All The News

on 2023.09.25 at 00:15:52 in London

Osiris-Rex: Nasa awaits fiery return of asteroid Bennu samples
Niger coup: Macron says France to withdraw troops and ambassador
Trudeau facing cold reality after lonely week on world stage
Kosovo police officer killed in shooting blamed on Serbia
Nagorno-Karabakh: Ethnic Armenians leave amid cleansing fear
Woman's body found in jaws of 13ft Florida alligator identified
Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin opponent in isolation cell in Siberian jail
AI-generated naked child images shock Spanish town of Almendralejo
Bob Menendez steps down as US Senate foreign relations chairman after indictment
Nursery boy's fentanyl death provokes horror in Bronx
Karabakh humanitarian fears grow with thousands sleeping on Stepanakert streets
Lost painting by female artist goes on display at Windsor Castle
Florida police stop 10-year-old driver on highway
Russell Brand accuser sparks debate about staggered age of consent
Ukraine war: How Zelensky is grappling with Western war fatigue
Lampedusa: Inside the camp at the heart of Europe’s migrant surge
The videos helping people get lighter sentences
The Archies: Why an American comic book evokes nostalgia in Indians
Pablo Neruda: Chilean poet's death still shrouded in mystery

War in Ukraine
Ukraine claims Sevastopol strike hit navy commanders
Ukraine war: US to give Kyiv long-range ATACMS missiles - media reports
Wagner deserter Andrey Medvedev held over bid to return to Russia
Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky visits Canada for first time since Russia invasion
A shadow of 'Ukraine fatigue' hangs over Polish politics
How Norway outstrips US on Ukraine spending
Where Ukraine’s army of amputees go to repair their lives
Ukraine's Crimea attacks seen as key to counter-offensive against Russia
Kim Jong Un-Putin talks: What do the optics tell us?
Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia
War in Ukraine: Is the counter-offensive making progress?

South China Sea: Philippines says Beijing installed floating barrier in contested area
Man gored to death by bull at Spanish festival
French rapper MHD gets 12 years in jail for murder

US & Canada
Canadian mother and twins charged with pretending to be Inuit
Incendiary rhetoric on Sikh's murder stokes debate in Canada diaspora
F-35 crash: Pilot called 911 after parachuting into backyard
UAW strike expands to dozens of sites at GM and Stellantis
Five things to know about Lachlan Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch's succession drama reaches its finale
Who was Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Hardeep Singh Nijjar: Why Western nations fear India-Canada row

HS2: Johnson warns against 'mutilated' version of rail link
Amazon Prime Video content to start including ads next year
Microsoft's new Call of Duty deal set for UK approval
Chevron and unions agree to end Western Australia gas strikes
Warner Bros to expand Barbie movie studios in UK
JPEX: Hong Kong investigates influencer-backed crypto exchange
UK interest rate freeze ends run of 14 straight increases
Japan's Toshiba set to end 74-year stock market history
Google accused of directing motorist to drive off collapsed bridge
Despite risks fish farms are booming in Africa
Who is Rupert Murdoch?
Forget LA – it’s British film studios that are in demand
The turbo-charged plants that could boost farm output
New tax divides India's booming computer games sector

Game of Thrones author sues ChatGPT owner OpenAI
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth: Reaction to demo as Tokyo Game Show starts
Inside Tiktok's real-life frenzies - from riots to false murder accusations
Musk start-up Neuralink seeks people for brain-implant trial
Fortnite: Parents in US offered refunds for game purchases
Braverman and Facebook clash over private message plans
FTX: 'King of Crypto' parents sued over missing millions
Mortal Kombat 1: Nintendo Switch version will be fixed, says boss
YouTube suspends Russell Brand from advert income
Is it possible to regulate artificial intelligence?
The firms hoping to take psychedelic drugs mainstream
The app teaching Somalis to read and write

Net zero: Rishi Sunak 'destroying' UK green credibility, says Yanis Varoufakis
Metal-mining pollution impacts 23 million people worldwide
Get a grip on greener housebuilding and pollution rules, government told
UK migratory birds 'in freefall' over climate change
Could Rishi Sunak's green review threaten UK net zero?
What is net zero and how are the UK and other countries doing?
Tantalising sign of possible life on faraway world
Morocco earthquake movement mapped from space

BBC Verify
Libya floods: Why damage to Derna was so catastrophic

Osiris-Rex: Nasa awaits fiery return of asteroid Bennu samples, today

A seven-year mission to study what has been described as the most dangerous rock in the Solar System is about to reach its dramatic conclusion.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft is bringing home the "soil" samples it grabbed from the surface of asteroid Bennu.

These dusty materials will be dropped off by the Nasa probe as it sweeps past the Earth on Sunday.

They'll be tucked inside a capsule to protect them from a fiery descent to the US State of Utah.

Scientists expect the samples' chemistry to reveal new information about the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago, and possibly even to give insights on how life got started on our world.

Touchdown on desert land belonging to the Department of Defense is expected at 08:55 local time (14:55 GMT; 15:55 BST).

[Landing location]

It is sure to be an anxiety-fuelled day for everyone involved in the Osiris-Rex project - especially during the 13 minutes it takes for the capsule to fall through the atmosphere.

The car tyre-sized container will be moving initially at more than 12km/s (27,000mph) and experiencing peak heating in excess of 3,000C. But a combination of a thermal shield and parachutes should bring it to a safe stop on the desert plain.

"We have spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for contingencies, everything that could go wrong, all the horrible things that we might encounter," mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta told the BBC.

"But the good news is we've practised and practised and practised and so we're ready to go."

[Descent timings]

The Osiris-Rex probe spacecraft left Earth in 2016 to investigate Bennu, which has a very slight chance of hitting our planet late next century.

The probe took two years to reach the 500m-wide rock and a further two years observing the "space mountain" before making an audacious series of manoeuvres that obtained the cache of surface materials.

All that remains is to bring those samples - about 250g (8oz) in mass - safely to the ground.

A "go, no-go" decision to command the probe to release the capsule will be made about four hours before re-entry is due to begin.

[Weather balloon launch]

The recovery teams are confident, but they know nothing can be taken for granted.

The spectre hanging over this event is Genesis, a capsule that in 2004 was bringing back samples of the solar wind.

Its parachute failed to open and it hit the ground at more than 300km/h (190km/h), cracking open its contents.

"We understand the error that occurred on Genesis which was some gravity switches were installed upside down," said Richard Witherspoon from capsule manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

"There have been many double checks on the gravity switches on this capsule to make sure they're installed the correct side up, so we actually have no worries about it coming in and operating properly."

Even so, a "breach team" will be on standby in case the worst happens.

[Genesis capsule]

Meteorologists at the Utah Test and Training Range have been putting up weather balloons in recent days to get the very latest information to help predict the final drop position. The capsule will spend five minutes dangling on its main chute but with light winds expected, it's unlikely to be pushed far off course.

The bigger issue is all the rain the desert has experienced this year. There are standing puddles and quite a bit of mud.

"That makes recovery with vehicles, ground vehicles, difficult," said Dan Ruth, the chief meteorologist at the US Army's Dugway base.

"They can get stuck. But on the plus side, it will keep the dust down, which is good for the equipment."

[Simulated Bennu sample]

The recovery teams plan to fly out to the drop point in helicopters, put the capsule in a net and move it beneath a chopper to a temporary cleanroom at Dugway.

It is in this sterile cabin that the inner canister containing the Bennu samples will be enclosed in nitrogen for onward transport to Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Texas where the detailed analysis can begin.

All the recovery operations have been designed to avoid introducing Earthly contamination into the samples which might compromise the coming investigations.

[Nasa chopper]

"Bennu is what we call a carbonaceous asteroid," explained Christopher Sneed, the deputy curator on the Osiris-Rex mission.

"We think that these types of bodies are the building blocks for the planets, and they go back to the beginning of the Solar System.

"We can find inclusions and materials in there that created the planets, the elements that made our planet and also perhaps the compounds that started life on Earth."

After dropping off the capsule, the Nasa probe will be commanded to fly on to another asteroid called Apophis. The rendezvous is expected in 2029.

[Asteroid size comparison]

Additional reporting by Rebecca Morelle, Alison Francis and Kevin Church

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Niger coup: Macron says France to withdraw troops and ambassador, today

Emmanuel Macron has said France will withdraw its ambassador and end all military cooperation with Niger following a coup.

"France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France," the president said.

He added that military cooperation was "over" and French troops would leave in "the months to come".

A military junta seized Niger on July 26, deposing President Mohamed Bazoum.

The decision follows months of animosity and protests against the French presence in the country, with regular demonstrations in the capital Niamy.

The move deals a hammer blow to France's counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel and France's influence in the region, but Mr Macron said France would "not be held hostage by the putschists", speaking to France's TF1 and France 2 television stations.

There are around 1,500 French soldiers in Niger.

The French president said that he still regarded Mr Bazoum, currently held prisoner by the coup leaders, as the country's "sole legitimate authority" and had informed him of his decision. He described the deposed president as a "hostage".

"He was targeted by this coup d'etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice," he said.

Niger's military leaders told French ambassador Sylvain Itte he had to leave the country after they overthrew Mr Bazoum on July 26.

However, a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognise the military regime as legitimate.

Mr Macron's statement also comes hours after Niger's coup leaders banned "French aircraft" from flying over the country.

The regional air safety organisation, ASECNA, said that Niger's airspace was open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France including those of the airline Air France".

The air space would remain closed for "all military, operational and other special flights", unless receiving prior authorisation, the message said.

Air France told the AFP news agency simply that it was "not flying over Niger airspace".

Trudeau facing cold reality after lonely week on world stage, today

This week in New York, as he listened to questions from reporters, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's reliable smile began to fade.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all the questions were about India and the shocking allegation made by Mr Trudeau earlier in the week: there was credible evidence the Indian government had participated in the extrajudicial killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil, a Sikh activist whom India has accused of terrorism.

Delhi has denied having anything to do with the murder.

Speaking slowly, carefully, the prime minister stuck closely to his talking points. "We're not looking to provoke or cause problems," he said. "We're standing up for the rules-based order."

But where, several reporters asked, were Canada's allies? "So far in time," one journalist said to Mr Trudeau, "you seem to be alone".

In the public eye at least, Mr Trudeau has appeared to be left largely on his own as he goes toe to toe with India, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, with a population 35 times bigger than Canada's.

In the days since the prime minister made the explosive announcement, his allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance provided seemingly boilerplate public statements, all stopping far short of full-throated support.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said his country took "very seriously the things that Canada are saying". Using nearly identical language, Australia said it was "deeply concerned" by the accusations.

But perhaps the most deafening silence came from Canada's southern neighbour, the United States. The two countries are close allies, but the US did not speak up with outrage on Canada's behalf.

When President Joe Biden publicly raised India this week, while speaking at the UN, it was not to condemn, but to praise the country for helping to establish a new economic pathway.

Mr Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan later denied that there was a "wedge" between the US and its neighbour, saying Canada was being closely consulted. But other public statements were tepid, more nods to "deep concern", coupled with affirmations of India's growing importance to the Western world.

The problem for Canada, experts told the BBC, is that its interests currently pale in comparison to India's massive strategic importance.

"The United States, the UK, and all these Western and Indo-Pacific allies have built a strategy that largely focuses on India, to be a bulwark and counterweight to China. That's something they can't afford to toss out the window," said Xavier Delgado, a researcher at the Wilson Center's Canada Institute.

"The fact that they haven't come out and rushed to Canada's defence is indicative of the geopolitical reality."

Speaking to Canadian network CTV, US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen confirmed reports that the Five Eyes partners had shared intelligence on the matter. But on a report that those same allies had rebuffed an appeal from Canada to publicly condemn the murder he said only that he was "not in the habit of commenting on private diplomatic conversations".

Still, the relative quiet may also be indicative of Canada's shortcomings on the world stage - a dependable Western ally, but not a global power in its own right.

"This is a moment of weakness," said Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Institute.

"Right now we're seeing a hard power moment. That is not the environment where Canada shines," he said. "The decisive stuff is all force, power and money, which Canada doesn't have."

Few outside India took issue with Mr Trudeau's decision to publicly disclose the allegations which, if true, would amount to a political assassination on Canadian soil at the hands of a fellow democracy. But those ethics may not be enough to shift global headwinds.

[Trudeau speaks at a press conference during UNGA]

For Mr Trudeau, that cold geopolitical reality meant an apparently solitary few days while the tensions with India dialled up higher and higher - diplomatic expulsions, travel advisories and, most dramatically, a suspension of all visa services for Canadians seeking to travel to India.

To add insult to injury, this long week comes at the end of an even longer summer for Canada's Liberal leader.

As Canadians struggled with inflation and high interest rates, news broke of alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections, which critics said Mr Trudeau and his cabinet were aware of, but failed to take seriously.

Then it came out that the country's most notorious serial killer Paul Bernardo was being transferred to a medium-security prison, inspiring country-wide outrage. Once again, Mr Trudeau's team faced criticism that it had been caught flat-footed.

By September, Mr Trudeau's approval ratings had dropped to a three-year low, with 63% of Canadians disapproving of their prime minister, who was elected in 2015.

"He's not been lower than that over an eight-year period," said Shachi Kurl, president of Angus Reid Institute, a non-partisan research group. "There were questions being put to him very squarely, like 'are you going to stick around? Will you resign?'"

It's another cold reality for Mr Trudeau, who started in the prime minister's office as a minor national star, with a sweeping majority mandate.

"He's a celebrity like we've never seen in Canadian politics," said Campbell Clark, chief political writer for the Globe and Mail newspaper. "And after he won the election, his popularity soared."

But after eight years of a highly visible prime minister, Canadians may have had their fill, Mr Clark said, noting it feels like Mr Trudeau's star power has faded, especially in recent months.

[Justin Trudeau and Volodymyr Zelensky]

Still, some experts cautioned that while Mr Trudeau may seem to be standing alone on the international stage, this row with India may provide a much-needed bump at home.

"It got him away from all of these domestic questions," Mr Clark said.

And it can't have hurt that Mr Trudeau finished his week standing side by side with another ally - and an even bigger celebrity - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. For a day, at least, Mr Trudeau seemed to be in very good company.

Kosovo police officer killed in shooting blamed on Serbia, today

A police officer has been killed and another injured in a shooting in area of Kosovo near Serbia.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the attack in the northern village of Banjska in Leposavic involved "professionals" using heavy weapons. The incident is ongoing, Mr Kurti said.

Tensions have run high in Kosovo, after violent clashes followed a disputed local election in May.

EU-mediated political talks designed to stabilise the situation have stalled.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia - along with Belgrade's key allies China and Russia - does not recognise it.

Many Serbs consider it the birthplace of their nation. But of the 1.8 million people living in Kosovo, 92% are Albanian and only 6% Serbian.

Sunday's shooting happened at about 03:00 (01:00 GMT), after police said they arrived in Banjska, near the border with Serbia, where a blockade had been reported.

Officers were attacked from several different positions with "an arsenal of firearms, including hand grenades and shoulder-fired missiles", they said in a statement.

Organised crime with political, financial and logistical support from Belgrade "is attacking our country", Prime Minister Kurti said, adding that the perpetrators and those who issued their orders would be punished.

Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani said the incident, "orchestrated by Serbian criminal gangs", was an attack on law and order and "against the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo".

She condemned the "open aggression of Serbia towards Kosovo" and called on the country's allies to support Kosovo in establishing law and order.

Ms Osmani urged people to remain united and expressed her confidence in Kosovo's police.

Serbia has not commented on the incident.

Unrest engulfed northern Kosovo in May after Kosovo Albanian mayors were installed in majority-Serb areas, after Serb residents boycotted local polls.

Nato deployed an additional 700 troops to Kosovo to deal with unrest in the northern town Zvecan following the elections.

Some 30 Nato peacekeepers and more than 50 Serb protesters were hurt in the ensuing clashes.

The latest EU-mediated talks collapsed last week, with the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell blaming Mr Kurti for failing to set up the association of Serb-majority municipalities which would give them more autonomy.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Ethnic Armenians leave amid cleansing fear, today

The first group of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived in Armenia, days after the enclave was seized by Azerbaijan.

They entered shortly after local officials announced plans to move those made homeless by the fighting.

Azerbaijan captured the area inhabited by some 120,000 ethnic Armenians early this week and says it wants to re-integrate them as "equal citizens".

But Armenia has warned they may face ethnic cleansing.

Around 40 people were part of the first group to leave. Armenia says it will help anyone who leaves but has repeatedly said a mass exodus would be the fault of the Azerbaijani authorities.

In a TV address on Sunday, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashanyan said that many inside the enclave would "see expulsion from the homeland as the only way out" unless Azerbaijan provided "real living conditions" and "effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing".

He repeated that his government was prepared to "lovingly welcome our brothers and sisters".

But David Babayan, an adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian leader Samvel Shahramanyan, told Reuters he expected almost everyone to leave.

His people "do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan - 99.9% prefer to leave our historic lands", he said.

"The fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilised world," he told Reuters.

"Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer before God for their sins."

Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountainous region in the South Caucasus - is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades.

The enclave has been supported by Armenia - but also by their ally, Russia, which has had hundreds of soldiers there for years.

Five Russian peacekeepers were killed - alongside at least 200 ethnic Armenians and dozens of Azerbaijani soldiers - as Azerbaijan's army swept in earlier this week.

Despite Azerbaijan's public reassurances, there are ongoing fears about the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, with only one aid delivery of 70 tonnes of food having been allowed through since separatists accepted a ceasefire and agreed to disarm.

