukraine's act Tvorchi - who were chosen to fly their blue and yellow flag from a bomb shelter last December.

[Blanca Paloma]

Pre-parties to come include Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Amsterdam and London. In Barcelona, unsurprisingly, the biggest crowd reaction by far went to Spain's Blanca Paloma.

Someone from Spanish broadcaster RTVE told me afterwards they feel a lot of pressure to repeat last year's success, when Chanel came third behind Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra and the UK's Sam Ryder.

It's a reminder of how many layers the competition has - it's a music contest, but can also impact the reputation of broadcasters if they don't get a result they want.

I travelled from the venue with the Spanish team, and although there was a slight language barrier between Blanca Paloma and myself, we found a way to communicate by singing previous Eurovision winning songs together on the streets of Barcelona.

We were exactly what this year's slogan says - united by music.

All the build-up, insights and analysis is explored each week on a BBC podcast called Eurovisioncast.

Eurovisioncast is available on BBC Sounds, or search wherever you get your podcasts from.

[Eurovisioncast banner]

Kamala Harris Africa trip: Can US charm offensive woo continent from China?, today

First it was the US secretary of state who went on a trip to Africa, now it is the vice-president and later in the year the president himself is expected to come.

This flurry of visits by top figures in the US administration reflects a growing awareness that the US needs to deepen its engagement with the continent.

This all comes in the face of growing competition from other global powers, especially China and Russia.

Vice-President Kamala Harris started her nine-day trip in Ghana on Sunday, where she was greeted by drummers and dancers at Kotoko International Airport. She will later go to Tanzania and Zambia.

Ghana, with its focus on strengthening ties with the African diaspora as well as a record of several peaceful democratic transfers of power, provides an ideal launchpad for Ms Harris.

Her trip, according to an official statement, is intended to "build on" December's US-Africa summit in Washington where President Joe Biden said the US was "all in on Africa's future".

But it is that future, boosted by a youthful and growing population as well as the continent's immense natural resources, that have attracted a lot of other powerful nations vying for influence.

While Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's recent visit to Ethiopia and Niger focused on these countries' security challenges, the vice-president's tour will take her to nations facing serious economic problems.

Ghana's once-thriving economy is going through its most difficult financial crisis in decades.

The country is seeking to restructure its debt amid surging inflation of over 50%. Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has just been in Beijing leading negotiations with the Chinese government.

"So far, very positive and encouraging meetings in China," the finance minister tweeted as he expressed optimism that it would secure external assurances "very soon".

It needs the assurances to unlock financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It is not clear what, if any help, Ms Harris can offer, but it will be under pressure to act like a willing partner in the wake of Mr Ofori-Atta's China visit.

'US a friend - like China and Russia'

Economist and professor of finance at the University of Ghana, Godfred Alufar Bokpin, does not think the visit will deliver "an immediate dividend" to help alleviate the country's financial woes.

"Having China on board is complicated," he said, while noting that Ms Harris' visit was "a very important" one for Ghana as it "elevates our relationship with the US to another level".

He told the BBC the interest the US is showing in the country and its debt crisis "is good" but he is worried about what he described as "unfavourable terms of trade" with creditor nations.

[U.S. first lady Jill Biden reacts next to Patricia Sola, founder of Hope Initiative Southern Africa, at the center, in Windhoek, Namibia, February 23]

Zambia finds itself in a similar position to Ghana.

The copper-rich nation became the first African country to default on its debt when the Covid pandemic hit.

It is in prolonged discussions with China to restructure its debt and has also sought financial support from the IMF.

The Reuters news agency quotes a senior US official as saying Ms Harris "would discuss the best ways for the international community to address debt challenges faced by Ghana and Zambia".

Like Prof Bokpin, Zambian analyst Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa thinks China holds more influence when it comes to restructuring debt. But the US wants to be seen as the more reliable partner.

There is a growing sentiment on the continent that Africa should have a free choice in its relationships with the rest of the world.

"Zambia sees the United States in the same way as it sees China and Russia - a friend," Dr Sishuwa told the BBC.

"When a country turns to China, or Russia, or the US for support, this should not be seen as snubbing one major power bloc or the other."

He said attempts to seek exclusive relationships with African countries may be counterproductive and unsustainable.

This echoed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's comments during a visit to Washington last year when he said: "We should not be told by anyone who we associate with."

Senior US officials have told the BBC it is not their intention to tell African countries who they can be friends with.

The US has however been keen to emphasise its focus on democracy in its relationships with African countries, something the vice-president is also expected to discuss during her visit.

President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia is due to co-host a virtual Summit for Democracy, along with four other heads of state including President Biden, shortly before receiving Ms Harris in the country.

It is one of the values, along with human rights and good governance, that the US government says underpins its relationships with the continent - and sets it apart from China and Russia.

Scepticism in Africa

China has a non-interference policy in countries' internal political affairs - something that has smoothed its engagement with autocratic leaders.

And Russia's presence in African countries that have experienced coups recently - Burkina Faso and Mali - has led to a souring of relations between them and the West, especially France, the former colonial power which had maintained close ties to both countries.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has no doubt given Western nations an added sense of urgency in winning over more African countries. UN votes to condemn it divided African nations which accounted for half of all abstentions, including Tanzania which is also on Ms Harris' itinerary.

[US Vice President Kamala Harris listens to Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan make a statement to the press before a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building April 15, 2022]

The US vice-president - the first woman to hold that position - will meet President Samia Suluhu Hassan, her country's first female head of state.

This shared experience of being pioneering women is creating a buzz in Tanzania.

Many are also touting the visit as an endorsement of the progress the country is making and its growing visibility on the global map.

It was not that long ago that Tanzania was something of an outcast under the presidency of John Magufuli, who was seen as having autocratic tendencies, curtailing the activities of the opposition and independent media.

Ms Harris is the most senior US official from the Biden administration to visit Africa and the fifth since December's US-Africa summit.

Others have been the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, First Lady Jill Biden and Mr Blinken.

But with the renewed interest comes a demand from the continent to be treated fairly.

Ghana's Prof Bokpin said there was a level of scepticism about the heightened interest in Africa.

"There's a belief that a new Scramble for Africa is in play," referring to the subdivision of the continent by European nations in the late 19th Century which led to decades of colonialism and exploitation.

"This engagement needs to emphasise mutual respect," he added.

Nato condemns 'dangerous' Russian nuclear rhetoric, today

Nato has condemned Russia's "dangerous" and "irresponsible" rhetoric after Vladimir Putin's decision to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The organisation is "closely monitoring" the situation and said the move would not lead it to change its own nuclear strategy.

The US said it did not believe Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons.

Belarus shares a long border with Ukraine, as well as with Nato members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Ukraine has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to address the potential threat of President Putin's announcement on Saturday.

President Putin said Moscow would not be transferring control of its arms to Minsk and that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko - a firm ally of the Kremlin and supporter of its invasion of Ukraine - had long raised the issue with him.

Ukraine says the move violates nuclear non-proliferation agreements - an accusation President Putin has denied, instead comparing it to the US stationing its weapons in Europe.

But Nato on Sunday described Russia's reference to nuclear sharing as "misleading".

"Nato allies act with full respect of their international commitments," a spokesperson said.

The military alliance also accused Russia of consistently breaking its own arms control commitments, including the country's decision to suspend the new START treaty - a deal signed in 2010 which limits the number of US and Russian nuclear warheads and gives each the power to inspect the other's weapons.

On Sunday, a top security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of making Belarus a "nuclear hostage".

Oleksiy Danilov wrote on Twitter that Russia's plans were a "step towards internal destabilisation" in Belarus and predicted anti-Russian sentiment in the country would grow.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Russia's deployment of nuclear weapons in her country "grossly contradicts the will of the Belarusian people" and would make it a potential target for retaliatory strikes.

But Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's ministry of defence, told the BBC that Ukraine was used to nuclear threats from Russia, adding that the deployment in Belarus would not change the outcome of the war.

"They cannot win this war because it is for them unsustainable, it is unwinnable, [and] they cannot defeat Ukraine because we have been living with the hypothetical threat of a possible nuclear strike from day one of the large-scale invasion," he said.

Mr Sak said there was nothing new in Russia's behaviour, as it had been stationing military equipment in Belarus since the start of the war in 2022.

Mykhailo Podolyak, another senior adviser to President Zelensky, characterised the move as "scare tactics" and said the Russian leader was "too predictable".

Analysts at the US think tank Institute for War said the risk of escalation to nuclear war following the announcement remained "extremely low".

A small number of Iskander tactical missile systems, which can be used to launch nuclear weapons, have already been transferred to Belarus, President Putin said in his address on Saturday.

This will be the first time since the mid-1990s that Moscow will have based nuclear arms outside the country.

The Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 meant weapons became based in four newly-independent states - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - with the transfer of all warheads to Russia completed in 1996.

Russia will start training crews to operate the weapons from next week. The construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be completed by 1 July, President Putin said.

The announcement comes only days after Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow, during which Russia and China issued a joint statement saying "all nuclear powers must not deploy their nuclear weapons beyond their national territories, and they must withdraw all nuclear weapons deployed abroad".

No Ukraine offensive without more weapons – Zelensky, yesterday

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia cannot start until Western allies send more military support.

He told a Japanese newspaper he would not send his troops to the frontlines without more tanks, artillery and Himars rocket launchers.

In an interview with Yomiuri Shimbun, he said the situation in eastern Ukraine was "not good".

"We are waiting for ammunition to arrive from our partners," he said.

And when asked about the expected counter-offensive, he said: "We can't start yet, we can't send our brave soldiers to the front line without tanks, artillery and long-range rockets."

He added: "If you have the political will, you can find a way to help us. We are at war and can't wait."

There has been talk for some weeks of Ukraine launching a spring offensive against Russian forces. Ukrainian commanders have hinted it might be imminent. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said this week it might come "very soon".

Some analysts say Ukraine's military is talking up the idea of a counter-offensive to discomfit their Russian counterparts. They want Russian commanders to spread their forces thinly along the front lines, ready for any attack, rather than concentrate them in particular places, such as the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Other analysts believe a counter-offensive is possible soon. A US-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, last week suggested that Russia's own offensive was potentially losing momentum and concluded: "Ukraine is therefore well positioned to regain the initiative and launch counter-offensives in critical sectors of the current frontline."

But President Zelensky is more pessimistic. He has often warned that the war could drag on for years unless Western allies speeded up the delivery of weapons. But this is the first time he has actually said the counter-offensive itself might be delayed by the lack of Western equipment.

His remarks reflect not only his desire to encourage more speed, but also his frustration at what he sees as the lack of haste.

Ukraine's allies have promised more tanks, artillery and longer-range missile systems. But some countries are struggling to deliver what they pledged, while others are taking more time than expected to get the equipment to Ukraine.

Western officials say military support is arriving, but admit training and planning is taking time. They also point to other factors such as muddy terrain making it hard for any army to start manoeuvring easily and break through frontlines.

Such is the speculation about Ukraine's counter-offensive - in particular, when and where it might come - that the defence ministry has urged people to stop discussing potential plans.

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar claimed on social media that only three people had the right to disclose military plans publicly - the president, the minister of defence, and the commander in chief.

"All others can only quote them," she wrote. "Please stop asking experts questions about a counter-offensive on the air, please stop writing blogs and posts on this topic, please stop publicly discussing the military plans of our army."

Ukraine war: Battle for Bakhmut 'stabilising', says commander, yesterday

The battle for Bakhmut, the Ukrainian city which Russia has spent months trying to capture, is "stabilising", says Ukraine's commander-in-chief.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi said Ukrainian troops' "tremendous efforts" were holding back Russia.

Earlier this month, Western officials estimated between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops had been killed or injured in Bakhmut since last summer.

Moscow is eager for a victory after failing to make major recent gains.

Despite this, military analysts believe Bakhmut has little strategic value, with the city's importance now symbolic.

The high number of Russian casualties may be the main reason Ukraine has not withdrawn from the city, analysts say.

On Facebook, Lt Gen Zaluzhnyi said that while the situation on Ukraine's frontlines "is the toughest in the Bakhmut direction... due to the tremendous efforts of the defence forces, we are managing to stabilise the situation".

Lt Gen Zaluzhnyi posted after speaking to the UK's Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, about the situation in Ukraine.

His comments are the latest positive signal from Ukrainian officials about the long battle for Bakhmut.

The UK's Ministry of Defence said on Saturday that Russia's assault on Bakhmut had "largely stalled", citing "extreme attrition" of the Russian force as a cause, and added that Russia had probably shifted its operational focus to the south and north of Bakhmut.

Such moves might suggest an "overall return to a more defensive operational design" after Russia failed to achieve significant results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January, the UK said.

Earlier this week, Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the country's ground forces, said that Russian troops near Bakhmut were "exhausted".

Mr Syrsky added that while Russia had "not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs despite losses in manpower and equipment... they are losing significant strength".

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently visited the frontline near Bakhmut, where he last visited in December.

Footage showed him in an old warehouse giving medals to soldiers, whom he called "heroes".

The Institute for War, a think tank, said on Thursday that although Ukraine was still outnumbered by the Wagner group, Ukrainian forces "continue to exhaust the mercenaries, which will enable Ukrainian forces to pursue unspecified future offensive operations".

Wagner, a private, mercenary organisation, is at the heart of the Russian assault on Bakhmut. Its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has staked his reputation on seizing the city.

The MoD said Russia's difficulties in Bakhmut were likely to have been exacerbated by tensions between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defence.

About 70,000 people lived in Bakhmut before the invasion, but only a few thousand remain.

For those left behind, including elderly and disabled people, conditions are difficult. Civilians spend almost the whole day in underground shelters because of intense shelling, said the ICRC's Umar Khan, who has been providing them with aid.

Mr Khan said people were being pushed to the very "limits of their existence and survival".

The capture of Bakhmut would bring Russia slightly closer to controlling the whole of Donetsk region, one of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine illegally annexed by Russia last September.

[Bakhmut map]

Ukraine war: How a Russian child's drawing sparked a police investigation, 3 days ago

In the centre of the Russian town of Yefremov is a wall covered in pictures of war. Giant photographs of masked Russian soldiers with guns and supersized letters Z and V - symbols of the country's so-called special military operation in Ukraine.

There's a poem, too:

Good should have fists.

Good needs an iron hand

To tear the skin from those

Who threaten it.

This is the official, patriotic picture of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But in this town, 320km (200 miles) south of Moscow, you'll find another image of the Ukraine war. A very different one.

Town councillor Olga Podolskaya shows me a photo on her mobile phone. It's of a child's drawing. To the left is a Ukrainian flag with the words "Glory to Ukraine", on the right, the Russian tricolour and the inscription "No to war!". As missiles fly in from the direction of Russia, a mother and her child stand defiantly in their path.

[A drawing by 12-year-old Masha appears to show a Ukrainian woman with a child holding up a hand to say no as Russian missiles approach]

The picture was drawn in April 2022 by then 12-year-old Masha Moskaleva. Her father Alexei, a single parent, had contacted the town councillor for advice. He told her that after seeing Masha's drawing, her school had called the police.

"The police started investigating Alexei's social media," Olga tells me. "And they told him that he was bringing up his daughter in a bad way."

Charges followed. For an anti-war post on social media, Alexei was fined 32,000 roubles (around $415 or £338 at the time) for discrediting the Russian armed forces. A few weeks ago, a criminal case was opened against him. Again, anti-war posts formed the basis for discreditation charges.

This time Alexei faces a possible prison sentence.

Alexei is currently under house arrest in Yefremov. His daughter Masha has - for now - been sent to a children's home. Alexei has not even been allowed to speak to her on the phone.

"No-one has seen Masha since 1 March," Olga Podolskaya tells me, "despite our attempts to get access to the children's home and to find out how she is.

"The Russian authorities want everyone to toe the line. No-one is allowed to have their own opinion. If you disagree with what someone thinks, then don't read their social media posts. But don't put that person under house arrest and their child in a children's home."

We are standing outside an apartment block in Yefremov. A window opens and a man looks out. It's Alexei. We're not allowed to communicate with him. Under the rules of his house arrest Alexei is only permitted contact with his lawyer, the investigator and the penitentiary service.

[Alexei Moskalev appears at a window of the building where he is being held under house arrest]

The lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, has just arrived. He's come to deliver food and drink which local activists have bought for Alexei.

"He is very worried because his daughter is not with him," Vladimir tells me after visiting Alexei Moskalev. "Everything in the flat reminds him of her. He's worried about what may be happening to her."

I ask the lawyer why he thinks the authorities have taken Masha away.

"If they had real questions for the father, they should have invited him to give a statement. They should have invited Masha, too, and spoken to her," Vladimir says.

"None of this was done. They just decided to send her off [to the children's home]. In my opinion, if it wasn't for the kind of administrative and criminal charges Alexei has received, this wouldn't be happening. The social services seem obsessed with this family. I think it's purely for political reasons. The family's problems only began after the girl drew that picture."

On the street, I ask Alexei's neighbours what they think of the situation.

"She's a good girl, and I've never had a problem with the dad," says pensioner Angelina Ivanovna. "But I'm scared to say anything. I'm frightened to."

"Perhaps we could collect signatures in [Alexei's] support," a younger woman suggests. But when asked for her opinion on what is happening, she replies: "Sorry, I can't tell you."

I ask if she is frightened about possible consequences.

"Yes, of course."

It's a short walk from Alexei Moskalev's apartment block to School No 9, where Masha had studied and that her father says called the police over Masha's anti-war drawing. The school has yet to respond to our written request for comment. When we tried to visit, we were told we couldn't come in. Our telephone calls went unanswered.

But I have visited School No 9's website. The images there remind me of the patriotic wall I saw in the centre of town.

The home page features Heroes of the Special Military Operation - two dozen portraits of Russian soldiers who fought in Ukraine.

There are patriotic slogans, too: "Everything for Victory. Let's support our lads on the front line!"

Soldiers back from Ukraine visited School No 9 last October. In а speech that day school director Larisa Trofimova declared: "We believe in ourselves and in our Motherland, which can never make a mistake."

Across town, supporters of the Moskalev family and journalists are gathering at the local courthouse. The Yefremov Juvenile Affairs Commission is taking legal action to officially restrict Alexei's parental rights.

[An activist raises a sign at the local court that reads: "Return Masha to her father!"]

It's an initial hearing known as "a conversation" with the judge. Lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko says Alexei had wanted to be here in person. However he hasn't been allowed to interrupt his house arrest to come to court, even though what's at stake is access to his child.

In the courthouse corridor an activist unfurls a poster.

"Return Masha to her father!" it declares. A police officer tells her to take it down.

The Juvenile Affairs Commission has yet to respond to our request to comment on the case of Alexei Moskalev and his daughter Masha.

One of Alexei's supporters, Natalya Filatova, believes the story of the Moskalev family reflects the crackdown on dissent in Russia.

"Our constitution proclaims freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, total freedom for citizens to express their opinions," Natalya tells me. "But now we're forbidden from doing that."

Ukraine war: The front line where Russian eyes are always watching, 4 days ago

The line of trees appears to fragment and disappear as it winds its way towards the Russian positions on the outskirts of the small town of Velyka Novosilka.

Dima, a Ukrainian army infantryman with the 1st Separate Tank Brigade, treads carefully along a path where army boots have worn through the spring clover. The zero line - the final trench - lies ahead. Russian troops are only 700m away.

Further north in Bakhmut, the Ukranians have been losing ground. But here in the south of Donetsk province, Ukrainian tanks and infantrymen are standing firm.

Despite months of vicious Russian attacks, Dima says the brigade has lost less than 10m of territory. Russian forces, he says, have sustained heavy losses.

It is a stricken landscape, where trenches lie exposed to Russian observation posts and surveillance drones. On this front line, Russian eyes are always watching, waiting for an opportunity to attack.

As we pass the infantry trenches, the clover begins to vanish, replaced by mud and bomb craters. Landmines and unexploded shells litter the ground. The treetops, still bare from winter, are now split and shattered. "There was a tank battle here recently," says Dima, "we drove them back".

A soldier in a trench shovels soft, red soil, hardly making a sound. From a nearby village, the patter of automatic gunfire catches the breeze.

[Dima is 22 years old and worked in a petro-chemical factory before the war]

"There were often battles in the village. Sometimes the whole village was on fire. They threw phosphorus, or I don't even know what they threw," Dima explains. He is over 6'4'' tall with pale blue eyes made brighter by the dark circles under them. His AK-47 is slung over his shoulder; on his body armour hangs a spoon, a can opener, and a small pair of pliers.

The danger here lies outside the trenches. A moment's inattention while smoking a cigarette can end in death if a mortar or grenade lands nearby. "Generally, they shell every day," says Dima, indicating Russian positions. These men took casualties recently, but they are a fraction of the Ukrainian losses from the close-quarter fighting in Bakhmut.

Suddenly a shell whines overhead, landing to the left of our group. The six of us run for cover and hit the ground. I lose sight of Dima, but someone shouts that a Russian tank is firing. A second explosion hits, covering me in dirt. It was closer this time, perhaps 10ft away. I head for cover and see Dima standing tall in a trench. Inside is a timber-covered shelter, which four of us cram inside. As Dima lights a cigarette, there is another explosion nearby.

"They simply have an unlimited amount of shells," he says. "They have entire warehouses full of [them]. They can shoot all day, and they won't run out of shells. But us? We'd run out of shells this year. So we're forming various assault brigades and we've been given tanks. I think with those we'll win. We're Cossacks. So, brave guys, we can handle it."

When their positions are under attack, he explains, they take cover in trench dugouts, while one soldier stays on watch looking for enemy infantry and drones. He has learned to cope, he says. "There was fear for the first few times. When I first came. Now it has all, somehow, faded away. It's become as solid as a rock. Well, there are some fears - everyone has them".

Another shell lands close enough to knock him off his feet. "That was a good one," he says, shaking his head and dusting himself off.

[Ukrainian soldier in a trench]

Dima is only 22 years old and from the central industrial city of Kremenchuk. He worked in a petro-chemical factory before the war, and like many of the soldiers fighting here, his adult life has barely started. When I ask what he tells his family, he responds, "I don't have a family yet. I have my mum - I don't have anyone else for now." He calls home twice a day, in the morning and evening. "She doesn't know much - I don't tell her everything," he says, his voice trailing off.

Among the soldiers there is disagreement over what the Russians are firing. It could be tank fire, mortars or grenades working on the Ukrainian positions - or a combination of all three. A bearded soldier, grimy with days at the front, enters the dugout and makes a whirling motion with his finger. A Russian drone is overhead. Even here there is uncertainty, it could be armed, or it could be a reconnaissance drone. There is nothing to do but to wait until the barrage is over, or it gets dark.

I leave the men just after sunset. The brigade's tanks are firing back at the Russians now, and as I return, a fresh shift of soldiers takes up positions along the trenches. I'm mindful in the fading light of where I step, remembering the anti-personnel mines on the route in.

Tanks and artillery dominate here, with the brigade's Ukrainian-made T64 Bulat tanks operating every day. "Tankers are like the older brother of infantry," says tank commander Serhii. "When the infantry is being hurt, the tankers are coming. But the problem is that we can't always come."

[Map of the front line in south-eastern Ukraine - showing areas in Russian military control, and several places including Donetsk and Mariupol..]

The 1st Separate Tank Brigade is one of the most decorated in the army. Its commander Col Leonid Khoda is awaiting the arrival of Western tanks, including the British Challenger II, and has already sent men for training on German Leopard tanks.

The enemy "has a completely different goal," he says. "We protect our state, our land, our relatives, we have a different motivation. They have no way out. Their leadership, their party said, no step back. Because to retreat means prison, means execution. So they are moving forward like a lamb to the slaughter."

In February, the Russians tried to break through the front line 30km away, a bold move that would have put the rest of unoccupied Donetsk at risk. The advance ended in catastrophe, with hundreds of Russians dead, dozens of their tanks lost, and an armoured brigade all but annihilated.

Recalling one of February's attacks around the town of Vuhledar 13km away, Col Leonid Khoda, describes it as "an act of desperation". The enemy brigade was in effect, wiped out, he says. "But lately they've started to change tactics."

[Tank commander Serhii]

Much of Donbas is rough with grit of the industrial age. Great abandoned factories and monumental slag heaps dominate the landscape, but not here. The land Col Khoda's men are protecting specifically is the market town of Velyka Novosilka.

Before the war, the town had a modern school, a tidy fire station and a three-storey kindergarten. All now stand forlorn and battered.

The army driver bringing us to the town swerves to avoid a rocket embedded in the road. Another Russian shell lands in a nearby neighbourhood, sending a long arc of dirt into the grey sky. The small homes and cottages of the town speed past the window, and even as broken as they are, it's plain to see this was a prosperous town before the war.

Some 10,000 people used to live here - now there are fewer than 200. "Only mice, cats and dogs thrive here now and they also hide from the shelling," one of the soldiers in the car says.

At one of the shelters I meet Iryna Babkina, the local piano teacher who is trying to hold together the remaining threads of her town. With blazing red hair, she is quietly determined to remain in the town. A few dozen residents live in the cold, damp shelter, and Iryana helps care for the older ones.

[Piano teacher Iryna Babkina]

She describes what has happened to the town as akin to a feeling of "grief". "It used to be such a beautiful place," she says. "It's [now] more of a sadness - the sadness of how it used to be, the sadness of what it is now."

Russian bombs often add to the mountain of grief. In the dimly lit basement shelter warmed by a wood-burning stove, I hear a voice. Sitting alone on a bed is Maria Vasylivna, 74.

Before Iryna introduces us, she whispers, "It's difficult for her to speak, her husband was killed by shrapnel recently."

Maria takes my hands. "Oh you are cold," she says, warming them between hers.

Her husband, Sergiy, 74, was too ill to come to the shelter, and remained in their home even as Russian bombs fell across the neighbourhood.

In a soft voice she tells me, "He bled to death overnight. I was here and he was at home. I came in the morning, and he was gone. We buried him and that's it." They had been married 54 years.

[Maria Vasylivna]

Before I leave, Iryna takes me through the town's school. Its lilac-painted corridors are scattered with debris, and the windows have been blown in by Russian bombs. Children's jackets still hang on coat pegs and homemade Christmas decorations stand uncollected on a shelf.

On a wall above a pale blue radiator, a group picture shows the kids football team celebrating a win. Outside the window, the same pitch is cratered, and the nearby climbing frames mangled by shelling. The tail fin of an unexploded Russian rocket sticks out from the playground asphalt.

A piano stands in the corridor and Iryna sits down to play. But no tune comes, the piano is too badly damaged. She has no music to play and no children to teach. The last of them were forcibly evacuated from the town by police last month and taken to somewhere safer. Her own daughter was among them.