Ethnic Armenian leaders say thousands are without food or shelter and sleeping in basements, school buildings or outside.

In his TV address, the Armenian prime minister also hinted that Russia had not come to its defence in the conflict.

His comments echoed criticism that Moscow had effectively handed Nagorno-Karabakh over to Azerbaijan - a charge Russia's foreign minister has described as "ludicrous".

"Yerevan and Baku actually did settle the situation," Sergei Lavrov told the UN General Assembly. "Time has come for mutual trust-building.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Nagorno-Karabakh map

[Map of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, showing areas of the former autonomous region where Russian peacekeeping forces operate. The map also highlights some of the cities in the area and the Lachin corridor, which, though not a part of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is to remain under the control of Russian peacekeepers to act as a connection with Armenia for ethnic-Armenian population in the region. Another map shows where Nagorno-Karabakh is located in the South Caucasus region of southeast Europe and Asia.]

Woman's body found in jaws of 13ft Florida alligator identified, today

A 13ft (4m) alligator has been killed after it was spotted in Florida with the remains of a local woman in its jaws, police have said.

A witness told local media he saw the alligator in a Largo canal clutching a lower torso in its mouth.

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said the animal was killed and confirmed the remains of 41-year-old Sabrina Peckham were found in the waterway.

An investigation will determine the circumstances behind the woman's death.

Police said deputies were called at 13:50 local time on Friday after a report of a body in the waterway.

Jamarcus Bullard said he was on walking to a job interview when he spotted the alligator with what initially looked like a mannequin in its mouth.

"I noticed it had a body in its mouth - like a lower torso - so once I saw that I ran straight to the fire department," he told local broadcaster Fox 13.

"It was my first time seeing a gator in real life so I was like it's pretty cool, but once I saw what it had I was like 'is that like a mannequin?'

"It was pale and white."

"It was just clamped onto it, and swam backwards to the bottom of the canal... I just couldn't believe it was real," he said in another interview with 10 Tampa Bay.

Authorities said the alligator was humanely killed and removed from the waterway, before a police dive team recovered the remains of Ms Peckham.

News footage shows a huge alligator sprawled on the pavement surrounded by police and emergency vehicles.

A post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death is pending.

A fundraising page has reportedly been set up for Ms Peckham by her family, who said the woman was homeless at the time of her death.

Breauna Dorris, who said she was the victim's daughter, wrote: "Sabrina lost her life suddenly after being attacked by a 13-foot alligator.

"Our family is in shambles trying to cope with this kind of loss."

Nearby residents said they had seen small alligators in the area before, but not of the size of the animal found in this case.

Jennifer Dean told 10 Tampa Bay: "It's crazy. My kids walk by there all the time. So it's really scary. I've seen four or five-feet gators but nothing that big."

Mr Bullard added: "I'm going to get me a bike or start catching the bus to work. They have small little gates, but somebody died."

[A map showing Largo in Florida]

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin opponent in isolation cell in Siberian jail, today

Jailed Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been moved to a maximum-security prison in Siberia, several weeks after he was taken from a Moscow detention centre.

He was placed in an isolation cell at the Omsk penal colony, his lawyer says.

Mr Kara-Murza, who has survived two poisonings since 2015, was jailed for 25 years in April accused of treason and lying about the war Ukraine.

His lawyer said conditions in Omsk threatened his client's health.

The whereabouts of the 42-year-old had been unknown for several weeks.

The charges against him stemmed from a speech he gave to the Arizona House of Representatives, in which he denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

His sentence is the longest against a Russian opposition figure in recent years.

His lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said in a Facebook post that Mr Kara-Murza arrived last week at IK-6, a maximum security penal colony.

"He was straight away placed in an isolation cell," he added.

He warned that such treatment would be detrimental for his client's health, which has already been weakened due to poisoning attempts his client has blamed on the Kremlin.

Mr Kara-Murza's lawyers and family have said the attempts on his life have left him with a nerve condition called polyneuropathy.

He has long campaigned for Western countries to place sanctions on Russian officials. He has rejected the charges against him and called them punishment for standing up to President Vladimir Putin.

Omsk is some 2,700km (1,670 miles) east of Moscow. Russia's penal system often takes weeks to move prisoners by rail between jails, with the whereabouts of those transit often unknown.

AI-generated naked child images shock Spanish town of Almendralejo, today

A sleepy town in southern Spain is in shock after it emerged that AI-generated naked images of young local girls had been circulating on social media without their knowledge.

The pictures were created using photos of the targeted girls fully clothed, many of them taken from their own social media accounts.

These were then processed by an application that generates an imagined image of the person without clothes on.

So far more than 20 girls, aged between 11 and 17, have come forward as victims of the app's use in or near Almendralejo, in the south-western province of Badajoz.

"One day my daughter came out of school and she said 'Mum there are photos circulating of me topless'," says María Blanco Rayo, the mother of a 14-year-old.

"I asked her if she had taken any photos of herself nude, and she said, 'No, Mum, these are fake photos of girls that are being created a lot right now and there are other girls in my class that this has happened to as well.'"

She says the parents of 28 girls affected have formed a support group in the town.

[Spanish police press conference]

Police are now investigating and according to reports, at least 11 local boys have been identified as having involvement in either the creation of the images or their circulation via the WhatsApp and Telegram apps.

Investigators are also looking into the claim that an attempt was made to extort one of the girls by using a fake image of her.

The impact the images' circulation has had on the girls affected varies. Ms Blanco Rayo says her daughter is bearing up well, but that some girls "won't even leave their house".

Almendralejo is a picturesque town with a population of just over 30,000 which is known for its production of olives and red wine. But it's not used to the sudden attention this case has brought, making the town national headline news.

That's in great part because of the efforts of one of the girls' mothers, Miriam Al Adib. She's a gynaecologist who has used her already prominent social media profile to place this issue at the centre of Spanish public debate.

[Miriam Al Adib]

Although many of the AI images are believed to have been created over the summer, the case only came to light in recent days after Dr Adib posted a video reassuring the girls affected and their parents.

"We didn't know how many children had the images, if they had been uploaded to pornographic sites - we had all those fears," she says.

"When you are the victim of a crime, if you are robbed, for example, you file a complaint and you don't hide because the other person has caused you harm. But with crimes of a sexual nature the victim often feels shame and hides and feels responsible. So I wanted to give that message: it's not your fault."

The suspects in the case are aged between 12 and 14. Spanish law does not specifically cover the generation of images of a sexual nature when it involves adults, although the creation of such material using minors could be deemed child pornography.

Another possible charge would be for breaching privacy laws. In Spain, minors can only face criminal charges from the age of 14 upwards.

The case has caused concern even for local people who are not involved.

"Those of us who have kids are very worried," says Gema Lorenzo, a local woman who has a son, aged 16, and a daughter, aged 12.

"You're worried about two things: if you have a son you worry he might have done something like this; and if you have a daughter, you're even more worried, because it's an act of violence."

Francisco Javier Guerra, a local painter and decorator, says the parents of the boys involved are to blame. "They should have done something before, like take their phones away, or install an application that tells them what their children are doing with their phone."

This is not the first time such a case has become news in Spain. Earlier this year, AI-generated topless images of the singer Rosalía were posted on social media.

"Women from different parts of the world have written to me explaining that this has happened to them and they don't know what to do," says Miriam Al Adib.

"Right now this is happening across the world. The only difference is that in Almendralejo we have made a fuss about it."

The concern is that apps such as those used in Almendralejo are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Javier Izquierdo, head of children's protection in the national police's cyber-crime unit, told Spanish media that these kinds of crimes are no longer confined "to the guy who downloads child porn from the Dark Web or from some hidden internet forum".

He added: "That obviously is still going on, but now the new challenges we are facing are the access that minors have at such an early age [to such technology], such as in this case."

Bob Menendez steps down as US Senate foreign relations chairman after indictment, yesterday

A veteran US senator has temporarily stepped down as head of the chamber's powerful foreign relations committee as he battles bribery charges.

Justice department prosecutors allege Robert Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for aid to Egypt's government.

The couple have denied the charges.

The embattled senator has rejected calls from fellow Democrats back in his home state of New Jersey to resign his seat.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday that Mr Menendez had decided to step down as chairman of the influential committee "until the matter has been resolved".

The New York Democrat said his colleague was "a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey".

It is not the first time that Mr Menendez, 69, who has served in Congress since 2006, has had to give up the coveted post on the foreign relations panel.

He also stepped down in 2015 after being indicted in New Jersey on charges that he had accepted bribes from a Florida eye doctor. That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, who took over as the committee's leading Democrat at the time, is expected again to temporarily ascend to fill the vacancy.

Mr Menendez and his spouse, Nadine Arslanian, are accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold, payments towards a home mortgage and a luxury vehicle from three New Jersey businessmen.

Prosecutors allege the pair accepted the money to secretly aid the Egyptian government and to enrich the three men: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.

According to the 39-page indictment unsealed on Friday, Mr Menendez's leadership position and power as a senator enabled such influence-peddling.

The pair each face three criminal counts: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under colour of official right.

In a statement from her lawyers, Mrs Menendez denied any wrongdoing and said she would defend herself in court.

Mr Menendez sought to portray the allegations as politically motivated.

"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave," he said in a lengthy statement.

"Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists."

"I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is," he added.

[Federal agents found cash inside jackets bearing Senator Menendez's name, according to the indictment]

But a wave of top Democrats, including at least four members of Congress from New Jersey, called for the lawmaker to resign.

In a statement, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the allegations were "so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state".

"Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation," he wrote.

Under New Jersey law, if Mr Menendez resigns from the Senate, the governor would appoint a temporary replacement to serve out the rest of his term.

But any delay between resignation and temporary appointment could pose headaches for Democrats in a Senate they control by a one-seat margin.

The White House, for whom Mr Menendez is a key foreign policy ally, has so far declined to comment.

In a defiant second statement on Friday, Mr Menendez vowed: "I am not going anywhere."

His indictment comes after a years-long justice department investigation.

In the summer of 2022, federal agents executed search warrants at Mr Menendez's home and found evidence of the bribery agreements, including over $480,000 (£390,000) in cash, much of which was "stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe", prosecutors allege.

Agents said they also found a Mercedes-Benz luxury vehicle paid for by Mr Uribe parked in the garage, as well as $100,000 of gold bars in the home, pictures of which were included in the indictment.

[Gold Bars]

As a result of the charges, Mr Menendez and his wife have been asked to forfeit several assets, including their New Jersey home.

In a statement to US media, a spokesperson for Mr Hana said: "We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit."

The BBC has reached out to businesses owned by Mr Daibes for comment. The Embassy of Egypt in Washington DC did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Menendez, his wife and their three co-defendants are scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court on 27 September.

Nursery boy's fentanyl death provokes horror in Bronx, yesterday

Rosa passes Divino Niño Daycare every day on her way to work at her own childcare centre in the northern New York City borough of the Bronx.

Rosa (not her real name) said she used to glance at the sign in the daycare's window, taking note of another childcare facility in a neighbourhood where parents sometimes have to step around drug users passed out in the streets on their way to drop off their children.

But last week, Rosa and others in the community were shocked to learn that Divino Niño daycare itself had become a crime scene.

On 15 September, a one-year-old boy died of a suspected drug overdose at Divino Niño nursery after officials said fentanyl was hidden under a mat the children used for napping.

Three other young children were admitted to hospital, and the nursery's owner, Grei Mendez, 36, and her tenant, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, are charged with narcotics possession with intent to distribute resulting in death.

[Multiple children were allegedly exposed to fentanyl at a child care centre in New York]

"Never in a million years did I think that was happening there," Rosa said. "I was horrified."

Rosa has asked that her identity remain private for fear of repercussions.

She is one of several residents who told the BBC the incident has rocked the Bronx community and raised broader concerns about the neighbourhood's battle with the opioid epidemic.

"The incident is atrocious and so tragic," said New York City Council Member Eric Dinowitz, whose district covers the daycare's neighbourhood.

[Multiple children were allegedly exposed to fentanyl at a child care centre in New York]

Divino Niño nursery is located in Kingsbridge Heights, a predominately Hispanic and Latino community nestled in the north-west Bronx.

Mr Dinowitz and others who grew up in the area say the community - and the Bronx as a whole - has long faced issues of drug trafficking, homelessness and underinvestment.

In 2021, 27% of the Kingsbridge Heights population lived in poverty, compared to 18% of all New York City residents, according to research from New York University. Bronx residents also had the highest rate of deaths from drug overdoses out of all the New York City boroughs that year.

Israel Sterling, a resident of Kingsbridge Heights, said conditions in the area had worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said he was horrified to learn of the fentanyl incident at the nursery - but not entirely surprised.

"It's sad that the little boy lost his life, but that's an everyday thing," he said.

"No-one would have expected it, but we live in the slums," he added.

Rosa said local drug dealers had warned her not to open her daycare centre just three blocks away from Divino Niño in 2017 because they said it would impede their own business.

"They said this is where people sell drugs," she said.

Faced with limited employment options, Rosa decided to push ahead with her plans for the daycare, eager to provide a service for children with special needs in an area where high-quality options were limited.

She and other residents in the area argued that city officials should have been conducting more thorough inspections of childcare facilities to prevent such a tragedy.

"If there were stricter regulations and more inspections and things like that, I think it would have never happened," she said.

Inspectors had conducted a surprise visit at Divino Niño just a week before the children were poisoned - and found no violations.

Investigators later said they found a large quantity of fentanyl, other drugs and paraphernalia hidden under a trapdoor at the daycare.

Mr Dinowitz said it seemed city officials had performed a thorough job. "Are we now asking inspectors to pry up the floorboards and look for trapdoors?" he asked.

He and other community members argued larger steps should be taken to address the community's opioid crisis and the underlying factors that have contributed to it.

New York City councilmembers have pushed for a number of measures to address the opioid crisis, including syringe exchange programmes and requiring schools to have the overdose drug Narcan on hand, he said.

Within the community, local groups have tried to address issues of homelessness and hunger, said Carmen, an employee of Fordham Manor Church, just blocks away from Divino Niño nursery.

But the government needs to pour more resources such as schooling, workforce development and community centres, to combat rising issues of poverty and drug trafficking in Bronx neighbourhoods, Mr Dinowitz argued.

"This isn't just about looking for the drugs," he said. "It's about investment in a community."

"The death of a baby shouldn't be the wake-up call that we need to take these problems seriously," he added.

[A chart showing how fentanyl is a growing problem in the US, accounting for more and more overdose deaths over the years.]

With reporting by John Sudworth and Pratiksha Ghildial

Karabakh humanitarian fears grow with thousands sleeping on Stepanakert streets, today

Azerbaijan's military has paraded heavy weapons captured in Nagorno-Karabakh, amid warnings thousands of civilians are without shelter after the surrender of Armenian separatists.

Tanks, guns and RPGs were among the haul shown to the BBC, in the first access given to journalists since separatists agreed to disarm this week.

Ethnic Armenian leaders say thousands are without food or shelter.

Only one aid delivery of 70 tonnes of food has been allowed through.

The convoy from the International Red Cross was the first to reach the disputed territory since Azerbaijan captured it in a lightning operation five days ago. Russia says it has also delivered aid, but it is not known how much.

Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountainous region in the South Caucasus - is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but large areas of it have been controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades.

On Saturday, Armenia urged the UN to send a mission to monitor the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing that their very existence was now under threat.

Azerbaijan denies the accusation, saying it wants to reintegrate the region's ethnic Armenian residents as equal citizens of the country.

At least 200 ethnic Armenians died, including 10 civilians, as Azerbaijan's army swept into the enclave earlier this week.

Now, displaced from villages and separated from relatives, several thousand people were sleeping in tents or the open air near the airport in the main city Stepanakert, known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan, Karabakh officials said.

The airport is also near a base for Russian peacekeepers, five of whom were killed during the fighting.

On Saturday Azerbaijan said it was working with Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh to disarm ethnic Armenian forces - one of its key demands in return for a ceasefire.

In the courtyard of a military HQ in Susa, near the regional capital, Azeri military officials proudly laid out weapons given up by separatists.

The haul included what appeared to be a T-72 tank, several BMP-2 armoured personnel carriers, machine guns, assault rifles, body armour and mines. The BBC estimates that the area filled was equivalent to half a football field.

[Helmets and RPGs taken from Armenian separatists]

Russia's defence ministry said six armoured vehicles, more than 800 guns and about 5,000 units of ammunition had been handed over so far.

It is unclear what will happen to the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan says it wants to reintegrate the region and an Azerbaijani official told the BBC that "no one is kicking anyone out".

"If we didn't care about civilians, women and children, we would have simply entered Khankendi," he added.

Another official said that the military had prepared camps for refugees outside of Karabakh that were "ready to accept civilians" - but there is much mistrust on both sides and many ethnic Armenians may not be willing to move.

Azerbaijan has also told the UN that it will treat Karabakh Armenians as "equal citizens". But their destiny is in Azeri hands now.

It says it envisages an amnesty for those Karabakh fighters who hand over their weapons and they can leave for Armenia if they choose.

[A captured T-72 vehicle paraded by Azerbaijan's military]

Armenia has also set up facilities to take in thousands of civilians but Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said he did not want them to leave unless they had to.

People in Stepanakert have told the BBC that many are likely to choose to leave.

"I don't know anyone who wants to stay here. I have very close elderly relatives who lost their sons in previous wars and they prefer to die here," journalist Siranush Sargsyan said.

"But for most people, for my generation, it's already their fourth war."

US Senator Gary Peters, who is leading a congressional delegation to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, said people in Nagorno-Karabakh were "very fearful" and called for the creation of an international observer mission.

"I think the world needs to know exactly what's happening in there," he said. "We've heard from the Azerbaijani government that there's nothing to see, nothing to worry about, but if that's the case then we should allow international observers in to see."

[Red Cross aid convoy]

Areas where the BBC was allowed to visit appeared empty of civilians. Only police, soldiers and a few construction workers could be seen.

There were no smiles from Russian peacekeepers that the BBC saw, and the mood was serious. But so far, there has been no major violence since the surrender.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Nagorno-Karabakh map

[Map of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, showing areas of the former autonomous region where Russian peacekeeping forces operate. The map also highlights some of the cities in the area and the Lachin corridor, which, though not a part of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is to remain under the control of Russian peacekeepers to act as a connection with Armenia for ethnic-Armenian population in the region. Another map shows where Nagorno-Karabakh is located in the South Caucasus region of southeast Europe and Asia.]

Lost painting by female artist goes on display at Windsor Castle, today

A painting found in storage has been identified as a rare work by a celebrated 17th Century female artist.

Artemisia Gentileschi was the greatest female painter of her generation and won acclaim during her lifetime, the Royal Collection Trust said.

The work - Susanna And The Elders - was stored for more than 100 years at Hampton Court Palace after being wrongly attributed to a French artist.

It has now been put on public display at Windsor Castle.

Anna Reynolds, Deputy Surveyor of The King's Pictures, said the painting revealed the discomfort of Susanna, a Biblical figure, while two men watch her bathing.

She said: "Artemisia was a strong, dynamic and exceptionally talented artist.

"[Her] female subjects - including Susanna - look at you from their canvases with the same determination to make their voices heard that Artemisia showed in the male-dominated art world of the 17th Century."

[Self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi]

The Italian artist achieved fame despite the ordeal of a seven-month rape trial as a teenager, the Royal Collection said.

She was tortured to test her claim that she had been attacked, according to court documents.

The painting was discovered in storage when investigators re-examined inventories of the property of King Charles I.

The branding 'CR', standing for Carolus Rex, was found on the back of the canvas when it was undergoing conservation treatment, confirming that it had once been in the king's collection.

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Florida police stop 10-year-old driver on highway, yesterday

Police in Florida got a shock when the driver they stopped on a major highway turned out to be a 10-year-old boy.

The boy and his 11-year-old sister were stopped in Alachua, hundreds of miles from where they were reported missing by their mother earlier in the week.

Police said the pair had made their runaway bid after she had confiscated their electronic gadgets.

"Much to their surprise deputies observed a 10-year-old male driver exit, with his sister," they said.

The Alachua County Sheriff's office described the traffic stop as "high risk" and late at night - 03:50 local time (07:50 GMT) on Thursday.

The white sedan the pair had been travelling in had been reported missing by their mother in North Port, Florida, a city more than 200 miles (320km) from Alachua.

Officers learned that "both children were upset with their mother because she took away their electronic devices, which is believed to have been done because they were not using them appropriately", the sheriff's office said.

Police added there was no reason to believe they were being mistreated at home.

The children's mother drove three hours north to Alachua to collect her children.

"Our detectives did speak with their mother at length who was clearly doing her best to raise two young children and she was very receptive to the recommendations they provided in helping her get assistance," police said.

The legal age to obtain a learner's permit in Florida is 15, while drivers must be 18 years old to apply for a full licence.

Russell Brand accuser sparks debate about staggered age of consent, today

At 16, you can't legally drink alcohol, place a bet or vote in a general election - but you can consent to sex.

It has been this way since 1885 in the UK, when the age of consent was raised from 13. For gay and bisexual men, the age of consent was reduced from 18 to 16 in a law change in 2000, after a long campaign for equality.

But now, people are debating if consent laws should be changed again. This time, discussion has been triggered by allegations made against Russell Brand - in particular, those made by one alleged victim, "Alice", who says she had a relationship with Brand when he was in his 30s and she was 16.

Alice told the Sunday Times and Channel 4's Dispatches that Brand sexually assaulted her, and that, looking back, she feels she was groomed by him during their relationship. Brand denies her allegations.

Due to the fact she was over the age of sexual consent at the time, Alice says it would have been difficult for anyone to raise concerns about their relationship to the police.

But Alice believes we should start considering a change to the law in the form of "staggered ages of consent", so that people over 18 would not be allowed to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds.

"There's a reasonable argument [that] individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 can have relations with people within that same age bracket," she told BBC Women's Hour. "You're allowed to make mistakes as a teenager, they should be with other people your own age."

This view has been echoed by many people on social media, with some commentators floating ideas such as restricting those under 18 to sleeping with those under 21.

But would a change in the law protect 16 and 17-year-olds from harm? And could it criminalise healthy relationships that happen to have an age gap?

While sex involving one or more people under 16 is illegal, police use discretion to decide whether a prosecution is in the public interest. They take into account factors such as the relationship between the people involved, whether the underage person consented to what happened and how close in age the people were.

If a person is under 13, they cannot be seen as consenting in law - even if they say they consented.

It is already illegal to take, share or possess indecent images of people under 18 - even if the person is a consenting 16- or 17-year-old.

It is also against the law for people in a position of trust, such as teachers, to engage in sexual activity with a child in their care, even if that child is over the age of consent.

But what if special protections were introduced more widely for sexual relationships involving those who are over the age of consent, but still children?

"My view would be that changing the law doesn't actually achieve a lot," says Roger Ingham, director of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton.

He says one of the arguments for having an age of consent is that it allows people who may feel pressured to have sex under 16 to say, "it's against the law".

"How often that's actually used, how often that stops people having sex that they don't want, we don't know."

He says surveys suggest that by the time they reach 18, the majority of people - about 60 to 70%, he says - have had sex (usually defined as intercourse).

But if the age of consent were to be raised to 18, for example, he says this would be "bringing in an awful lot of people into the bracket of being criminalised, even if the practice of the police and the prosecution is not to prosecute under certain conditions".

He says teenagers in consensual relationships below the age of consent - for example two 15-year-olds - are often nervous about going to family planning clinics to seek contraception in case they are reported - so one risky consequence of raising the age of consent could be more young people having unprotected sex.

In reality, sexual health clinics keep underage patients' details confidential, unless they are under 13 and thought to be at risk of harm, in which case other services may be alerted.

[Russell Brand leaves the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre in north-west London after performing a comedy set. He faces claims about his sexual behaviour at the height of his fame. He has vehemently denied the allegations. Picture date: Saturday September 16, 2023. PA Photo.]

Prof Ingham says more comprehensive sex and relationships education could help protect 16 and 17-year-olds, adding there should be "much more attention paid to issues of consent, not just in sexual situations".

Jayne Butler, chief executive of the charity Rape Crisis, agrees that better sex and relationship education and increased understanding are needed to shift societal attitudes around consent.

"We don't want to criminalise consensual relationships between 16-year-old peers, but there needs to be recognition of the significant power imbalance between older men and 16 year olds," she says.

"The cultural acceptance of relationships between young, potentially vulnerable people and someone much older needs to be addressed, and this doesn't start or end with just changing the law."

Prof Ingham says the issue of consent is challenged when someone with power or status, such as a celebrity, takes an interest in a young person.

A "star-struck" young person may be willing to have sex at the time but may regret it later, he says.

"It's a really complicated psychological issue, I'm not sure how you can legislate for it, to be honest."

Dr Laura Janes, from the Law Society's criminal law committee, also points out that the law in this area is already quite complex.

"What many people find confusing is we have different ages of consent for different things," she says - highlighting that in the UK someone is considered criminally responsible at 10 but can't have sex until 16 or vote in a general election until 18.

"If you take these three dates of what the law thinks you can do in terms of your development, we have already got a law which is very incoherent and inconsistent," she says.

[A person, blurred in motion, runs past a sign that uses arrows to point the way towards the nearest local polling station as voters head to polling stations to cast their ballots in local elections]

The age of consent in England and Wales is broadly similar to other European countries - slightly higher than France's 15 and Germany's 14, but lower than Ireland's 17 and Malta's 18. However, the gap between the age of criminal responsibility and the age of consent in England and Wales is the biggest of all countries, she says.

"It's important to remember the law is a very blunt instrument and creates black and white lines," Dr Janes says.

And, crucially, the law changes according to the moral values of society, she says - so you have to take into account the cultural reality. She highlights YouGov research from earlier this year that shows a fifth of people say they had sex before the age of consent.

On top of this, she says one of the problems with English law is there has been a "proliferation in the number of laws we have". And the question is what another law change would achieve, when there are other current laws - for example, against coercive control - which aim to protect young people from the kind of harmful relationships that can happen when one partner is older.

"There's been a huge number of new offences that have appeared on the statute book and there is a real risk of it becoming overcomplicated," she says.

Dr Janes says that before any law change is considered, the priority should be making sure young people understand what the current law is - and then ensuring they know they can use it with confidence. "There needs to be a cultural understanding where people feel sufficiently confident to go to the police," she says.

And if there are going to be any legal changes, particularly if they involve intimacy and relationships between young people, "it has to be really clear and it has to be understandable to everyone, including potential victims and potential perpetrators".

Ukraine war: How Zelensky is grappling with Western war fatigue, today

Their relationships might be close, the handshakes might have been firm, but President Volodymyr Zelensky had to roll his sleeves up during his trip to the US and Canada.

The latter was the easier end. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to support Ukraine "for as long as it takes" and has cross-party support in that endeavour.

America's pockets are deeper, but its politics are far more complicated.

President Zelensky secured another $325m (£265m) military package from the White House, but it wasn't the $24bn biggie he'd been hoping for.

That proposal is bogged down in Congress in a disagreement over budgets.

The difficulties do not stop there either.

Besides his counterpart Joe Biden, Ukraine's leader also had meetings with Republican politicians who are struggling to contain the growing scepticism in their party.

"We are protecting the liberal world, that should resonate with Republicans," a government adviser in Kyiv tells me.

"It was more difficult when the war started, because it was chaos," he says.

"Now we can be more specific with our asks, as we know what our allies have and where they store it. Our president could be defence minister in a number of countries!"

Alas for Kyiv, he is not, and the political challenges are mounting.

"Why should Ukraine keep getting a blank cheque? What does a victory look like?"

These are both questions the Ukrainian leader has been trying to answer on the world stage.

And this is why he now seems to do more negotiating than campaigning - just to keep Western help coming in.

All in a week when Kyiv fell out with one of its most loyal allies Poland, in a row over Ukrainian grain.

A Polish ban on Ukrainian imports led to President Zelensky indirectly accusing Warsaw of "helping Russia".

[Chart showing the top donor countries of military aid to Ukraine]

Let's say that went down very badly in Poland, with President Andrzej Duda describing Ukraine as a "drowning person who could pull you down with it".

The situation has since deescalated.

Even for a seasoned wartime leader, these are difficult diplomatic times.

Upcoming elections in partner countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the US are muddying the picture. Some candidates are prioritising domestic issues at the expense of military support for Ukraine.

"The need to balance military aid with the satisfaction of voters makes things really complicated," explains Serhiy Gerasymchuk from the Ukrainian Prism foreign policy think tank.

"Ukraine has to weigh up promoting its interests, using all the possible tools, while taking into account the situations in partner countries and the EU. It is a challenge."

These are the sort of democratic cycles Russia's leader Vladimir Putin doesn't need to worry about.

It is why Kyiv tries to portray this war as a fight not only for its sovereignty, but for democracy itself.

"The moral side of this war is huge," says the adviser.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Russia, the US and UK agreed the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.

Ukraine surrendered the Soviet nuclear weapons left on its soil in exchange for a pledge that its territorial integrity would be respected and defended by the other countries who signed.

Nine years of Russian aggression has made that agreement feel like a broken promise here.

Kyiv is also trying to play the longer game, by trying to better engage with countries like Brazil and South Africa, who have been apathetic towards Russia's invasion.

It's a strategy that has not brought immediate results.

"It is true we are dependent on frontline success," says the Ukrainian government advisor.

He argues the media has oversimplified Ukraine's counteroffensive by focusing too much on the theatre of the front line, where the gains have been marginal, and less on the substantial successes of missile strikes in Crimea and the targeting of Russian warships.

With the politics of this war increasingly connected to the fighting, that's being tested more than ever.

Additional reporting by Hanna Chornous, Insaf Abbas and Anna Tsyba.

Lampedusa: Inside the camp at the heart of Europe’s migrant surge, yesterday

Thousands of migrants arrived on the shores of Lampedusa last week, overloading local resources on the Italian island. The BBC's Reha Kansara and Emir Nader visited the holding centre, also known as the "Hotspot", where migrants are held.

Lampedusa's Hotspot has seen busier days.

A day before, rows of migrants - mostly men from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East - sought shade under a sprinkling of trees by the iron-gated entrance to the camp.

Now, as we walk into it, those areas are deserted, with no evidence of overcrowding left behind.

In recent months, the centre has been overwhelmed beyond its capacity. The Italian Red Cross estimates the island hosted at least 10,000 newly arrived people last week, many of them coming by boat from Tunisia.

Local residents handed out food, water and clothing as migrants struggled to find space inside the centre, which was built for just 400 people.

For a centre that has been thrust into the international spotlight, the Hotspot is surprisingly small - just 200 metres long.

As we walked along the strip that makes up this camp, a group of men danced to popular West African and Arabic music. We tried to speak to some of the migrants but, each time, the Red Cross blocked us, saying we needed further permission to do so from government authorities.

We only see four women, resting on a makeshift bed, but many of the boys appear to be in their early teens.

The previous day we spoke to Ahmed, a 20-year-old from Egypt, through the holding centre's gate.

He said he took a three-day boat journey from Libya to arrive here. As we were speaking two soldiers interrupted and Ahmed was quick to reassure them that he was saying he's being well provided for.

He said the other migrants were scared to speak to the media.

Ignazio Schintu, from the Italian Red Cross, says having so many people in such a tight space, with few health services and little logistics, can "blow up the whole reception and relief machine".

[People sitting outside the Hotspot migrant centre]

Many of these migrants have now been transferred by ferry to one of four processing centres in Sicily and mainland Italy.

After last week's surge, Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni visited the island with the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. In an announcement that was firm in language but light on detail, Ms Meloni's government called the arrivals an "invasion" and an "act of war".

But the island's mayor, Filippo Mannino, says otherwise.

"The island has been living with this phenomenon for 30 years now, but to outsiders there is a perception that there's complete chaos here: 'Island in collapse', 'Island under attack'. This is not the case," he says.

Meanwhile, the EU is preparing to transfer €1bn (£872m) to nearby autocratic Tunisia to bolster its economy and stop boats leaving.

But there are cracks in European co-operation. The French government has since said it will refuse to take arrivals from Lampedusa.

Pulled between international forces so much greater than its size, what happens in Lampedusa will be determined by power brokers elsewhere.

[A man sitting on a camping bed waves]

This doesn't feel like an island in crisis, or one doomed to it. Its people don't use the hostile rhetoric of Italy's political leaders.

But they petition to confront the challenge, to find humane solutions so that locals who would offer sea-farers protection aren't cast adrift.

"I'm not the one who can decide a solution because I'm just the mayor of a small island," says Mr Mannino.

"But we have to choose whether to treat people all the same or not, whether they are Ukrainians fleeing war, or Africans fleeing war and persecution. Do we treat them all the same or do we treat them according to the colour of their skin?"

The videos helping people get lighter sentences, yesterday

In the US, people accused of crimes are turning to short documentary-style videos about their lives to try and persuade judges, juries and prosecutors to look beyond the charges and see them as whole people deserving of redemption, and even leniency.

Augusta "Gussy" Clay has a sweet look as he sits with a child on his knee. Tanisha, his partner of 16 years, sings his praises. There are also pictures of "Gussy" in happier times in a playground with children and on the beach on a sunny day. He appears as a loving young man and someone who is cared for by those close to him.

All these images come not from a recording of a family get-together but from a mitigation video, a new digital tool that US public defenders are using to persuade judges to have empathy for their clients.

Produced with a high degree of professionalism, the videos can help tell an accused person's life story, providing additional context and presenting them in the best possible light. They're not like glossy Hollywood movies, but they can involve the use of music and elaborate production techniques. Others, like the one telling Augusta Clay's story, are more straightforward.

Clay had pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in the third degree, a low-level felony, and he was serving a 12-month sentence in New York City's notorious Rikers Island Prison for violating his parole.

At the time the video was made, he was in dire straits: he had cancer and cystic fibrosis. Incarcerated on Rikers Island at the height of the pandemic, when Covid was spreading through the jail, he begged to be let out early.

"I'm afraid of dying in prison," he says in the video.

There are no hard figures on how common mitigation videos are, perhaps because their use by public defenders in the US is still relatively new. But in a country that has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, they are increasingly being seen by lawyers as an effective tool that can often reduce jail sentences.

Regina Austin, director of the Penn Program on Documentaries and the Law, is a pioneering figure in the use of mitigation videos, says they can be effective, because they de-stigmatise someone who is behind bars.

"We have in our mind's eye notions of what criminals look like, what they sound like, where they come from, and it's a picture, it's a composite. And one of the things that the mitigation videos can do, is to work on that image, to try to change that image in the mind, by providing context," she says.

Nicole Mull, who leads the Video Mitigation Project at the Legal Aid Society, America's oldest and largest law firm for low-income individuals, hopes these videos become more common.

"One of our big goals is to have more of these, so that our clients, public defender clients, can get the same representation as people charged with crimes that are people of means," she says. "And that's a very important piece of all of this."