"There's only the sounds of shells," she says. "The school is smashed, instruments are ruined, but it is fine, we will rebuild it, and the music will sound again - along with the children's laughter."

These are the ties that bind people here, whether civilian or soldier. The determination to resist is the enduring weapon in Ukraine's arsenal, as vital to the country's survival as any armoured tank or infantry trench.

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Ron DeSantis says his Ukraine remarks 'mischaracterised', 4 days ago

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has reportedly sought to clear up his description of the Russia-Ukraine war as a "territorial dispute", in the wake of a backlash from fellow Republicans.

The widely tipped 2024 White House contender said in a TV interview his remarks had been "mischaracterised".

He also struck a tougher tone on Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian president a "war criminal".

Recent opinion polls suggest Mr Trump has been gaining over Mr DeSantis.

The former president has been launching a sustained attack in recent weeks against his onetime political protege.

Mr DeSantis has kept tight-lipped on his rumoured plans to challenge Mr Trump for the Republican White House nomination.

Speaking to Piers Morgan Uncensored, the Florida governor was asked about his description earlier this month of the Russia-Ukraine war as a "territorial dispute".

"Well, I think it's been mischaracterised," he said, according to a preview of the interview, which airs on Thursday.

The Florida governor - who won a landslide re-election last year - said his comment had referred only to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and the occupied Crimean peninsula.

"There's a lot of ethnic Russians there," the 44-year-old continued. "So, that's some difficult fighting and that's what I was referring to."

"It wasn't that I thought Russia had a right to that," Mr DeSantis added, calling the notion that Moscow was justified in its attack "nonsense".

"If I could snap my fingers, I'd give it back to Ukraine 100%," the former congressman and ex-US Navy lawyer continued.

His "territorial dispute" remark prompted Ukraine to issue the governor an invitation to visit the war-torn country.

While the comment seemed to align the Florida governor with Mr Trump, who has opposed US support for Kyiv, it provoked criticism from hawkish Republican senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, drawing battle lines between the isolationist and establishment wings of the party.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump said on his Truth Social platform that Mr DeSantis had "crashed" in the polls, dismissing him as an "average governor".

A Monmouth University opinion poll released on Tuesday indicated Mr Trump had a double-digit lead in the Republican primary contest, reversing Mr DeSantis' recent gains.

Will Vladimir Putin ever face a war crimes trial?, 9 days ago

Although the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has issued a warrant for President Vladimir Putin's arrest, it is no more than the first step in a very long process.

The court clearly believes there is sufficient evidence to accuse the Russian leader of war crimes in Ukraine.

However, the practical and logistical problems in pursuing such a case are immense.

This is what the process of bringing Mr Putin to justice could look like.

Can President Putin be arrested?

At present, the Russian leader enjoys unchallenged power in his native land, so there is no prospect of the Kremlin handing him over to the ICC.

As long as he stays put in Russia, he faces no risk of being arrested.

Mr Putin could be detained if he leaves the country. But given the fact that his freedom of movement is already severely limited by international sanctions against him, he is unlikely to show up in a country that would want to put him on trial.

Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022, he has visited just eight countries. Seven of those would be considered by him to be part of Russia's "near abroad" - that is, they were constituent parts of the Soviet Union before it collapsed at the end of 1991.

His only recent destination that does not fall into this category is Iran, which he visited in July last year to meet the theocracy's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Since Iran has helped the Russian war effort by supplying drones and other military hardware, any repeat visit to Tehran would be unlikely to place Mr Putin in any jeopardy.

Will Putin actually face trial?

There are at least two big obstacles to that. Firstly, Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The court was established in 2002 by a treaty known as the Rome Statute.

This statute lays down that it is the duty of every state to exercise its own criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes. The ICC can only intervene where a state is unable or unwilling to carry out the investigation and prosecute perpetrators.

In all, 123 states have agreed to abide by it, but there are some significant exceptions, including Russia.

Some countries, including Ukraine, have signed the treaty, but not ratified it. You can see a full list of countries that are party to the Rome Statute here.

So you can see that the legal position is already getting shaky.

And secondly, although it's not unknown for trials to be held without the defendant in the dock, that's not an option here. The ICC does not conduct trials in absentia, so that avenue is closed off too.

Who else has faced this kind of trial?

The idea of trying people for crimes against humanity pre-dates the existence of the ICC.

It began in 1945 after World War Two with the Nuremberg Trials, which were held to punish key members of the hierarchy in Nazi Germany for the Holocaust and other atrocities.

Those included Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and died by his own hand in 1987.

Of course, Mr Putin has not actually been charged with crimes against humanity, even though US Vice-President Kamala Harris has argued that he should be.

And if he were, that would pose another legal dilemma as the United Nations says, "crimes against humanity have not yet been codified in a dedicated treaty of international law, unlike genocide and war crimes, although there are efforts to do so."

Other bespoke bodies have sought to convict those accused of war crimes. That includes the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a UN organisation that existed from 1993 to 2017.

During that time, it convicted and sentenced 90 people. But arguably the most notorious of those indicted, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in 2006 while in detention.

As for the ICC itself, it has so far indicted 40 individuals apart from Mr Putin, all from African countries. Of those, 17 people have been detained at The Hague, 10 have been convicted of crimes and four have been acquitted.

What does this mean for the war in Ukraine?

The arrest warrant is being seen as a signal from the international community that what is taking place in Ukraine is against international law.

The court says the reason it is going public with these warrants is that these crimes are continuing. In doing so, it is trying to deter further crimes taking place.

But, the main reaction from Russia so far has been to dismiss the warrants as meaningless.

In fact, the Kremlin denies its forces have committed any atrocities in Ukraine, and Mr Putin's spokesman called the ICC's decision "outrageous and unacceptable".

Faced with such defiance, it seems unlikely that the ICC's actions will have any impact on Russia's war in Ukraine - and Mr Putin's "special military operation" will continue to grind mercilessly on.

Ukraine war: What support is China giving Russia?, 7 days ago

Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on his first trip to Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.

China has become an increasingly important trading partner for Russia as it seeks to soften the impact of economic sanctions imposed by some countries in response to its invasion.

The United States has said Beijing is considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia, allegations which China strongly denies.

Is China providing Russia with weapons?

China has been expanding its military production capabilities and is now the world's fourth largest arms exporter.

"China's weapons are getting more advanced now," says Siemon Wezeman from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"Its drones, for example, are one area that Russia would be very interested in."

The US says Chinese firms have already provided "non-lethal support" to Russia, and that it has new information suggesting Beijing could soon provide "lethal support".

Maria Shagina, an expert in economic sanctions at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, says China has not overtly supplied Russia with weapons but may be secretly selling it hi-tech products which could be used for military purposes.

"There is evidence that China is the biggest exporter of semiconductors - often through shell companies in Hong Kong and the UAE - to Russia," she says.

"Some Chinese companies are also supplying civilian drones, exploiting the grey space between military and civilian purposes."

The US-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies says Chinese companies may be sending Russia electronic parts for anti-aircraft missile radars.

The US has also imposed sanctions on a Chinese company which Washington says has provided satellite imagery in support of Russian mercenary forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russia's most important trading partner

After Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Western nations imposed strict sanctions on Russia - banning imports of oil and exports of hi-tech products.

Many Western firms cut their connections with Russia entirely, and its trade with the US, UK, and EU countries slumped over the course of 2022.

However, China's overall trade with Russia hit a record high level of $190bn in 2022 - a 30% increase on the year before.

[Chart showing Russia's trade with China]

Russian imports from China increased 13% to $76bn and its exports to China increased by 43% to $114bn.

As Russia's trade with Western countries plunged in 2022, China became, by far and away, its most important trading partner.

[Chart showing Russia's biggest trade partners]

How much oil and gas is China buying from Russia?

Almost half of all the Russian government's annual revenues come from oil and gas, and its sales to EU countries has plummeted over the past year as sanctions bite.

A significant amount of this shortfall has been made up with increased sales to Asia.

Russia exported twice as much liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to China in 2022 than it did the year before. It also delivered 50% more natural gas via the Power of Siberia pipeline, and 10% more crude oil.

The G7 group of economically developed countries, along with the European Union and Australia, has tried to impose a worldwide cap on the price of Russian oil transported by sea, but China has refused to comply and buys Russian crude at market prices.

[LNG terminal second phase under construction]

There are also longer term plans to expand energy ties.

The two countries have agreed to build a new gas pipeline (the Power of Siberia 2). The existing one began operation in 2019, under a 30-year contract worth more than $400bn.

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Ukraine conflict: What war crimes is Russia accused of?, 10 days ago

The International Criminal Court in the Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It accuses him of being responsible for war crimes in Ukraine, including the unlawful deportation of children.

Russia's Commissioner for Children's Rights, Ms Maria Lvova-Belova, is also subject to an arrest warrant.

According to Ukraine, tens of thousands of possible war crimes have been carried out by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February last year.

What is a war crime?

"Even war has rules", as the International Committee of the Red Cross says.

These are set out in treaties called the Geneva Conventions along with other international laws and agreements.

Military forces cannot deliberately attack civilians - nor the infrastructure that is vital to their survival.

Some weapons are banned because of the indiscriminate or appalling suffering they cause - such as anti-personnel landmines, and chemical or biological weapons.

The sick and wounded must be cared for - including injured soldiers, who have rights as prisoners of war.

Serious offences such as murder, rape or mass persecution of a group are known as "crimes against humanity" or in some circumstances "genocide".

What are the latest allegations against President Putin?

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has said there is evidence of the illegal transfer of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Russia has introduced policies such as forcing children to take Russian citizenship and placing them in foster families to "create a framework in which some of the children may end up remaining permanently" in Russia, the commission's report notes.

While the transfers were supposed to be temporary, "most became prolonged", with both parents and children facing "an array of obstacles in establishing contact", the UN investigators wrote.

Ukraine government figures put the number of children forcibly taken to Russia at 16,221.

These forced deportations "violate international humanitarian law and amount to a war crime", concludes the UN report.

What other war crimes is Russia said to have carried out in Ukraine?

The UN said that in addition to the rapes, killings and "widespread" torture, Moscow could be responsible for the even more serious "crimes against humanity" - notably the wave of Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure that began last October.

Mass burial sites have been found in several parts of Ukraine previously occupied by Russian troops, including some holding civilian bodies showing signs of torture.

* In April 2022, more than 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv

* In September 2022, 450 bodies - mostly of civilians - were found in mass graves in Izium, in Kharkiv region

* President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russian troops could have committed more than 400 war crimes in the Kherson region while it was under their occupation from March to November 2022

* In March 2022, Russian forces carried out an air strike on a theatre in Mariupol which was being used as a refuge for children

* A hospital in Mariupol was also struck in March last year

[A view shows Donetsk Regional Theatre of Drama destroyed by an airstrike]

How can war crimes be prosecuted?

Ukraine's courts have already prosecuted one Russian soldier.

21-year-old Russian tank commander Vadim Shishimarin was jailed for life for shooting an unarmed civilian, 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov, in the north-eastern village of Chupakhivka, a few days after the invasion began.

It may prove easier, however, to prosecute individual soldiers for war crimes than military commanders or senior politicians.

[Vadim Shishimarin, Russian soldier accused of war crimes in Ukraine.]

Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch says establishing the "chain of command" is very important for any future trials, including whether a leader authorised an atrocity - or turned a blind eye to it.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine - going back as far as 2013, before Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Its chief prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan, believes there is a reasonable basis to believe war crimes have been carried out.

However, the ICC has no powers to arrest suspects, and Russia is not a signatory to the agreement which set up the court - so it is unlikely to extradite any suspects.

The ICC generally takes over prosecutions for war crimes in countries where the court systems are too weak to carry out the prosecutions themselves.

So far, however, it seems Ukraine's courts have been able to mount their own cases. By the end of August, its prosecutor general had charged 135 suspected war criminals.

[Vladimir Putin]

The ICC can bring a prosecution against political leaders for "waging aggressive war". This covers an unjustified invasion or conflict not undertaken in self-defence.

However, Professor Philippe Sands, an expert on international law at University College London, says the ICC couldn't prosecute Russian leaders such as President Vladimir Putin for this - again, because the country isn't a signatory to the court.

In theory, the UN Security Council could ask the ICC to investigate this offence. But Russia could veto this.

Prof Sands says world leaders should set up a one-off tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin: From Putin's chef to Wagner founder, 7 days ago

Yevgeny Prigozhin has emerged as a key player in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in charge of a private army of mercenaries leading the Russian onslaught in key areas of the war.

No stranger to Russia's prisons, he recruited thousands of convicted criminals from jail for his Wagner group - no matter how grave their crimes - as long as they agreed to fight for him in Ukraine.

Before Russia started what has become Europe's worst armed conflict since World War Two, Prigozhin was accused of meddling in US elections and expanding Russian influence in Africa.

How did a man of murky beginnings achieve such influence - and a reputation for fearsome brutality?


Yevgeny Prigozhin hails from St Petersburg, Vladimir Putin's home city.

He received his first criminal conviction in 1979, aged just 18, and got a suspended two-and-a-half year sentence for theft. Two years later, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail for robbery and theft, nine of which he served behind bars.

Upon his release from jail, Prigozhin set up a chain of stalls selling hot dogs in St Petersburg. Business went well and within a few years, in the lawless 1990s, Prigozhin was able to open expensive restaurants in the city.

[Yevgeny Prigozhin helping Vladimir Putin at a dinner table, 2011]

It was there that he began mixing with the high and mighty of St Petersburg and then Russia. One of his restaurants, called New Island, was a boat sailing up and down the Neva River. Vladimir Putin liked it so much that - after becoming president - he started taking his foreign guests there. And that is most likely how the two first met.

"Vladimir Putin… saw that I had no problem serving plates to dignitaries in person," Prigozhin said in an interview. "We met when he came with Japanese Prime Minister Mori."

Yoshiro Mori visited St Petersburg in April 2000, at the very beginning of Vladimir Putin's rule.

Mr Putin trusted Prigozhin enough to celebrate his birthday on New Island in 2003.

Years later, Prigozhin's catering company Concord was contracted to supply food to the Kremlin, earning him the nickname "Putin's chef". Firms affiliated with Prigozhin also won lucrative catering contracts from the military and state-run schools.


But it was after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014 that signs began to emerge that Prigozhin was no ordinary businessman. A shadowy private military company said to be linked to him was first reported to be fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

It is commonly known as Wagner - after the call sign used by one of its key early commanders. He was reportedly fascinated by Nazi Germany, which appropriated the 19th Century composer's works for propaganda.

Ironically, "de-Nazification" of Ukraine is a key declared objective of President Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.

[Ukrainian artillery firing near Bakhmut]

Apart from Ukraine, Wagner was active across Africa and beyond, invariably performing tasks that furthered the Kremlin's agenda - from propping up Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria to combating French influence in Mali.

Over time, the mercenary group gained a fearsome reputation for brutality.

Wagner members have been accused of torturing a Syrian captive with a sledgehammer, beheading him and then setting his body on fire in 2017.

The following year, three Russian journalists were killed while investigating Wagner's presence in the Central African Republic.

In 2022, Wagner was again accused of killing a man with a sledgehammer, over suspicions that he had "betrayed" the group in Ukraine. Prigozhin described unverified footage of the brutal murder as "a dog's death for a dog". After members of the European Parliament called for Wagner to be designated as a terrorist group, he claimed he had sent the politicians a blood-stained sledgehammer.

For years, Prigozhin denied having any links to Wagner and even sued people who suggested that he did. But then, in September 2022, he said he had set up the group in 2014.

The US, EU and UK have all imposed sanctions on Wagner, but it is allowed to operate in Russia, even though the law bans mercenary activities.

Bots and trolls

Another way in which Yevgeny Prigozhin got involved in world politics relied on people with keyboards, rather than men with guns.

For years, he has been accused of being behind so-called "troll farms" or "bot factories", which used accounts on social media and websites to spread pro-Kremlin views. Such efforts were led by the St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), best known for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

[The Wagner Centre in St Petersburg]

Former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed to investigate claims of collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, concluded that the IRA carried out a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the US. It then evolved into an operation to support Mr Trump and disparage his election rival, Hillary Clinton, Mueller's report said.

The US put sanctions on the IRA and Prigozhin personally over interference in the 2016 presidential election and then attempted meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.

Ukraine is another major target of the IRA's disinformation campaigns and, according to the UK, "cyber soldiers" with suspected links to Prigozhin have attacked countries including the UK, South Africa and India.

Just as with Wagner, after denying any involvement and suing people who suggested that he was behind troll factories and bot farms, Prigozhin claimed in February 2023 that he had "conceived, created and run" the IRA.

Ukraine war

All this time Prigozhin shunned the limelight, usually communicating with the media via statements issued by his catering company, Concord.

This changed after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Months into the campaign, it was clearly stalling, and Prigozhin's services were much in demand again.

After years of denying that Wagner even existed, on 27 July 2022 Kremlin-controlled media suddenly admitted that it was fighting in eastern Ukraine. Prigozhin also started posting videos on social media - apparently filmed in occupied parts of Ukraine - in which he boasted of Wagner's exploits there. By this time, no other private military company in the world had access to so much kit, including fighter jets, helicopters and tanks.

[Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary force, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine in this still image from an undated video released on March 3, 2023]

But soon it became obvious that Prigozhin's relations with the Russian military were very strained. He repeatedly criticised Russia's top brass, claimed that the defence ministry starved Wagner of ammunition and at one point even accused Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of treason.

After tens of thousands of Russian troops were killed in Ukraine, Prigozhin was allowed to recruit in prisons. He personally visited numerous jails to promise convicted criminals that they would be able to go home free, and with their convictions removed, after six months of fighting for Wagner in Ukraine - if they survived.

In one video, he is heard telling convicts: "Do you have anyone else who can get you out of this jail, if you've got 10 years to spend behind bars? God and Allah can, but in a wooden box. I can get you out of here alive. But I don't always bring you back alive."

UK intelligence estimates that about half of the prisoners Wagner has deployed to Ukraine have either been wounded or killed.

As Prigozhin's relations with the defence ministry worsened, he was barred from recruiting more prisoners in early 2023.

The Kremlin

But why does the Kremlin need someone like Prigozhin to conduct disinformation and military campaigns across the world?

One major reason is so-called "plausible deniability" - using private operatives allows the Russian government to deny involvement in highly sensitive operations.

[Yevgeny Prigozhin attends Russian-Turkish talks in Saint Petersburg, 2016]

And why did Prigozhin end up in this role? According to journalist Ilya Zhegulev, who has studied Prigozhin's biography in detail, there are several reasons.

"He never refused to do dirty deeds. He had nothing to lose reputationally," Zhegulev argues.

Prigozhin's past was another reason, he adds. "Putin does not like people with an impeccably clean reputation, because they are difficult to control. From this point of view, Prigozhin was an ideal candidate."

In a rare interview back in 2011, Prigozhin said he had once written a book for children where the main character "helped the king save his kingdom" and then went on to do "something truly heroic". Prigozhin may now be helping President Putin to save his vision of Russia, but his life story is hardly a children's fairy tale.

Video shows moment Russian fighter jet hits US drone over Black Sea, 10 days ago

The US military has released footage of a Russian jet crashing into one of its drones over the Black Sea.

The US said the damage to the large drone meant it had to be brought down into the water near Crimea on Tuesday.

Russia denied its Su-27 fighter jet clipped the propeller of the drone, but the video appears to back up the American version of events.

It was in the Pentagon's interest to release this video - not least to verify its version of events.

The BBC has not seen the events before or after the collision. The US initially said the confrontation lasted around 30-40 minutes, but the released footage lasts for less than a minute.

On Wednesday night, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "We remain confident in the facts we've conveyed so far."

He said then the Pentagon was looking at what video could be released. It is not unusual for militaries to take some time to declassify video footage before making it public.

Mr Austin previously described Russia's actions as dangerous and reckless - and the edited video released appears to back that up.

A feed from a camera fitted under the fuselage of the surveillance drone shows a Russian Su-27 making two extremely close passes while releasing what appears to be fuel as it approaches.

In the first pass it seems to mire the lens of the camera. The second pass is even closer - disrupting the video feed from the remotely piloted aircraft.

When the picture returns, a blade of the drone's propeller at the back of the aircraft can be seen bent out of shape.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the BBC's US broadcast partner CBS that it was not clear whether the Russian action was deliberate or accidental.

But he said this did not matter because the moves were "completely inappropriate, unsafe and unprofessional".

Surveillance flights would continue over the Black Sea, he said, but there was no need for military escorts, which he said were unnecessary and would put pilots at risk.

Russia has claimed the drone was approaching its territory, but all we can see from the video is sea, sky and cloud.

Moscow appeared to suggest on Tuesday that it had imposed a unilateral no-fly zone over the region as part of its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said the drone had "violated boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation".

But Mr Kirby said the airspace was international and not restricted.

In a statement released hours after the crash, the US said Russian jets dumped fuel on the drone several times before the collision.

Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder told reporters the drone was "unflyable and uncontrollable", adding the collision also likely damaged the Russian aircraft.

Russia's defence ministry said the drone crashed after a "sharp manoeuvre", and that it was flying with its transponders (communication devices) turned off.

The Kremlin has not yet responded to the release of the US video. On Wednesday Russia's security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said attempts were being made to find and retrieve the remnants of the drone.

On Thursday, Russian ships were seen at the site of the downed drone on the Black Sea, US media reported.

Mr Kirby said the US was also searching for the aircraft, but stressed that if Russia beat them to it, "their ability to exploit useful intelligence will be highly minimised".

That message was reiterated by General Mark Milley, America's top military general, who said the US has taken "mitigating measures" to ensure there was nothing of value on the downed drone.

[Graphic showing key stills from video]

Bakhmut: Russian casualties mount but tactics evolve, 11 days ago

Ukraine has drawn a line in the dirt, and that line is Bakhmut. It is a city that few say matters strategically, but that tens of thousands have died fighting over. It began more than seven months ago, and is the longest battle of the war so far.

Two Ukrainian army brigades defending the city's southern flank gave the BBC access to their positions last week as fierce fighting continued in and around Bakhmut. The men have spent months facing both regular Russian army forces, and prisoners recruited by the Wagner private military group who have swarmed their trenches in droves. Troops say Russian casualties far outweigh theirs, but the enemy is deploying new techniques to try to seize the city and surrounding countryside.

Ukraine's forces are outgunned and outnumbered, but on a chalk hillside to the south, there is the anti-tank group from the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. 3Storm - as they are known - are unyielding. They've dug trenches deep into the earth. Timber props supporting the roof shudder as Russian artillery lands in the near distance, and field mice scurry along duck boards. An antiquated field telephone sits in a wooden nook; these are conditions their grandfathers would recognise.

"They cannot get to us, we can see for a kilometre in all directions," says a bearded 26-year-old soldier who goes by the call sign "Dwarf", pointing out Russian positions. "We can hit the enemy with everything we have," he says.


Neither the Russian nor Ukrainian armies release official casualty figures for Bakhmut, or elsewhere, but the mostly abandoned city has become a slaughter house.

In a week fighting for the city, Dwarf's company faced conscripted prisoners from Russia's Wagner group. "We had battles every two hours," he says. "I guess a single company eliminated 50 people per day." In case of any doubt, he points out these numbers were confirmed by aerial reconnaissance. "The [Russian vehicle] arrives, 50 bodies come out, a day passes, 50 bodies come out again," he says. His company lost a fraction of that number, he says.

Officially, Ukraine estimates that for every one of its soldiers killed, Russia loses seven. Earlier this week, Russia said it had killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members in a 24-hour period in the battle for Bakhmut. None of these numbers can be independently verified.

In a newspaper interview, two captured Wagner conscripts told the Wall Street Journal that before they are sent forward, they receive little training beyond learning to crawl through forests in the dark. After six months serving at the front they are freed - assuming they survive.

Conditions all along the 600-mile-long eastern front have begun to change. 3Storm's chalky hilltop hideout feels like dry land compared with the surrounding territory. An early spring has turned the hard ground of winter to mud porridge - which may favour the defenders. To get there, we had to follow the Ukrainian soldiers on foot - within a few paces my boots become lumpen and heavy with thick dirt. A battlefield ambulance speeds by unsteadily, its caterpillar tracks ploughing up the ground, and spraying pools of sludge as it struggles for grip.

The villages around here - the location can't be revealed - are in ruin. Handwritten signs on gates, mostly in Russian, announce "People Live Here", a plea as much as it is a statement. But the streets are entirely empty, apart from abandoned dogs who roam the ruins of destroyed farms and homes.

[Soldiers move through the tall grass]

For the past two months, Russian forces have steadily advanced, trying to encircle Bakhmut. The commander of Ukrainian ground forces, General Oleksandr Syrsky, says his forces will continue to resist. "Every day of steadfast resistance wins us valuable time to reduce the enemy's offensive capabilities," he says, sending more reinforcements to the area. But it isn't only Russians who have fallen into the Bakhmut trap. Ukrainians are dying there, too, in ever increasing numbers.

On the hillside, a group of soldiers have gathered around a gun position, and I ask Dwarf - given that Ukraine is losing soldiers to untrained Russian convicts - if the defence of dead city, surrounded by the enemy, makes sense.

He says, "I was wondering, myself, if we should keep defending Bakhmut. On the one hand what's happening here now is awful. There are no words to describe it. But the alternative is we give up Bakhmut and move to another settlement. What's the difference between defending Bakhmut or any other village?"

[Holm and Dwarf]

His comrade, a strongly built man with a full dark beard who goes by the call sign Holm, agrees. "It's not a strategic question for us here. We are ordinary soldiers. But this is our land. We may then retreat to Chasiv Yar, from Chasiv Yar to Slovyansk, and so we retreat up to Kyiv. Let it take a year or two, four, five - but we have to fight for every piece of our land."

The men have been fighting for more than a year now, and they say the Russians are evolving.

"They are learning, they are getting cleverer, and it really freaks me out," says Dwarf. "They send out a group - five morons taken from prison. They are shot, but the enemy sees where you are, walks around, and you are surrounded from behind."

Holm chimes in that Russia is now using drones armed with grenades more effectively. "We used to drop them and freak them out," he says. "Now they're dropping drone grenades on our positions."

Before the war, Dwarf was an outdoor youth worker and would take youngsters hiking in the Carpathian Mountains on the country's western edge. Here on Ukraine's eastern front, that is a far-off memory. He's been in many battles since then, but the horror of Bakhmut is what lives with him now.

When I ask about Wagner's convict army, he pauses to think and says, "I'll be honest. It's genius. Cruel, immoral, but effective tactics. It worked out. And it's still working in Bakhmut."


Days later, I'm back in the same area, crammed with four others into a Soviet-era UAZ jeep. Its steering wheel has the BMW logo - a joke says the driver, Oleg. He says little else as he grips the wheel and concentrates hard as the car whines and struggles over hills and through the shoals of muck. The automatic gunfire ahead signals we are nearing the 28th Mechanised Brigade, who are directly facing the Russians.

The landscape of war shifts in an instant - the men are holed up in a small wood, its trees shattered and split by Russian fire. In a month, the wood will offer them cover. For now, its bare branches expose them to surveillance drones. Nearby there's an exchange of gunfire, and Russian shells strike around 500m away. But Borys, a 48-year-old former architect who is serving now as a captain, seems untroubled.

"Today's war is a drone war," he says, "but we can walk around freely, because there's wind and rain today and drones are blown away. If it was quiet today, both our drones and our enemy's would be hovering over us."

On the way back, Oleg brings the jeep to a sudden halt. Lying in the dirt in front of us is a drone that has been blown off course. Its battery is quickly removed and it is brought inside - it turns out to be Ukrainian.

But today's war isn't so very different from the past.

[Machine gun]

Two nights before, the 28th Brigade was attacked by Russian infantry and tanks. In a timbered gun position below ground, the cold rain drips through the roof onto the dirt floor, and there, peering out into the bare landscape, is a Maxim belt-fed machine gun with stout iron wheels.

"It only works when there is a massive attack going on…then it really works," says Borys. "So we use it every week".

And this is how the battle for Bakhmut is being fought, as winter turns to spring in 21st Century Europe. A 19th Century weapon still mows down men by the score in the black Ukrainian earth.

Elon Musk: Twitter says parts of source code leaked online, today

Parts of the source code which underpins multi-billionaire Elon Musk's social media platform has been leaked online, Twitter says.

It says the code was posted on GitHub, a Microsoft-owned service where software developers share code.

It has now been taken down after Twitter requested its removal.

Separately, Mr Musk has reportedly signalled to Twitter workers that the firm is worth less than half the $44bn (£36bn) he paid for it last year.

"GitHub does not generally comment on decisions to remove content. However, in the interest of transparency, we share every DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] takedown request publicly," a GitHub spokesperson told the BBC.

The DMCA was signed into law in the US in 1998. It is aimed at protecting copyrighted material on the internet.

In the takedown request, Twitter called on GitHub to provide information on who was behind the account which leaked the code - named FreeSpeechEnthusiast.

San Francisco-based Twitter said in the filing that the account had infringed copyrights owned by the company.

The leak creates a new challenge for Mr Musk, who has slashed Twitter's workforce by more than a third and faced an exodus of advertisers since buying the platform in October last year.

Meanwhile, the Tesla chief executive has reportedly indicated that Twitter is now valued at less than $20bn.

The estimate of the company's value was based on Mr Musk's offer of stock grants to staff, according to technology news websites Platformer and the Information, which first reported the story.

Mr Musk also reportedly told staff: "I see a clear, but difficult, path to a >$250B valuation," which suggests a more than tenfold increase in Twitter's valuation.

In response to a BBC request for comment Twitter's press office email account automatically responded with a poo emoji, an approach that Mr Musk announced in a tweet earlier this month.

Gwyneth Paltrow trial: Actress denies hit-and-run in ski crash, 2 days ago

Gwyneth Paltrow has denied in court that she caused a 2016 ski collision in Utah that the man suing her says has left him with life-changing injuries.

Terry Sanderson, 76, says the Hollywood actress caused the crash. He is seeking damages of $300,000 (£244,000).

Ms Paltrow, 50, has countersued. She testified that he collided with her and left her feeling "hurt and violated".

Lawyers for Mr Sanderson say Ms Paltrow was distracted by her children on the slope, and fled the crash.

According to his civil lawsuit, Mr Sanderson suffered a lasting brain injury and four fractured ribs.

Ms Paltrow testified in court on Friday, day four of the trial, that the crash left her with a sore knee and she got a massage afterwards.

"There was a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise," she said, describing how Mr Sanderson, a retired eye doctor, allegedly crashed into her from behind on a beginners' slope at Deer Valley in February 2016.

"Is this a practical joke. Is someone doing something perverted?" she told the court she recalled thinking in that moment.

"He was groaning and grunting in a very disturbing way," she added.

They fell on the ground together, and were almost "spooning", she said.

She later clarified that she was not accusing Mr Sanderson of sexual assault.

[Mr Sanderson in court]

The Oscar winner also apologised for screaming a profanity at him after the crash.

"After an incident like that when you feel hurt and violated, unfortunately adrenaline can take over, and emotion as well," she said, explaining her anger at the time. 

Lawyers for Mr Sanderson asked if she remembered her nine-year-old son, Moses, shouting "mommy, mommy, watch me." She said she did not recall that.

The Goop lifestyle brand founder also denied her children had been a distraction as she skied at the upmarket Park City resort.

"I was skiing and looking downhill as you do," she said. "And I was skied directly into by Mr Sanderson."

Mr Sanderon's legal team sought to undermine her credibility, suggesting it was misleading to say she was suing for a symbolic $1 when she is also seeking reimbursement of legal fees, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Throughout her testimony Ms Paltrow remained calm, sipping regularly on water, and even complimenting the shoes of the plaintiff's lawyer during cross-examination.

On Thursday, a doctor testified that Mr Sanderson had previously been a "high-energy person", but "deteriorated abruptly" after the crash.

On Friday, his daughter Shae Herath took the stand to tell the court: "This is not my dad. This is an alternate version of my dad."

[Daughter Shae cries in court]

Lawyers for Mr Sanderson on Friday grilled Ms Paltrow on why she did not personally inquire if he was OK.

She said she was too angry about the crash to do so herself, but her ski instructor had checked on Mr Sanderson. Mr Sanderson, she said, had mumbled that he was OK.

"I did not cause the accident, so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him," Ms Paltrow said.

The day's skiing - including lessons for her, her now-husband, Brad Falchuk, and four children - cost over $9,000, lawyers for Mr Sanderson noted.

Ms Paltrow's lawyers argue Mr Sanderson is to blame for the accident and that he had several medical conditions before the collision, including vision and hearing loss from a stroke; a brain disorder that caused excessive fluid build-up; and occasional depression.

The trial, before a jury of eight people, will continue on Monday.

This case hinges on skiing etiquette with both parties claiming that they were the downhill skier and therefore had right of way.

US-Canada agree to turn back asylum seekers at border, 2 days ago

A new US-Canada border deal meant to halt the flow of asylum seekers at unofficial border crossings has taken effect.

Migrants caught crossing anywhere along the 3,145 mile (5,060km) border can now be sent back.

Large numbers of unsanctioned crossings have been recorded via Roxham Road at the US-Canada border.

The new accord closes a loophole that allowed migrants to claim asylum at such unofficial ports of entry.

The announcement came as President Joe Biden visited Ottawa, Canada, to discuss a series of economic, trade and immigration issues with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau.

The deal is part of efforts to limit an influx of migrants at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing between New York state and the province of Quebec.

A record number of migrants - some 40,000 - crossed into Canada last year, the vast majority of which entered at Roxham Road.

As part of the pact, Canada will also create a new refugee programme for 15,000 migrants fleeing persecution and violence in South and Central America, the prime minister's office (PMO) said.

What is the Safe Third Country Act?

The original 2004 agreement, the Safe Third Country Act (STCA), requires migrants to make an asylum claim in the first "safe" country they reach, whether it is the US or Canada.

It allowed either nation to turn migrants away at official points of entry - but not at unofficial crossing points, like Roxham Road.

The new deal extends the agreement along the entire border, including internal waterways, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The new deal has been criticised by refugee advocates as ineffective to ending the irregular crossing of migrants into Canada.

It is not going to stop people, Abdulla Daoud, executive director at The Refugee Centre in Montreal, told the BBC on Friday, adding he is concerned it could incentivise human smuggling.

Speaking about the new refugee programme, he said: "The numbers are too low. We had 40,000 cross just in the past year - 15,000 is a low number and just from one part of the world, the Western hemisphere."

[Migrants cross at Roxham Road]

The US side has also seen a rise in migrant crossings into Canada.

Mr Biden's administration has also proposed to crack down on asylum seekers at the US southern border with Mexico by making it harder for migrants to claim asylum once Covid border controls lift in May. The proposal has met backlash from human rights groups.

What else was Biden doing in Canada?

While in Canada, the president spoke of the importance of the deep economic ties and the defence alliances between the two nations, as well as their joint support for Ukraine.

The two leaders pledged to stand together against authoritarian regimes - in part by reducing dependence on China for semiconductors and the critical minerals need to make batteries and electric cars.

Also discussed was the ongoing instability in Haiti, where the economy is in crisis and gang violence and kidnappings have risen sharply.

The US has pushed Canada to lead an international force to support security forces in the Caribbean country.

On Friday, however, both Mr Biden and Mr Trudeau said they did not believe intervention was the way forward at the moment.

"The biggest thing we can do, and it's going to take time, is to increase the prospect of the police department in Haiti having the capacity to deal with the problems," Mr Biden said at a joint press conference.

He added the instability "is a real, genuine concern", as ongoing gang violence could leave a large number of Haitians displaced.

The two countries also announced they will lead a new "global coalition" on the opioid crisis. It will look to tackle the issue of drug trafficking not only in North America, but across the world.

With additional reporting from Eloise Alana in Montreal and Jessica Murphy in Toronto.

Principal resigns after Florida students shown Michelangelo statue, yesterday

A principal of a Florida school has been forced to resign after a parent complained that sixth-grade students were exposed to pornography.

The complaint arose from a Renaissance art lesson where students were shown Michelangelo's statue of David.

The iconic statue is one of the most famous in Western history.

But one parent complained the material was pornographic and two others said they wanted to know about the class before it was taught.

The 5.17m (17ft) statue depicts an entirely naked David, the Biblical figure who kills the giant Goliath.

The lesson, given to 11 and 12-year-olds, also included references to Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" painting and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus".

Principal Hope Carrasquilla of Tallahassee Classical School said she resigned after she was given an ultimatum by the school board to resign or be fired.

Local media reported that Ms Carrasquilla did not know the reason she was asked to resign, but believed it was related to the complaints over the lesson.

They also said Ms Carrasquilla had been principal for less than one year.

In an interview with US outlet Slate, the chair of the school's board, Barney Bishop III, said that last year the principal sent a notice to parents warning them that students were going to see Michelangelo's David - but that this wasn't done this year. He called it an "egregious mistake" and said that "parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture".

"We're not going to show the full statue of David to kindergartners. We're not going to show him to second graders. Showing the entire statue of David is appropriate at some age. We're going to figure out when that is," Mr Bishop said.

On Thursday, Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, moved to expand a law that banned public schools from teaching sexual education and gender identity.

Teachers who violate the law face being suspended or losing their teaching licences.

The David was completed by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504. It was instantly hailed as a masterpiece, with Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari saying the David "surpassed" any statue that had ever existed before.

Queen Victoria gifted a copy of the David to the South Kensington museum - later the V&A - in 1857. When she first saw the cast, she was apparently so shocked by the nudity that a fig leaf was commissioned to cover up the genitalia.

The V&A's website says that the leaf was kept "in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks."

US bombs Syria targets after deadly drone attack, 2 days ago

The US has carried out air strikes against Iran-linked groups in eastern Syria after a drone attack killed a US contractor, the US defence chief said.

Fourteen pro-Iran fighters were killed, according to a monitoring group.

US officials said the air strikes happened on Thursday night, hours after the drone attack, which US intelligence said was "of Iranian origin".

US bases in north-east Syria have come under attack before, with the US responding with air strikes.

Last August, the US bombed sites in eastern Syria which it said were linked to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) - its most powerful armed force - after rocket attacks on US troops there.

Thursday night's air strikes were carried out on President Biden's orders "in response to... [the drone] attack as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC", US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said.

He said they had targeted "facilities used by groups affiliated with... [the] IRGC".

Mr Biden, who is in Canada for a working visit, said he was briefed on the death of the US contractor while he was travelling to Ottawa early evening on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Biden offered condolences to the family of the US contractor that was killed, and emphasised that the US does not seek conflict in Iran. But he added: "Be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people."

The conflict continued to escalate on Friday morning when rockets targeted another US base, Green Village, in north-eastern Syria, US officials said. They said the rocket fire did not result in any injuries.

Speaking to CNN on Friday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the government would "work to protect our people and our facilities as best we can. It's a dangerous environment," he said.

Speaking to BBC Newshour, Joel Rayburn, US special envoy to Syria under President Trump, said Iranian-sponsored attacks on US troops in eastern Syria began in 2017.

"It's usually drone strikes or rockets or mortars, against our bases. Most of the time they don't do any damage and they don't cause casualties," he said.

"The defence secretary's point is that that's unacceptable and President Biden authorised a military response against the same kind of guys that carried that out on behalf of the Iranian regime."

The US defence department said the contractor had been killed, and five US service personnel and a second contractor wounded, when the drone struck a maintenance facility on a coalition base near Hasakah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) - a UK-based monitoring group - said the US strikes killed six pro-Iran fighters in Deir al-Zour city, six in al-Bukamal, and two in the desert of al-Mayadeen.

Iran has not commented.

About 900 US troops are operating out of bases in southern and eastern Syria, without the permission of the Syrian government, as part of the US-led global coalition against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

They are tasked with preventing a resurgence of IS, whose militants once controlled large swathes of Syria before being defeated in 2019 following separate campaigns waged by US-backed Kurdish and Arab militia fighters and Iran- and Russia-backed pro-government forces.

The IRGC has built a substantial presence in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, sending hundreds of troops to advise President Bashar al-Assad's forces and to train and arm thousands of militiamen.

Elsewhere in Syria, SOHR reported that 15 truffle hunters had been killed by IS in the eastern desert.

On Thursday, seven civilians and eight tribesmen working for the Al-Qaterji militia were reportedly killed in Hama, an area where many locals depend on finding truffles for their income.

The fate of 40 other people remains unknown, the observatory said.

[Map showing where targeted positions are located]

Fake Trump arrest photos: How to spot an AI-generated image, 2 days ago

Fake images created by artificial intelligence (AI) tools depicting Donald Trump have appeared on social media over the past week.

Many falsely showed the arrest of the former president, who may face indictment over payment of hush money to a woman he allegedly had an affair with. He has not yet been charged with a crime.

Many of those sharing the images pointed out they were fake, and they did not appear to fool lots of people - but a few did seem to be tricked.

On Thursday, Mr Trump also shared an AI-generated image on his own social media platform Truth Social. It showed him kneeling in prayer.

What are some of the tell-tale signs of AI-generated imagery? And how can you distinguish a real from a fake?

Does something look 'off'?

[Fake image of Donald Trump being arrested]

The images circulating online, like the one above, look hyper-real - more like staged artistic shots than in-the-moment photographs.

A closer look shows some obvious giveaways that something isn't quite right.

Look at the centre of the image. Mr Trump's arm is much too short, and the police officer on the left is grabbing something that more resembles a claw than a human hand.

Similarly, if you focus on Mr Trump's neck, you'll notice that his head looks as if it's been superimposed on the image.

Henry Ajder, an AI expert and presenter of the BBC radio series The Future Will be Synthesised, says current technology is not very good at depicting certain body parts, especially hands.

"If you zoom in on the images you can often see inconsistencies such as the number of fingers," he says.

What are other people saying?

A simple check of a few news sites is a sure-fire way to verify that Mr Trump hasn't been arrested or even indicted - at least, not yet.

If and when Mr Trump does face charges, his arrest will make headline news all around the world. And you can imagine the media flurry if the former president were to somehow flee from police.

Another good idea is to think about the context in which an image is being shared. Who's sharing it - and what are their motives?

Often people share pictures to amplify their broader political views, even if they haven't checked whether the photos are authentic, Mr Ajder says.

"We've seen really crude examples of other fakes such as the recording of Nancy Pelosi being slowed down to make her sound drunk," he adds. "That was a super crude piece of manipulation and yet many people were fooled by it - or at least wanted to believe it."

More weird details

[Fake image of Donald Trump being arrested by police officer]

A closer look at the photos themselves reveals more dubious details.

Unnatural skin tones and faces with waxy or blurred-out features are strong indications that the image is fake.

In the picture above, a person with a blurry face is clearly visible on the centre-right. And Mr Trump's hair appears blurry, while his face is in focus.

[Fake image of Donald Trump running from police]

AI technology has also not yet mastered accurate depictions of eyes.

In the image above, officers appear to be chasing Mr Trump - but they're looking in a totally different direction.

Trouble ahead?

AI experts told the BBC that while faked imagery is "nothing new", the speed of progress within the field, and potential for misuse, is something to be concerned about.

"Synthetic content is evolving at a rapid rate and the gap between authentic and fake content is becoming more difficult to decipher," says Mounir Ibrahim of Truepic, a digital content analysis company.

The experts agree that Mr Trump's fame makes the fakes easy to spot. But images of unknown people could make the task more difficult - and the technology is getting better all the time.

Utah is first US state to limit teen social media access, 3 days ago

Utah has become the first US state to require social media firms get parental consent for children to use their apps and verify users are at least 18.

The governor said he signed the two sweeping measures to protect young people in the state.

The bills will give parents full access to their children's online accounts, including posts and private messages.

The move comes amidst heightened concern over the impact of social media on children's mental health.

Under the measures enacted on Thursday, a parent or guardian's explicit consent will be needed before children can create accounts on apps such Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

The bills also impose a social media curfew that blocks children's access between 22:30 and 06:30, unless adjusted by their parents.

Under the legislation, social media companies will no longer be able to collect a child's data or be targeted for advertising.

The two bills - which are also designed to make it easier to take legal action against social media companies - will take effect on March 1, 2024.

Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, wrote on Twitter: "We're no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth.

"As leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people."

Children's advocacy group Commons Sense Media welcomed the governor's move to curtail some of social media's most addictive features, calling it a "huge victory for kids and families in Utah".

"It adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online," said Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media's founder and CEO.

Similar regulations are being considered in four other Republican-led states - Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Louisiana - and Democratic-led New Jersey.

But Common Sense Media and other advocacy groups warned some parts of the new legislation could put children at risk.

Ari Z Cohn, a free speech lawyer for TechFreedom, said the bill posed "significant free speech problems".

"There are so many children who might be in abusive households," he told the BBC, "who might be LGBT, who could be cut-off from social media entirely."

In response, Meta, Facebook's parent company, said it has robust tools to keep children safe.

A spokesperson told the BBC: "We've developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including tools that let parents and teens work together to limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences."

There has been other US bipartisan support for social media legislation aimed at protecting children.

President Joe Biden's State of the Union address in February called for laws banning tech companies from collecting data on children.

Last year, California state lawmakers passed their own child data law. Among other measures, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act requires digital platforms to make the highest privacy features for under-18 users a default setting.

The passage of the Utah bills coincides with a bruising congressional hearing for TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

Waco, Texas: Donald Trump rallies on anniversary of deadly standoff, 2 days ago

With the spectre of criminal charges hanging over his third bid for the White House, Donald Trump has scheduled a massive rally in Texas this weekend.

The campaign event, planned for Saturday, marks the former president's return to a traditionally conservative state in which he remains very popular.

But his decision to hold the rally in Waco - best known for an armed standoff 30 years ago - has raised eyebrows.

The 1993 tragedy is seen as a landmark event for the American far-right.

A city of about 140,000 people in the heart of Texas, Waco is celebrated these days as host to Baylor University, the Dr Pepper Museum and the home-improvement reality show Fixer Upper.

Three decades ago, however, it was where FBI agents, the US military and Texas law enforcement laid siege to a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians.

The small, insular Christian sect was led at the time by David Koresh, 33, an apocalyptic prophet who allegedly believed he was the only person who could interpret the Bible's true meaning.

Under Koresh, the Branch Davidians had stockpiled weapons in order to become an "Army of God".

Authorities intended to conduct a surprise daylight raid on 28 February 1993 and arrest Koresh, but what ensued was a 51-day standoff that left 76 people dead, including more than 20 children and four federal agents.

[The events at Waco in 1993 led to the deaths of 86 people]

The calamity - and a similar incident one year earlier in Ruby Ridge, Idaho - tapped into a vein of anti-government sentiment often linked to the rise of far-right militia groups in the US through the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

"The events at Waco have taken on a life of their own in anti-government and white supremacist circles," said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism non-profit.

"[They've] taken up the cause that this was an out-of-control government ... that citizens couldn't live the lives they wanted and the federal government came barrelling in and burned them out of their facilities."

Two years after the siege, Timothy McVeigh - a young man who had shown his support at Waco and became fixated with the federal response as evidence of an impending New World Order - bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring nearly 700 others. It remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in US history.

The raid also had an impact on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who - as a young radio host in 1998 - organised a campaign to rebuild the Branch Davidians' chapel as a memorial to those who had died. Mr Jones was among the most prominent early voices to back Mr Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign.

"Waco still resonates in this anti-government space as something that shows the federal government doesn't protect people, is out to violate their civil rights, is out to take their guns," Ms Beirich said.

"Nowadays that very much feeds into the 'deep state' conspiracies that we see on the far-right; the attacks on the FBI; the idea that federal law enforcement is a weapon of Democratic presidents."

[Alex Jones speaks to Trump supporters at a rally in December 2020]

Mr Trump has often drawn on these frustrations, painting himself as the victim of a secret cabal of government operatives and effectively tearing down the walls that separated the mainstream Republican Party from its more extremist and radical fringes.

The former president's sense of victimhood has only intensified since he left office. His conspiracies about the 2020 election still abound and he has framed the legal action he is facing on multiple fronts as an effort to destroy him.

On his Truth Social platform on Friday, Mr Trump warned an indictment risked "potential death and destruction" that could be "catastrophic" for the nation.

Shortly after that post, an envelope containing white powder and a threatening message was delivered to the office of Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney investigating Mr Trump's hush-money payment to a pornographic actress. According to BBC News US media partner CBS News, the typewritten note said: "Alvin. I am going to kill you."

Saturday's event will fall during the 30th anniversary of the standoff between Koresh's "army" and the government.

"It's hard for me to believe that he doesn't know what he's doing," Ms Beirich told the BBC, adding Trump "has the ability to motivate supporters to engage in very extreme behaviour".

The Houston Chronicle - Texas' largest and most-read newspaper - reported this week that the Trump campaign is calling the visit "purely coincidental".

But in a column on Thursday, the paper's editorial board laid bare an accusation: "Trump is stoking the fires of Waco."

Biden visits Canada: What's bothering America's friendliest neighbour?, 3 days ago

President Joe Biden has landed in Canada for a long-awaited official foray north. America's neighbour is often the first foreign port of call for a new US president, a tradition delayed this time in part because of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Biden, who will be joined by First Lady Jill Biden, will meet Canadian officials, give a speech to parliament and sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the two-day bilateral visit.

The trip offers an opportunity for Mr Biden to "reaffirm the importance of the relationship and Canada's status as an ally and an economic partner", said Laura Dawson of the Future Borders Coalition.

Mr Biden and Mr Trudeau speak frequently, but not having a presidential visit on the agenda "was looking bad", said Christopher Sands, director of the Wilson Center's Canada Institute in Washington DC.

"The US, as usual, pays attention to the noisy problems and not to the good Canadians because they don't make trouble," he said.

Still, a range of potentially thorny bilateral and international issues are on the agenda, from continental defence to Haiti, migration and trade.

Tackling migration

Both leaders have made clear that a surge of asylum seekers at the US-Canada border is a major concern.

Canada has seen a record number of asylum seekers crossing in recent months at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing between New York state and the province of Quebec. The US side has also seen a jump in migrant crossings there from Canada.

Mr Trudeau is under pressure at home to stem the flow.

The prime minister has asked to renegotiate the decades-old Safe Third Country Agreement, a pact between the two countries in place since 2004 that requires refugee claimants to request protection in the first "safe" country they reach.

There is a loophole in that agreement that allows migrants to claim asylum by crossing at places like Roxham Road.

[People board a bus near a sign that says crossings are illegal]

It was reported on Thursday that the two countries had struck a deal on modifications to the agreement - a potentially significant announcement to come out of the meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden is facing his own migrant crisis on the southern US border.

Ms Dawson said she "would like to see Canada making a commitment to work with the United States, Central America and Mexico, on managing the flows of refugees and asylum seekers in our region".

Help for Haiti

On that same theme, the leaders will discuss how to stabilise the situation in Haiti, where the economy is in crisis and gang violence and kidnappings have risen sharply.

Haiti's government and UN officials have called for an international force to support Haitian police.

And Mr Biden is expected to ramp up pressure for Canada to take a leadership role in helping restore order to the Caribbean nation.

So far, Mr Trudeau has resisted such calls, saying he remains focused on working closely with Haitians. "Outside intervention, as we've done in the past, hasn't worked to create long-term stability for Haiti," he said last week.

Top military brass have also expressed caution, warning that the Canadian armed forces may already be spread thin because of military assistance to Ukraine.

Electric vehicles, clean energy and trade wars

One of Mr Biden's signature pieces of legislation came close to sparking a trade war with Canada last year.

The friction point was in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a sweeping climate, tax and healthcare package passed by Congress last summer.

It proposed tax credits for electric vehicles that would have favoured US car makers. Canada's automotive industry - significant in its own right - feared the IRA could kneecap its domestic electric vehicle aspirations.

Trouble was averted after aggressive lobbying by Canada, including a direct appeal by the prime minister to the president. A last-minute change expanded those tax incentives to vehicles produced in all of North America.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, a Canadian industry group, said the near-miss was a reminder of the limits of the relationship.

"We need to not freak out when we're not in," he said. "But we also need to not relax and take for granted that, while they're coming up with their industrial policy, or their climate policy, that they're thinking about us."

A push for critical minerals

An electric vehicle boom will have to be fuelled by critical minerals - and Canada has touted itself as major producer of nickel, potash, aluminium, and uranium.

Mr Trudeau's Liberal government has committed C$3.8bn ($2.8bn; £2.3bn) for the strategic development of the sector and domestic supply chains.

[Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with auto assembly workers]

But the Americans will be looking to see if Canada will "put its money where its mouth is" when it comes to critical minerals, said Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council.

It wants Canada to show that it's moving quickly on the permitting of the valuable resources, and speeding up the consultation process.

"Do you say all the right things, but it still takes 20 years to build anything?" Ms Greenwood said.

Strengthening Arctic security

The rise of China and Russia's war in Ukraine will be much discussed during the visit.

Those geopolitical challenges highlight the importance of the long security partnership between the two nations, and Norad (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) in particular.

That partnership was called into action earlier this year to track the Chinese spy balloon, first spotted in Alaska before it traversed across parts of Canada and the US, and was ultimately shot down off the US Atlantic coast.