Mitigation videos, she says, help judges see the humanity of her clients, "what drives them, what has put them in the position that they're in, and what we should be doing as society, rather than incarcerate them".

[Protesters call for Rikers Island Prison to be shut down]

But there are critics opposed to the videos. Jennifer Harrison, executive director of the Victims Rights Reform Council, calls them a "slap in the face to victims".

"All empathy and emphasis is placed on the criminal. If they're going to be allowed to use these videos for the criminals, then victims should have that same luxury," she told the BBC.

A spokesperson for Legal Aid, however, points out that under New York law, crime victims can already deliver impact statements at sentencing, and mitigation videos are just another tool to provide context into an accused's life.

On 11 April 2020 Clay was finally released, albeit only two months short of his one-year sentence. He died a year later at the age of 39.

There's no absolute proof, but his lawyers fervently believe the mitigation video was pivotal in helping to get him out of jail and enabling him to spend his final days with his family.

Clay's video was put together by veteran New York filmmaker David Simpson, who has been involved in making them for almost five years.

"We try to capture a client, and their family, in their context, so we visit them in their homes, we go to their neighbourhoods, we capture images of the environment, where they live," he says.

But even supporters of these videos caution they can be counter-productive if they use music or are overly sentimental. "A bad mitigation video attempts to pull at the heartstrings. I want our videos to be used to enlighten. The videos are not to be used to manipulate," Austin says.

The Archies: Why an American comic book evokes nostalgia in Indians, yesterday

"Yoohoo, Archiekins!"

If this catchphrase sounds familiar, you've probably read the long-established American comic, Archie Comics, which was also hugely popular in India.

The comic is back in the news, with Netflix set to launch The Archies, a musical adapted from the comic, later this year.

The coming-of-age film is based in 1960s India and explores teenage themes of love, heartbreak and rebellion through the lens of the Anglo-Indian community. The trailer has already been viewed over 800,000 times on YouTube.

The news of the film has sparked a lot of conversation among fans of the comic.

Some say the comic will benefit from having a more Indian context, while others have criticised the film for having characters that "don't look Indian". While the jury's still out on the film, there's no denying the influence Archie Comics once had over city-bred youngsters in India.

Archie Comics began invading Indian cities in the late 1980s and 90s. That was the time when the young began watching Cartoon Network and MTV, listening to Backstreet Boys and plastering posters of the Spice Girls in their rooms.

[TORONTO, ON - JUNE 18: Jewel Kats is inspiration for a new character in Archie Comics. Kats inspired Archie illustrator to develop Harper, a disabled character who is introduced as Veronica's cousin. Kats is a children's book author. Toronto, June 18, 2014. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)]

"Archie Comics gave me my first taste of Americana. In fact, my idea of what American fast foods like hotdogs or burgers should look like came from there," says Mumbai-based Fiero Fernandes, an early fan.

Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con India, agrees. "When it came to foreign comics, there was Tintin and Asterix, but it was Archies that really painted a picture of what life was supposed to be like for a youngster in America," he says.

"The storylines were carefree and clean. I guess that's why parents didn't mind their children reading these comics, even though it showed people going on dates or kissing or wearing bathing suits to the beach."

The comic could be found at bookstores, lending libraries and roadside booksellers. But they were expensive and many children would trade copies with friends or ask family living abroad to mail old copies.

"The comic became social currency in school," Mr Fernandes recalls. "And discussing the plotlines or the characters was a common pastime."

The peppy vibe of the comic and its distinctive characters influenced many subsequent young-adult shows and films. Bollywood director Karan Johar reportedly admitted that his 1998 blockbuster film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, was partly inspired by Archie Comics.

The comic had simple plotlines - the main one being a love triangle between three of the lead characters.

Some plots discussed typical teenage issues, including limited pocket money, boredom, academic challenges, and the pursuit of romantic interests. A major draw was the titular character and his gang of friends.

[Archie Comics]

Archie Andrews was a typical all-American kid - fluent in slang (he said things like "shucks" and "neat"), played football, fronted a band and had a bunch of hip friends. Despite being a "bumbling idiot" readers loved him because of his good heart.

Then there was Betty Cooper, the cute "girl-next-door" who was always competing for Archie's attention, and her arch-rival and friend, Veronica Lodge, who was a rich kid with a penchant for shopping and keeping Archie on his toes.

Jughead was a favourite because of his unfailing devotion to food. Then there was prankster rich boy, Reggie Mantle, who spent most of his time trying to one-up Archie in front of the girls.

All these characters - and more - lived in the fictional town of Riverdale, where nothing truly dark or disturbing ever happened.

"Archie comics constructed this image of what the typical American high school experience must be like," Mr Fernandes says. The students didn't wear uniforms, were part of cheerleading squads, drove to school in their own cars and enjoyed a rapport with teachers.

"None of this was happening for us, so the comics gave us a fantasy world to escape into and aspire to be part of," he says.

[Archie Comics]

By the time the comic became popular in India, it had gone out of fashion in America. Comics were popular in US in the 1950s and 60s - in fact, Archie made his debut in December 1941 - but sales began dropping towards the end of the century.

Publishers have tried to reinvent Archie Comics by adding diverse characters, including the first gay character; exploring darker plotlines tied to current issues like gun control, body shaming, recession and even the challenges of sustaining long-term relationships like marriage.

The art has evolved - the highly stylised drawings of the 50s and 60s morphed into softer, more realistic cartoonish drawings in the 90s. In the 2000s, artists experimented with digital artwork to give the comic a more modern look.

Archie Comics have also come to the screen, including the 2017 American TV series Riverdale. The Archies is the latest adaptation.

But Indian fans appear to be torn over these new offerings.

Some like Reneysh Vittal say they miss the playfulness and simplicity of the older Archie Comics. "Our generation was lucky enough to experience life just before the internet took over and for me, Archie Comics will always represent that pre-internet age of innocence," he says.

However, Tejas Menon, who runs a pop-culture podcast and is also one of the singers in the new Archies film, says there will always be an audience for Archie.

"There's something about a coming-of-age story. It never fails to touch a chord because we've all experienced it," he says. "When told through iconic characters like Archie and his gang, there's bound to be some magic there."

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Pablo Neruda: Chilean poet's death still shrouded in mystery, today

Half a century after he died and 12 years after allegations first surfaced that he was murdered on the orders of the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet, the death of Chile's most famous poet, Pablo Neruda, remains shrouded in mystery.

An investigation into it has run for more than a decade and has yet to reach a conclusion. Forensic experts in Canada, Denmark and elsewhere have pored over the poet's remains in a bid to establish what killed him, but have been unable to provide a definitive answer.

Meanwhile, the man who first made the allegation - the poet's former driver and personal assistant, Manuel Araya - himself died in June this year, aged 77, without ever seeing an end to the case.

"We need clarity," Neruda's nephew Rodolfo Reyes told the BBC in a recent interview. "The ball is in the court of the judge who's investigating the case and we're all waiting for her to make a declaration."

Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and was famed for his love poetry, died 50 years ago this weekend, on 23 September 1973, just 12 days after the military coup that brought Gen Pinochet to power. He was 69.

He had been suffering from prostate cancer and his death certificate said he died of "cancerous cachexia" - a wasting away caused by the disease.

But in 2011, Araya, who worked for Neruda in the last year of the poet's life, claimed Neruda had been given a lethal injection in hospital to stop him going into exile in Mexico, from where he planned to lead opposition to the Pinochet regime.

Neruda was a communist and close friend of Salvador Allende, the socialist president deposed in the coup.

[Manuel Araya pictured in 2013]

"They murdered Neruda because it wasn't in Pinochet's interests for him to leave the country," Araya told the BBC.

In response to his claim, Neruda's remains were exhumed in 2013 and subjected to forensic tests.

A panel of experts led by scientists at McMaster University in Toronto and the University of Copenhagen concluded that he did not die of cancer, but they could not say what he did die of, and so more tests were ordered.

In February this year, they returned with another report. They had found traces of the bacterium clostridium botulinum in one of Neruda's teeth.

"The botulism strain produces one of the deadliest toxins known to mankind, botulinum, and is known to have been used as a biological weapon in several countries," the experts said.

However, they cautioned that there was no definitive proof that clostridium botulinum had killed Neruda, "nor that it was intentionally used to do so". The scientists' report is before Chile's judicial authorities now.

The judge considering the case, Paola Plaza, is expected to issue a view on the investigation, although it is unclear when. She could order further tests in a bid to establish the truth.

[Judge Paola Plaza Gonzalez speaks during a press conference after receiving the final report of the expert panel investigating the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in Santiago on February 15, 2023.]

The case has divided Chileans and the Neruda family. While Rodolfo Reyes is convinced his uncle was murdered, another nephew - Bernardo Reyes - describes the whole investigation as "pathetic" and fake news. The Neruda Foundation, which administers the poet's estate, is adamant he died of natural causes.

Neruda's widow, Matilde Urrutia, outlived her husband by 12 years and never alleged he was murdered. However, she said she did not expect him to die so quickly and that she had been told by doctors he was likely to live for at least another six years.

[Close-up of the profile of the Chilean singer Matilde Urrutia, third wife of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (born Ricardo Eliezer NeftalÌ Reyes Basoalto), seated next to her husband during a reading of his poems by the Italian drama actor Giorgio Albertazzi. Italy, 1963.]

She believed Neruda died of a broken heart after seeing the coup destroy everything he stood for politically.

Prosecutors have interviewed dozens of doctors, nurses, diplomats and politicians, as well as Neruda's friends who saw him in the final days of his life.

Some of them describe a man who was desperately ill. "It was clear to me he was going to die," said Aída Figueroa, a close friend of the poet who was with him at the hospital in his final hours.

Others were not so sure.

Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, Mexico's ambassador to Chile, saw the poet the day before he died.

"I talked with Pablo Neruda about the preparations for the imminent trip [to Mexico]," Mr Martínez Corbalá told investigators. "Obviously it hurt him to leave, but he also understood the role that he could play abroad.

"I didn't see anything in him to suggest he was in agony, that he couldn't speak or fend for himself… he was not dying, much less in a coma."

[Rodolfo Reyes and others hold up a Chilean flag at the reburial of Pablo Neruda following his exhumation]

Many people questioned why it took Araya nearly 40 years to make his murder claim.

In response, the driver said that for 17 years during the dictatorship, it would have been too dangerous to make such an allegation, and that afterwards, in the 1990s and 2000s, he tried to persuade the Chilean press to cover his story, but "I didn't really know how to go about it, and anyway, no one wanted to listen".

Speaking to the BBC in May this year, just weeks before his death, Araya repeated his claim.

"Neruda was assassinated," he insisted. "I've said it from the first minute and I'll say it until the day I die."

Ukraine claims Sevastopol strike hit navy commanders, yesterday

Ukraine says Friday's missile strike on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet in Crimea was timed to coincide with a meeting of naval officials.

In a short statement, the Ukrainian military claimed the strike had caused deaths and injuries but did not provide more details.

On Friday Moscow said one serviceman was missing after the attack.

The fleet, based in the port city of Sevastopol, is seen as the best of Russia's navy.

A Ukrainian military source told the BBC that Friday's attack was carried out using Storm Shadow missiles, which are supplied by Britain and France.

The Ukrainian military statement on Saturday asserted that it had left "dozens of dead and wounded occupiers, including the top management of the fleet".

Kyiv's intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, claimed that two Russian commanders were badly injured in the missile strike.

The BBC is unable to independently verify many of the battlefield claims made by either side.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western powers were "de facto fighting against us, using the hands and bodies of Ukrainians".

He was speaking to journalists after delivering a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, where he denounced the West as "a real empire of lies" unable to negotiate with the rest of the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, triggering international condemnation. Moscow had illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

The Sevastopol area came under renewed attack on Saturday. The city's Russian-installed governor, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said debris from a missile shot down by air defences had fallen near a pier.

He also told residents he was ordering an inspection of bomb shelters following some complaints they were hard to access or in poor condition.

"We earnestly ask everyone: stop sowing panic and pleasing our enemies with this - panic is their main goal," he wrote on Telegram.

Kyiv's forces have recently been launching near-daily strikes against Russian forces based in Crimea.

Last week, Ukraine's navy claimed to have knocked out an S-400 air defence missile battery covering the peninsula, degrading Russia's ability to defend against fresh attacks.

A day earlier, a large Russian landing ship and submarine were damaged in an attack which Ukraine said also made use of Storm Shadow missiles.

The attacks on Crimea are strategically and symbolically important.

As well as being a platform from which to attack Ukraine, the Black Sea fleet is a major symbol of Russia's centuries-old military presence in the region.

It was based in Crimea under a leasing deal even before Russia's 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

Ukraine war: US to give Kyiv long-range ATACMS missiles - media reports, yesterday

US President Joe Biden plans to give Ukraine advanced long-range missiles to help Kyiv with its ongoing counter-offensive, US media report.

They quote US officials familiar with the issue as saying Ukraine will get some ATACMS missiles with a range of up to 190 miles (300km).

This would enable Kyiv to hit Russian targets deep behind the front line.

At least two Ukrainian missiles hit the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet in annexed Crimea on Friday.

A Ukrainian military source told the BBC that the attack in the port of Sevastopol used Storm Shadow missiles, which are supplied by Britain and France.

Such missiles have a range of just over 150 miles.

[An ATACMS missile being fired. File photo]

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal quote unnamed US officials as saying Mr Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that Kyiv would get "a small number" of ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles. The two leaders met at the White House on Thursday.

The WSJ adds that the weapons will be sent in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post cited several people familiar with the discussions as saying Ukraine would get ATACMS armed with cluster bomblets rather than single warheads.

Neither the US nor Ukraine have officially confirmed the reports.

After the Biden-Zelensky talks Washington announced a new tranche of $325m (£265m) in military aid - including artillery and ammunition - for Ukraine. America's Abrams tanks will be delivered to Kyiv next week.

However, both presidents have been evasive on the ATACMS issue.

"I believe that most of what we were discussing with President Biden yesterday… we will be able to reach an agreement," Mr Zelensky said on Friday during a visit to Canada.

"Yes, [this is] a matter of time. Not everything depends on Ukraine," he added.

Kyiv has for months been pushing for ATACMS to boost its tough and bloody counter-offensive in the south.

It says key Russian supply lines, command positions and other logistical hubs deep behind the front line would then be within striking distance, forcing Moscow to move them further away and thus making it harder to resupply troops and weaponry.

Russian positions in the occupied Ukrainian regions in the south - including Crimea - would be particularly vulnerable, Ukraine says.

President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the Biden administration was initially hesitant to provide Ukraine with modern weaponry.

But its stance has since shifted dramatically, with Kyiv getting high-precision Himars long-range rocket systems and Patriot air defence missiles.

President Biden has been hesitant on ATACMS amid fears that such missiles could bring a direct clash with nuclear-armed Russia closer.

[Location of Russia's Black Sea fleet HQ in Sevastopol]

Wagner deserter Andrey Medvedev held over bid to return to Russia, yesterday

Norwegian police have arrested a former commander in the Wagner mercenary group who had claimed asylum in Norway after he apparently tried to cross back into Russia illegally.

It is the latest colourful incident involving Andrey Medvedev, who has been in the West since January.

He was arrested soon after his arrival in Norway under immigration laws.

Then in April, he pleaded guilty to being involved in a fight outside a bar and carrying an air gun in public.

However, he was acquitted of assaulting police officers.

Mr Medvedev, who crossed into Norway from Russia's far north, is believed to be the first member of Wagner to defect to the West.

The mercenary group - whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash in August - has been used in many Russian operations.

When Mr Medvedev first came to Norway, he said he was seeking asylum because he feared being "brutally murdered" after witnessing war crimes committed in Ukraine.

But in May, he said in a video on YouTube that he wanted to go back, despite the potential risk to his life.

Police said late on Friday that a man in his 20s had been taken into custody for attempting to cross the Russian border, but they declined to name him.

Crossing into Russia is only allowed at certain points.

Mr Medvedev's Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, confirmed his client's identity to Reuters news agency and said the arrest was due to a misunderstanding.

"He was up there to see if he could find the place where he crossed [into Norway in January]. He was stopped when he was in a taxi," Mr Risnes said

He added that it "was never his intention" to cross back. "He was never near the border."

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky visits Canada for first time since Russia invasion, 3 days ago

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Canada for the first time since the Russian invasion.

Canadian TV showed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meeting Mr Zelensky and the first lady on the runway in Ottawa.

It comes after increasing doubts from international partners over how it should continue providing aid to Kyiv.

Mr Zelensky arrived from Washington where he had hoped to secure further funding but it is unclear if US Congress will back more aid.

Earlier in the week, he urged world leaders to continue to support Ukraine to help fight off Russian forces at the United Nations in New York.

Diplomatic tensions are on the rise, after Mr Zelensky criticised Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, for banning imports of Ukrainian grain.

Mr Zelensky was joined by First Lady Olena Zelenska where they were greeted on the tarmac by hugs from Canadian officials including Mr Trudeau.

Canada reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine on arrival - the country's UN ambassador told news agency Associated Press it needs "to do more" to help.

"We're going to continue to do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people," said Bob Rae.

Although this the first in person visit for Mr Zelensky since the war began, he has addressed parliament via video link before.

The president will address parliament again to plea for continued support from a country that has already provided weapons, tanks and training for Ukrainian soldiers.

Its package so far has totalled around $6bn (£4.8bn) but in June Trudeau did pledge his country remained committed to supporting Ukraine.

He will also meet business leaders in Toronto on his trip.