That incident - and the successful targeting of subsequent airborne objects - was "a good news story" for Norad, showing seamless co-operation between the US and Canada, said Heather Exner-Pirot, a senior fellow with Canada's Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also raised concerns over vulnerabilities in Arctic security.

Mr Biden and Mr Trudeau agree on the importance of bolstering defence and Arctic security but Ms Exner-Pirot said the Americans will likely put "a little bit of pressure" on Canada to do more - and faster - when it comes to modernising its continental defence capabilities.

Candida auris: What is the deadly fungus sweeping through US hospitals?, 4 days ago

The drug-resistant fungus Candida auris (C. auris) was only discovered some 15 years ago but is already one of the world's most feared hospital microbes.

If it gets inside the body, the yeast-type fungus can affect the bloodstream, the nervous system and several internal organs. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that its mortality rate ranges from 30% to 53% of patients affected by an invasive infection.

What is more worrisome is that the fungus has proven to be resistant to the most common types of antifungal drugs. Some strains are resistant to all of the medicines we have, says BBC's health correspondent James Gallagher.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been outbreaks in more than 30 countries. A 2020 review from case reports from those nations found almost 4,750 cases globally between 2009 and 2019.

[Candida reported cases map]

The CDC said new data showed the fungus has "spread at an alarming rate in US healthcare facilities" in 2020 and 2021. Clinical cases in the country trebled - from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021.

Also, a 2019 study by an international team of researchers suggested that rising temperatures linked to climate change may have played a role in the rising number of Candida auris infections.

Here is everything you need to know about this deadly superbug.

What is Candida auris?

Candida auris (C. auris) is a yeast, a family of fungus which contains species pretty helpful to humans in activities such as bread-making and beer-brewing, but which also features species that cause infections in humans.

[A picture of a slice of bread]

One example is the very common Candida albicans, which causes thrush but also may trigger more severe infections.

C. auris was first discovered in the ear canal of a patient at the Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital in 2009, which inspired its name (auris is Latin for ear).

Most of the time, Candida yeasts live on our skin without causing problems, but they can cause infections if we are unwell or they get into the wrong place, like the bloodstream or the lungs.

What sort of illness does it cause?

C. auris most frequently causes bloodstream infections, but it can also affect the respiratory system, the central nervous system and internal organs, as well as the skin.

These infections are usually quite serious.

The fungus is often resistant to the usual drugs, which makes infections difficult to treat.

"The biggest problem with this fungus is its resistance to the drugs we have," said Dr Tina Joshi, associate professor in Molecular Biology at the University of Plymouth, in the UK.

"But another issue is that identifying a C. auris infection is quite difficult and it can easily be mistaken for other fungi, leading to the wrong treatment."

[Pills being held near Petri dishes]

This means that the patient might be ill for longer, or get worse before accessing the appropriate treatment.

How does it spread?

Transmission is mainly through contaminated surfaces in hospitals. It sticks to intravenous lines and blood pressure cuffs. It's really hard to clean off, according to Dr Neil Stone, leading fungal expert at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, University College London.

The solution is often to close off entire wards.

"It is the most worrying fungi and we ignore it at our peril," Dr Stone said.

"It could shut down entire healthcare systems."

In a statement issued on 20 March, the CDC said new data showed that the fungus has "spread at an alarming rate" in the US.

Should I be worried about getting an infection?

It is unlikely that you will pick up a C. auris infection going about your daily life.

However, the risk is higher if you are in a hospital for a long time or if you are in a nursing home, and patients who are in intensive care are much more likely to get a C. auris infection, according to the CDC.

The risk of picking up an infection is also higher if you have been on antibiotics a lot, because the drugs also destroy good bacteria that can stop C. auris getting in.

Why is C. auris resistant to the usual drugs?

Resistance to the common antifungal drugs, like fluconazole, has been seen in the majority of C. auris strains.

This means that these drugs do not work on C. auris. Because of this, less common antifungal drugs have been used to treat infections, but C. auris has now developed resistance to these, too.

DNA evidence shows that the antifungal resistance genes in C. auris are very similar to those found in the very common C. albicans.

This suggests that the resistance genes may have passed from one species to the other.

How can climate change be responsible for the high numbers of infections?

A 2019 study, published by the journal mBio from the American Society for Microbiology, suggested that the reason C. auris infections have become so common may be because this species has been forced to live at higher temperatures because of climate change.

Most fungi prefer the cooler temperatures found in soil. But, as global temperatures have risen, C. auris has been forced to adapt to higher temperatures.

[A hospital room in the US being cleaned with UV lights]

This may have made it easier for the fungus to thrive in the human body, which is warm at 36C to 37C.

What can be done to control the number of infections?

A better understanding of who is most at risk of contracting a C. auris infection is the first step towards reducing the number of infections.

"We are behind the curve in what concerns the study of fungi," Dr Joshi said.

"I am not surprised at all we are now having to catch-up with it."

Healthcare professionals need to know that people who spend long periods of time in hospitals or nursing homes or those who have a weakened immune system are at higher risk.

Not all hospitals identify C. auris in the same way. They are sometimes mistaken for other fungal infections, like thrush, and the wrong treatment is given.

[Candida albicans]

Improving diagnosis will help to identify patients with C. auris earlier, which will mean that the right treatment is given - preventing the spread of infection to other patients.

But above all, infection prevention efforts need to be improved, said Dr Joshi.

"The main measure is infection prevention and control, because we have already seen how difficult it is to tackle what it does to patients."

"Hospitals need to be on top of disinfecting and cleaning."

Is this the only nasty fungus around?

Not quite. In its first-ever list of fungal "priority pathogens", published last October, the WHO named no less than 19 fungi that represent a great threat to public health.

C. auris was one of four fungi to appear in the "critical priority" group, being described by the WHO as "intrinsically resistant to most available antifungal medicines".

This article has been adapted from material produced by Lena Ciric and James Gallagher.

Why Trump supporters are wary of joining protests he called for, 6 days ago

Donald Trump called for protests against his possible imminent criminal indictment, and police in major cities are preparing for unrest.

But the prevailing message from some of his most fervent supporters is: stay home.

It's a contradiction that makes sense after investigating pro-Trump spaces online.

On mainstream social networks, messaging apps and Trump's own Truth Social, rumours are swirling.

There's breathless chatter about double agents and "false flags" - attacks carried out with the intention of blaming opponents for the violence.

Many of the former president's steadfast supporters believe that the Capitol riot on 6 January 2021 was instigated not by Trump fans and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, but instead by federal agents or left-wing "antifa" - anti-fascist activists who hoped to discredit Mr Trump.

They point to the presence, revealed in court documents, of confidential FBI sources in the crowd that day.

But that's very different to saying there was a plot by federal authorities to spark violence. While there's no evidence of that - and voluminous evidence that the more than 1,000 people arrested in connection with the Capitol riot were Trump supporters - fringe news sites have been filled with wild speculation and suggestions about "deep state" plots.

Some of the coverage has even filtered up to more mainstream outlets such as Fox News.

The rumours, and fear of a repeat of the events of January 2021, have dissuaded many of those who would be out on the streets protesting over Mr Trump's possible arrest.

Ali Alexander, a far-right activist who organised protests leading up to the Capitol riot, announced that he wasn't planning to protest and said that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars was also staying home.

[Tweet by Ali Alexander: "Spoke to Alex Jones. He's not protesting either. We've both got enough going on fighting the government. No billionaire is covering our bills."]

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican known for her loyalty to Mr Trump, repeated similar concerns:

[Tweet by Marjorie Taylor Greene: "How many Feds/Fed assets are in place to turn protest against the political arrest of Pres Trump into violence?"]

The same sentiments were rife in pro-Trump Facebook groups, on Telegram channels, on sites like 4chan, and on Truth Social.

"Most of the chatter I've seen about protests is that they're all going to be crawling with feds or set ups by the deep state to pull off false flags and make 'peaceful protestors' look bad," says conspiracy theory expert Mike Rothschild.

Mr Rothschild, author of The Storm is Upon Us, a book on the QAnon conspiracy theory, noted that a protest on Monday held by the New York Young Republican Club drew only a few dozen supporters.

"I think some of this is genuine paranoia over being arrested, and some of it is that there's just fewer people with the fanatical devotion to Trump that drove January 6th," he says.

In contrast with his messages prior to the Capitol riot, Mr Trump has not been specific about a focal point or timing of any potential protest.

But there are indications that talk of violence against Trump's opponents is rising. Advance Democracy, a non-partisan research group, found a spike in mentions of violence trebled on Truth Social after Mr Trump declared on Saturday that he would be arrested and urged his supporters to "PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!"

Law enforcement seem to be taking such threats and the possibility of large protests seriously.

New York police are bolstering security around the courthouse where Mr Trump would be arrested. Police in Los Angeles are preparing for a pro-Trump protest on Tuesday outside a federal building, the LA Times newspaper reports.

In Washington, police say they have no specific information about pro-Trump protests but civil disturbance officers are on standby.

On Saturday, Mr Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Waco. The central Texas city was the site of a raid on a Christian cult in 1993 which resulted in the deaths of 82 cult members and four federal agents, an incident that has long been a rallying cry for anti-government and anti-law enforcement groups.

Fingerprints and a mugshot: What happens if Trump is arrested, 4 days ago

Donald Trump is hunkering down in Florida ahead of his widely anticipated arrest this week on charges stemming from an investigation into a $130,000 (£106,000) payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016.

He would be the first US president to face criminal charges.

Here are some key questions on the issues at play in this case.

What is Trump accused of?

In 2016, adult film star Stormy Daniels contacted media outlets offering to sell her account of what she said was an adulterous affair she had with Donald Trump in 2006.

Mr Trump's team got wind of this, and his lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to Ms Daniels to keep quiet.

This is not illegal. However, when Mr Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen, the record for the payment says it was for legal fees. Prosecutors say this amounts to Mr Trump falsifying business records, which is a misdemeanour - a criminal offence - in New York.

Prosecutors could also potentially allege that this breaks election law, because his attempt to hide his payments to Ms Daniels was motivated by not wanting voters to know he had an affair with her. Covering up a crime by falsifying records would be a felony, which is a more serious charge.

Even advocates for prosecution acknowledge that either way, this is by no means a clear-cut case. There is little precedent for such a prosecution, and past attempts to charge politicians with crossing the line between campaign finance and personal spending have ended in failure.

"It's going to be tough," says Catherine Christian, a former financial prosecutor for the New York City district attorney.

Will he actually be charged?

The decision on whether to file charges rests with New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He set up the grand jury to investigate whether there was enough evidence to pursue a prosecution, and he is the only one who knows if - or when - an indictment will be announced.

Last week, Mr Trump's lawyers said that the former president was offered a chance to appear before the grand jury, which is considered a sign that the investigation is close to finishing.

The lawyers have downplayed suggestions that they or Mr Trump have any advance notice of an impending indictment, saying his comments about it being Tuesday were based on media reports.

However, there are other signs that the grand jury is wrapping up.

Both Michael Cohen and his former legal adviser Robert Costello - who attempted to discredit Cohen's testimony - have given evidence in recent days. And it's not known if the grand jury will hear from any other witnesses.

After Wednesday's scheduled hearing was unexpectedly cancelled, the waiting game for a decision goes on.

What happens if Trump is indicted?

If Mr Bragg decides to move ahead with charges, he will first inform Mr Trump and his lawyers, setting off negotiations over how and when the former president will appear in New York City for his formal arrest and first hearing in court.

The announcement of an indictment may come from the district attorney's office or from the Trump team, which has been quick to talk to the press as the story has unfolded.

The document presenting the official charges against Mr Trump will not be made public until a judge reads out the charges against him.

Given the historic nature of such a move, and the security concerns involved, the details of Mr Trump's New York appearance are somewhat uncertain.

Mr Trump's lawyers have indicated that he will co-operate with New York authorities, so there would be no warrant put out for his arrest.

Mr Trump has his own personal jet, so he could fly into one of several New York area airports and then make the journey to the lower Manhattan courthouse by car.

If Trump is arrested, will his fingerprints be taken?

As part of those negotiations with prosecutors, the court may also agree to grant him a private entrance to the court, instead of the more typical "perp walk" in front of the assembled media.

Once inside, however, Mr Trump will be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken like all defendants in criminal cases. He will also be read his "Miranda" rights, reminding him of his constitutionally-protected right to a lawyer and to decline to talk to police.

Defendants charged with a felony are typically handcuffed temporarily, although Mr Trump's lawyers will try to avoid that for their client. Throughout the booking process, he will be accompanied by Secret Service agents.

Mr Trump would then wait in a holding area or cell until his appearance before a judge. The arraignment - the moment where a defendant enters their plea before a judge - is open to the public.

Once the case is booked and a judge is selected, other details will fall into place, such as the timing of the trial and possible travel restrictions and bail requirements for the defendant.

A conviction on a misdemeanour would result in a fine. If Mr Trump were convicted on the felony charge, he would face a maximum sentence of four years in prison, although some legal experts predict a fine is more probable, and that any time behind bars is highly unlikely.

Can he still run for president?

An indictment or even a criminal conviction would not prevent Mr Trump from continuing his presidential campaign if he so chooses - and he has given every indication that he will keep pushing ahead regardless of what happens.

In fact, there is nothing in US law that prevents a candidate who is found guilty of a crime from campaigning for, and serving as, president - even from prison.

Mr Trump's arrest would certainly complicate his presidential campaign, however.

While it might cause some Republican voters to rally around their embattled champion, it could be a significant distraction for a candidate on the campaign trail, trying to stump for votes and participate in debates.

It would also deepen and enflame already sharp divides within the American political system.

Conservatives believe the former president is being held to a different standard of justice, while liberals view this as an issue of holding law-breakers - even those in the highest positions of power - accountable.

Firms hit back at Bank governor in prices row, 2 days ago

Business leaders have hit back after the Bank of England governor said they should think twice before raising prices to cope with inflation.

Andrew Bailey said increased prices could drive up the cost of living even further and hurt the poorest most.

But the boss of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, said bank managers were "breathing down the neck" of business owners.

UK Hospitality said Mr Bailey ignored the "stark situation" faced by many.

"If all prices try to beat inflation we will get higher inflation," the bank governor told the BBC's Today programme.

Speaking a day after the Bank raised interest rates to their highest level for 14 years, Mr Bailey said higher inflation "hurts people" and he warned rates would go up again if prices continued to rise.

"I would say to people who are setting prices - please understand, if we get inflation embedded, interest rates will have to go up further and higher inflation really benefits nobody," he added.

'An unnerving experience'

But Mr Martin said while businesses may "want to follow his advice, many won't be able to" and warned there could be price rises at the pub chain.

"If cash costs for energy, labour and supplies rise and prices don't go up, bank managers around the country will be breathing down the neck of business owners - which is an unnerving experience," he said.

The Wetherspoons chairman said he was looking forward to a time when "ferocious" inflationary pressures eased across the industry.

The low-cost food and drink chain, which has a network of 843 pubs across the UK and Ireland, reported a 5% rise in sales over the six months to 29 January compared with the same period in 2019.

Its figures mirror those from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which showed retail sales had grown to 6.3%, their highest level since March 2022.

However, it said rising inflation meant sales volumes remained firmly in the red.

The BRC said despite the ongoing cost of living squeeze, customers were still ready to spend on what they needed, with higher sales in clothing and cosmetics.

"There remain challenges to consumer spending in the coming months with the end of the Energy Bill Support Scheme in April and the increasing cost of borrowing.

"It is essential that government avoids any additional regulatory burdens on business that would risk pushing prices up, adding to the squeeze on consumer wallets," it said.

'Minor miracle'

Trade body UK Hospitality's chief executive Kate Nicholls said it was a "minor miracle" so many businesses had held off raising prices for as long as they had.

"To suggest the sector should stomach these staggering cost increases ignores the real and stark situation facing venues across the country," she said.

A government spokesperson said it had provided an "unprecedented" energy support package for firms, "and further support from April onwards".

[Cost of living: Tackling it together]

How can I save money on my food shop?

* Look at your cupboards so you know what you have already

* Head to the reduced section first to see if it has anything you need

* Buy things close to their sell-by-date which will be cheaper and use your freezer

Read more tips here


[Table showing how much the cost of certain foods has increased in 12 months since February 2022, with cheddar cheese up 49%, milk up 43%, sugar up 31%, eggs up 29% and white bread up 21%]

Deutsche Bank share slide reignites worries among investors, 2 days ago

Sharp declines in banking shares in Europe have renewed concerns the panic triggered by the collapse of two US banks and rushed takeover of Swiss giant Credit Suisse may not be easily contained.

Shares in Germany's Deutsche Bank fell by 14% at one point on Friday, with other lenders also seeing big losses.

London's FTSE 100 ended the day down 1.3%, while stock markets in Germany and France dropped even more sharply.

But US fears did not materialise.

After falling early in the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.4% and the S&P 500 rose almost 0.6%, while the Nasdaq ended 0.3% higher.

The rise came despite declines in shares of big banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

In Europe, the banks hit by a sell-off from worried investors included Germany's Commerzbank, which saw shares fall about 5%. France's Societe Generale ended down about 6% while in the UK, Standard Chartered was the biggest faller, down more than 6%.

Deutsche recovered from its steepest losses but still closed more than 8% lower.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, told the BBC the drop in Deutsche Bank's share price, and a sharp jump in the cost of insuring against a possible default by the bank, was "indicative of a wider loss of confidence in the banking sector".

"There's a gathering fear that central banks may have overdone it with interest rate increases, having left them too low for too long," he said.

Central banks slashed interest rates during the 2008 global financial crisis and again when the pandemic hit in 2020 as part of efforts to encourage economic growth.

But over the past year or so authorities have been raising rates sharply to try to tame soaring price increases.

These rate rises have hit the value of investments that banks keep some of their money in, and contributed to the bank failures in the US.

Share prices have fallen across the sector, as high-profile investors warn the collapses are symptoms of deeper problems in the system, with other pockets of distress yet to emerge.

Higher interest rates have also raised the possibility of recession, Mr Mould said, and if that happens, "banks will generally find it pretty hard going".

[A worker (C) tells people that the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) headquarters is closed on March 10, 2023 in Santa Clara, California.]

Central banks and governments have been trying to calm market worries.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended Deutsche Bank at a news conference on Friday, noting that it had "thoroughly reorganised and modernised its business model" and was "very profitable".

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey also told the BBC that the UK banking system was "safe and sound".

But mixed messages from US authorities as to whether they were prepared to guarantee all bank deposits have led to confusion and hopes that calm had been restored to the sector appear to be have been premature.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen convened an unexpected Friday meeting with regulators on financial stability, while use of an emergency lending programme for banks that the US central bank created this month has increased over the past week, the Federal Reserve reported.

Bloomberg News also reported that UBS and Credit Suisse were being investigated by the US Department of Justice into whether they had helped Russian oligarchs avoid sanctions.

Meanwhile, the financial turmoil sparked by the failures has raised uncertainty about how much higher interest rates might go.

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said this week the bank may not lift borrowing costs much more, if the banking panic continues to weigh on lending and slows economic growth.

But on Friday St. Louis Fed president James Bullard, who is not currently on the rate-setting committee, said he thought the panic would subside, leading to higher rates than the roughly 5% currently expected.

Joachim Nagel, president of Germany's Bundesbank, said still rampant inflation meant central banks should continue to raise rates.

He declined to comment on Deutsche Bank, but said market turmoil was to be expected after the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in the US and the UBS takeover of Credit Suisse.

"In the weeks after such interesting events, it is often a bumpy road," he said.

Bank governor warns firms raising prices ‘hurts people’, 3 days ago

Raising prices could drive up the cost of living even further and would hurt the least well-off most, the Bank of England governor has warned firms.

"If all prices try to beat inflation we will get higher inflation," Andrew Bailey told the BBC's Today programme.

He said higher inflation "hurts people" and warned the Bank would raise rates again if prices continued to increase.

Mr Bailey was speaking a day after the Bank raised interest rates to their highest level for 14 years

The move came after prices jumped unexpectedly last month.

"I would say to people who are setting prices - please understand, if we get inflation embedded, interest rates will have to go up further and higher inflation really benefits nobody," he added.

Soaring inflation in the UK and around the world has been squeezing households' finances as energy and food prices rise.

Cost of living pressures hit the least well-off hardest, because they spend a bigger part of their income on food and fuel.

The Bank has been steadily increasing interest rates as it seeks to make borrowing money more expensive and encourage people to spend less, with the aim of stopping prices rising so quickly.

But higher interest rates also hit some people with existing loans such as mortgages.

Mr Bailey said firms should bear in mind that the rate of inflation is likely to drop sharply this year.

He said he had not yet seen evidence of companies putting up prices more than necessary, and said that he understood they needed to "reflect the costs they face".

'Restaurants already taking a hit'

Reacting to Mr Bailey's warning, Martin Williams, chief executive of Rare Restaurants, which includes the chains Gaucho and M, said that businesses had already been restrained in raising prices.

"If restaurants had reflected the increased 'costs they face' in the past year as Mr Bailey suggests, a simple side salad would be priced at £20," Mr Williams said, adding that beer would be £20 per pint, and a small steak would be £100.

He said restaurant owners had "responsibly tried to balance keeping pricing low, and keeping their businesses viable" while facing surging wage, food and energy bill costs.

Energy bills support for businesses will become less generous from April, with trade group UK Hospitality saying in January it would lead to an 82% rise in bills for firms such as pubs, restaurants and hotels.

"That's going to hit entrepreneurs, start-up businesses incredibly hard," said Mr Williams. "The impact will be the closure of restaurants."

UK Hospitality's chief executive Kate Nicholls said no business wanted to raise its prices for fear of losing sales. "It is a minor miracle that many have held off increases for as long as they have," she said.

To suggest the sector "stomach these staggering cost increases ignores the real and stark situation" facing many businesses across the UK, she added.

"The reality is that without adequate government support, doing as the governor asks will just mean business failure and job losses."

A government spokesperson said it had provided an "unprecedented" energy support package for firms, "and further support from April onwards".

Profiteering claim

Mr Bailey's comments came after Tesco chairman John Allan said in January that food firms may be using inflation as an excuse to hike prices further than necessary.

Last year, Mr Bailey called on workers to not ask for big pay rises, sparking a backlash from unions.

The rate at which prices are rising remains close to its highest level for 40 years, hitting 10.4% in the year to February - more than five times the Bank of England's target.

Higher food prices are one of the main drivers fuelling overall inflation, with the cost of everyday basics such as eggs, cheese and milk rising sharply.

UK banks 'safe'

Mr Bailey also said he believed the UK banking system was "safe and sound" following the recent collapse of two US banks and the rescue of Swiss lender Credit Suisse.

"We have banks that people can rely on, and that's critical," he said. "I had to deal with a lot of problems in the global financial crisis when we were not really in that situation all of the time, let's be honest."

He also said that the risk of recession for the UK "has gone down quite a lot", adding that the prospects for economic growth are "now considerably better".

[Cost of living: Tackling it together]

How can I save money on my food shop?

* Look at your cupboards so you know what you have already

* Head to the reduced section first to see if it has anything you need

* Buy things close to their sell-by-date which will be cheaper and use your freezer

Read more tips here


[Table showing how much the cost of certain foods has increased in 12 months since February 2022, with cheddar cheese up 49%, milk up 43%, sugar up 31%, eggs up 29% and white bread up 21%]

Castlederg hardware and drapery shop closes after 121 years, today

A County Tyrone hardware and drapery shop has closed its doors after more than 100 years in business.

The Kyle family, from Fivemiletown, opened WJ Kyle in Castlederg in 1902.

Despite huge advancements in technology over the years, not much ever changed in the shop.

There was never a till or a card machine the same gas lamps were used from the 1970s.

"There just isn't another shop like this," said Karen Jack.

Her mother, Margaret Jack, nee Kyle, ran the shop for years.

[WJ Kyle shop in Castlederg]

Karen and her brother Brian worked there until its closure on Friday.

"There's an awful lot of history in it going back - my mum spent her whole life here," said Karen.

"I can remember my grandfather; he always sat in the office in the drapery and did the books.

"It was a much bigger business at that point in time. There would have been two staff that worked in the hardware and two in the drapery.

"It was always a store that was frequented and used by everyone in the community."

[Brian Jack in W.J. Kyle shop]

Brian says the shop was very much like a "throwback to the old days" and added it has "always been very traditional".

Karen added: "My mum was of that generation that didn't see the need to move with the times or change anything."

While many things in the shop did not change much, it did see a fair amount of change.

Brian said bombs blew the windows in the shop out 16 times during the Troubles.

"I remember being at the back (of the shop) and there were so many bombs I knew the sequence," he said.

"You had the fire siren, the police would call and I saw the policeman coming in and I knew something was happening.

"We hadn't time to get out so we had to sit it in the back of the shop on what used to be bales of grass seed and the thing went off.

"I remember the shockwave coming through. I remember hearing everything breaking because there used to be rows of tea sets on the windows and every bomb, the windows blew in and all the china on the windows shattered."

[Hazel Burke and her sister Iris Baxter in Kyle's]

For sisters Hazel Burke and Iris Baxter, coming to the shop has been something they have done since they were children.

"We've always come to Kyle's for everything you wanted - you can't get it anywhere else, you get it in Kyle's," said Hazel.

"The shop has never changed from when I was small, its still the same, same decor, everything."

[Mick Harkin]

Mick Harkin's wife Ann worked in the shop for 44 years, until it closed.

"I'm very sad that its closing, I would have bought a lot of fishing stuff here in my younger days," he said, adding that it was going to be impossible to get what he needed now without going out of town.

[Jean Bogle]

Jean Bogle said the closure of the shop was "the end of an era".

"I have always come in and been able to get things that I needed," she said.

"It will be harder because there is nowhere else in Castlederg like it."

[Ann Harkin and Karen Jack]

Former councillor James Emery has co-written three books on Castlederg and its history.

He said Kyle's was one of the oldest businesses in Castlederg and was an important part of the town.

He added the Kyle family were also auctioneers that sold houses and land.

In 1937, the shop was destroyed in a fire on Christmas Day which was called "one of the worst fires experienced in County Tyrone" by the Strabane Weekly newspaper.

It had to be rebuilt in 1938.

"I was always fascinated by the counter which is still there from 1938 which you wouldn't find in the modern day shop - it's all changed," he added.

"Someone once said: 'If Kyle's doesn't have it, you don't need it'.

"It's a big loss, people will have to travel either to Strabane or Omagh."

Do Kwon: Fugitive 'cryptocrash' boss arrested in Montenegro, 3 days ago

South Korea police say that Do Kwon, the fugitive cryptocurrency boss behind the $40bn (£32.5bn) collapse of the terraUSD and Luna tokens, has been arrested in Montenegro.

He has since been charged with fraud by prosecutors in the US.

Earlier this year US regulators accused Mr Kwon and his company Terraform Labs of "orchestrating a multi-billion dollar crypto asset securities fraud".

The firm did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment.

South Korea authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr Kwon last September as they believed Terraform Labs had violated capital market rules.

They had thought he was in Serbia, and even sent officials to Belgrade to negotiate, since the two nations do not have an extradition treaty.

Mr Kwon has previously denied he was in hiding but never revealed his location.

News of his arrest was first shared by Montenegro's interior minister Filip Adzic, who said on Twitter that "one of the world's most wanted fugitives" had been detained at Podgorica's airport.

Mr Adzic added that the suspect was allegedly travelling under a false name with fake documents. Authorities were waiting for official confirmation of the man's identity, he said.

On Friday, South Korea police confirmed that the suspect in Montenegro was Mr Kwon, after his fingerprints matched official records.

Mr Kwon has separately been charged with fraud by US prosecutors.

He faces charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, commodities fraud and conspiracy, according to an indictment made public at the US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday. A lawyer for Mr Kwon did not immediately respond to BBC requests for comment.

Montenegro does not have extradition treaties with the US or South Korea.

In February, US financial regulators said Mr Kwon and Singapore-based Terraform Labs "failed to provide the public with full, fair, and truthful disclosure as required for a host of crypto asset securities, most notably for Luna and TerraUSD."

They allegedly repeatedly claimed that the tokens would increase in value, and misled investors about the stability of TerraUSD.

However, the value of the token and its linked Luna cryptocurrency plunged to close to zero last May.

It triggered a sell-off in major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether. As a result the term cryptocrash trended online.

"I am heartbroken about the pain my invention has brought on all of you," Mr Kwon said at the time.

Globally, investors in TerraUSD and Luna lost an estimated $42bn, according to blockchain analytics firm Elliptic.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's Congress showdown: Five takeaways, 3 days ago

Bruising, damaging, relentless. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced four-and-a-half hours of questioning at a US congressional hearing on Thursday.

As one congressman pointed out, some people run marathons quicker than that.

Mr Chew will certainly be feeling it, after a torrid time giving evidence. Many tech execs have stood before Congress, and they often don't get an easy ride.

But what was exceptional about this hearing was the stubborn, never-ending line of vicious questioning.

From both Democrats and Republicans, there was no let-up. A spokesperson for TikTok said afterwards the politicians were "grandstanding". There is most certainly some truth to that. But between the sometimes frustratingly verbose questioning, we did learn a thing or two.

1. Legislators were united against TikTok

There was criticism of TikTok from Republicans and Democrats, and the level of distrust and scepticism from all sides was stark.

"Welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress," said Republican congressman Buddy Carter.

"Thank you, Mr Chew, for bringing Republicans and Democrats together," said Dan Crenshaw, a Republican.

It was really quite something to see so many politicians - who agree on practically nothing - agreeing wholeheartedly that TikTok was a security threat.

TikTok complained afterwards that not enough time had been spent focusing on the platform's measures to keep data safe.

"Also not mentioned today by members of the committee: the livelihoods of the five million businesses on TikTok or the [US Constitution] First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans," a TikTok spokesperson said.

2. ByteDance engineers in China have access to some US data

Mr Chew kept talking about a "Project Texas", a proposal which will see it store all data in the US under the watch of American firm Oracle.

However, Project Texas is not fully operational. As of now, Mr Chew confirmed that engineers at ByteDance - TikTok's parent company - do have access to data.

"We rely on global interoperability, Chinese engineers have access to data," he said.

It was an admission that politicians kept coming back to. Their point was that if data can be accessed by engineers in China, it's hard to see how the Chinese government couldn't also access it.

On Friday, China's foreign ministry repeated its claim that it does not ask companies to provide data or intelligence located in other countries.

3. Chew has shares in ByteDance

Perhaps Mr Chew's least successful defence was his attempt to distance TikTok from ByteDance.

By any definition, the Chinese company owns TikTok. Mr Chew himself used to be ByteDance's chief financial officer.

When initially asked, Mr Chew didn't want to say whether he owned shares in ByteDance. Pressed by lawmakers, he eventually said he did, but tried to downplay the connection.

China's government says it would oppose any US plan to force ByteDance to sell TikTok - something authorities are reportedly considering.

4. Chew's children do not use TikTok

At one point in the hearing, Mr Chew was asked by congresswoman Nanette Barragán, a Democrat, whether or not his own children used TikTok.

He said they didn't because they live in Singapore. In that country the version of the app for children younger than 13 is not available.

Mr Chew did clarify that the children's version of the app is available in the US, and he would let his children use it if they were in America.

5. What about Cambridge Analytica?

Mr Chew generally pulled his punches. He didn't often take the fight back to members of Congress. But there were rare moments where he did push back - and effectively.

When quizzed on TikTok's use of user data, he said: "With all due respect, American companies don't have a great track record with data … Just look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica."

It was a barbed comment, but a reasonable point to make.

Harvesting of Facebook users' personal information by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy, and other third-party apps caused uproar when it emerged in 2018.

LISTEN: Americast asks if TikTok could be banned in the US

Interest rate rise: Bank of England more hopeful on UK economy, 4 days ago

The head of the Bank of England has said he is "much more hopeful" for the UK economy, as interest rates were raised to their highest for 14 years.

The decision to lift rates to 4.25% from 4% came after the inflation rate rose unexpectedly last month.

It also follows the collapse of two US banks and the rescue of Swiss lender Credit Suisse, but the Bank said the UK financial system was "resilient".

The Bank also said the UK was no longer heading into an immediate recession.

"We were really a bit on a knife edge as to whether there would be a recession... but I'm a bit more optimistic now," said Bank governor Andrew Bailey.

However, Mr Bailey warned the UK was "not off to the races", with the economy expected to grow only slightly in the coming months.

Interest rates have been rising steadily in an attempt to tackle rising prices.

Inflation, which is the pace at which prices rise, remains close to its highest level for 40 years at 10.4% in the year to February - more than five times the Bank's target.

The jump in rates means that mortgage costs for some homeowners will rise and some savers could get better returns.

People on typical tracker mortgage deals will pay about £24 more a month following the latest increase and those on standard variable rate mortgages face a £15 jump.

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The Bank voted to raise rates after the unexpected rise in inflation last month, but said it still expected the cost of living "to fall sharply over the rest of the year".

It said this was largely due to the government extending energy bill help in the Budget to maintain typical household bills at £2,500 a year, as well as falls to wholesale gas prices.

However, Mr Bailey refused to say whether he thought UK interest rates had reached a peak.

Is this the last interest rate rise for now?

[Analysis box by Faisal Islam, economics editor]

Today's interest rate rise could be the last. The pace of rises is slowing and inflation is now predicted to fall faster than expected, in part as a result of the government's help for energy bills.

The Bank repeated language that further rises would be required "if there were evidence" of more inflationary pressures. The Bank's discussions suggested that some of that pressure, for example from wage growth, was declining even after Wednesday's shock inflation number. The next meeting in May is now a key point, where new quarterly forecasts for the economy and inflation could underpin a pause in rate rises.

While the British economy is better than feared, with no immediate recession expected, there are concerns about the impact of global financial fragility. The UK remains resilient. But that is another cloud weighing over the Bank's decisions, with some memories of the quickly-reversed rises made by the Bank even after the credit crunch started in 2007.

However, absent that new cloud there is some good news about the UK economy here. The consumer seems to be more resilient to what was an extraordinary energy shock. Unemployment is not now expected to rise. The economy may still be flat, but given the size of the energy shock, it could have been much worse.

The high price of energy has been the main driver behind the rise in the cost of living over the past year, with gas and oil prices surging in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Other factors such as worker shortages and food costs have also fuelled price rises.

The nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee agreed on a to raise rates by a majority of seven to two, with the Bank saying "cost and price pressures have remained elevated".

The Bank noted in its report that there had been "large and volatile moves in global financial markets" since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank in the US and the rescue deal for Credit Suisse, but Mr Bailey said he did not think the turmoil was likely to result in a re-run of the 2008 financial crisis.

In response to the rise in rates, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the government supported the decision.

"With rising prices strangling growth and eroding family budgets, the sooner we grip inflation the better for everyone," he said.

But shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said higher interest rates would cause concern for families.

"The government thinks the cost of living crisis is over, but the reality is that too many families are dealing with a Tory mortgage penalty and battling with soaring food prices," she said.

[Neil Sutton]

Neil Sutton's monthly mortgage payments were £255 before they started going up in January 2022, but they will rise to £1465 from next month.

"There's not a lot that you can do other than to try and work that much harder to find the extra £150 odd a month. I don't really have an awful lot of choice," he said.

"You know, you just despair, quietly, inwardly, but you know, I can't let that show."

Mr Sutton's 20-year mortgage comes to an end next March and he does not think he will be able to afford to remortgage.

"I guess the bottom line is that we're going to have to move," he added.

[Cost of living: Tackling it together]

What happens if I miss a mortgage payment?

* A shortfall equivalent to two or more months' repayments means you are officially in arrears

* You must contact your lender as soon as you realise you are going to struggle to make repayments - the earlier the better

* Your lender must make reasonable attempts to reach an agreement with you


Jack Dorsey business target of Hindenburg report, 3 days ago

Tech billionaire Jack Dorsey is facing scrutiny, after a report accuses the payments company he leads of inflating user numbers and catering to criminals.

The firm, Block, rejected the claims, which sent its shares tumbling 15%.

The report came from short-seller Hindenburg Research, which is known for taking on high-profile targets such as Indian tycoon Gautam Adani.

The company makes money by betting shares will fall and is poised to benefit from the slide.

Block, which former Twitter boss Mr Dorsey co-founded in 2009 and leads as chief executive, said it was exploring legal action against Hindenburg for the "factually inaccurate and misleading report".

"We are a highly regulated public company with regular disclosures, and are confident in our products, reporting, compliance programs, and controls. We will not be distracted by typical short seller tactics."

Formerly known as Square, Block made its name with a sleek, small white credit card reader that became popular among vendors at farmer's markets, and other small businesses, allowing the firm to fetch a nearly $3bn (£2.4bn) valuation when it listed on the stock exchange in 2015.

Now worth more than $30bn (£24.4bn), it was renamed Block in 2021, to reflect another, fast growing side of its business: Cash App, a payments app that was the focus of Hindenburg's report.

Hindenburg alleged Block provided misleading statistics on its users which it claimed had been linked to criminal activity such as sex trafficking.

While conducting its research, Hindenburg claimed it had easily created obviously fake Cash App accounts in the names of Donald Trump and Elon Musk and made public records requests, which allegedly showed that Cash App was used to facilitate millions in fraudulent pandemic relief payments from the government.

It said that reflected "key lapses" in compliance processes.

"Former employees described how Cash App suppressed internal concerns and ignored user pleas for help as criminal activity and fraud ran rampant on its platform," Hindenburg said. "This appeared to be an effort to grow Cash App's user base by strategically disregarding Anti Money Laundering (AML) rules."

Shares in Block had already been hit by worries of a slowdown in economic activity and consumer spending. Cash App also has ties to the world of crypto currencies, which have seen their values tumble.

Mr Dorsey, who had split his time between Twitter and Square, stepped down as chief executive of the social media company in 2021. Twitter was later sold to billionaire Elon Musk for $44bn (£35.8bn).


Crewless container ships appear on the horizon, 3 days ago

Cruising quietly through the Frier Fjord in southern Norway, the Yara Birkeland looks like an ordinary small ship.

However, by the end of the year, the number of crew on board will be reduced from five to two and then, if all goes well, in two more years the vessel's bridge will be removed and there won't be any crew on board at all.

Until then, Captain Svend Ødegård is at the helm of the 80m-long ship. "We are taking big steps towards autonomy," he tells the BBC. "There's a lot of installed technology there, that is not on existing ships."

Eventually the Yara Birkeland will navigate aided by sensors, including radar and cameras, which will feed data to an artificial intelligence, which will detect and classify waterborne obstacles.

"We have situational awareness - cameras on the side, front and stern of the ship," the captain explains. "It can decide whether to change its path because something is in the way."

The captain's job will move onto dry-land, to a remote operation centre more than 80km (50 miles) away, where several ships could potentially be monitored at the same time. If necessary, humans will be able to intervene by sending commands to alter the speed and course.

[The container ship Yara Birkeland]

Owned by fertiliser giant Yara, the Yara Birkeland has been sailing twice weekly for last several months from the firm's enormous plant near Porsgrunn to the port of Brevik, carrying up to 100 containers and collecting data along the 13km (8 miles) route.

"Vessels which operate along short, regular and fixed routes offer good opportunities to introduce autonomous ship technologies," says Sinikka Hartonen, Secretary General of One Sea Association, an alliance of maritime companies and experts working in autonomy.

The project's technology provider, Kongsberg is working on another two battery-powered autonomous barges in the Oslo Fjord, with Norwegian grocery wholesaler Asko, and a fourth, small container ship, near Ålesund.

"Some of the technology has already been around for many years. So it's really putting it together," says An-Magritt Ryste, director for next generation shipping at Kongsberg Maritime.

According to Ms Ryste, there's also interest in using autonomous navigation in fishing, passenger ferries and military vessels.

[An-Magritt Ryste, director for next generation shipping at Kongsberg Maritime]

Kongsberg already makes autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which largely carry out seabed mapping tasks for customers in offshore energy, ocean research and defence.

Recently, the firm delivered an 8m, unmanned surface vessel (USV) that detects fish stocks, using acoustic sonars and navigating by AI, cameras, radar, and GPS.

"They're also supervised by humans, who can intervene. But they are fully autonomous," says Bjørn Jalving, Kongsberg's Senior Vice President of Technology.

Kongsberg has been scaling up the technology for larger vessels. "Eventually I think limitations will not be technical, it's a matter of making it safe and secure in compliance with regulations, and good business for the operators," says Mr Jalving.

Of course one of the big attractions for shipping firms, is the costs saved by not having a crew aboard. One team could potentially monitor several ships, says Mr Jalving. Plus it's safer for a crew to be on land, rather than at sea.

Other companies are also working on autonomous shipping projects.

Last year in Japan, a 222m car ferry self-navigated and docked using technology by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company.

Meanwhile, a commercial ship completed a month-long voyage from Texas to South Korea, navigating autonomously for about half of the 20,000km route.

The ship's optimal route choice saved fuel and emissions, according to the ship's technology provider, Avikus, part of the ship building firm HD Hyundai.

More technology of business:

"You can use autonomy to limit tasks that are dangerous or boring," says Marius Tannum, an Associate Professor of Applied Autonomy at the University of South-Eastern Norway.

"The Yara Birkeland project and the Asko barge project are pushing the technology out into the real world, and not just in research labs, like we have been doing for many years."

When it comes to safety, crewless vessels need to perform as well, if not better than captained ships says Prof Tannum, who believes there will always needs to be a backstop - someone monitoring who could intervene if necessary.

"Since this is very new technology and not tested in real life that much, we need this transitional period with crew on board," Prof Tannum says. "Then gradually, we can trust the autonomy to do more."

Autonomy opens up possibilities for new designs though, he adds. "Without crew you can have more capacity for goods, because you don't need the living quarters, galley, heating, air conditioning and other systems," Prof Tannum adds.

There's scepticism whether large unmanned ships could be crossing oceans any time soon, though. "First the legal challenges must be resolved. And then the ships needs robust energy and propulsion systems that require very little maintenance," points out Prof Tannum.

[Remote operation centre]

One of the biggest hurdle is regulation and new rules will have to be drawn up.

"Current legislation has been developed based on the presumption that the equipment onboard a ship is fully manually controlled," says Sinikka Hartonen, adding that the International Maritime Organization is now working towards a framework.

"The regulation is totally new territory for the marine authorities and politicians in Norway. What they do will have consequences internationally," says Yara project manager Jon Sletten.

Whatever happens, progress in autonomous shipping is likely to move more quickly than autonomous cars and trucks, according to Prof Tannum.

"Autonomous cars move in high-speed close to both dynamic and static obstacles, road conditions vary and the complexity that cars in regular traffic faces is more challenging than ships.

"Unmanned autonomous ships with a fixed route and a remote operation center (ROC) will be operating with less risk than unmanned autonomous trucks driving in regular traffic," he says.

US firms 'more negative' about doing business in China, 4 days ago

US companies are "more negative than they've been in a long time" about doing business in China, according to the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China).

As tensions continue to grow between the world's two biggest economies, Michael Hart says that the rivalry has "made business very challenging".

The governments of President Xi and President Biden have been disagreeing on what seems like an ever-increasing number of issues; ranging from Ukraine, to coronavirus, and Taiwan, to Tiktok, and semiconductors.

That is reflected in AmCham China's latest annual survey of its more than 900 members. For the first time it shows that a majority, 55%, no longer regard China as a top-three investment priority - a place where they should spend money to grow their business.

The number who see the "uncertainty of bilateral relations" as their leading challenge in China has risen 10% in the last year to 66%. At the same time, the number who think China has become less welcoming to foreign companies has grown to 49%.

[Michael Hart]

It's now five years since then US President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on $60bn (£49bn) of Chinese goods, as he stepped up his trade war over "unfair trade practices" including intellectual property theft and the trade deficit.

China followed through on its promise to retaliate with tariffs of its own.

Relations built on trade

AmCham China members include some of the US's most successful companies such as Nike, Intel, Pfizer and Coca-Cola.

The latter was the first US consumer business to sell its products in communist China after then President Deng Xiaoping opened the country up to foreign companies in December 1978. Ever since then trade has been at the heart of the relationship.

[Coca-Cola being loaded onto a train in Hong Kong in 1979]

Corporate pessimism over the current state of the US-China relationship reflects a tumultuous few years, according to Mr Hart.

"Companies are just really tired after three years of Covid," he adds, also highlighting a number of other issues. These include travel becoming more difficult, rising labour costs, executives who are "just not willing" to take up assignments in China, political pressure, and China becoming a less predictable place in which to do business.

Despite all those difficulties, the numbers show trade between the two countries hit a record high of $690.6bn last year.

This reflection of their mutual dependence has implications for the health of the entire global economy. That is according to Eswar Prasad, who is a professor of global trade policy at Cornell University, and former head of the International Monetary Fund's China Division.

[Prof Eswar Prasad]

"The reality is that China does need a lot of products, especially technology products from the US, and the US does have a lot of companies that run their supply chains through China," he says.

"This is important for the global economy because it's not just supply chains that these two countries are critical for. The tenor for global trade is set by the relationship between these two countries."

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is supposed to keep that tenor harmonious by upholding global trade rules.

However, in December, the Biden administration forcefully rejected two rulings that went in China's favour about the tariffs that were imposed by then US President Donald Trump as part of his trade war. The US said they were imposed over issues of national security that the WTO had no right to rule on.

Overall, 66.4% of US imports from China and 58.3% of Chinese imports from the US remain subject to tariffs, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, with little sign that either side will reduce them.

Global Trade

More from the BBC's series taking an international perspective on trade.

"The way the US is approaching its relationship with China could lead to a deterioration of the rules-based global trading system that the US and China have signed on to," says Prof Prasad.

He adds: "If the US starts withdrawing from engagement with multilateral institutions that does not bode well for global governance."

Supply chain difficulties

The souring US-China relationship also means a growing number of US companies are looking at moving their supply chains outside of China. Apple has become one of the world's most profitable companies by making huge numbers of iPhones in China, but is now increasingly making them in countries such as India.

However, that will only have a limited impact on getting round US-China tensions according to Dan Wang, who is the Shanghai-based chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China.

"Even if the US succeeds in building up an alternative supply chain, that alternative one will still largely depend on China," she says.

[Dan Wang of Hang Seng Bank china]

Those other countries will still rely on China for components, especially in industries such as green energy, medical technology and electronics, explains Ms Wang.

Whilst companies aren't shunning China all together, Mr Hart does say that "they're trying to de-risk their supply chain". He adds: "So they're having more of a China plus one strategy, and they realise that can no longer rely on China."

China's economic growth has slowed to an annualised pace of 3% as coronavirus restrictions curtailed business activity. At the recent National People's Congress, the newly appointed Premier Li Qiang said that, now those measures had been lifted, the target was 5% growth, although it would "not be easy" to meet.

Ms Wang says: "Beijing still wants US companies to invest in China, and that attitude I do not believe will change anytime soon."

Mr Hart adds that the giant Chinese consumer market is probably the place where US firms remain "the most optimistic". Firms such as McDonald's, Starbucks and Ralph Lauren all have major Chinese expansion plans in the pipeline.

National security concerns

However, all this comes against a backdrop of national security concerns between the two nations, centred on technology.

These have led to a growing number of measures by the Biden administration to try to stop China accessing US technology. These include trying to limit new investments in China by US semiconductor manufacturers.

Both countries have been trying to increase government support for technologies they regard as critical to the future of the global economy.

In his State of the Union speech last month President Biden said: "I've made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict."

"I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America stronger. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, that China intends to be dominating."

However that approach has not gone down well in Beijing, where President Xi said recently that "Western countries - led by the US - have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country's development".

It is a rivalry which is increasingly affecting individual companies and spreading around the world.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has been restricted in many countries because of US pressure, with Germany the latest to consider taking action. Meanwhile, social media firm Tiktok has been threatened with a complete ban in the US, whilst also facing restrictions in the UK.

All these tensions between the US and China mean "the temperature is certainly very high", according to Prof Prasad and that could come at a cost that is felt well beyond the US and China.

"Rising hostilities between the world's two largest economies, which together account for roughly 40% of world GDP, are likely to create more volatility and uncertainty, which is the last thing an already fragile world economy now needs," he says.

‘I left teaching to train as a heat pump engineer’, 6 days ago

He used to love teaching kids football and PE. But increasing amounts of desk work, and then Covid-19 lockdown, took the fun out of it.

So Adam Weech, who lives near Camberley in Surrey, decided to quit and retrain as a heating engineer.

He started out working with gas boilers but then stumbled on a Facebook post about VitoEnergy, a company that installs heat pumps as well as other heating systems.

He was soon hooked on the idea and is now training with VitoEnergy to become a heat pump installer, specifically.

"It's the best move," he says, adding, "It's going to help the environment."

Heat pumps that run on electricity could boost the energy efficiency of millions of British homes so long as they are fitted correctly.

Globally, the International Energy Agency estimates that heat pumps could reduce carbon emissions by 500 million tonnes by 2030.

More technology of business:

The UK badly needs more people like Mr Weech if the country is to come anywhere near meeting the government's target of 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028.

With just five years to go, the UK is achieving less than 10% of that figure and the government has faced stinging criticism over its lethargic heat pump rollout from the Lords Climate Change Committee.

Industry experts say a lack of installers is a key part of the problem.

A small army, apparently, is needed. Last July, the charity Nesta estimated that there were only 3,000 installers in the UK at the time and that at least 27,000 more would be required to meet the 2028 target - that's if each installer puts in 22 heat pumps every year.

According to the UK Heat Pump Association, the country needs more than 50,000 additional installers by the end of the decade. The Heating and Hot Water Industry Council goes even further, estimating that 150,000 more installers are required.

"We've got a serious problem, we're not attracting enough new people," says Mr Weech's boss, Patrick Wheeler, director of VitoEnergy, while referring to the industry as a whole.

In an effort to boost numbers, the government announced a grant of £500 earlier this month to help pay for training in heat-pump installation.

Mr Wheeler used to work with Adam Chapman at a company called Heat Geek, now a separate venture, which specializes in training heating engineers.

Heat Geek, aided by a government grant, launched a new online course at the start of the year geared towards tackling the skills shortage. 1,000 people are currently signed up to it, says Mr Chapman.

Among them is Leah El-Toukhy, an office coordinator at West Hampstead Plumbing and Heating in London. The firm sometimes receives multiple enquires per day about heat pumps.

[Leah El-Toukhy, an office coordinator at West Hampstead Plumbing and Heating in London]

Miss El-Toukhy does not plan to install heat pumps herself but her colleagues are already doing so, and she wants to be able to inform the firm's customers as best as possible, emphasising that public awareness and understanding of heat pumps is still nascent.

"For me, having this information, understanding it, being able to give people the best advice […] it was pivotal, it's so important," she explains.

The Heat Geek course takes between 60 and 100 hours to complete and it focuses on giving trainees the skills required for designing low-temperature heating systems, ideal for heat pumps.

This means water at, for example, 40C goes to your radiators rather than water at 60C or 70C, which was common with old fossil fuel boilers.

For a low temperature system to still heat a home adequately, it must be carefully designed, explains Mr Chapman. This involves accurately calculating the heat loss from a house or flat and choosing the correct size of heat pump, for instance. Sometimes, homes might require larger radiators or additional insulation.

The technicalities are complex and not everyone acknowledges the expertise that modern heating engineers require, suggests Mr Chapman.

"It's kind of not respected in the way it should be," he says. "There needs to be a bit of a shift in appreciation."

He recalls dismissing the idea of becoming a plumber himself when he was a teenager - back then, he was put off by the idea of working with toilets. He now emphasises how skilled a trade it is.

[Stephanie Willis, a data scientist at tech firm Sero]

Engineering nous is crucial for a heat pump to work efficiently, argues Stephanie Willis, a data scientist at tech firm Sero, because the energy consumed by the devices can vary greatly depending on the heating demands of a property.

It's not just that the country needs more heating engineers, then, those engineers need to really know their stuff, too.

"Doing a good job of the installation just matters much more with a heat pump than a gas boiler," says Ms Willis.

Various other organisations are training heat pump engineers, including energy company Octopus. It currently has 250 installers and intends to scale this up by "thousands" in the coming years, according to a spokeswoman.

The Oil Firing Technical Association (Oftec) is also running a government-subsidised heat pump installation course at 19 locations in England. However, spokesman Malcolm Farrow says the subsidised training is due to end in March.

"We think the government should extend the funding throughout next year," he says.

Mike Sammon, director of Ainsdale Gas and Heat Pumps in Southport, argues that there is still some misinformation about heat pumps perpetuated by tradespeople who are not familiar with the latest technology.

Mr Sammon completed a previous training course offered by Heat Geek in October 2021 and says that, in his opinion, "heat pumps are the future".

But the lack of installers isn't the only problem. Mr Sammon criticises the grant available for homeowners in England and Wales: "It often doesn't cover half the cost," he says.

The maximum grant available for an air source heat pump is £5,000, though bigger grants are offered in Scotland. There are currently no grants available for replacing a boiler with a heat pump in Northern Ireland.

The UK has not put in place enough policies to reach the target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year, argues Richard Hanna at Imperial College London.

"There's no official government road map on that so it's difficult to really take government policy seriously," he says.