[Justin Trudeau, Olena Zelenska and Volodymyr Zelensky]

In the US, Republican scepticism about funding the war is growing despite pleas from the president not to turn its back on Ukraine.

"Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalise Ukraine without consequence," Mr Biden said.

The US Congress has now authorised more than $110bn (£89bn) in aid to Ukraine, but polls suggest support among Americans for further spending has declined.

Many Republicans argue the money would be better spent on domestic issues, but during Mr Zelensky's visit, President Biden approved further funding for Kyiv valued at £265m ($325m).

It includes upgrades to air defences - but not the long-range missiles that President Zelensky has been requesting.

Poland also announced on Wednesday it would no longer be sending new weapons to Ukraine and would instead be focussing on defending itself with more modern weapons.

A shadow of 'Ukraine fatigue' hangs over Polish politics, 3 days ago

From the beginning of Russia's full-on invasion, Warsaw has been a firm supporter of Kyiv.

It's often led the way in sending military aid and equipment, and argued passionately that this support is essential to protect Poland itself from Russian aggression.

The change of tone from the Polish government on Ukraine is startling.

Now suddenly it feels like the political knives are out for Kyiv.

There's talk of how Ukraine should be "grateful" for Polish support. This week came a warning from Poland's prime minister about ending weapons transfers, although others in his party then scrambled to soften that message.

But there was no misinterpreting the Polish President's words. Andrzej Duda compared Ukraine to a drowning man who risks dragging his rescuers down with him.

Moscow seized upon that comment with glee.

The sharp downturn in relations between the neighbouring countries began with a dispute over grain imports that remains unresolved.

Ukraine needs to export its harvest, and land routes are now critical because Russia is deliberately attacking ports on both the Black Sea and the Danube river. But in an effort to protect its own farmers, Poland won't allow cheaper Ukrainian grain to hit its domestic market, only to pass through to the rest of the European Union in transit.

[Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hug]

For Poland's governing Law and Justice party, or PiS, the equation is simple - farmers here don't want competition from Ukrainian grain and PiS wants those farmers' votes at next month's elections.

Kyiv is fuming, but Poland's airwaves - and social media platforms - are currently packed with pre-election talk and the tone at times is near-shockingly vicious.

PiS are ahead in the opinion polls but the margins are tight and most commentators think it's too close to call.

In the battle for votes, PiS has positioned itself as the strongest defender of Polish interests. So redefining how it is assisting Ukraine is just one of the cards it is playing alongside other populist causes such as migration.

Piotr Lukasiewicz, from the Polityka Insight analysis group, explains: "It's not about grain, it's not about weapons. It's about sentiment among the conservative electorate, which is the big issue for PiS, and they have to ride this sentiment.

"It's constructed around the notion that Ukraine is not thankful enough [for Polish support] and that Ukrainians here are getting too much in terms of social services and finance," he says.

PiS is trying to coax voters from the far-right Konfederacja party, which is currently polling at close to 10% support.

This week, Konfederacja members picketed the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw and held up a mock invoice for Poland's support. Konfederacja proclaimed the total cost of helping Kyiv to be over 100bn zloty (£18.79bn, $23.1bn) and wrote: "Paid: zero. Gratitude: none."

Opposition politicians have slammed the government's conduct as dangerous nationalism.

But Poland's shift in tone isn't happening in isolation.

The shadow of "Ukraine fatigue" hangs over election campaigns from Slovakia to the United States, a serious worry for Kyiv which needs continuing and firm Western support as it battles Russian forces.

The Polish government is stressing that international aid will continue to flow to Ukraine's frontlines via Rzeszow in the east, a critical hub for everything from tanks to bullets. Meanwhile, talks between Ukraine and Poland on the grain dispute are continuing.

'Words matter'

There appear to be efforts on both sides to prevent the war of words from escalating into a full-blown crisis.

And whilst PiS pursues the rural, conservative vote, support for Ukraine here in Warsaw remains strong.

"It's definitely not good that we're limiting help. The thing Russia is doing is unacceptable. We should defend ourselves and help Ukraine defend their freedom," Viktoria told me, in a city that still has lots of Ukrainian flags draped out of apartment windows in solidarity - and a lot of Ukrainian refugees.

"I think this is a tool the government uses to win the election. They play on all the emotions and this is dirty speech before elections," Rafa suggested.

"I hope it's just talking. It depends who wins the elections. In one month, that will be clear."

But some think the damage for Poland is already done.

"Words matter," analyst Piotr Lukasiewicz argues "I think it will have consequences and they will be bad for Poland."

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How Norway outstrips US on Ukraine spending, 3 days ago

The United States has poured more than a hundred billion dollars into Ukraine's effort to repel Russia's invasion, spending far more than any other nation. But as President Volodymyr Zelensky comes to Washington to ask for more, there is growing Republican scepticism about funding the war effort.

In his Tuesday speech to the UN, Joe Biden made a passionate plea for the global community to not turn its back on Ukraine.

"Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalise Ukraine without consequence," he said. "But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they're protected?"

For more than a year and a half, the US president has followed up that tough talk with American dollars. The US Congress has now authorised more than $110bn (£89bn) in aid to Ukraine. That includes:

* $49.6bn in military assistance

* $28.5bn in economic support

* $13.2bn in humanitarian aid

* $18.4bn to boost US defence industry capacity

As of 9 August, the White House said it had spent 91% of the allocated funds. The administration is currently asking Congress for an additional $24bn in aid, including $14bn in military support.

However, polls suggest support among Americans for further spending has declined, especially among conservatives.

So as President Zelensky visits Washington to make his case in person, let's take a closer look at the numbers, including why Norway not the US may actually be Ukraine's biggest supporter.

How does US support for Ukraine compare?

The latest figures which enable us to compare levels of support across countries are from the end of July. At that point, the US had spent nearly $80bn on Ukraine, which was more than any other nation by far - although it is less than the aid from EU institutions.

[Chart comparing overall funding commitments to Ukraine by various countries]

The outlook for a speedy approval of the funds is murky, however, as Congress grapples with passing funding just to keep the government open and functioning beyond this month.

Alyssa Demus, an international defence researcher for the Rand Corporation, says that without this additional aid, the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began this summer could grind to a halt in a matter of weeks - sending a negative signal just as Ukraine is making some "relatively significant" gains on the battlefield.

With winter coming, she says, Ukraine will eventually curtail its military operations regardless of whether the US aid is forthcoming. But, she adds, a new US aid package would have an impact on the war beyond the battlefield.

"The US tends to set the tone for other nations' aid," she says. "A lack of new US aid could be a bellwether for European allies and partners to potentially reconsider their own aid packages."

[Chart showing largest donor countries of military aid to Ukraine]

While the US gives the most military support of any nation, the combined contribution from European nations is significant - and includes advanced technology, such as tanks and fighter jets.

Growing Republican calls to slow or stop spending

The Biden administration's insistence that additional military aid is essential hasn't stopped some American politicians - particularly Republicans - from criticising the Biden administration's Ukraine aid packages and pledging to oppose any new funding.

"There's no national security interest for us in Ukraine," said Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. "And even if there were, it would be trumped by the fact that we have no money."

Speaking to media after attending a closed-door briefing, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said he was tired of being told to "buckle up and get out your chequebook".

"This isn't our money. For heaven's sake… It's the American people's money," he said.

According to Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, US aid to Ukraine is an easy issue for some Republicans to dislike, given the nation's connection to Donald Trump's first impeachment and Hunter Biden's questionable ties to a Ukrainian energy company.

"Even though both of these issues are not linked in any way to the war, if you're playing swamp politics, then you can quickly build an anti-Ukraine narrative that resonates with a certain part of the conservative movement," he says.

Among the more common refrains from a growing number of Republicans in Congress is that US dollars would be better spent on other priorities - particularly on domestic concerns like border security, disaster relief and crime control.

US aid to Ukraine pales when compared with the $751bn 2022 US budget for defence spending or the $1.2tn paid out in Social Security retirement benefits, however. It is also just 1.8% of the total US spending in the 2022 fiscal year.

On the other hand, the nearly $80bn given to support Ukraine by the end of July is bigger than the annual budgets of many federal agencies.

[Chart comparing Ukraine spending by US to other budgets of various US government agencies]

It is also a level of aid that far surpasses previous major US foreign commitments. According to data compiled by the Council on Foreign Relations, US support to Ukraine as of July was 0.33% of it the nation's gross domestic product, far more than US aid to Israel in 1970 (0.18%), Latin America in 1964 (0.15%) and Pakistan in 1962 (0.08%).

Even by modern standards, the Ukraine package dwarfs amounts sent by the US to other countries. In 2020, the US gave $4bn in support to Afghanistan, $3.3bn to Israel and $1.2bn to Iraq.

As with other forms of foreign aid, critics have called for US allies to shoulder a greater share of the costs of the war.

"Europe needs to step up," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at last month's Republican presidential candidate debate in Wisconsin. "Our support should be contingent on them doing it."

While the US does contribute more military support to Ukraine than its allies, in term of total aid the European nations - individually and under the auspices of the EU - have committed $140bn to Ukraine, which outpaces the US.

Coffey adds that comparing raw dollar amounts also understates the level of support from the US's partner nations.

"You can't compare what the US is doing in Ukraine with what Estonia is doing," he says. "Estonia has an economy the size of Vermont."

A better measure, he says, is to compare aid as a share of a country's gross domestic product.

[Chart showing spending on Ukraine by various countries by % of GDP]

According to data gathered by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, as of the end of July Norway had given the highest percentage, at 1.4%. Estonia and the two other Baltic states bordering Russia all also give over 1%.

What it comes down to, Demus says, is a matter of perspective. For some, Ukraine is a distant country that many Americans don't know or care about.

For others, it's a key battleground of a global conflict, with the US helping a nation to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty while also degrading a foreign adversary at a (relative) bargain price and without the loss of US lives.

"If you're talking about pure cost-benefit analysis," she says, "it kind of depends on what you value."

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Where Ukraine’s army of amputees go to repair their lives, 4 days ago

As Ukraine's counter-offensive grinds on - with limited gains and no decisive breakthrough - the number of amputees in the country is soaring.

There were 15,000 in the first half of this year alone, according to the Department of Health in Kyiv. The ministry won't disclose how many are soldiers. The authorities guard casualty figures closely, but the vast majority are likely to be military.

That's more amputees in six months than the UK had in the six years of World War II, when 12,000 of its servicemen and women lost limbs.

There may be many more to come in Europe's newest war. Ukraine is the most heavily mined country in the world, according to the country's former defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov.

Russia's war is creating an army of amputees here, a conveyor belt of broken bodies.

We meet some of them at a rehabilitation clinic in the capital, Kyiv, and a hospital in south-east Ukraine.

Alina Smolenska's only thought when her husband Andrii was wounded was to get to his bedside. "I just wanted to be with him, to touch him, to say that he's not alone," she says. "In situations like this, when a person needs support, I would touch their hand."

But when she reached him in hospital that was impossible.

"I saw that Andrii really didn't have his hands, so I just touched his leg and started to talk to him," she says.

"I said: 'We are a family. Don't worry. Of course, there will be some harsh moments, but we are together'."

Hours earlier, Andrii Smolenskyi had been commanding a small reconnaissance unit on Ukraine's southern front.


As the 27-year-old started climbing out of a trench, an explosion ripped through earth and sky. His next memory is of waking up in hospital.

"It felt like a dream," he says, "everything was so dark."

Slowly, he realised he couldn't move his hands, and that something was on his eyes, covering them.

Andrii lost his sight, most of his hearing, and both of his arms - one amputated above the elbow, the other below. Shrapnel was embedded deep under his skin. His face had to be rebuilt.

Four months on, we meet at a clinic in Kyiv where he's having rehabilitation, along with other war veterans.

Andrii is tall and lean, with ready humour, and a slightly rasping voice. His latest surgery was to remove a breathing tube from his neck.

[Andrii and Alina on their wedding day four years ago]

Alina sits by his side, on his hospital bed, her head nestling on his shoulder, her hand resting on his knee. Their words, and their laughter, often overlap. She is also 27 - petite and blonde and a tower of strength.

"My wife is incredible," Andrii says. "She's my hero, with me 100%."

Alina has supported him through his injury and his battle to adjust, through physiotherapy and 20 operations (there will be more). When he's thirsty she gently lifts a straw to his lips. He now sees the world through her eyes.

Andrii is "grateful to God" to have escaped any brain injury. His call sign in the army was "the apostle", and he believes his survival was miraculous.

"Psychologically it was hard to get through that, but when I accepted my new body, I would say I felt good," he says. "Challenge accepted."

Doctors expected him to be in a coma for three days after he was injured. He was conscious in one. Alina says he's "stubborn, in a good meaning of that word".

When they met on a summer evening in 2018, she was smitten from the start. "I realised he was an exceptional person," she says," extremely intelligent, and thoughtful."

They shared a love of the outdoors, and hiking in the Carpathian Mountains. Four years ago this month, they married.

Adversity has drawn them closer still.

"In the past three months I think I started to even love him more," Alina says with a laugh, "because he gave me so much motivation, so much inspiration".

The couple want to show that life goes on after life-changing injuries. "We will do everything possible to deal with it," says Alina, "and with our example to show everyone that everything is possible".

Andrii was an unlikely soldier - a financial consultant and self-confessed nerd, who sang in church and liked to talk about philosophy.

But he volunteered soon after Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. For him it was a battle of good versus evil, "a war of values".

[Andrii and Alina]

Now his battle is in the gym - where he trains two hours a day - rebuilding his strength and working on his balance. And he has taken on a new mission - to help those who may come after him.

"Ukraine has never had such a big number of amputees, and people blinded by the war," he says.

"Our medical system is not ready in some ways. Some veterans come in with really complex cases."

And Ukraine's legion of amputees is growing - mine by mine, and shell by shell.

Far from Kyiv, closer to the front lines, we see some of the most recent casualties at a hospital in the south-east.

After darkness falls, ambulances started arriving, carrying Ukraine's young generation.

One is wrapped in a gold foil blanket to prevent hypothermia. Another has a bandaged stump in place of a leg. The amputation was done hurriedly near the battlefield to save his life.

On arrival, a number is written on the upper body of every casualty. There is no chaos, no shouting.

The staff here know the drill. Since the war began, they have treated 20,000 wounded soldiers - and counting.

"This is our front line," says Dr Oksana, an anaesthesiologist.

"We are doing what we must do. These are our men, our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons."


In the intensive care unit, we meet Oleksii, his military dog tag still around his neck. He's 38 and the father of a teenager. Just days before he lost both legs.

"I remember I got into a trench, and I think there was a tripwire", he says. "I stepped on it. I remember a big explosion and friends trying to take me out."

The hospital director Dr Serhii - a fatherly figure - holds his hand and tells him he is a hero.

"We will do everything possible so you can get prostheses quickly and run," he says.

I ask Dr Serhii if he ever feels overwhelmed by the flood of maimed soldiers.

"As a rule, this feeling comes every night," he tells me.

"When you see all this grief, all the wounded that arrive at the hospital. During the war we have seen more than 2,000 like Oleksii."

Back in Kyiv, Andrii and Alina keep the darker moments to themselves.

He's battling on, surprising doctors. They didn't think he could walk with a white stick because he couldn't hold it. But he found a way by clenching the cord at the top of the stick between his teeth.

His voice is getting stronger. He hopes he will be able to sing in church again and return to the mountains with Alina.

She dreams that new technology will restore his sight one day. "I also hope for some kids," she says with a laugh, "and for our house in a peaceful Ukraine".

[Andrii and Alina]

Alina is trying to arrange treatment abroad, possibly in the United States, where specialists have more experience with complex needs like her husband's.

Andrii grows quiet when asked what the hardest thing is now.

It was not his injuries, he says, but that he did not get to finish what he started and win the war.

Outside the clinic, a few of his fellow patients gather to smoke and share stories of the trenches. All have lost legs. Their wheelchairs form a sunlit semi-circle. One says the government is downplaying the number of amputees. He asks us not to use his name.

"There are at least three times as many as they say," he insists.

"They want to hide us away. They don't want people to know how many there really are. They are worried about getting people to join up and fight."

He still gets a small salary from the military. "Enough for eight packets of cigarettes," he says with a bitter laugh.

How long can Ukraine sustain these losses, and continue to fight? And how well can the growing ranks of amputees fit back into civilian life?

These are hard questions as a second winter of war approaches.

"We definitely are not ready, as a country, for a big number of people with disabilities on the streets," says Olga Rudneva, chief executive officer of the Superhumans rehabilitation centre. "People will need to learn to interact. It will take years."

Her new state-of-the art facility - in the relative safety of Western Ukraine - provides prosthetics for soldiers and civilians, free of charge.

Olga wants amputees to be visible, and she wants a new definition of beauty in Ukraine.

"This is our new normal," she says. "They lost their limbs fighting for Ukraine and for our freedom."

Additional reporting by Wietske Burema and Natalka Sosnytska

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Ukraine's Crimea attacks seen as key to counter-offensive against Russia, 9 days ago

This week saw spectacular Ukrainian attacks on the Crimean Peninsula, hitting Russian warships and missiles.

Estimates of the damage done ran into billions of pounds and raised the question: is Ukraine getting ready to retake Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014?

Crimea is a Russian fortress, so it is important not to get carried away.

"The strategy has two main goals," says Oleksandr Musiienko, from Kyiv's Centre for Military and Legal Studies.

"To establish dominance in the north-western Black Sea and to weaken Russian logistical opportunities for their defence lines in the south, near Tokmak and Melitopol."