A government spokeswoman responds by saying the UK is making heat pumps "attractive and affordable" - and that industry has reacted positively to the English and Welsh upgrade scheme in its first year.

Ultimately, installers are the foot soldiers of the great British heat pump push and Mr Weech, for one, is happy to be joining up.

"I've got a job that I'm really proud of," he says. "I'm not just going to work to earn money, I'm going to work and I'm learning every day."

Are romance authors at risk from book-writing chatbots?, 7 days ago

Sales of romantic fiction continue to boom, but with the genre often accused of being formulaic, are its authors at risk of being replaced by book-writing chatbots?

Julia Quinn is the author of the bestselling Bridgerton series of novels, which follow the love lives of eight siblings from a family of that name in 19th Century London.

She says that the inspiration behind the books started with a duke.

"Definitely the character of Simon came first," says Ms Quinn, in reference to the fictional Simon Basset, the brooding, troubled Duke of Hastings.

"I came up with this tortured character, and then I thought, 'okay, well, he needs to fall in love with somebody who comes from the exact opposite background'."

As the duke is estranged from his father, Ms Quinn decided that he needed "to fall in love with someone with just the best family ever that you could imagine in that time period". She adds: "And that's how the Bridgertons came around really, as a foil."

It is this sort of characterisation and human touch that helps to make romance novels enduringly popular - and lucrative for successful authors in the genre.

Seattle-based Ms Quinn is said to have more than 20 million books in print in the US alone, and the TV adaptation of Bridgerton is one of the Netflix's most-watched shows.

[Julia Quinn]

But is rapidly-advancing technology about to threaten the livelihoods of romantic fiction authors?

The problem is the release last autumn of ChatGPT - an advanced language processing technology, developed by OpenAI.

The artificial intelligence (AI) was trained using text databases from the internet, including books, magazines and Wikipedia entries. In all 300 billion words were fed into the system.

When prompted, ChatGPT can produce intricate writing that can appear to have been written by a human.

It has made many headlines, with particular concern that it can be used by students to write their essays.

ChatGPT can also be tasked to write pieces of fiction in a certain genre. And while the quality definitely isn't there yet, the technology will continue to get better.

OpenAI launched the latest version of ChatGPT this week, and other firms are working on rival systems.

Ms Quinn says she remembers reading some AI written romantic fiction a few years ago, "and it was terrible". "And so of course I said 'oh, it could never be a good one'."

And then ChatGPT arrived. "It makes me really kind of queasy," admits Ms Quinn. However she adds that she remains optimistic that human creativity will come out on top.

"I think so much in fiction is about the writer's voice," she says. "And I'd like to think that's something that an AI bot can't quite do."

[A computer screen showing the GPT-4 logo]

Jill Rettberg, an expert on chatbots, says it is "really important" to just understand how they work.

"The autocorrect on your phone, if you say, 'I'm on my….' it will predict 'way'," says the co-director of the Center for Digital Narrative at the University of Bergen in Norway.

"All these GPT things are exactly the same, just prediction, but with much, much more text."

This innovation is unfolding during a romance-reading renaissance. Last year, sales of romantic fiction in the US shot up by 52.4%, compared with an increase of just 8.5% for adult fiction overall.

Meanwhile, sales of the genre in the UK have increased more than two fold over the past three years.

Jen Prokop, who co-presents the romance novel podcast Fated Mates, attributes part of this growth to social media. She says this helps fans connect with each other, and share their enthusiasm for the genre.

"Now with the rise of TikTok, podcasts, Twitter... romance readers are finding each other," says Chicago-based Ms Prokop, who also reviews and edits romance literature.

She adds that fans of the genre are also now far happier to admit it. "When we say romance is becoming more mainstream, or more popular, part of that, I think, is actually just that readers are saying, 'I'm not going to be ashamed of this anymore'."

Helen Hoang, bestselling author of romance books set in modern times, says there is now much more diversity in the genre, both in terms of the fictional characters and the writers. She claims this is also helping to bring more readers in the fold.

Her book The Kiss Quotient, published in 2018, tells the story of a young autistic woman who overcomes her fear of dating to fall in love with a man of Swedish and Vietnamese descent.

[Helen Hoang]

"And I felt like it inspired publishers to really get on board with bringing in diverse authors, and these books that were featuring new kinds of narratives that you hadn't seen before," says Ms Hoang from her home in southern California.

She adds that that she "can't see a robot or AI being able to create stories that really speak to the human experience, I just don't see it happening".

"My experience with writing and with reading is it's not good unless the author has felt it before," Ms Hoang says.

Yet she hopes that AI could in the future be used to help "make the writing process easier for authors, but it'll only be a tool, and it will never replace people".

[New Tech Economy]

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

Victoria Baines, professor of information technology at Gresham College in London, says she can understand why some people think romantic fiction is "so formulaic". She adds that this is why it is in turn seen as a genre where you can get ChatGPT to "knock something out".

Julia Quinn attributes the enduring popularity of the genre in part to the promise of a happy conclusion to the story. "I think that there is something comforting and validating in a type of literature that values happiness as a worthy goal," she says.

Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder and creator of Moore's Law, dies aged 94, 2 days ago

Silicon Valley pioneer and philanthropist Gordon Moore has died aged 94 in Hawaii.

Mr Moore started working on semiconductors in the 1950s and co-founded the Intel Corporation.

He famously predicted that computer processing powers would double every year - later revised to every two - an insight known as Moore's Law.

That "law" became the bedrock for the computer processor industry and influenced the PC revolution.

Two decades before the computer revolution began, Moore wrote in a paper that integrated circuits would lead "to such wonders as home computers - or at least terminals connected to a central computer - automatic controls for automobiles, and personal portable communications equipment".

He observed, in the 1965 article, that thanks to technological improvements the number of transistors on microchips had roughly doubled every year since integrated circuits were invented a few years earlier.

His prediction that this would continue became known as Moore's Law, and it helped push chipmakers to target their research to make this come true.

After Moore's article was published, memory chips became more efficient and less expensive at an exponential rate.

[Gordon Moore cartoon]

After earning his PhD, Moore joined the Fairchild Semiconductor laboratory which manufactured commercially viable transistors and integrated circuits.

The expansion of that company lay the groundwork for the transformation of the peninsula of land south of San Francisco into what is now known as Silicon Valley.

In 1968 Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel.

Moore's work helped drive significant technological progress around the world and allowed for the advent of personal computers and Apple, Facebook and Google.

"All I was trying to do was get that message across, that by putting more and more stuff on a chip we were going to make all electronics cheaper," Moore said in a 2008 interview.

The Intel Corporation paid tribute to its co-founder, saying in a tweet: "we lost a visionary".

Intel's current CEO Pat Gelsinger said Gordon Moore had defined the technology industry through his insight and vision, and inspired technologists and entrepreneurs across the decades.

"He leaves behind a legacy that changed the lives of every person on the planet. His memory will live on.

"I am humbled to have known him," Mr Gelsinger said in a tweet.

Moore dedicated his later life to philanthropy, after starting a foundation with his wife Betty that focussed on environmental causes, known as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Among those causes included protecting the Amazon River basin and salmon streams in the US, Canada and Russia.

"Those of us who have met and worked with Gordon will forever be inspired by his wisdom, humility and generosity," the foundation's president Harvey Fineberg said.

In 2002, Moore received the Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honour in the US - from President George W Bush.

Into the ‘lion’s den’: Questions the TikTok CEO will face from Congress today over a possible ban, 4 days ago

On Thursday, TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, will be opening a lion's mouth and placing his own head into it.

He's giving testimony in the US Congress for the first time, a scary thing to do.

And at stake is the future of the phenomenally popular video-sharing app in the US.

"I think that there is a real risk that if this hearing doesn't go well… that could have a massive impact on the future of TikTok," said Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom.

Mr Chew is likely to face a barrage of questions on TikTok's relationship with China, what data it collects, and what it does with it.

He'll also be quizzed on why several journalists were spied on by ByteDance employees - something TikTok has already admitted.

Mr Chew will say user data is safe - away from the reach of the Chinese government.

He knows politicians from all sides want to see the platform either sold - or outright banned in the US.

"He's going into the lion's den," said Mr Stokel-Walker.

Mr Chew is going to need to give the performance of a lifetime. And already, close observers have seen a change of tactic from the Singaporean.

TikTok's boss, who has had a range of senior positions in the world of finance, generally sports a suit jacket and tie.

But on Tuesday, he posted a TikTok with a very different look.

Instead of a suit, he was wearing a white T-shirt and hoodie - the uniform of the nonchalant tech founder.

The 40-year-old was suddenly speaking like a teenager too - talking of being "super excited".

"I think he's trying to give off a sort of the casual tech bro," said Caitlin Chin from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank.

"He's actually been starting to gain a bit more of a public profile, especially leading up to this hearing."

The Singaporean has generally kept a low profile since taking over at TikTok in 2021.

However, that approach appears to have changed. TikTok is fighting for its life, and Mr Chew knows it.

The big problem TikTok has in the US and Europe is that it is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance.

And in China, there are specific laws that require companies to hand over information to the Chinese Communist Party if requested.

[Shou Zi Chew and his wife, Vivian Kao, attend the 2022 Met Gala in New York City]

TikTok holds reams of data about its users, including location information and biometric data.

For years TikTok has argued that it would never hand over user information.

It has spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying efforts and strategies to appease governments.

At the heart of its attempt to convince US lawmakers is "Project Texas".

This is the company's commitment to store US data in the US - on servers run by a US company - Oracle.

The company says so far it has spent $1.5bn on this project - and describes it as a "firewall" that protects data from foreign governments.

TikTok had hoped it would satisfy politicians on all sides.

Last year Mr Chew wrote to politicians saying he believed the project would "safeguard user data and US national security interests".

But sadly for TikTok, Project Texas has been looked at sceptically by both Republicans and Democrats.

For many US politicians, for as long as TikTok has a Chinese owner, it will be considered suspicious.

Last month FBI director Christopher Wray didn't mince his words about the platform.

"This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese Government. And to me, it screams out with national security concerns," he said.

For most US lawmakers, TikTok would be a far more palatable platform if it were not owned by a Chinese company.

[TikTok reflection in US and China flag]

Last week it was reported by the Wall Street Journal that the Biden administration had requested the company be sold for this reason.

This is not what ByteDance wants. TikTok has enormous potential. And besides, the Chinese company doesn't wish to sell its greatest asset simply because US politicians want them to.

This is the backdrop to Thursday's congressional hearing.

We already have a fair idea of what Mr Chew is going to say from TikTok briefings.

He'll argue that 150 million American users will lose out if the platform is banned - and that thousands of small businesses rely on the platform.

He'll push back on the idea that ByteDance is Chinese-owned - saying the company has many international investors.

And he'll also argue that Chinese laws cannot compel ByteDance to share American data - because TikTok is a US-based company, with its data stored in the US.

But often these hearings make headlines for one or perhaps two specific exchanges.

Mark Zuckerberg's famous Senate hearing in 2018 is often remembered for one brilliant question from Senator Richard Durbin.

"Mr Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us which hotel you stayed in last night?" he said.

The Facebook boss looked visibly uncomfortable before saying "no".

"I think that might be what this is all about…your right to privacy," the senator said.

It's these curveball questions that Shou Zi Chew should fear most.

ChatGPT bug leaked users' conversation histories, 4 days ago

A ChatGPT glitch allowed some users to see the titles of other users' conversations, the artificial intelligence chatbot's boss has said.

On social media sites Reddit and Twitter, users had shared images of chat histories that they said were not theirs.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said the company feels "awful", but the "significant" error had now been fixed.

Many users, however, remain concerned about privacy on the platform.

Millions of people have used ChatGPT to draft messages, write songs and even code since it launched in November of last year. 

Each conversation with the chatbot is stored in the user's chat history bar where it can be revisited later.

But as early as Monday, users began to see conversations appear in their history that they said they hadn't had with the chatbot.

One user on Reddit shared a photo of their chat history including titles like "Chinese Socialism Development", as well as conversations in Mandarin.  

On Tuesday, the company told Bloomberg that it had briefly disabled the chatbot late on Monday to fix the error.

They also said that users had not been able to access the actual chats.

OpenAI's chief executive tweeted that there would be a "technical postmortem" soon. But the error has drawn concern from users who fear their private information could be released through the tool. 

The glitch seemed to indicate that OpenAI has access to user chats.

The company's privacy policy does say that user data, such as prompts and responses, may be used to continue training the model.

But that data is only used after personally identifiable information has been removed. 

The blunder also comes just a day after Google unveiled its chatbot Bard to a group of beta testers and journalists.

Google and Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, have been jostling for control of the burgeoning market for artificial intelligence tools.

But the pace of new product updates and releases has many concerned missteps like these could be harmful or have unintended consequences.

Could the US government actually block people from accessing TikTok altogether?, 4 days ago

The US government is demanding that TikTok's Chinese owners sell the social media platform, or risk facing a ban.

It comes as more and more countries have been expressing concerns about what China might do with user data from the app.

But banning the app is not straightforward - here's what might be involved.

Why does the US want to ban TikTok?

TikTok gathers similar kinds of data as other apps, but US officials are concerned that this data could fall into the hands of the Chinese government.

The US says this data could be used to spy on Americans, or to spread propaganda. It has already banned the app from government devices, a move also taken by the UK, Canada and the EU. India also banned the app altogether in 2020.

TikTok insists it operates no differently from other social media companies and says it would never comply with an order to transfer data to Chinese officials.

One in three Americans uses TikTok, and a ban on such a popular app would be unprecedented in the US.

How could the US government block people from accessing it?

The most likely route for enforcing a government ban would be to order app stores, such as those operated by Apple and Google, to remove TikTok from their platforms.

That would mean people could no longer download the app that way, but those who already have the app would still have it on their phones. Over time, the app would stop receiving updates, which could cause issues for users.

Would there be a way around an app store ban?

The region of the app store can be changed on most mobile devices, allowing you to access apps from other countries - though this may break the terms of service of the apps downloaded, or of the devices themselves.

It's also possible to install apps downloaded from the internet, rather than app stores, by modifying your device - though this may break copyright law.

Ultimately, Apple and Google could decide to send updates to US devices which specifically stop the TikTok app from working altogether, making these workarounds null and void.

Could the US government block people from accessing TikTok altogether?

When the Indian government banned TikTok, it disabled downloads and demanded that internet service providers (ISPs) block it altogether.

This made it more difficult to access the app or website from most ISPs in India - although there are some workarounds.

Notably, variants of the app have popped up online, which people can download to their modified devices in order to use it.

Some people have used VPNs - or virtual private network - which is a secure connection between your device and another computer over the internet, which makes it appear as if you are based in a different country or region.

But this may not be enough to circumvent the ban.

According to TikTok's help page, it collects information on your approximate location by checking your Sim card and IP address.

In other words, if your device's phone number begins +1, TikTok knows you're in the US and could block your device from accessing the app.

But it is unknown if TikTok would choose to bar users from using the app - it could decline to assist the government with any measures, and instead allow people in the US to use the platform so long as they can find workarounds to access it.

Would people still be able to post?

TikTok could be ordered to block accounts from the US altogether, which means people or businesses would not be able to post unless they could make use of any workarounds.

Many people, from businesses to content creators, have used TikTok as a way to gain celebrity and income. People use it to sell products around the world and publicise their content.

According to TikTok, more than 5 million businesses use the app in the US. If the small enterprises don't have an audience on other social media channels, a ban could dramatically impact their business.

How has China reacted to this?

China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok, and it has accused the government of overreacting when it ordered federal employees to remove TikTok from government-issued devices.

"How unsure of itself can the world's top superpower like the US be to fear young people's favourite app like that?" said spokeswoman Mao Ning.

Bill Gates: AI is most important tech advance in decades, 5 days ago

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says the development of artificial intelligence (AI) is the most important technological advance in decades.

In a blog post on Tuesday, he called it as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone.

"It will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care, and communicate with each other," he said.

He was writing about the technology used by tools such as chatbot ChatGPT.

Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is an AI chatbot which is programmed to answer questions online using natural, human-like language.

The team behind it in January 2023 received a multibillion dollar investment from Microsoft - where Mr Gates still serves as an advisor.

But it is not the only AI-powered chatbot available, with Google recently introducing rival Bard.

[Analysis box by Zoe Kleinman, technology editor]

I was one of the first people to get access to Bard and my colleagues and I are trying to put it through its paces.

So far it's given me a philosophical answer to the meaning of life.

It gave a competent potted history of Russia-China relations to a colleague covering the meeting between President Putin and Xi Jinping - unlike ChatGPT, Bard can access current affairs.

A programme editor asked it for a good running order for her news show. Start with the biggest story of the day, Bard suggested, and end with a musician or comedian. It also did a decent if generic job of a poem about trees and blossom.

I haven't yet started trying to get it to be rude to me, or about others. I'll report back on that…

You can read more about it here.

Mr Gates said he had been meeting with OpenAI - the team behind the artificial intelligence that powers chatbot ChatGPT - since 2016.

In his blog, Mr Gates said he challenged the OpenAI team in 2022 to train an AI that can pass an Advanced Placement (AP) Biology exam - roughly equivalent to an A-level exam - with the strict rule that the AI could not be specifically trained to answer Biology questions.

A few months later they revealed the results - a near perfect score, he said, missing only one mark out of 50.

After the exam, Mr Gates said he asked the AI to write a response to a father with a sick child.

"It wrote a thoughtful answer that was probably better than most of us in the room would have given," he said.

"I knew I had just seen the most important advance in technology since the graphical user interface (GUI)."

A GUI is a visual display - allowing a person to interact with images and icons, rather than a display that shows only text and requires typed commands.

Its development led to the Windows and Mac OS operating systems in the 1980s, and remains a key part of computing.

And Mr Gates says he believes AI tech will lead to similar advancements.

The Future of AI

Mr Gates, who co-chairs the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called on governments to work with industry to "limit the risks" of AI, but said the technology could be used to save lives.

"AI-driven improvements will be especially important for poor countries, where the vast majority of under-5 deaths happen," he wrote.

"Many people in those countries never get to see a doctor, and AIs will help the health workers they do see be more productive."

Some examples of this he gave include completing repetitive tasks such as insurance claims, paperwork, and note-taking.

But in order for this to happen, Mr Gates called on a targeted approach to AI technology in the future.

"Market forces won't naturally produce AI products and service that help the poorest," he said. "The opposite is more likely.

"With reliable funding and the right policies, governments and philanthropy can ensure that AIs are used to reduce inequity.

"Just as the world needs its brightest people focused on its biggest problems, we will need to focus the world's best AIs on its biggest problems."

Bard: Google's rival to ChatGPT launches for over-18s, 6 days ago

Google has started rolling out its AI chatbot Bard, but it is only available to certain users and they have to be over the age of 18.

Unlike its viral rival ChatGPT, it can access up-to-date information from the internet and has a "Google it" button which accesses search.

It also namechecks its sources for facts, such as Wikipedia.

But Google warned Bard would have "limitations" and said it might share misinformation and display bias.

This is because it "learns" from real-world information, in which those biases currently exist - meaning it is possible for stereotypes and false information to show up in its responses.

How do chatbots work?

AI chatbots are programmed to answer questions online using natural, human-like language.

They can write anything from speeches and marketing copy to computer code and student essays.

When ChatGPT launched in November 2022, it had more than one million users within a week, said OpenAI, the firm behind it.

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in it, incorporating the product into its search engine Bing last month.

It has also unveiled plans to bring a version of the tech to its office apps including Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

Google has been a slower and more cautious runner in the generative AI race with its version, Bard, which launches in the US and UK to begin with. Users will have to register to try it out.

Bard is a descendant of an earlier language model of Google's called Lamda, which was never fully released to the public. It did, however, attract a lot of attention when one of the engineers who worked on it claimed its answers were so compelling that he believed it was sentient. Google denied the claims and he was fired.

[Someone typing a request into Bard, asking for ideas relating to fly fishing]

Google senior product director Jack Krawczyk has told the BBC that Bard is "an experiment" and he hopes people will use it as a "launchpad for creativity".

He showed me an example of how he had used Bard to help him plan his young child's birthday party.

It came up with a theme which incorporated his child's love of bunny rabbits and gymnastics, found the address of a venue he mentioned and suggested party games and food.

"So much of the [media] coverage is that AI is the hero," said Mr Krawczyk. "I think the human is the hero and large language models are here to help unlock creativity."

While ChatGPT's knowledge database only extends as far as the year 2021 - it cannot, for example, answer questions about the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria - Bard can access current information. It explained to me a news story about TikTok being banned on UK government phones, published on the BBC website a few days ago.

It is programmed not to respond to offensive prompts and has filters to prevent it from sharing harmful, illegal, sexually explicit or personally identifiable information but "like any method these guardrails will occasionally fail", said Zoubin Ghahramani, vice president of Google Research.

Make no mistake, this is an extremely cautious product launch, about as far away from the former "move fast and break things" bravado of the early days of big tech as it is possible to get.

When I asked if the firm was nervous, Mr Krawczyk paused before answering that its approach to the launch of Bard was "deliberate".

If Google is nervous, it has good reason to be.

For all the excitement that exists around this kind of tech, there are horror stories about some of the more disturbing things ChatGPT has been manipulated into doing, and there are also fears that ultimately these powerful tools, still currently in their infancy, could be a huge threat to lots of different types of jobs.

There is also - and this is particularly relevant to Google - a theory that chatbots could one day replace the lucrative business of internet search altogether. Why wade through pages of search result links when you could just get one neatly written answer? Google cannot afford to be out of the race.

Mr Krawczyk and Mr Ghahramani talked a lot about the responsibility and principles that comes with the tech. They even told me about the huge data centres powering Bard, and how they aim to run them using renewable energy.

[Screenshot reading "Bard is an experiment".]

They revealed Google was restricting access to over-18s when I asked whether students would start using Bard to do their homework instead of ChatGPT. Teachers have warned pupils not to use chatbots to do their work for them although some educators have embraced it.

Google says it will be closely monitoring Bard to make sure it adheres to its own "AI principles" which include avoiding the creation or reinforcement of bias.

It will not be able to express opinions or take on a persona, although like ChatGPT it will be able to mimic the writing styles of others.

It helped Google write its own announcement, said the firm's Sissie Hsiao and Eli Collins, who were also co-authors of the launch blog post.

"It didn't always get things right. But even then, it made us laugh," they said.

Follow Zoe Kleinman on Twitter @zsk

Amazon to cut another 9,000 jobs, 7 days ago

Online retail giant Amazon plans to cut another 9,000 jobs as it seeks to save costs.

The firm, which employs 1.5 million people worldwide, said the cuts would fall mainly in areas including cloud computing and advertising.

It did not say which countries would be affected but said the positions would be closed in the next few weeks.

Boss Andy Jassy said it was a "difficult decision" but it would be best for the company in the long term.

The firm already axed 18,000 jobs in January.

Mr Jassy said that in recent years, most areas of Amazon's business had been adding roles.

"However, given the uncertain economy in which we reside, and the uncertainty that exists in the near future, we have chosen to be more streamlined in our costs and headcount," he continued.

Like many tech giants, Amazon saw sales boom during the pandemic when customers were stuck at home.

But more recently its sales have slowed down as consumers spend less due to the cost of living crisis.

Other companies, including Google and Facebook-owner Meta, have been grappling with how to balance cost-cutting measures with the need to remain competitive.

Last week Meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs.

Mr Jassy said it is "never easy" to lose employees, adding: "To those ultimately impacted by these reductions, I want to thank you for the work you have done on behalf of customers and the company."

Another area that will see cuts is Twitch, a livestreaming platform for content including gaming and music.

It comes days after Emmett Shear announced he would be stepping down as Twitch's chief executive officer after 16 years in post.

Amazon bought Twitch for $1bn (£1.5bn) in 2014.

[Cost of living: Tackling it together]

Tips for finding a new job

* Search beyond a 40-mile radius as hybrid and flexible working means you may be able to work from home

* Don't wait for a job to be advertised as not all jobs are made public

* Focus on explaining you have the right skills rather than years in a role when applying

Six tips for finding work - read more here


Zhao Weiguo: Chinese regulator accuses chip tycoon of corruption, 6 days ago

China's anti-fraud watchdog has accused chip tycoon Zhao Weiguo of corruption, in the latest sign of trouble faced by the country's semiconductor industry.

Mr Zhao is the former chairman of computer chipmaker Tsinghua Unigroup.

Key players in the sector were investigated for corruption last year after the government poured billions of dollars into projects which stalled or failed.

Mr Zhao and Tsinghua Unigroup did not respond to BBC requests for comment.

In a statement, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection alleges that Mr Zhao "took the state-owned company he managed as his private fiefdom."

The regulator says he handed profitable businesses to his relatives and friends, and purchased goods and services from companies managed by his associates at "prices significantly higher than the market".

Mr Zhao's case, it adds, has been handed to prosecutors who will file charges against him.

Tsinghua Unigroup was once a branch of the prestigious Tsinghua University, attended by President Xi Jinping.

Over the last decade, the state-backed company made a series of acquisitions and emerged as one of China's leading chipmakers.

However, it racked up debt under Mr Zhao's leadership and defaulted on several bond payments in 2020.

The company completed a 20-month restructuring last July. This placed it under the control of a consortium led by two state-backed venture capital firms.

Around that time, Mr Zhao stepped down as the chairman of Tsinghua Unigroup. Chinese media outlets reported that he had been taken from his home by authorities for investigation.

Several other leading figures in the Chinese semiconductor industry have also been placed under investigation.

Semiconductors, which power everything from mobile phones to military hardware, are at the centre of a bitter dispute between the US and China.

In October, Washington announced that it would require licences for companies exporting chips to China using US tools or software, no matter where they were made in the world.

Earlier this month, the Netherlands said it also planned to put restrictions on its "most advanced" microchip technology exports to protect national security.

China has invested billions of dollars in recent years to build up its domestic chip-making capabilities.

In 2019, the country set up a new national $29bn (£23.7bn) semiconductor fund to reduce its reliance on the West.

The revolution underway in India's diamond industry, 10 days ago

Chintan Suhagiya is only 26, but already has seven years experience working in India's diamond industry.

Starting out, he ferried diamonds around his company, based in the world's diamond polishing capital, Surat in western India.

But over the years he learnt how to inspect diamonds and now he grades their quality, using specialist equipment.

His career has been transformed by a seismic shift in the diamond industry. Until two years ago, all the diamonds he inspected were natural - pulled from the ground at diamond mines.

Now he works with diamonds grown in special machines, part of the industry that barely existed 10 years ago but, thanks to improved technology, has seen explosive growth.

Lab-grown diamonds (LGDs) so closely resemble natural diamonds that even experts have to look closely.