In other words, operations in Crimea go hand-in-glove with Ukraine's counter-offensive in the south.

"They depend on each other," Musiienko says.

Let's look at Ukraine's recent successes in Crimea.

On Wednesday, long-range cruise missiles, supplied by the UK and France, dealt a heavy blow to Russia's much-vaunted Black Sea fleet at its home port of Sevastopol.

Satellite images of the scene at the Sevmorzavod dry dock repair facility showed two blackened vessels.

[A satellite photo shows Sevastopol, Crimea after a Ukrainian missile attack, on September 12, 2023, with two blackened ships in the middle]

On Friday, Britain's Ministry of Defence said a large amphibious landing ship, the Minsk, had "almost certainly been functionally destroyed".

Next to it, one of Russia's Kilo class diesel-electric submarines, the Rostov-on-Don - used to launch Kalibr cruise missiles hundreds of miles into Ukraine - had "likely suffered catastrophic damage".

Perhaps equally importantly the dry docks - vital for maintenance of the entire Black Sea fleet - would likely be out of use "for many months", the ministry said.

On Saturday, Ukraine offered tantalising new details.

It said special forces had played a key role, using boats and an unspecified "underwater delivery means" to get ashore, before using "special technical assets" to help identify and target the vessels.

But with the fires barely out in Sevastopol there were more dramatic night-time explosions as Ukraine blew up one of Russia's most modern air defence systems, an S-400, around 40 miles (64km) north at Yevpatoria.

This was another sophisticated operation that used a combination of drones and Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles to confuse and destroy a key component of Russia's air defences on the Crimean Peninsula.

A significant side note: Russian attempts to use exactly this technique over Kyiv have generally failed, largely thanks to the presence of US Patriot interceptor missiles.

Thursday was the second time in less than a month that Ukraine has knocked out an S-400 surface-to-air missile system on the peninsula.

On 23 August, at Olenivka, on the western tip of the Tarkhankut Peninsula, Ukraine managed to destroy another launcher and a nearby radar station.

Russia was thought to have not more than six S-400 launchers in Crimea. Now it has lost two.

But these are only some of Ukraine's recent operations.

[Graphic map showing Ukrainian strikes on Crimea]

Others have knocked out Russian radar positions on offshore gas platforms and, according to Kyiv, used experimental maritime drones to attack a hovercraft missile carrier at the entrance to Sevastopol harbour.

With its airbases, troop concentrations, training grounds and the Black Sea fleet, Crimea has been a key target since Russia's full-scale invasion last year.

"In Crimea, they still have a lot of stockpiles, with artillery shells and other types of weapons," Musiienko says. "And this is the main logistic supply line for them."

Over the months, Kyiv's operations have grown in sophistication, from a drone attack in August 2022 which destroyed an estimated nine Russian aircraft at the Saky air base, to the combined drone and missile attacks of today.

With more advanced weapons thought to be in the pipeline, Musiienko expects Ukraine to launch ever more sophisticated operations.

"When we get ATACMS (tactical ballistic missiles) from the United States, I think we will try to use - in one attack - ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and also drones," he says.

"And that will be a serious problem for Russia's air defence system," he adds.

"We will try to blind them."

Each successful attack, he says, makes the next one easier. "We are clearing the way, and it's becoming more simple."

The latest reports from Washington suggests the Biden administration is close to approving the ATACMS long range missile system after months of Ukrainian lobbying.

Does any of this mean that Kyiv is getting closer to its goal of liberating Crimea?

"It's getting closer, but there's still a lot to do," says retired Ukrainian navy captain Andriy Ryzhenko.

"We need to liberate the Sea of Azov coast and cut the land corridor," he says, referring to Ukraine's slow, grinding offensive in the south.

And then there is the Kerch Bridge.

Ukraine has been hitting Moscow's lifeline to Crimea for almost a year, but Russian heavy equipment still moves along its vital railway.

Despite being much better defended now, it remains very much in Kyiv's sights.

[A view through a train window shows the section of a road split and sloping to one side following an alleged attack on the Crimea Bridge (file pic)]

"When we shut down the Crimean bridge, it will be a logistical problem for them," Ryzhenko says, with some understatement.

Cutting off Crimea would be catastrophic for Russia and provide a welcome boost to Ukraine's difficult southern offensive.

So is all this a prelude to a Ukrainian effort to retake the peninsula?

Observers here in Kyiv are trying not to get ahead of themselves.

"I think this could be a preparation for the liberation of Crimea," Musiienko. "But I understand that it will take time.

"What we're trying to do right now is clean the way to Crimea."

On Saturday, the Secretary of National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said Ukraine was using every means at its disposal to force Russia to abandon Crimea.

"It looks like if the Russians do not leave Crimea on their own," he said in a radio interview, "we will have to 'smoke them out'."

Kim Jong Un-Putin talks: What do the optics tell us?, 10 days ago

They strolled side by side through the gleaming space centre - stopping to peer into the pit from where rockets blast into space.

At their lavish banquet, they drank Russian wines and toasted the embrace of their two pariah states.

And before leaving, they swapped guns as gifts - model rifles from each others' munitions lines.

The optics of Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin's date in eastern Russia clearly underscore a relationship that is being strengthened in wartime.

It isn't over yet, with the North Korean leader spending several days touring shipyards, aircraft factories and other military sites before he returns home.

There had been great anticipation in the lead-up - with global media rapt as Kim trundled for hours in his armoured train over the border.

He kept the West guessing for nearly 40 hours before reaching the Vostochny Cosmodrome - a space base in a far-flung eastern corner of Russia. Even then, it was unclear what exactly the pair would be meeting to talk about - with White House warnings last week that the North could sell arms to Russia sparking alarm.

Putin had sent ahead a welcome party to greet Kim as his train rolled onto the space base's tracks. A red-carpeted, balustrade staircase was also erected mid-air, waiting for the train to pull in and for the North Korean leader to step out.

[Kim Jong Un stands at the top of a staircase leading to his green train in front of an assembly of uniformed officials on 13/9]

Putin was waiting in front of the centre when Kim drew up in his limousine. There, before flashing cameras, the two leaders shook hands - the pictures beamed out immediately by state media.

Both leaders know the power of showmanship, but the Supreme Leader of North Korea, as Kim is known, is particularly a fan of ceremony. He is third in a dynasty of supreme leaders "who have generations of mythology constructed around them", says Sarah Son, a North Korea expert at the University of Sheffield.

"It wouldn't do to be seen as a run-of-the-mill, limited term state leader by domestic audiences, who will be seeing this journey and parts of the meetings on television and in the newspaper.

"It's very important for Kim to have one-to-one meetings with leaders of other countries so that all eyes are on him, making North Korea appear as a more significant global player than it actually is.

"Sanctions of course remain extremely tight and Russia's need for arms presents an opportunity to achieve two complementary aims: income for the North Korean state and evidence that Kim is worthy of the attention of the leader of a major global power."

About an hour before the two leaders met, Pyongyang had also fired off two ballistic missiles - the first launched without the leader at home.

"The summit defiantly linked pariah state behaviour in Europe and Asia," says Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

[Russia's President Vladimir Putin waits to greet North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023.]

But beyond the spectacle and bombast, observers question whether the meeting achieved any concrete deals. Little was revealed publicly.

"As of now, it appears that there have been no substantial developments in the public domain," says Fyodor Tertitskiy, a North Korean military researcher at Kookmin University in Seoul.

"We observed a two-fold event - a grand spectacle primarily designed for foreign audiences and undisclosed agreements behind closed doors, the significance of which remains uncertain."

No detail was revealed of the feared arms deal the West is concerned could boost Russia's fight in Ukraine.

And no word was mentioned either of certain gains for North Korea - of food aid, economic help or military and technology sharing, the things that Kim would have wanted say analysts.

Instead the only known advance appears to be Putin hinting he could potentially help with Kim's space and satellite goals.

That's where the choice of venue was noticeable analysts say. Both leaders travelled long distances to get to the space port on the other side of the country from Moscow.

[Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin are followed by their delegations as they tour a space launch site at Vostochny Cosmodrome on 13/9]

[The delegations examine a rocket launchpad]

But meeting at the site provided significant optics for Putin, analysts say.

First, his offer of space assistance could be argued as being within the acceptable limits of what Russia can give North Korea.

Pyongyang has failed twice this year to get a spy satellite into space - their technology is still decades behind Russia's.

And for Moscow, helping put a satellite in space so the North can watch its enemies is vastly different to the Kremlin aiding a nuclear and missiles programme banned by the UN Security Council.

But the problem remains that we don't know what was actually promised to the North.

Pyongyang has nuclear warhead-topped intercontinental ballistic missiles which in theory could reach the US. They currently don't- because the North in part hasn't worked out how to keep them from frying as they fly through space.

Russia and the US however know how to protect their missiles- from the same technology they use to protect their satellites. If Moscow has shared this technology with Pyongyang, the US could potentially be in striking distance.

As such, the meeting this week at the spaceport is "equivalent to Putin thumbing his nose at UN Security Council Resolutions", says Prof Easley.

"This should be a wake-up call to all other UN member states about the need to redouble efforts at enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang," he said.

[People at a train station in Seoul watch a news report showing Kim and Putin meeting]

But there remains significant doubt over whether Russia would share any of its space jewels, or even sees the North's arms as anything more than a back-up supply.

"Even with regards to the satellite technology, Putin's statements were cautious, not an explicit commitment to provide assistance but rather a strong implication that it may be considered," says Mr Tertitskiy.

He also points out the near non-existent money flows between the two - despite the rhetoric surrounding weapons, trade remains near zero according to South Korean estimates. North Korea remains reliant on China for over 95% of its trade income.

"This leaves us uncertain whether this summit will yield any more concrete results than the fruitless 2019 meeting did," he says, referring to the last time the two leaders met.

[Kim Jong Un delivers a speech at a banquet table with the Russian president and officials]

It has been four years since that huddle, and for Kim this rare trip shouldn't be underplayed, analysts say. This was his first foray abroad in four years, as his reclusive state also begins to re-open to the world post pandemic.

Putin made sure that he would be treated handsomely, observers say.

The meeting could have just been held in Vladivostok, on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, Putin's signature Asia-facing platform which has previously been attended by Chinese and South Korean leaders.

Instead, he chose to give Kim centre stage, at a different venue altogether - bringing out the red carpet, the banquet, the brass marching band - and then also making the trip to meet him there.

"It is a sign of respect for Kim. This could be seen as a gesture to ensure Kim feels valued," says Mr Tertitskiy.

But equally, he says, it's also about the message being sent to the West - elevating the perception of their relationship even when the details are scant.

But in this relationship, it's crucial to focus on what the two sides actually do, he says.

"Both Kim and Putin are adept at employing deception. Once again, it's imperative to scrutinise their concrete actions rather than their words."

Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia, 2 days ago

Ukraine has been widening the breach in Russia's defences in the southern Zaporizhzhia region as its counter-offensive continues to make slow progress against Moscow's forces.

Here are the latest developments:

* Ukraine has brought heavy equipment beyond Russia's first line of defences in the Zaporizhzhia region for the first time, analysts say

* It has also made advances around Bakhmut after Russia moved some of its most experienced troops from the city to the Zaporizhzhia region

* Meanwhile, Russia has maintained drone attacks on Ukraine's River Danube ports, damaging the country's grain export infrastructure

Ukraine's armoured vehicles advance

Ukrainian forces have been widening their breach of Russian defensive lines near the village of Robotyne for several weeks and analysts say they may be preparing for a new push.

The tiny village, some 56km (35 miles) south-east of the city of Zaporizhzhia, has been a focal point since Ukraine's counter-offensive began at the start of June.

Progress has been slow but analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) say they have confirmed that Ukrainian forces are operating armoured vehicles beyond the Russian anti-tank ditch and dragon's teeth obstacles in the area for the first time - just to the west of nearby Verbove.

[Before and after map showing Russian and Ukrainian positions on 4 June and 21 September which shows how Ukraine has advanced around Robotyne]

War in maps: Ukraine widening Russia defences breach

The ISW describes this as an "important sign of progress" but adds it is not prepared to say that Ukraine has broken through as its forces have not breached the last visible defensive positions.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says this is the most strategically important part of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and, if it is successful, could cut off Russia's supply lines that connect the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to Crimea.

Doing so would make it all but impossible for Russia to maintain its huge garrison in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, he adds.

However, the advance so far has been restricted to the area around Robotyne and Ukrainian forces have a long way to go if they are to achieve this aim by reaching the Sea of Azov.

[Map showing the south of Ukraine and how far Ukrainian forced still have to go to reach the Sea of Azov]

The battle for Bakhmut

As Ukraine has been trying to widen the breach near Robotyne, Russia has been bringing reinforcements into the region - including some of its best trained soldiers that had previously been deployed elsewhere.

The UK Ministry of Defence says the redeployments of Russia's paratroop formations, known as the VDV, have probably weakened its defences around the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has endured some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

It has been under Russian control for several months but Ukraine has gained some ground in the surrounding areas and the MoD says Ukraine has now secured the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, about 8km (five miles) south of the city.

[Map showing territorial control around Bakhmut and highlighting the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka]

Attacks on Crimea

Ukraine has also stepped up attacks on the Crimean peninsula in the past month - the latest a missile attack on the port of Sevastopol on 22 September.

It came just over a week after a major attack on the same city, which is the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet, using cruise missiles supplied by the UK and France that is thought to have destroyed a ship and a submarine.

It also caused significant damage to the dry docks, which are vital for maintenance of the entire Black Sea fleet.

The next day Ukraine said it had succeeded in destroying a sophisticated Russian air defence system - the S-400 - on the peninsular.

Attacks in late August destroyed another S-400 and others knocked out Russian radar positions on offshore gas platforms.

[Map showing locations of four recent significant attacks on Crimea]

Russia's Black Sea fleet is an important target for Kyiv - it is seen as the flagship unit of Russia's navy and its ships have launched missiles at Ukraine causing devastating damage.

It has also been threatening to block the Black Sea shipping routes that Ukraine has been using to export grain - which is a particular sticking point for Kyiv currently.

[Location of Russia's Black Sea fleet HQ in Sevastopol]

Moscow pulled out of the internationally brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative in mid-July - guaranteeing safe passage of non-military vessels - arguing that Russia's own agricultural exporters were being disadvantaged.

Since Russia pulled out, only a handful of vessels, have been able to sail from Ukraine's Black Sea ports such as Odesa, with the first large grain shipment leaving Chornomorsk, just south of Odesa, this week and reaching Turkey on Friday.

Drone attacks on Danube ports

The UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) says 65% of Ukraine's grain exports are now going from the ports of Izmail and Reni, on the Danube. The grain is then transported by river and canals into the Black Sea, via the Romanian seaports of Sulina and Constanta.

In theory it is safer to go this way, as vessels entering the Black Sea from the mouth of the river immediately enter Romanian territorial waters.

[Map showing ports of Izmail and Reni, on the Danube.]

But Russia has also been attacking Ukraine's Danube ports using drones.

Since the River Danube forms part of Ukraine's border with Nato, Russia's attacks have an added geopolitical dimension - at least one Russian drone has been filmed exploding across the river from Izmail, inside Romania.

More than a year of fighting

Russia's invasion began with dozens of missile strikes on cities all over Ukraine before dawn on 24 February 2022.

Russian ground troops moved in quickly and within a few weeks were in control of large areas of Ukraine and had advanced to the suburbs of Kyiv.

Russian forces were bombarding Kharkiv, and they had taken territory in the east and south as far as Kherson, and surrounded the port city of Mariupol.

[Four maps showing how the situation has changed on the ground since Russia's invasion..]

But they hit very strong Ukrainian resistance almost everywhere and faced serious logistical problems with poorly motivated Russian troops suffering shortages of food, water and ammunition.

Ukrainian forces were also quick to deploy Western supplied arms such as the Nlaw anti-tank system, which proved highly effective against the Russian advance.

By October the picture had changed dramatically and having failed to take Kyiv, Russia withdrew completely from the north.

More than a year since the invasion, Ukraine is now hoping its latest counter-offensive can turn the war in its favour.

By David Brown, Bella Hurrell, Dominic Bailey, Mike Hills, Lucy Rodgers, Paul Sargeant, Alison Trowsdale, Tural Ahmedzade, Chris Clayton, Kady Wardell, Mark Bryson, Zoe Bartholomew, Sean Willmott, Sana Dionysiou, Joy Roxas, Gerry Fletcher, Jana Tauschinsk, Debie Loizou, Simon Martin and Prina Shah.

About these maps

To indicate which parts of Ukraine are under control by Russian troops we are using daily assessments published by the Institute for the Study of War with the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project. To show key areas where advances are taking place we are also using updates from the UK Ministry of Defence and BBC research.

The situation in Ukraine is often fast moving and it is likely there will be times when there have been changes not reflected in the maps.

War in Ukraine: Is the counter-offensive making progress?, 7 days ago

Ukraine's generals say they have "broken through" Russia's first line of defence in the south.

We've assessed how far Ukrainian forces have really progressed, and what signs there are of further breakthroughs along the frontline.

[Control map of Ukraine]

Ukraine began its big counter-offensive in early June to push Russian forces back from land they seized. It attacked at three points along the 600-mile-plus (965km) frontline.

The area to the south-east of the city of Zaporizhzhia is by far the most strategically important.

Striking out in this direction towards the Sea of Azov, if successful, could cut off Russia's supply lines that connect the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to Crimea.

There hasn't been much progress on this front, except for the area around the villages of Robotyne and Verbove in the Zaporizhzhia region, as seen highlighted in purple in the map above.

If Ukraine can sever this main supply route then Russia will find it all but impossible to maintain its huge garrison in Crimea which it annexed in 2014.

Despite significant obstacles, there are now confirmed sightings of Ukrainian troops breaching Russia's defensive structures along the southern front.

We have verified nine social media videos along the frontline near Verbove.

[Verified videos of Ukrainian troops]

Four of the videos show Ukrainian forces breaching Russian defences north of Verbove.

However, these show incursions, not that Ukraine has managed to take control of the area.

So far it has only been Ukrainian infantry getting through, and we're not seeing Ukrainian armoured columns pouring through, exploiting the gap and holding the ground taken.

[An image showing dragon's teeth concrete blocks stretching across a field.]

What is stopping Ukraine advancing faster?

Moscow saw this counter attack coming long ago and has spent months building the world's most formidable layered defences in depth.

This is what they look like from space - lines of interlocking obstacles, trenches, bunkers and minefields, each covered by artillery. Its so-called dragon's teeth are concrete anti-tank barriers.

[Satellite image showing an anti-tank ditch, followed by a row of "dragon's teeth" 250m away, and a trench network 300m further on. Artillery positions are marked behind the trenches.]

Vast minefields have slowed the Ukrainian advance.

These minefields are intensely packed, in some places up to five mines laid in a square metre.

Ukraine's first attempt to charge through them in June quickly ended in failure, with its modern, Western-supplied armour crippled and burning. Ukrainian infantry came similarly unstuck, taking horrific casualties.

Kyiv has since had to resort to clearing these mines on foot, often at night and sometimes under fire. Hence the slow progress to date.

Ukraine's tanks and armoured vehicles are vulnerable to Russia's mines, drones and anti-tank missiles - like in this video analysed by BBC Verify which shows a British-supplied Challenger 2 tank that got hit near Robotyne.

These will only be able to push forward in numbers once a sufficiently wide path has been cleared through the minefields and when Russian artillery there has been subdued.

What next for Ukraine's counter-offensive?

"The problem that the Ukrainians have now", says Dr Marina Miron at King's College London War Studies Department, "is to get an opening big enough to get more troops in".

Meanwhile Russia has been moving in reinforcements, and this battlefront is dynamic, it's moving, and Russia could still reverse Ukraine's gains.

We've geolocated a Russian drone video which backs up reports that its elite airborne forces, the VDV, have deployed close to the town of Verbove - a move aimed at plugging any gaps created by Ukraine's counter-offensive.

"Ukrainian forces continue to face resistance from Russian forces on the battlefield," says Kateryna Stepanenko, Russia analyst at the US-based think tank, Institute for the Study of War.

"Alongside artillery fire, drone strikes and Russian defensive structures - Russian forces are also extensively using electronic warfare measures that aim to impede Ukrainian signals and drone usage."

Ukraine has barely progressed more than 10% of the way to the coast, but the reality is much more nuanced than that.

[A Ukrainian serviceman operates an FPV drone from his positions at a front line, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 25, 2023.]

Russia's forces are exhausted and possibly demoralised after sustaining three months of intensive attacks, including long-range strikes that are targeting their supply lines.

If Ukraine can break through the remaining Russian defences and reach as far as the town of Tokmak then this would bring Russia's rail and road supply routes for Crimea within range of its artillery.

If they can do that, then this counter offensive can be judged a qualified success.

It may not end the war, which is likely to drag on well into 2024 and perhaps longer - but it would seriously undermine Moscow's war effort and put Ukraine in a strong position for when peace talks eventually begin.

But for Kyiv, the clock is ticking. The rainy season will arrive within weeks, turning the roads to mud and hindering further advances.

Beyond that lies the uncertainty of the US presidential elections, where a Republican victory could see US military support for Ukraine dramatically slashed.

President Putin knows he needs to tough it out until then. The Ukrainians know they have got to make this counter-offensive succeed.

Reporting by Jake Horton, Paul Brown, Benedict Garman, Daniele Palumbo, Olga Robinson, Thomas Spencer.

Graphics by Tural Ahmedzade, Mark Bryson, Erwan Rivault, Filipa Silverio.

[BBC Verify logo]

[BBC Verify logo]

South China Sea: Philippines says Beijing installed floating barrier in contested area, today

The Philippines has accused China of installing a "floating barrier" to stop fishing boats from entering a disputed area in the South China Sea.

The Philippines' coast guard said the 300m (1,000ft) obstacle was preventing fishermen from working in a lagoon in the Scarborough Shoal.

China claims more than 90% of the South China Sea and seized the shoal in 2012.

Commodore Jay Tarriela of the Philippine coast guard said the barrier was discovered by a patrol on Friday.

Three Chinese coast guard boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.

The Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and China's laws, before moving away "upon realising the presence of media personnel onboard the (Filipino) vessel", he said.

China's embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a request for comment, Reuters news agency said.

Cmdr Tarriela of the Philippine coast guard said the said the barrier was "depriving [fishermen] of their livelihood".

He added that Filipino fishermen say China typically installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area.

He said his organisation would work with concerned governments but would "uphold our maritime rights and protect our maritime domains".

The South China Sea is a rich fishing ground that is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves. More than half of the world's fishing vessels operate in this area.

China's claims - which include sovereignty over land parcels and their adjacent waters - have angered not just the Philippines but also Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.

The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes, but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands in what it calls "freedom of navigation" operations.

Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.

It later allowed the Philippines to fish nearby when relations improved under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

However, tensions have heightened since Ferdinand Marcos Jr became president last year.

President Marcos Jr restored security ties with the US and in early 2023 granted American troops wider access to Philippine military bases.

This angered China as a larger US presence in the Philippines provides Washington with an arc of alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan to the north to Australia in the south.

Man gored to death by bull at Spanish festival, today

A man has died and his friend has been injured during a bull-running festival in eastern in Spain, authorities say.

The man, 61, was gored in his side during the event in the town of Pobla de Farnals in the Valencia region on Saturday. He underwent emergency surgery but died on Sunday.

His friend, 63, was attacked in both leg by the same bull and is in a stable condition in hospital.

Deaths and injuries during bull-running festivals in Spain are not uncommon.

There are hundreds of such events - in which bulls are released on city streets with people running ahead of them - across Spain every year.

Animal rights groups have long complained of the dangers for the public as well as the animals.

But the annual events remain popular.

The bull-running season provides a much-needed boost to Valencia's economy.

A 2019 study found that it created more than 3,000 jobs and brought in €300m with almost 10,000 events a year.

French rapper MHD gets 12 years in jail for murder, today

French rapper MHD has been given a 12-year jail term for the murder of a young man in Paris in 2018.

A court in the capital found the 29-year-old MHD, real name Mohamed Sylla, guilty of involvement in the gang-related killing of Loic K, 23.

The victim was knocked down by MHD's Mercedes, then beaten and stabbed to death by a crowd of about 12 people.

MHD, who is known for blending trap and West African music to get "Afro trap", pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"From the beginning, I have maintained my innocence in this case and I will continue to maintain my innocence," he told the packed court in Paris, AFP news agency reports.

He denied being at the scene of the murder, arguing that the case against him was based on rumours.

However, a local resident filmed the incident in the summer of 2018 from his window, and the car was quickly identified as belonging to MHD.

Other witnesses identified him by his haircut and a jumper, AFP reports.

Five of MHD's co-defendants were also given prison terms ranging between 10 and 18 years.

Another three were acquitted.

It was not immediately known if those sentenced to jail were planning to appeal.

MHD, who has a huge following on social media, was working as a pizza delivery boy in Paris before turning to music professionally.

Five years ago, he spoke to BBC's What's New? programme about how he came up with the idea of "Afro trap".

Canadian mother and twins charged with pretending to be Inuit, 2 days ago

Three women in Canada have been criminally charged after allegedly pretending to be Inuit to receive benefits from indigenous organisations.

According to police, two 25-year-old sisters committed fraud by posing as adopted Inuit children.

Both sisters and their 59-year-old mother are facing two counts of fraud each. One Inuit group called the alleged deception "flabbergasting".

The defendants are due in court in the city of Iqaluit on 30 October.

In a statement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said that the sisters - Amira and Nadya Gill - and their mother, Karima Manji, defrauded two local organisations of "funds that are only available to Inuit beneficiaries by obtaining grants and scholarships" between October 2016 and September 2022.

As part of a 1993 indigenous land claim settlement known as the Nunavut Agreement, members of Canada's Inuit community in the sparsely populated northern territory are able to receive benefits such as grants and scholarships.

Registration of indigenous status is overseen by an organisation called Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, or NTI, which represents Inuits in the territory.

In a March statement, NTI said that it had become "aware of possible fraudulent enrolment" of the Gill sisters after Ms Manji claimed that they were adoptive children and identified an Inuk woman as their birth mother.

They said the case was a "first of its kind" in the history of the organisation's enrolment programme.

After an investigation, the three, who are from the province of Ontario, were removed from the NTI's list of beneficiaries and the matter was referred to the RCMP.

The woman named by the Gills as their birth mother, Kitty Noah, said before her death in July that she was not related to the twins.

In 2021, the Gill sisters - both graduates of Queen's University in Ontario - launched an online business selling face masks featuring designs by indigenous artists.

In an interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC, NTI President Aluki Kotierk said that "at a minimum", the Gill sisters and their mother should return the money they received from Inuit associations.

He added that the NTI would conduct more training for enrolment committees in the future.

Mr Kotierk characterised the alleged fraud as "another form of colonisation" and part of a wider trend of non-indigenous Canadians claiming indigenous heritage.

"You've wanted to take our language away from us," he said. "You've wanted to take our culture away from us. Now you're trying to claim our identity? It's just flabbergasting."

In a statement, the NTI called the case "isolated", but said it was strengthening enrolment criteria and would be requiring applicants to provide a copy of their long-form birth certificate.

In addition to the money given by the two local groups, the Kakivak Association and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, claiming indigenous status also allowed the twins to receive scholarships awarded by Indspire, a Canadian indigenous charity, electricity company Hydro One and Royal Bank of Canada.

A spokesperson for the Royal Bank of Canada said that before 2021 scholarship applicants were able to self-identify as indigenous, but the requirements had since been updated.

The BBC has contacted Indspire and Hydro One for comment.

Some Canadians have referred to those falsely claiming indigenous ancestry as "pretendians".

But Jean Teillet, a member of the Métis indigenous community, told Global News that the term downplays the severity of the issue because it "sounds harmless".

"I prefer to call it fraud because the definition of fraud is intentional deception to obtain a material gain and that's what we're talking about here."

The three women charged could not be immediately reached for comment.

Incendiary rhetoric on Sikh's murder stokes debate in Canada diaspora, yesterday

A row between Canada and India over the murder of a Sikh separatist has stoked talk of political friction among some Sikhs and Hindus in the diaspora, though others say it's overblown.

After Mr Trudeau's public accusation on Monday that India may have been behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil, a clip surfaced on social media showing the head of a US-based Sikh separatist group calling for Hindu Canadians to return to India.

"Indo-Canadian Hindus, you have repudiated your allegiance to Canada and the Canadian constitution," said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, head of Sikhs for Justice, in a video that was reportedly filmed on 12 September.

"Your destination is India. Leave Canada. Go to India," he said.

The video of Mr Pannun, a dual Canadian-US citizen who was a friend of Mr Nijjar, was widely shared online and in Indian media.

It caught the attention of Chandra Arya, a Liberal member of Canada's parliament.

"I have heard from many Hindu-Canadians who are fearful after this targeted attack," Mr Arya, a Hindu, wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mr Arya said he believed the comments were made to "divide the Hindu and Sikh communities in Canada". He declined to comment to the BBC.

The exchange laid bare apparent divisions within the Indian diaspora, which Canada's bombshell allegation has done little to alleviate. India denies orchestrating Mr Nijjar's murder.

Tensions were up in the wake of Mr Nijjar's murder. His supporters staged protests across Canada in the wake of his killing, accusing India of being behind his death.

Those demonstrations faced counter-protests from supporters of the Indian government. Posters for the event, which labelled Indian diplomats as "killers", were denounced by New Delhi officials.

India has also spoken out about vandalism targeting Hindu temples in Canada with "anti-India graffiti".

Mr Nijjar was a vocal advocate for the creation of a separate homeland for Sikhs - Khalistan - in the Indian state of Punjab. India has strongly opposed the Khalistan movement, and labelled Mr Nijjar as a terrorist.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Pannun said his remarks did not intend to target all Hindus, but rather those who align with the interests of the Indian government, which he said happens to be majority Hindu.

Indo-Canadians who spoke to the BBC said that while their community was taken aback by Canada's allegations, they have not experienced threats to their safety or heightened tensions day-to-day.

Canada has a large Indo-Canadian population with deep ties to both countries. There are 1.86m residents of Indian descent in Canada, with diverse religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

Ranbir Grewal, a tech professional in Toronto whose family is Sikh, said his social group is a mix of Hindu and Sikh Canadians - all of whom denounce remarks that Hindu Canadians must leave Canada.

"Those are relatively offensive statements, and they get a reaction, people are talking about it," Mr Grewal said.

Mr Grewal also spoke out against the government of India's recently issued travel advisory for Canada, warning its citizens to exercise "utmost caution" when visiting the North American country because of the potential for violence.

"I've been going about meeting people the same way, my day-to-day life hasn't changed much," he said.

He said he believes any inflammatory remarks are being made to certain factions of the Indo-Canadian community, and do not represent how the majority feel.

Radhika Sharma, a Vancouver-based student who is Hindu, said she views talk of a rift as a "political" issue.

She added that some, including her Sikh friends, have been upset by Mr Trudeau's accusation, as his government has not yet provided evidence publicly to back it up.

"We don't know if it's true or not, but if it is then it should have supportive evidence," she said. "This is just creating a tussle and a war between two great countries."

Rupinder Liddar, a PhD student at McGill University in Montreal, whose research focuses on the Sikh-Canadian community, said she has seen misinformation being spread online, conflating the Khalistan movement with violence or terrorism.

But she said that despite a sense of political divide among some in the Indo-Canadian community, Hindus and Sikhs in Canada have always had close ties.

"There should be no tension between the Sikh-Canadian and Hindu-Canadian communities," she said, "rather this is all about foreign interference in Canada by a foreign government."

F-35 crash: Pilot called 911 after parachuting into backyard, 2 days ago

The pilot of a US Marines F-35 jet that went missing called emergency services from a South Carolina home where his parachute landed.

In audio from the call, obtained by the BBC, the pilot told a dispatcher that he was "not sure" where his $100m (£80m) plane was.

A local resident can also be heard calmly explaining that the pilot had landed in his backyard.

Debris from the jet was discovered on Monday, a day after it went missing.

In the four-minute call to the 911 emergency number, the resident of a North Charleston home can be heard telling a confused dispatcher that "we got a pilot in the house".

"I guess he landed in my backyard," the resident added. "We're trying to see if we could get an ambulance to the house, please".

The 47-year-old pilot, who has not been named, said that he felt "OK" after ejecting at approximately 2,000ft (609m). Only his back hurt.

"Ma'am, a military jet crashed. I'm the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling," he added.

"I'm not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash landed somewhere. I ejected."

The pilot later again asked the dispatcher to "please send an ambulance" and said that he "rode a parachute down to the ground".

[US Marine Corps F-35]

According to the Marine Corps, the pilot ejected as a result of a malfunction and landed in a residential area near Charleston's international airport.

In a separate 911 call obtained by the AP, an unidentified official said that they had "a pilot with his parachute" that had lost sight of the aircraft "on his way down to the weather".

While it is unclear how and why the F-35 continued flying after the pilot's ejection, the Marine Corps said that its flight control software may have helped it remain level even without a pilot's hands on the controls.

"This is designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness," the statement quoted by the AP said.

The search may have been hampered by the plane's anti-radar stealth capabilities and technology that wipes the jet's communications system if a pilot ejects.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

A report to the US government on Thursday said that inadequate training, a lack of spare parts and complex repair processes had left the US military's F-35 fleet around 55% effective.

UAW strike expands to dozens of sites at GM and Stellantis, 2 days ago

The United Auto Workers union (UAW) is escalating its fight with some of America's biggest carmakers by taking strike action at dozens of parts distribution centres across the US.

UAW boss Shawn Fain said the new walkouts would hit 38 sites owned by General Motors and Stellantis, as the row over pay and benefits continues.

The move excludes Ford, which the UAW said was making more progress in talks.

The UAW declared a strike against the three carmakers last week.

Mr Fain warned that the expansion of the action could lead to delays for customers needing repairs and said he hoped it would raise pressure on the firms to agree new labour contracts.

"We're focused on moving the companies at the bargaining table," he said during an online update on the negotiations.

"Right now we think we can get there," he added. "Stellantis and GM in particular are going to need some serious pushing."

This month's strike is the first in the union's history to target all three carmakers - known as the Big Three - at once.

The dispute threatens to raise car prices and lead to serious disruption for an industry that accounts for about 3% of the US economy.

It started on 15 September with about 12,700 workers at three facilities.

It has already caused more than $1.6m in industry losses, including more than $500m in losses for the three carmakers and $100m in lost wages for workers, according to estimates by the Anderson Economic Group.

The latest action will put roughly 5,600 more workers across 20 states on strike, the union said.

Patrick Anderson, chief executive of the Anderson Economic Group, said he expected the expansion to have a significant effect on both the production of new cars and on supplies for repairs of existing ones.

"The UAW strategy here will have a much bigger impact than you might expect by merely counting up the number of sites," he said.