"No naked eye can tell the difference between natural and lab-grown diamonds," says Mr Suhagiya.

"The natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are so similar that once, even after a lab test there was a confusion about the origin of a diamond. The diamond had to be tested twice to make sure that it was a lab-grown," he says.

Natural diamonds are formed at great heat and pressure deep underground and, since the 1950s, scientists have been trying to recreate that process above ground - resulting in two techniques.

[Lab-grown diamonds]

The High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) system is where a diamond seed is surrounded by pure graphite (a type of carbon) and exposed to temperatures of about 1,500C and pressurised to approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch in a chamber.

The second process is called Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) and involves putting the seed in a sealed chamber filled with carbon-rich gas and heating to around 800C. The gas sticks to the seed, building up a diamond atom by atom.

While those techniques emerged in the late 20th Century, it's only in the last 10 years that the process has been refined so that lab-grown diamonds can be made at the right price and quality to be sold as jewellery.

"In the beginning, it was harder, because there were very few machines and very few scientists able to do it... over the last seven years, as more expertise became available in the market, we've seen really big growth," says Olya Linde, a Zurich-based partner with Bain and Company's Natural Resources practice.

Ms Linde says that since the early 2000s the cost of producing lab-grown diamonds has halved every four years.

These days, a one carat diamond - a popular size and common in engagement rings - made in a lab would be around 20% cheaper than its naturally-formed equivalent.

Those falling costs have attracted entrepreneurs.

Snehal Dungarni is the chief executive of Bhanderi Lab Grown Diamonds, which he started in 2013. It uses the CVD process to make diamonds.

"We are able to monitor the growth of the diamond, atom by atom, at the highest degree of purity.

"Comparatively they are cost and time-effective and save mining and extraction costs - making them human and environmentally kind," he says.

India has long played a key role in the diamond industry - it's estimated that nine out of 10 of the world's diamonds are polished in Surat.

Now the government wants India to become a key player in the lab-grown diamond business.

[Diamond inspection]

The nation already produces around three million lab-grown diamonds a year, accounting for 15% of global production, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. China is the other big producer, with a similar market share.

In January, in an effort to boost the sector further, the Indian government abolished a 5% tax on imported diamond seeds and announced funding to help India develop its own diamond seed production.

"As global prosperity increases, the demand for diamonds will increase," says Vipul Bansal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce.

More technology of business:

With 30 years in the traditional diamond industry, Hari Krishna Exports is India's leading producer of cut and polished diamonds.

But this year director Ghanshyambhai Dholakia founded a lab-grown diamond business.

"In the next three to four years, we will see a massive demand and growth in lab-made diamonds," he predicts.

But will the new business take market share from his traditional diamond business?

"Both natural and lab-made diamonds cater to different consumer segments. And demand exists in both segments," says Mr Dholakia.

"LGD has opened a new consumer market - middle class in India - who have money and will be able to afford a lab-grown diamond," he says.

It might take some time for that market to take off in India, though. Most LGDs made in India are exported to the US.

"The Indian market is still not ready, so we as council are promoting exhibitions and events to create a place for LGDs. In three to four years India will be ready," says Shashikant Dalichand Shah, chairman of the Lab Grown Diamond and Jewellery Promotion Council.

[Loose diamonds]

Mr Shah is chairman of Nine Diam, a diamond trading company founded by his great grandfather.

He agrees that manufactured diamonds will have a very different place in the market from those that have been mined.

"A diamond made in a laboratory or a factory is an artificial diamond. So a buyer who knows and loves diamonds will always go for a real diamond," he says.

He adds that the relative scarcity of natural diamonds means they will hold their value better.

"Lab-grown diamonds lose their value after buying, whereas in a natural diamond 50% of the value is retained after buying," he says.

While that may be the case, lab-grown diamonds offer jewellery designers greater flexibility.

"Natural diamonds are so expensive you always want to maximise the diamond from the natural stone. Lab-grown diamonds you can design as you want," says Ms Linde.

"We've seen jewellery where they have cut holes in the diamonds so they dangle and sparkle more."

The world's biggest jeweller, Denmark's Pandora, is switching to lab-grown diamonds. Explaining the move in 2021, the company's chief executive said it would broaden the market for diamonds and make his business more environmentally friendly.

Back in Surat, Chintan Suhagiya is happy with his move into the LGD industry, and thinks many others will find work in the sector.

"The lab-diamond industry is going to provide jobs to millions. This will be an unstoppable industry," he says.

Could waste plastic become a useful fuel source?, 13 days ago

Plastic waste dumps, says Prof Erwin Reisner, could be the oil fields of the future.

"Effectively, plastic is another form of fossil fuel," says Prof Reisner, who is professor of energy and sustainability at the University of Cambridge. "It's rich in energy and in chemical composition, which we want to unlock."

But the chemical bonds that make up plastics are made to last and, of the seven billion tonnes ever created, less than 10% has been recycled.

Dilyana Mihaylova, plastics programme manager for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says: "Our extractive, take-make-waste economy [means] billions of dollars' worth of valuable materials are lost."

Worldwide, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year - roughly the same weight as all of humanity. Today, around 85% ends up in landfill or is lost to the environment where it will stay for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

Now the race is on to find the best way to break those chemical bonds and reclaim the Earth's precious resources locked into plastic.

Mechanical recycling, where waste plastic is washed, shredded, melted and reformed, degrades plastic over time and can result in inconsistent quality products.

The plastics industry is keen on chemical recycling, where additives are used to alter the chemical structure of waste plastic, turning it back into substances that can be used as raw materials, perhaps for making fuel like petrol and diesel.

But that approach is currently costly and inefficient and has been criticised by environmental groups.

"So," says Ms Mihaylova, "just as we can't recycle our way out of the plastics pollution crisis, we can't rely on plastics-to-fuel processes to solve the problem either."

Could a new solar-powered system show the way forward?

[Erwin Reisner (left), Subhajit Bhattacharjee (centre) and Motiar Rahaman (right)]

Prof Reisner and his team have developed a process that can convert not one, but two waste streams - plastic and CO2 - into two chemical products at the same time - all powered by sunlight.

The technology transforms CO2 and plastic into syngas - the key component of sustainable fuels such as hydrogen. It also produces glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

The system works by integrating catalysts, chemical compounds which accelerate a chemical reaction, into a light absorber.

"Our process works at room temperature and room pressure," he says.

"Reactions run automatically when you expose it to sunlight. You don't need anything else."

And, assures Prof Reisner, the process produces no harmful waste.

"The chemistry is clean," he says.

Other solar-powered technologies hold promise for tackling plastic pollution and CO2 conversion, but this is the first time they have been combined in a single process.

"Combining the two means we add value to the process," says Prof Reisner. "We now have four value streams - the mitigation of plastic waste, the mitigation of CO2, and the production of two valuable chemicals. We hope this will bring us close to commercialisation."

In addition, Prof Reiner says his system can handle otherwise unrecyclable plastic waste.

"Usually, plastic contaminated with food waste goes to incineration, but this plastic is really good for us. In fact, food is a good substrate - so it makes our process work better."

Researchers around the world are looking for ways to turn unwanted plastic into something useful.

When broken down, the elements of plastic can be re-made into a myriad of new products including detergents, lubricants, paints and solvents, and biodegradable compounds for use in biomedical applications.

Nature has found ways of breaking down polymers - substances made up of very large molecules - and plastic is a synthetic polymer.

[Victoria Bemmer]

"There are already bacteria out there that have enzymes designed to break [polymers] down," says Dr Victoria Bemmer, senior research fellow at the University of Portsmouth.

"We can tweak these enzymes by changing the structure of them very slightly - to make them go faster, make them more firm or stable."

Using machine learning, Dr Bemmer and her team have developed variants of enzymes adapted to deconstruct all varieties of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of polyester.

The enzymes break the plastic down in a similar way to chemical recycling, says Dr Bemmer but, because they are akin to enzymes found in nature, the process can be done in much more "benign conditions".

Where chemical recycling uses chemicals, the Portsmouth University team are able to use water. And the highest temperature they need is 70C, meaning energy consumption can be kept low compared to other processes.

Dr Bemmer and her team are developing their enzymes further and hope that their work will help them create a sustainable circular economy for plastic-based clothing too.

Polyester made from PET is the most widely used clothing fibre in the world.

However, recycling synthetic fabrics using enzymes is not easy. The addition of dyes and other chemical treatments make it difficult for them to be degraded in a natural process.

"Polyester is an absolute pain," says Dr Bemmer. "Plus, it's very rarely just pure polyester. You find mixed fibres as well."

More technology of business:

The team hope their enzymes will reduce the PET in waste textiles to a soup of simple building blocks, ready to be made back into new polyesters.

"We're at a very early stage," says Dr Bemmer. "We don't know yet if the dyes and additives to these fabrics will inhibit the action of the enzymes on the polyester chain. Hopefully they won't have an impact and we can just carry on but if they do, we can develop our enzymes further."

Worldwide production of plastic continues to increase, and is expected to triple by 2060. For many, recycling remains the focus in addressing the issue, but some argue this will never be enough.

Back in Cambridge, Prof Reisner's team are taking "baby steps in the direction" of commercialisation. They plan to develop the system over the next five years to produce more complex products and hope that one day the technique could be used to develop an entirely solar-powered recycling plant.

Around 600 million tonnes of syngas is already produced every year, says Prof Reisner, but it's largely from fossil fuels.

"If we can make syngas, we can access almost all of the petrochemical industry and make it sustainable."

OneWeb launch completes space internet project, yesterday

London-based company OneWeb has launched the final set of satellites it needs to deliver a broadband internet connection anywhere on Earth.

The 36 spacecraft went up on an Indian LVM3 rocket from the Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh.

Their deployment 450km above the planet takes OneWeb's total in-orbit constellation to 618.

It's less than three years ago that the UK government took the decision to buy OneWeb out of bankruptcy.

At the time, it was seen as controversial; arguments raged about whether it was a sound use of taxpayer money.

But since the purchase, OneWeb has managed to attract significant additional investment, and is even now planning a next generation of satellites.

It will take some months for the Sunday's batch of satellites to be tested and to get into the right part of the sky (at an altitude of 1,200km), but when they are in position OneWeb will have the facility to deliver a global communications service.

Only one other organisation in the world is flying more satellites in space today - and that's OneWeb's chief competitor: the Starlink system operated by Elon Musk.

Unlike the US entrepreneur's network, OneWeb is not selling broadband connections direct to the individual user. Its clients, principally, are the telecoms companies that provide this internet service. They might also be employing the connectivity to supplement, or expand, the infrastructure in their mobile phone networks.

[Stacked satellites]

The OneWeb system will require the necessary ground infrastructure to command and control all the satellites and link them to the internet, but this too should be fully up and running come the end of 2023.

The satellite enterprise has been a decade in gestation. Projected as a $6bn project, it ran into money woes in early 2020 and sought the protection of US bankruptcy laws until a buyer could be found. At the time, it had lofted just 74 satellites.

The company was restored to operations thanks to a joint purchase from the UK government and the Indian conglomerate Bharti Global, who put in half a billion dollars each.

With its debts wiped out, OneWeb then moved quickly to build out the network and secure wider investment. It's currently working through a merger plan with Paris-based Eutelsat, best known for distributing thousands of TV channels around the world.


OneWeb has made the UK a major space player.

The number of satellites in the constellation has demanded a big commitment from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, which is Britain's licensing agency for space activity.

[Greenland ground station]

"We undertake a significant oversight role, to make sure that their satellites are all healthy, and they they're operating within the limits that OneWeb have set out and that we agreed to," explained Colin Macleod, the authority's head of space regulation.

"Our team has regular meetings at OneWeb's White City headquarters. All their engineers sit in a room where they present what they're doing, and if they have any risks or issues - they will talk us through the solutions so that our engineers will be comfortable with their actions," he told BBC News.

Safety is paramount. The region in the sky where OneWeb spacecraft are moving - from 450km in altitude up to 1,200km - is becoming ever more congested, and the CAA wants assurance that the constellation is being flown in a responsible manner.

Much of the operation necessarily has to be automated, and the command and control software has had to scale rapidly over the past three years.


Sunday's launch took the number of satellites in space from 582 to 618.

In May, another 15 will go up to act as in-orbit spares. These will be joined by a demonstration spacecraft that will trial future technologies.

OneWeb plans to expand its network in the coming years to include bigger, more powerful spacecraft. But contrary to earlier suggestions, the constellation will probably now be kept under 1,000 individual satellites.

The next generation will, though, provide ancillary services, such as signals that allow users to fix their position on the surface of the Earth or know the precise time (a service akin to those currently provided by satellite-navigation systems like GPS and Galileo).

The core business will remain connectivity.

OneWeb has a series of flat-panel antennas coming on to the market for its customers very soon.

In contrast to traditional steerable dishes, these units electronically track satellites across the sky to maintain the data links.

One of these antennas, produced by Kymeta, was trialled recently on Mount Snowdon in Wales to provide mountain rescue teams with stable broadband communications where previously there was no network availability.

[Florida factory]

Have we found the 'animal origin' of Covid?, yesterday

We now have "the best evidence" we are ever likely to find of how the virus that causes Covid-19 was first transmitted to a human, a team of scientists has claimed.

It is the latest scientific twist in the troubled, highly politicised search for the cause of the worst pandemic in a century, one which has produced several competing theories which have neither been proved nor disproved conclusively.

The most recent analysis points to a particular species as the likely animal origin of the virus. That analysis is based on evidence that was gathered three years ago from the Huanan Wildlife Market in Wuhan, which has always been a focal point of the initial outbreak.

During the early days of 2020, when Covid was still a mystery disease, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control (CDC) took samples from the market. The genetic information contained in those samples has only recently been made, briefly, public, and that enabled a team of researchers to decode them and point to racoon dogs as a possible "intermediate host" from which the disease spilled over into people.

The crux of this analysis is that DNA from racoon dogs, wild mammals that were being sold live in the market for meat, was found in the same locations as swabs from the market that tested positive for SARS CoV-2, according to an analysis that was published online on 20 March.

[Raccoon dog]

But in the messy search for the outbreak's origin, where the market has long since closed and any animals on sale killed, we still do not have definitive proof. And the three-year delay in releasing this critical data has been described by some scientists as "scandalous".

The findings are published amid signals that the lab leak theory is gaining ground among authorities in the US.

The Chinese government has strenuously denied suggestions that the virus originated in a scientific facility, but the FBI now believe that scenario is the "most likely", as does the US Department of Energy.

Various US departments and agencies have investigated the mystery and produced differing conclusions, but on 1 March the bureau's director accused Beijing of "doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate", and disclosed the FBI had been convinced of the lab leak theory "for quite some time now". The bureau has not made their findings public, which has frustrated some scientists.

The BBC has spoken to some of the scientists involved in the three-year mission to investigate Covid's origin. They believe this new analysis might be the closest we will get to understanding how the outbreak started, and that the divisions between China and the West are hampering the scientific effort to solve that mystery.

What does the new research show?

The full genetic sequences from these crucial swabs from the market were spotted by Dr Florence Debarre, a senior researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences in Paris. She told the BBC World Service's Science in Action programme that she had been "obsessed" with finding this data since she first found out it existed.

Having found and downloaded the codes on a genetic database called GISAID, where scientists share this kind of information, she and her colleagues set out to find out which species matched the samples that were found in the same locations as the virus. "We saw the results appear on our screens, and it was: racoon dog, racoon dog, racoon dog, racoon dog," she recalled.

"So we found animals and virus [together]," explained Dr Debarre. "That does not prove that the animals were infected, but that is the most plausible interpretation of what we've seen."

[A racoon dog in Huanan market, Wuhan]

According to Prof Eddie Holmes from the University of Sydney, who was also involved in the study, this is the "best evidence we will get" of an animal origin of the virus.

"We will never find that intermediate [animal] host - it's gone," Prof Holmes told the BBC.

"But it's extraordinary that the genetic data has found these ghosts - and it absolutely tells us not just what species were there, but exactly where they were in the market," Prof Holmes told the BBC.

What can scientists do now to find Covid's origin?

This new data could provide more leads for further investigation into the source of the outbreak, but following those leads will be complicated.

Prof Marion Koopmans from Erasmus University in Rotterdam was part of the World Health Organization investigative team that went to Wuhan in 2020. She explained that the new analysis "pinned their presence down to specific stalls, so you could check where animals sold there came from".

"Of course if that is part of illegal sales, the question is if you would ever find that out."

There could also still be biological evidence present in farms where these animals are raised for the trade. If researchers could find farmed animals with antibodies that show they had been infected with SARS Cov-2, that could provide another clue. This genetic information could at least narrow down where to look.

But finding the actual virus in an animal, says Prof Holmes, will be very hard.

Does this answer the question of how the pandemic started?

This is not definitive proof. That is something we might never have.

The search for that proof has itself become heavily politicised and often toxic. While this lends weight to the theory that the virus emerged in wild animals and spread to humans at the market, another theory has focused on the possible "lab leak" of a virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

That theory gained headlines once again recently after the FBI's intervention, weeks after an intelligence assessment from the US energy department and Republican-led hearings into the pandemic's origins.

In his interview with BBC Science in Action, Prof Holmes pointed to a previous study of the earliest known cases of Covid in Wuhan. "The outbreak started around the market," he said. "And now we can see why - the key animals are there.

"It didn't start around the lab, which is 30km away. And there is not a single piece of data showing any early cases around the laboratory."

The years' long delay in releasing this valuable data has led to frustration and anger with the China Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

"The data are three years old - it's an absolute scandal that it's taken this long for it to see the light of day," said Prof Holmes.

The information had actually been posted on to the GISAID genetic database back in January. But it was left there unnoticed. It's assumed that this was done to provide supporting evidence for a research paper based on the data that was being prepared by Chinese researchers from the CDC. (Sharing such background data is considered a requirement for scientific publication).

But shortly after the Chinese researchers learned that others had seen the information, it became hidden again.

In a press conference on 17 March, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said that "every piece of data" was important in moving us closer to that answer. "And every piece of data relating to studying the origins of Covid-19 needs to be shared with the international community immediately."

"We have to get beyond the politics and back to the pure science," said Prof Holmes.

He added: "Humans get viruses from wildlife - it's been true throughout our entire evolutionary history. The best thing we can do is separate ourselves from this wildlife and have better surveillance.

"Because this will happen again."

Commercial development of gene-edited food now legal in England, 4 days ago

Gene-edited food can now be developed commercially in England following a change in the law.

Supporters of the technology say it will speed up the development of hardier crops that will be needed because of climate change.

Critics say that the change could bring ''disaster'' to our food production and the environment.

Gene editing involves making precise changes to an organism's DNA to enhance certain characteristics.

The new law also opens the door to the development of gene-edited farm animals, but a further vote by MPs will be required before it is allowed, again only in England.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have not permitted the commercial use of gene editing.

[Crops in glasshouse]

Gene editing in England had been covered under the same tight regulation that has restricted the commercial development of GM crops under EU law. Brexit has enabled the Westminster government to relax the rules for the newer technology.

The chief scientific advisor for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Prof Gideon Henderson, says that the new rules will lead to better food production and bring jobs and investment to England.

"What's changed is that we can now use precision breeding technology developed in the lab and take it into the fields so that we can grow better crops and bring them to market more readily so that we can use the technology to enhance agricultural outcomes and food production in the UK and globally," he said.

The Precision Breeding Act allows only genetic changes that could also have been produced naturally or through traditional crossbreeding programmes already in use today. GM can involve the introduction of genes from other species and will not be permitted.

Gene editing enables researchers to make precise genetic changes to a plant's DNA, for example adding a gene to boost its growth or reduce dependence on fertiliser. The same change could be produced by crossbreeding different varieties, but it would take much longer.

The new law allows for the use of gene editing and other methods that may arise in the future, provided the end result is a crop that is no different to a variety that could have been naturally produced.

[Gene edited tomatoes]

Critics of genetically altered food, such as Pat Thomas of Beyond GM, are concerned that gene-edited crops will not have to go through the extensive testing required of GM foods in the EU, which may result in the introduction of toxins and allergens into the food chain.

"The entire process of this bill has been of the government consulting scientists with vested interests, usually in the biotech industry, who are reassuring the government that this change in the law will have no consequences," she said.

"History has shown that when you remove regulatory control, particularly for food and the environment, there is looming disaster on the horizon.''

Defra's response is that the Food Standards Agency, the FSA will only authorise products for sale if they are judged to present no risk to health.

There is also concern that labelling of gene-edited food is not a requirement and it is unclear how GE food from England will be prevented from entering other parts of the UK, where it is still banned.

[Seedless blackberries]

A Welsh Government spokesperson said that this would create "unavoidable consequences for Wales".

"Gene-edited plants, animals and products from England will be marketable here without the authorisations our law requires," they said.

"This undermines the devolution settlement. The UK Government chose not to engage with us, despite our efforts, whilst developing the bill and this means the effects of it have not been properly considered."

The Scottish government has a long-standing opposition to GM and wishes to stay in step with the EU, though its stance is opposed by NFU Scotland who says it puts Scottish farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

The Northern Ireland government has to follow the protocol negotiated with the EU which requires that it remains in step with rules regarding the definition of GM crops in Europe, which also cover gene-edited crops.

There is however enthusiasm for the use of gene editing among some plant breeders in England.

[Regulation Map]

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, just outside Cambridge, has been breeding new varieties of crops for UK farmers for more than a hundred years.

They crossbreed different varieties to produce new ones that grow better and are more resistant to diseases. It can take ten to fifteen years of development. The head of the lab, Prof Mario Caccamo told BBC News that he wants to use the technology to develop new varieties that can grow well in the hotter, drier conditions that the UK is experiencing more regularly, because of climate change.

"When we look to how the population is growing and how much we are increasing our yields using traditional methods, we are lagging behind," he said. "The projections show that we have to have an acceleration into how we can improve crops otherwise we are going to be struggling to feed the world."

[Gene Editing]

The UK is among the world leaders in research into plant genetics. But that expertise has not been able to take off, because of the effective ban on the commercial development of the technology, according to its supporters. The hope is that the change in law will attract new investment leading to new companies, new jobs and new foods.

Bayer Crop Science has developed GM crops for use across the world, employing more than 30,000 people.

But in the UK, it has a staff of 90 who are involved in traditional plant breeding. The company isn't ready to announce any new investment plans in England yet - but the firm's head of marketing in the UK, Lindy Blanchard, welcomed the change in the law.

"We are really, really excited and we are committed to help farmers overcome the challenges of climate change and we want to provide safe sustainable food for society, so no doubt we will be looking at this but it is step by step."

The new act also has provision to allow gene-edited animals on English farms, like these disease resistant pigs, developed in Scotland. But that will require another vote by MPs in Westminster once the government is satisfied that animals won't suffer.

Follow Pallab on Twitter

What is gene-edited food and is it safe to eat?, 4 days ago

The law has changed to allow gene-edited food to be developed and sold in England.

The government hopes the technology will boost jobs and improve food production, but safety and environmental worries mean it is not allowed in other parts of the UK.

What is gene-edited food?

For many years, farmers produced new varieties through traditional cross-breeding techniques.

They might, for instance, combine a big but not very tasty cabbage with a small but delicious one to create the perfect vegetable.

But this process can take years, because getting the hundreds of thousands of genes in cabbages to mix in just the right way to produce large but tasty offspring is a matter of trial and error.

Genetic methods remove the random element.

They let scientists identify which genes determine size and flavour, and insert them in the right places to develop the new variety much more quickly.

Which genetic techniques are used?

Genetic modification (GM), which has been common in most parts of the world for more than 20 years, though not in the European Union (EU).

GM involves adding genes to a plant's DNA from a different species of plant - or even an animal. It creates new varieties which could not have been produced through cross-breeding.

Cisgenesis, which is like GM, but involves adding genes from the same or very closely-related species, which the new rules will allow if the resulting crop is something that could have been produced through traditional cross breeding.

Gene-editing (GE), which is a much newer technique that lets scientists target specific genes. The new law lets plant breeders switch them on or off by removing a small section of DNA - again, provided the resulting crop could have been naturally produced.

[graphic describing difference between gene editing and genetic modification]

When will gene-edited foods be available in the UK?

Brexit let the government introduce much lighter regulations for gene-edited crops in England than are in place across the EU.

But you will not see GE produce in shops straight away.

The technology is still relatively new, and it may take several years before new varieties are on sale. But they are on the way.

The legislation also opens the door to the sale of meat, eggs and dairy from gene-edited animals.

But MPs would have to approve this separately, because the government is still considering the potential impact on animal welfare. There is no clear timetable for when this might happen.

The new rules do not require GE foods to be labelled as such, because Westminster considers them no different to conventional produce.

So far, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not changed their laws on GE crops.

What gene-edited food will I be able to buy?

In Japan, you can already buy tomatoes rich in a chemical called GABA, which has a calming effect, and modified sea bream where more of the flesh is suitable for sushi.

A US firm is developing seedless blackberries and stoneless cherries.

In the UK, researchers have developed tomatoes that contain vitamin D. Scientists in Hertfordshire have also been experimenting with gene-edited wheat.

[Wheat that has been gene-edited to recreate a mutation found only once in nature which increases grain size and so has the potential to boost yields.]

However, the food industry mainly wants to use GE technology to speed up the development of new varieties of current crops.

Firms also want to be able to tailor crops more precisely: producing starchier potatoes for crisp-makers, or protein-rich veg to use as a meat substitute.

Companies are also keen to introduce traits that improve yields, and to create varieties that are more resilient to climate change.

Are gene-edited foods safe?

Scientists insist that each of the three genetic techniques produces food that is safe to eat, and point out that all food is rigorously tested.

They argue that GM crops have been consumed by billions of consumers in North and South America and Asia for more than 25 years with no ill-effects.

However, concerns over health risks and the environmental impact have meant that neither GM nor GE crops can be commercially produced or sold in the EU, although there are some signs that this may change.

[Map showing restrictions on gene editing in food crops around the world]

What are the safety concerns?

Many campaigners who are opposed to gene-edited foods make no distinction between these and those produced by the earlier GM technology.

They are worried that GE foods will not require additional testing, and fear the creation of new allergens or toxins.

They are also concerned about the impact GE crops could have on the environment.

However, scientists say that there is no evidence that GM crops have harmed human health or damaged ecosystems, and they expect the same to be true for GE crops.

The Westminster government believes that because gene-edited produce is indistinguishable from natural varieties, they will face less opposition than their GM equivalents.

Recent unpublished polling by YouGov for the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) backs this view, but a large minority remains opposed:

* 54% said GE crops were "acceptable"

* 28% said they were "unacceptable"

The polling also found that 78% were in favour of some environmentally-beneficial applications of GE, such as the reduced use of pesticides and herbicides.

But there was less support for the use of gene-editing in animals, over fears the technology might cause suffering.

Claude Lorius: Pioneering French climate change scientist dies aged 91, 3 days ago

Claude Lorius, a leading glaciologist whose expeditions helped prove that humans were responsible for global warming, has died at the age of 91.

He led 22 expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica during his lifetime.

It was during one trip to Antarctica in 1965 where an evening of whiskey with ice cubes led him to prove humankind's role in the heating of the Earth's surface.

Lorius died on Tuesday morning in the French region of Burgundy.

It was his love of adventure which set him on the path to identifying and predicting an impending catastrophe for the planet.

In 1956, just out of university, he joined an expedition to Antarctica. Temperatures there were as low as -40C (-40F).

Despite this, Lorius and two other people lived there for two years, surviving with limited supplies and a faulty radio.

The more polar expeditions he led to the continent, the more he became fascinated with Antarctica's mysteries.

In 1965, Lorius had a revelation by gathering ice samples and dropping them in whiskey. He spoke about it half a century later.

"One evening, after deep drilling, in our caravan we drank a glass of whiskey in which we had put ice cubes of old ice," he said.

"Seeing the bubbles of air sparkling in our glasses, I came to the idea that they were samples of the atmosphere trapped in the ice."

Realising the scientific potential of analysing trapped air, he then decided to study ice cores - samples drilled out of the ice which act as frozen time capsules.

By drilling into the ice, Lorius drilled into the past, penetrating, in his words, the "ice of the first Ice Age".

His research into air bubbles trapped in the ice was published in 1987.

It showed that for long periods levels of carbon dioxide varied slightly but after the Industrial Revolution concentrations of the greenhouse gas had rocketed as temperatures rose.

Lorius's research brought him international renown and allowed scientists to look back over 160,000 years' worth of glacial records.

The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said it left "no room for doubt" that global warming was due to man made pollution.

From then on he became a campaigner and in 1988 he was the inaugural expert of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In 2002, he was awarded the CNRS gold medal along with his colleague Jean Jouzel.

Lorius was also the first Frenchmen to receive the prestigious Blue Planet Prize.

Europe risks being 'a spectator in next space race', 4 days ago

Europe must develop its own independent means of getting astronauts into space or risk missing out on the next big tech boom, warns an influential panel.

Its report, commissioned by the European Space Agency, says the space economy is at a similar inflection point to the internet 20 years ago.

Failure to respond will see Europe miss out on the next wave of Googles and Amazons, the group argues.

It calls for a plan to get Europeans on the Moon "within 10 years".

"While current estimates of the global space economy stand between €350bn and €450bn (£310bn-£400bn), independent forecasts predict its value to reach €1tn before 2040," the report reads.

"Countries and regions that will not secure their independent access to space and its autonomous use, will become strategically dependent and economically deprived of a major part of this value chain."

The High Level Advisory Group (HLAG) was asked to assess Europe's economic and geo-strategic position within the global space ecosystem ahead of a major summit of European ministers in November.

It's at this gathering that political momentum could be given to a new direction for Europe's space endeavours.

[Hermes concept]

Traditionally, the continent has been focussed largely on doing space science such as telescopes, and civil applications like satellite navigation and Earth observation. Its products in these areas are unquestionably world-leading.

But to get its astronauts into space, Europe has had to rely either on American or Russian rocket systems.

Europe did think about an independent approach in the 1980s but abandoned its space shuttle concept due to the costs involved.

The HLAG warns that Europe can now no longer sit in the back seat.

Others are pushing forward forcefully with their spaceflight plans, including China and India. These players will benefit from an "Apollo effect", the panel says. This refers to the technical boost the American economy received in pursuing its Moon landing project in the 1960s/70s.

"Should Europe be ambitious and affirm its leadership and be in the driving seat in this ecosystem, or be an observer, a junior partner, as we actually now are? In this report, you will find the answer," HLAG member Stefania Giannini, a former Italian minister for education and research, told reporters.

[SpaceX's reusable rockets have completely upended the global launch industry]

The panel highlights some of the dramatic changes taking place in the US, which are driven by the emergence of new, more efficient companies with very aggressive business models.

These innovative firms are being supported by more commercially orientated government procurement policies and also plentiful venture capital.

The best example, of course, is California's SpaceX company, whose reusable rockets have completely upended the market for launching to space. Its disruptive activity is also being felt in satellite communications.

"Ten years ago, Europe had 50% of the launch market. Today, we are almost out of the market," commented HLAG member Cédric O, a former secretary of state for the digital sector in France.

[Orion journey]

Already, the director general of Esa, Josef Aschbacher, has recognised the need to modify his agency's procurement policies.

One of these is the so-called principle of "geo-return", in which member states receive Esa investment back into their home industries proportionate to the amount of money they contribute to projects.

This certainly helps boost national industries, especially in smaller states, but spreading effort across many countries is not necessarily the best way to go about developing products that are competitive internationally. It's one of the reasons why Europe's Ariane rockets can't match the prices of SpaceX's rockets.

"I will launch a discussion with member states on what modifications or updates on geo-return we can do, especially in the face of 'new space' because new space has put new games and new rules on the table, and certainly Esa would like to be on top of it," Mr Aschbacher told BBC News.

Countries like the US and China invest heavily in human spaceflight exploration.

[French astronaut]

Each year, the American space agency Nasa spends on this one activity the equivalent of Esa's entire annual budget - about €7bn.

If Europe were to support an independent commercial programme to get its own astronauts into space - as suggested by the panel - it would demand a big uplift in public spending to kick-start and mature the necessary capabilities.

The sums involved might seem intimidating but they had to be put in context, said Chris Rapley from University College London and another HLAG member.

"The cost of inaction - socially, politically and economically - I'm convinced is greater than the cost of being engaged. A European citizen is taxed €1.5 a year to support the space effort. A doubling of that would allow all of this to take place."

Esa has 22 member states, one of which is the UK. Esa is a separate legal entity from the European Union. Britain is its fourth largest financial contributor, behind France, Germany and Italy.

* DG Josef Aschbacher discussed the HLAG report on the BBC World Service's Science In Action programme, with presenter Roland Pease.

3D printed rocket takes to the sky over Florida, 4 days ago

An almost fully 3D-printed rocket has taken flight for the first time.

Terran-1 left its launch pad in Cape Canaveral in Florida and powered skyward for a few minutes before falling back to Earth.

Some 85% of the vehicle, which is 112ft (34m) tall, was produced using additive manufacturing techniques (3D printing).

The aerospace industry uses these processes to make all manner of components but their application in Terran-1 is on a different scale.

California-based Relativity Space, which produced the rocket, has designed its own machines to fabricate both large and small parts, from tanks to engines.

The company said its eventual goal was to have more than 95% of the rocket 3D printed.

The items currently still being made using standard techniques comprise mostly electronics, computer chips, rubber seals and valves.

Terran-1 launched from Complex 16 at Canaveral's US Space Force Station at 23:25 local time on Wednesday (03:25 GMT on Thursday).

Its lower segment, or first stage, burned for just over two-and-a-half minutes. The second stage should then have taken over to complete the journey to orbit but, after a few flickers, it died. The upper part of the rocket would have come down in the Atlantic Ocean.


Despite not completing a full mission, the flight nonetheless represents a significant achievement for Relativity Space.

It is not uncommon to experience a failure on a maiden flight and the company will have acquired a wealth of data for future launches.

The stated first objective was to get through what is termed Max-Q. That is the point early in a launch where the aerodynamic pressure and other forces on a vehicle are at their greatest. Passing this mark established the integrity of the rocket's 3D-printed components.

"This is the biggest proof point for our novel additive manufacturing approach," the company later tweeted.

"Today is a huge win, with many historic firsts," it added. "We also progressed through main-engine cut-off and stage separation. We will assess flight data and provide public updates over the coming days."

The launch was also noteworthy because liquid methane was used as the fuel. Many other rockets will use it in the future, not least because it burns more cleanly than some current propellants of choice, such as kerosene.

[3D printed machine]

3D printing - building up the shapes of objects by fusing layers of aluminium powders or beads - enables complex designs to be fashioned in one piece, without the need for intricate tooling.

It also allows for rapid iteration of designs, should they require updating, and it cuts down on wasted raw materials.

Relativity Space said the Terran-1 had a little over 3,000 individual parts and believed it could get this number under 1,000 over time.

In terms of size and performance, Terran-1 is a modest vehicle capable of putting one-and-a-quarter tonnes of satellite payload into a low-Earth orbit. But it is really just a testing prototype.

The company has a much larger rocket on the drawing board that it calls Terran-R, with the capacity to put 20 tonnes at a similar altitude.

Unlike its pathfinder, Terran-R will be fully reusable. Both of its sections will be landed back on Earth and reassembled to fly again - much like the Starship system soon to launch from the industry's leading player, SpaceX.

[Terran-R concept]

Terran-R could make its debut in 2025.

The interest in Relativity Space and its approach to rockets is considerable.

It has signed future launch commitments with satellite operators worth more than $1.2bn (£0.97bn).

This includes an agreement with the London-based satellite broadband provider OneWeb.

The UK firm wants to use Terran-R to help put its next generation of spacecraft in orbit.

Massimiliano Ladovaz, chief technical officer at OneWeb, said the Relativity Space operation was very impressive, adding that with rocket rides at a premium right now it made sense to consider launch providers beyond the established players.

"Sometimes in this industry you have to make bets, controlled bets. Relativity has a solid technical team, with actually a lot of expertise from people who were formally with SpaceX," he told BBC News.

Five things we've learned from UN climate report, 7 days ago

The scientific body that advises the UN on rising temperatures has just released a new report. It's an important summary of six key pieces of research completed over the past five years. Our environment correspondent Matt McGrath considers the critical messages.

1 - Overshoot is the key word

The sober tones of this study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make clear that there is very little chance of keeping the world from warming by more than 1.5C. Governments had previously agreed to act to avoid that. But the world has already warmed by 1.1C and now experts say that it is likely to breach 1.5C in the 2030s, despite all the political speechmaking.

"It has always been clear in the IPCC and in climate science, that it's not very likely that we always will stay below 1.5C," said Dr Oliver Geden, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and a member of the report's core writing team.

Dr Geden and his colleagues now argue that coming back down as quickly as possible after overshooting this mark is where the focus should be.

Overshooting is risky, as the report acknowledges, because it might trip tipping points that can't be uncrossed, such as the melting of permafrost that would in turn release vast amounts of warming gases.

Coming back from overshooting will need expensive, unproven technology to pull CO2 from the air, something known as carbon capture.

It also means that it's even more urgent to get as quickly as possible to net zero - where the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere does not increase. Every increment of global warming and every year that goes by really matters.

[Cargo ship sales past wind farm]

2 - Keep it in the ground

While the report doesn't definitively say it, there are some clear indications that there's no future for coal, oil and gas on a liveable planet.

It highlights how renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar are now cheaper and that sticking with fossil fuels may be more expensive in many places than switching to low carbon systems.

"The message in terms of urgency, I think, is stop burning fossil fuels as fast as humanly possible," Dr Friederike Otto, one of the report's authors told BBC News.

"It is not because we are lacking some important piece of technology or some important knowledge. It is because so far, the sense of urgency has been lacking in the places where the important decisions are made."

3 - The power is in our hands

While it is easy to think that scientific reports on climate change are all about governments and energy policy, the IPCC has been moving to highlight the fact that the actions that people can take make by themselves make massive difference to the overall picture.

"We could cut 40 to 70% of projected 2050 emissions with end-use measures," said Kaisa Kosonen from Greenpeace, who was an observer at the IPCC approval session.

This includes shifting to plant-based diets, avoiding flights, building more walkable and bikeable cities," she told BBC News.

The report nudges governments towards reforming their transport, industry and energy systems so that making these low carbon choices becomes much easier and cheaper for individuals.

[people riding bicycles on city street]

4 - Our actions now will resonate for thousands of years

It's amazing to think that the decisions we make around the world over the next seven years will echo down the centuries.

The report warns that with sustained warming of between 2 and 3C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost "almost completely and irreversibly" over multiple millenia.

Many other thresholds will be crossed at low levels of heating, impacting things like the world's glaciers.

To stop this runaway train of warming, governments need to up their commitments before 2030, to reach net zero by 2050, in order to keep warming in or around 1.5C by 2100.

"I think our climate system, but also our social systems and our ecosystems, all show us that it's bloody urgent, so that we can still change the world to make it a better place for all of us," said Dr Otto.

5 - It's now about the politics not just the science

The real strength of the IPCC is that their reports are agreed with governments - and as such the reports are approved by their representatives in the presence of the scientists who research and write them.

But the future of fossil fuels is becoming more and more a political question.

Last November in Sharm el-Sheikh, a number of countries tried but failed to get the UN to agree to phase out oil and gas as well as coal.

This argument is not going away - with the EU now openly supporting such a move.

This new IPCC report will be central to it when countries meet again at COP28 in Dubai later this year.

UN climate report: Scientists release 'survival guide' to avert climate disaster, 7 days ago

UN chief Antonio Guterres says a major new report on climate change is a "survival guide for humanity".

Clean energy and technology can be exploited to avoid the growing climate disaster, the report says.

But at a meeting in Switzerland to agree their findings, climate scientists warned a key global temperature goal will likely be missed.

Their report lays out how rapid cuts to fossil fuels can avert the worst effects of climate change.

In response to the findings, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres says that all countries should bring forward their net zero plans by a decade. These targets are supposed to rapidly cut the greenhouse gas emissions that warm our planet's atmosphere.

"There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all," the report states.

Governments had previously agreed to act to avoid global temperature rise going above 1.5C. But the world has already warmed by 1.1C and now experts say that it is likely to breach 1.5C in the 2030s.

The UK government responded that the report makes it clear that countries must "work towards far more ambitious climate commitments" ahead of the UN climate summit COP28 in November.

"The UK is a world leader in working towards net zero, but we need to go further and faster," a spokesperson said.

Small islands in the Pacific are some of the countries expected to be worst hit by climate change.

Responding to the report, the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr. Pa'olelei Luteru said: "While our people are being displaced from their homes and climate commitments go unmet, the fossil fuel industry is enjoying billions in profits. There can be no excuses for this continued lack of action."

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the scientific body that advises the UN on rising temperatures - is agreed on by all governments involved.

Their new study aims to boil down to one slim volume several landmark findings on the causes, impacts and solutions to climate change that have been released since 2018.

It outlines the significant impacts that climate change is having on the world already, and explains that these will get much worse.

By 2100 extreme coastal flooding that used to happen once-a-century is expected to occur at least annually in half of the world's tidal gauge locations - places where sea level recordings are made.


Concentrations of the warming gas CO2 in the atmosphere are at their highest in 2 million years. The world is now warmer than at any time in the past 125,000 years - and will likely get warmer still over the next decade.

"Even in the near term, global warming is more likely than not to reach 1.5C even under the very low greenhouse gas scenario," the report states.

"If we aim for 1.5C and achieve 1.6C, that is still much much better than saying, it's too late, and we are doomed and I'm not even trying," Dr Friederike Otto, from Imperial College, a member of the core writing team for this report, told BBC News.

"And I think what this report shows very, very clearly is there is so much to win by trying."

[Infographic showing species loss at different amounts of global warming.]

The synthesis shows that projected emissions of CO2 from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, such as oil wells and gas pipelines, would bust the remaining carbon budget - the amount of CO2 that can still be emitted - for staying under this key temperature threshold.

And while not explicitly mentioning new projects like Willow oil in the US or the Cumbria coal mine in the UK, the scientists involved have few doubts about their impact.

"There's not a cut-off day (for fossil fuels), but it's clear that the fossil fuel infrastructure we already have will blow through that carbon budget," Dr Oliver Geden, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and a member of the report's core writing team, told BBC News.

[World-leading scientists wrote the UN report which must also be agreed on by governments]

"The remaining carbon budget in opening new fossil fuel infrastructure is certainly not compatible with the 1.5C target."

The document argues strongly that going past 1.5C will not be the end of the world as this may only be a "temporary overshoot".

The authors say that they are optimistic that dramatic changes can be achieved rapidly, pointing to the massive falls in the price of energy made from solar and wind.

They also argue that changes driven by consumers in terms of diet, food waste and switching to low carbon transport can achieve significant cuts in emissions from many sectors.

But the report also acknowledges that in addition to getting to net zero emissions as soon as possible, large scale use of carbon dioxide removal technology will be needed.

Some observers have their doubts. "We know what needs to happen, but the carbon removal part and carbon capture and storage ideas are a massive distraction," said Lili Fuhr, from the Centre for International Environmental Law, who attended the approval session.

Responding to the report's call for more urgent action, the UN secretary general is calling for countries to bring forward their plans for net zero by a decade.

"Leaders of developed countries must commit to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040, the limit they should all aim to respect," he said in a statement. He also calls on the likes of India and China who have announced net zero plans for beyond 2050 to try and bring them forward by a decade as well.

UN warns against 'vampiric' global water use, 5 days ago

A United Nations report has warned of a looming global water crisis and an "imminent risk" of shortages due to overconsumption and climate change.

The world is "blindly travelling a dangerous path" of "vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment", the report says.

Its publication comes before the first major UN water summit since 1977.

Thousands of delegates will attend the three-day gathering in New York which begins on Wednesday.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says water, "humanity's lifeblood", is being drained by "unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming".

The report, published by UN Water and Unesco, warns that "scarcity is becoming endemic" because of overconsumption and pollution, while global warming will increase seasonal water shortages in both areas with abundant water and those already strained.

Richard Connor, the lead author of the report, said that about 10% of the global population "currently lives in areas that are high or critical water stress".

"In our report, we say that up to 3.5 billion people live under conditions of water stress at least one month a year," he told the BBC.

According to the most recent UN climate report, published Monday by the IPCC expert panel, "roughly half of the world's population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year".

Mr Connor told reporters that "uncertainties are increasing" when it comes to global water supply.

"If we don't address it, there definitely will be a global crisis," he said.

UNDP Associate Administrator Usha Rao Monari told the BBC that resources would need to be managed more carefully in the future.

"There is enough water on the planet if we manage it more effectively than we have managed it over the last few decades," she said.

"I think we will have to find new governance models, new finance models, new models of using water and reusing water than ever before. I think that technology and innovation will play a very large role in looking at how to manage the water sector and the use of water."

The summit, co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, will gather some 6,500 participants, including 100 ministers and a dozen heads of state and government.

Extreme weather: What is it and how is it connected to climate change?, 7 days ago

People around the globe are experiencing more intense heatwaves, deadly floods and wildfires as a result of climate change.

Unless global emissions are cut, this cycle will continue.

Here are four ways climate change is changing the weather.

1. Hotter, longer heatwaves

To understand the impact of small changes to average temperatures, think of them as a bell curve with extreme cold and hot at either end, and the bulk of temperatures in the middle.

A small shift in the centre means more of the curve touches the extremes - and so heatwaves become more frequent and extreme.

["A small shift makes a big difference". A line chart showing how small changes in the climate increases the probability of more hot weather and more extreme weather.]

Temperatures in the UK topped 40C for the first time on record, in July last year, leading to transport disruption and water shortage.

The Met Office estimates the extreme heat is ten times more likely now because of climate change. And things could worsen.

"In a few decades this might actually be a quite a cool summer," says Professor Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London.

The Met Office has also pointed out that heatwaves are not just hotter: They're also lasting longer. Warm spells have more than doubled in length in the past 50 years.

Heatwaves can be made longer and more intense by another weather phenomenon - a heat dome.

In an area of high pressure, hot air is pushed down and trapped in place, causing temperatures to soar over an entire continent.

[A graphic showing how heat domes are formed. 1) A mass of warm air builds up in still and dry summer conditions 2) High pressure in the atmosphere pressures the warm air down 3) The air is compressed and gets even hotter]

When a storm distorts the jet stream, which is made of currents of fast-flowing air, it is a bit like yanking a skipping rope at one end and seeing the ripples move along it.

These waves cause everything to slow drastically and weather systems can become stuck over the same areas for days on end.

India and Pakistan faced successive heatwaves, with Jacobabad, in Pakistan, registering 49C at one point in May.

In the same month, Onslow in Western Australia hit 50.7C, the joint-highest temperature ever reliably recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

One theory suggests higher temperatures in the Arctic are causing the jet stream to slow, increasing the likelihood of heat domes.

The Arctic is also warming more than four times faster than the global average in recent decades. In June 2020, average temperatures in Siberia were up to 10°C above normal, reaching a new record of 38°C in the Arctic circle. This triggered devastating wildfires and sea ice loss.

The World Weather Attribution network (WWA), a collaboration between international climate scientist, concluded this was "almost impossible" without climate change.

Scientists warn 2023 could be even warmer, as a climate phenomenon called La Niña - which has been suppressing global temperatures - has come to an end.

2. More persistent droughts

Making a direct link between climate change and individual drought events is challenging. A number of factors influence water availability, not just temperature and precipitation.

But as heatwaves become more intense and longer, droughts are likely to worsen.

Less rain falls between heatwaves, so ground moisture and water supplies run dry more quickly. This means the ground takes less time to heat up, warming the air above and leading to more intense heat.

[A man walks in front of a sandstorm in Dollow, southwest Somalia. People from across Gedo in Somalia have been displaced due to drought. 14 April 2022.]

Demand for water from humans and farming puts even more stress on water supply, adding to shortages.

3. More fuel for wildfires

Wildfires can be sparked by direct human involvement - but natural factors can also play a huge part.

The cycle of extreme and long-lasting heat caused by climate change draws more and more moisture out of the ground and vegetation.

These tinder-dry conditions provide fuel for fires, which can spread at an incredible speed.

Earlier this year the Chilean government put three regions on high alert for forest fires amid weeks of high temperatures.

[Firefighters and police evacuate a person in a wheelchair after a forest fire approached his house. in Ninhue, Ñuble Region, in Chile, on February 10, 2023. - Forest fires have raged for more than a week in south-central Chile, leaving at least 24 people dead.]

In Australia, New South Wales is experiencing its worst fires since the 2019/20 "Black Summer" - as strong winds and scorching temperatures drive the fires' rapid spread.

Last summer, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Albania experienced severe wildfires - with thousands of residents evacuated and several hundreds reported to have died.

[Tourists rest in an evacuation center in La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France, on July 15, 2022]

In 2021, Canada experienced heatwaves that led to fires which developed so rapidly and explosively that they created their own weather system, forming pyrocumulonimbus clouds. These colossal clouds then produced lightning, igniting more fires.

Compared with the 1970s, fires larger than 10,000 acres (40 sq km) are now seven times more common in western America, according to Climate Central, an independent organisation of scientists and journalists.

4. More extreme rainfall events

In the usual weather cycle, hot weather creates moisture and water vapour in the air, which turns into droplets to create rain.

[A chart showing how record temperatures cause extreme rainfall. 1) More heat from sun causes greater evaporation 2) More moisture forms clouds 3) Heavier rain]

The warmer it becomes, however, the more vapour there is in the atmosphere. This results in more droplets and heavier rainfall, sometimes in a shorter space of time and over a smaller area.

In 2022 floods hit Spain and also parts of eastern Australia. In a period of just six days Brisbane saw almost 80% of its annual rainfall, while Sydney recorded more than its average annual rainfall in little over three months.

These rainfall events are connected to the effects of climate change elsewhere, according to Peter Gleick, a water specialist from the US National Academy of Sciences.

"When areas of drought grow, like in Siberia and western US, that water falls elsewhere, in a smaller area, worsening flooding," he said.

The weather across the globe will always be highly variable - but climate change is making those variations more extreme.

And the challenge now is not only limiting the further impact people have on the atmosphere but also adapting to and tackling the extremes we are already facing.

James Webb telescope detects dust storm on distant world, 5 days ago

A raging dust storm has been observed on a planet outside our Solar System for the first time.

It was detected on the exoplanet known as VHS 1256b, which is about 40 light-years from Earth.

It took the remarkable capabilities of the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to make the discovery.

The dust particles are silicates - small grains comprising silicon and oxygen, which form the basis of most rocky minerals.

But the storm detected by Webb isn't quite the same phenomenon you would get in an arid, desert region on our planet. It's more of a rocky mist.

"It's kind of like if you took sand grains, but much finer. We're talking silicate grains the size of smoke particles," explained Prof Beth Biller from the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, UK.

"That's what the clouds on VHS 1256b would be like, but a lot hotter. This planet is a hot, young object. The cloud-top temperature is maybe similar to the temperature of a candle flame," she told BBC News.

VHS 1256b was first identified by the UK-developed Vista telescope in Chile in 2015.

It's what's termed a "super Jupiter" - a planet similar to the gas giant in our own Solar System, but a lot bigger, perhaps 12 to 18 times the mass.

It circles a couple of stars at great distance - about four times the distance that Pluto is from our Sun.

Earlier observations of VHS 1256b showed it to be red-looking, hinting that it might have dust in its atmosphere. The Webb study confirms it.

"It's fascinating because it illustrates how different clouds on another planet can be from the water vapour clouds we are familiar with on the Earth," said Prof Biller.

"We see carbon monoxide (CO) and methane in the atmosphere, which is indicative of it being hot and turbulent, with material being drawn up from deep.

"There are probably multiple layers of silicate grains. The ones that we're seeing are some of the very, very fine grains that are higher up in the atmosphere, but there may be bigger grains deeper down in the atmosphere."

[Graphic: JWST]

Telescopes have previously detected silicates in so-called brown dwarfs. These are essentially star-like objects that have failed to ignite properly. But this is a first for a planet-sized object.

To make the detection, Webb used its Mid-Infrared Instrument (Miri), part-built in the UK, and its Near-Infrared Spectrometer (NirSpec).

They didn't take pretty pictures of the planet, at least not in this instance. What they did was tease apart the light coming from VHS 1256b into its component colours as a way to discern the composition of the atmosphere.

"JWST is the only telescope that can measure all these molecular and dust features together," said Miri co-principal investigator Prof Gillian Wright, who directs the STFC UK Astronomy Technology Centre, also in Edinburgh.

"The dynamic picture of the atmosphere of VHS 1256b provided by this study is a prime example of the discoveries enabled by using the advanced capabilities of Miri and NirSpec together."

JWST's primary mission is to observe the pioneer stars and galaxies that first shone just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. But a key objective is to investigate exoplanets. In Miri and NirSpec it has the tools to study their atmospheres in unprecedented detail.

Scientists hope they might even be able to tell whether some exoplanets have conditions suitable to host life.

Astronomers are reporting Webb's observations of VHS 1256b in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

James Webb is a collaborative project of the US, European and Canadian space agencies. It was launched in December 2021 and is regarded as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.