General Motors said Friday that the escalation was "unnecessary".

"We have now presented five separate economic proposals that are historic, addressing areas that our team members have said matter most: wage increases and job security while allowing GM to succeed and thrive into the future," the company said.

"We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible."

Stellantis also defended its latest offer, noting that all of its current, full-time hourly employees would make at least $80,000 a year by the end of the contract.

The firm also questioned "whether the union's leadership has ever had an interest in reaching an agreement in a timely manner".

"They seem more concerned about pursuing their own political agendas than negotiating in the best interests of our employees and the sustainability of our US operations given the market's fierce competition," the company said.

Industry analysts are preparing for a prolonged stand-off, which some say could benefit rival car firms such as Tesla and Toyota, which do not have unionised workforces and face lower labour costs.

The UAW, which represents more than 140,000 workers at the three companies, opened talks this summer seeking a 40% rise in pay for its members over the four years of the contract, an end to a system that allows newer hires to be paid less, and automatic pay increases tied to inflation, among other demands.

The car companies have said the requests are too onerous. Their most recent proposals include pay rises of roughly 20%.

Last week, President Joe Biden spoke in support of the workers' cause. He said he was sending senior advisers to try to help mediate the dispute, which comes at a time of wider labour tensions.

Mr Fain said on Friday that Ford had agreed to some of the union's demands, such as the reinstatement of automatic pay increases tied to inflation.

The offer of a roughly 20% pay rise was already a "remarkable" gain for the union, Mr Anderson said.

"The UAW has been very successful in identifying what they want, in making the case in front of the public and then systematically exerting the full measure of their capability in a strike," said Mr Anderson.

Car worker JT O'Malley, who has been on strike at a GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri since last week, said he was hopeful that the other two firms would also start to bend.

"I feel like the pressure's getting put on," said the 38-year-old, who has worked at the plant since 2015. "We are energised to make this happen."

Five things to know about Lachlan Murdoch, 3 days ago

The appointment of Lachlan Murdoch as chairman of Fox and News Corp solidifies his position as one of the most powerful media barons in the world.

What do we know about Rupert Murdoch's eldest son and successor?

A British-American in Australia

Lachlan Murdoch, 52, is one of three children Rupert Murdoch had with his second wife, Scottish journalist Anna Maria dePeyster.

Born in London, Lachlan was educated at prestigious American schools, graduating from Princeton University in 1994. His senior thesis wrestled with German philosophy and began with a quote from Lord Byron.

After leaving Princeton, he spent much of his career in Australia, managing his father's businesses.

He spent years outside the empire

Lachlan was once seen as the natural heir to the News Corp business. But after a feud with the then-boss of Fox News, Roger Ailes, he left the company in 2005.

Paddy Manning, an Australian journalist who wrote The Successor, a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, says the eldest son felt that his father should have backed him in the dispute.

"When he left he was determined not to ever go back to his father's company," Mr Manning says.

He set up an Australian investment firm which poured money into a range of media and marketing companies, and even an Indian Premier League cricket team.

Not all of the investments were successful, however, with his company taking a huge loss on an Australian TV network.

In 2014, he returned to his father's empire. Mr Manning says the return came at a crisis point - in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and Rupert Murdoch's divorce from Wendi Deng.

"Lachlan felt that he needed to help his dad," he says.

He once worked with his brother - but not anymore

In 2015, Rupert named Lachlan and his brother James as co-chairmen of the film studio 21st Century Fox.

A 2017 New York Times feature described how the brothers set about trying to transform the culture of their father's company, pushing for more transparency, workplace diversity and greater cooperation between divisions.

But the film studio was sold to Disney in 2019, and James Murdoch quit the News Corp board the following year, saying in a resignation letter that he was leaving "due to disagreements over certain editorial content" and "certain other strategic decisions".

It was reported that James donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign of Joe Biden, and was frustrated with News Corp's coverage of climate change.

His relationship with Trump is complicated

In his job heading Fox, Lachlan Murdoch will have to navigate the network's on-again, off-again relationship with former US President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump has appeared on Fox News countless times but has also repeatedly criticised the network and praised rival conservative channels.

Earlier this year, Fox settled a defamation suit by voting machine company Dominion for $787.5m (£640.70m). Dominion had alleged that the broadcaster helped spread Trump's baseless rumours about widespread fraud during the 2020 election, damaging its business. And Fox still faces a similar lawsuit from another voting technology firm, Smartmatic.

Lachlan Murdoch has made few public pronouncements about Mr Trump or his own politics, but Mr Manning, the biographer, says it's "no secret" that he and his father are not big fans of the former president.

"But if the Republican party does coalesce behind Trump as the candidate next year, Fox News will have no option but to support him," Mr Manning says.

His book notes that Lachlan shares "a kind of philosophical bent" with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who supports Mr Trump's Make America Great Again agenda. And it also claims Lachlan Murdoch was responsible for the Fox News decision not to broadcast live US Congressional hearings into the Capitol riot.

But ultimately, Mr Manning says, Lachlan Murdoch "does not see himself as a kingmaker" in the same way that his father has often been seen across the English-speaking world.

"Lachlan sees his role as determining strategy for the business, and keeping an eye on the bottom line," he says.

He's one of the 1%

[Lachlan Murdoch and his wife Sarah at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party]

The opening of The Successor also describes what Lachlan Murdoch and his wife were doing while those hearings began in June 2022.

The couple were reportedly taking a luxury yacht for a spin around Sydney Harbour, while waiting on delivery of a boat more than five times as expensive, which they planned to park in their multi-million dollar boat shed near the family mansion.

The couple also own the $150 million Chartwell Estate in Los Angeles, amongst other properties.

The Australian Financial Review recently placed him 33rd on their list of the country's richest people, with a total fortune of A$3.35 billion ($2.1 billion).

[A family tree of Rupert Murdoch and his children]

Rupert Murdoch's succession drama reaches its finale, 3 days ago

Four months after the finale of acclaimed TV series Succession, it seems the show's real-life inspirations have reached the conclusion of their own succession drama.

When Succession writer Jesse Armstrong appeared at the Edinburgh TV Festival last month, he confirmed what most people already knew - the Murdoch dynasty was the original inspiration for his story of brutal power struggles and backstabbing within the family of a media mogul.

Armstrong said he changed his characters significantly and also drew on other major families like those headed by Sumner Redstone and Robert Maxwell.

But the fundamental similarities between the Succession characters and the Murdochs remain too tasty to dismiss.

A formidable, decisive and ageing patriarch. Three adult children vying for position in the family business. A media empire struggling to adapt and survive in the digital age.

[Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin in Succession Season 4 - Episode 1]

From the 1960s, Rupert Murdoch built up News Corporation into a globe-spanning behemoth with mighty political and public influence. It included papers like the Sun and the Times in the UK, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News in the US, and Hollywood film studio 20th Century Fox.

Murdoch himself was courted by potential prime ministers and presidents who believed his blessing could make or break their electoral chances.

Following in his footsteps were children Elisabeth, Lachlan and James.

Their father groomed the two boys for the top job, according to former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil.

"Family has always been very important to Rupert Murdoch, particularly from the point of view of forming a dynasty," he told 2020 BBC documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty.

Neil recalled having dinner with Rupert one Saturday night in the mid-80s after sending the Sunday Times to the printers. Lachlan and James, in their teens, were there too.

"The talk was all then about how he was building a company for them," he said. "And he used to like to play them off against each other to see how they would survive.

"He always wanted at least one of his children to take over from him."

Elisabeth wasn't included in this succession planning at that time. "He didn't really think women could do that sort of thing," Neil told the Spectator's Americano podcast earlier this year. "I think over time he may have changed his mind."

[Left to right: James Murdoch, Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch pictured in 2007]

For her part, Elisabeth said in 2012 she had "absolutely no ambition" to succeed her father. She had been managing director of Sky Networks, part owned by News Corp, but left to set up her own successful TV production company, Shine, in 2000. That was bought by News Corp in 2011.

James was for many years the heir apparent. He held a number of senior positions in his father's empire including head of the London-based newspaper arm and chairman of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

But after the phone hacking scandal engulfed the company in 2011, leading Rupert to close the News of the World newspaper, James resigned from News International and BSkyB.

He took over from his father as chief executive of the renamed 21st Century Fox in 2015. But that studio was bought by Disney in 2019, and the following year James resigned from the board of News Corp over editorial "differences".

In particular, he made no secret of his displeasure with the right-wing direction of Fox News and of coverage of climate change by his father's outlets.

[A family tree of Rupert Murdoch and his children]

That cleared the path for Lachlan, who had been the first of the trio to join the board of the family firm when he became executive director in 1996, having earlier worked at Murdoch papers and TV stations in Australia.

But he abruptly left in 2005 and moved back to Australia. He returned to the family fold a decade later, however, and became executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and chairman of News Corp, alongside his father.

"It's been pretty clear for about a decade now that Lachlan was the chosen son," Vanity Fair special correspondent Brian Stelter told BBC News after Thursday's announcement.

"James Murdoch is disgusted by what airs on Fox News in the US. He has moved away from the companies. So Lachlan has been in line for a while, but he's always been sharing power with his father."

[Lachlan and James Murdoch at The News Corporation's AGM in Adelaide, 9 October 2002.]

In April, Vanity Fair published an expose of the family infighting, which claimed that the ageing and ailing mogul was "consumed with the question of his succession".

"Murdoch believed a Darwinian struggle would produce the most capable heir," Gabriel Sherman wrote in the magazine. he added: "The central fault line remains the rift between James and Lachlan."

The article even claimed Lachlan suspected James of feeding stories to Succession's scriptwriters, and that the divorce settlement between Rupert and Jerry included a stipulation that she couldn't give story ideas to the show's writers.

Earlier this year, Jesse Armstrong said people questioning the inspiration for his storylines had asked "did the Murdochs whisper in your ear?"

He replied: "No, we read Vanity Fair - they're slagging each other off in the pages... You don't need to go for lunch with those people."

Like in Succession, there is another sibling - Prudence - who has been less involved in the media. (Unlike Logan Roy, Murdoch also has two more offspring who are much younger, in their early 20s.)

Vanity Fair also quoted two sources as saying James was biding his time until he and his sisters could wrest control from Lachlan after Rupert is gone. "James, Liz and Prudence will join forces and take over the company," one former Fox executive told the magazine.

As with a hit TV show that could come back for a spin-off or sequel in future years, the Murdoch drama may not be over.

Who was Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar?, 4 days ago

Canada has accused India of being linked to the murder of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil, fuelling a significant rift between the two countries. Who was the man, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, at the centre of those tensions?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was born in the district of Jalandhar in the North Indian state of Punjab. As a young man in 1997, he moved to Canada, where he married, had two sons and worked as a plumber.

Settled in the province of British Columbia, he also made a name for himself as a vocal advocate for the creation of Khalistan - a separate homeland for Sikhs, who are a religious minority that makes up 2% of India's population.

He had been labelled a terrorist by India, accused of, among other activities, being the "mastermind" behind the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), a banned militant group in the country.

He was 45 years old when he was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in a Vancouver suburb on a June summer evening this year.

Those close to him have said he was warned by Canadian intelligence services before his death about threats to his safety.

India has always firmly denied any involvement in his killing, and called the allegations by Mr Trudeau "absurd".

To his supporters, Mr Nijjar - who became a Canadian citizen in 2007 - was a peaceful advocate for Sikh independence in British Columbia and a man who cared deeply about his community.

A large memorial has been set up for him outside the Surrey Gurdwara doors where he served as president. His funeral was attended by hundreds.

"He was so full of energy," Doug McCallum, the former mayor of Surrey, told CityNews Vancouver after his death. "I remember he used to pester me all the time to get a volleyball for the youth in the community and to widen the walkway so that people can get exercise."

But in India, he was wanted under India's Terrorist Act for several cases, including a 2007 cinema bombing in Punjab that killed six people and injured 40, and the 2009 assassination of Sikh Indian politician Rulda Singh.

More on the Canada-India rift:

In 2020, a statement by the Indian government accused him of being actively involved in "operationalising, networking, training and financing" KTF members.

He had also been accused of running terrorist training camps in British Columbia for supporters ready to carry out attacks in India.

In July 2022, India's National Investigation Agency, which probes terror-related crimes in the country, announced a $1.2m reward for any information on Mr Nijjar.

Media reports of his alleged terrorist activities began surfacing in India, and later in Canada, in 2016.

At the time, India reported its concerns about Mr Nijjar to Canadian authorities.

Canadian police said in 2016 that they were aware of the allegations levelled against Mr Nijjar, but he was never charged in Canada.

Mr Nijjar himself wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that year about the allegations.

In the letter, reported on by Canadian media at the time, he identifies himself as a "Sikh nationalist who believes in and supports Sikhs' right to self-determination and independence of Indian occupied Punjab through a future referendum".

But he added: "I have never believed in, supported or been involved in any violent activity."

At the time of his death, he had been planning a non-binding referendum for Sikhs living in British Columbia on the creation of an independent state in India - part of a global campaign by US-based group Sikhs for Justice, which is banned in India.

The Sikh separatist movement has long been a source of tension in the Canada-India relationship, which analysts have said is now at an all-time low.

India has strongly opposed the Khalistan movement. All mainstream political parties, including in Punjab, have denounced violence and separatism.

The demand for Khalistan peaked in India in the 1980s with an armed insurgency, which was later crushed. Thousands of people were killed during the violence.

The movement also resulted in two of the most controversial moments in Indian history.

Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple - the holiest site for Sikhs - to flush out armed separatists who were sheltering in the complex. The operation, ordered by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, resulted in many deaths and caused damage to the temple.

A few months later, she was shot dead by two of her Sikh bodyguards who were upset with her orders. Her death led to days of rioting in Delhi, in which thousands of Sikhs were killed.

But the movement is not prominent in Punjab now, and several groups vocally oppose it.

Its roots in both Canada and Britain can also be traced back to the 1980s, as diaspora groups reacted to the events unfolding in India.

The issue came to a head in 1985 when a bomb exploded on an Air India flight from Toronto to London, killing all 329 people on board.

After a lengthy investigation, two Sikh separatists in British Columbia were acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges in 2005. A third man was found guilty of manslaughter for his role in making the bomb.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly accused Canada of not doing enough to quell Sikh protests and "anti-India" activities in Canada.

Many supporters of Khalistan in Canada maintain that the movement is peaceful, and that they have been a target of disinformation campaigns and harassment by India.

Other Sikhs have distanced themselves from the separatist movement and said that it does not represent the view of the majority of Sikhs in the country.

Ujjal Dosanjh, a Sikh Canadian and a former Premier of British Columbia, said in an interview with BBC Newsday that he does not believe Mr Nijjar was a prominent figure in the global Khalistan movement, calling him a "small fry".

Gurpreet Singh, a British Columbia-based journalist and radio host who has interviewed Mr Nijjar in the past, said he is sceptical of India's claims against the murdered Sikh leader.

"The Indian government has established that he was a terrorist, but on what basis? He was never convicted on any court of law. He has no criminal record in Canada," Mr Singh told the BBC.

The journalist, who describes himself as a secular Indian and who does not support the Khalistan movement, said he remembered Mr Nijjar as a "very soft spoken" person who was active in the local community.

"Nobody saw him spew venom against anyone or be angry," he said. "You may disagree with him on (Khalistan) ... but he had every right to ask for it."

Hardeep Singh Nijjar: Why Western nations fear India-Canada row, 5 days ago

Western ministers and officials will be working hard to try to ensure the diplomatic row between Canada and India does not bleed into other international relationships.

The last thing the United States and other western powers want now is a row that divides them from India.

On the grand geopolitical chess board, India is a key player.

Not only is it a growing power - the most populous country in the world, the fifth-biggest economy. But it is also seen by the West as a potential bulwark against China.

This was apparent at the recent G20 meeting in India when Ukraine's Western allies agreed a final communique which did not condemn Russia by name for its invasion.

They chose to protect their relationship with India by avoiding a row over the statement, a choice which angered some in Kyiv.

The other fear among Western diplomats will be the risk that countries start taking sides in the Canada-India dispute.

Tensions between the two nations deepened considerably this week when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of being behind the assassination of a Sikh activist in western Canada in June.

In recent months India has been trying to pitch itself as the leader of developing countries - sometimes called the Global South. Many of these countries have refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The US and some European countries have been making real diplomatic efforts to win over these countries, telling them the war matters to them and their economy.

Diplomats will not want this row to upset those efforts if it is somehow spun as a North v South battle between two Commonwealth countries, a confrontation between a transatlantic power and a developing nation.

Canada's foreign ministry said Mr Trudeau had raised the issue with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

For now Canada's allies are staying loyal but cautious.

The White House said the US was "deeply concerned" about the allegations of the murder, saying it was "critical that Canada's investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice".

For countries like the UK and Australia, which both have large Sikh communities, there is always the potential for a diplomatic row like this to have domestic political consequences.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Britain would "listen very, very carefully to the serious concerns that have been raised by Canada".

He told the BBC he had spoken to Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly about the allegations on Monday, and the UK took "very seriously the things that Canada are saying".

He refused to say if Britain would suspend trade talks with India - but said the UK would wait until the Canadian investigation was complete before deciding what further action to take.

"Both Canada and India are close friends of the UK, they're Commonwealth partners," Mr Cleverly said.

A spokesperson for Australia's foreign ministry said Canberra was "deeply concerned' by the allegations, and had "conveyed our concerns at senior levels in India".

So for now, the West will wait and watch as the investigation progresses.

Some allies may be given access to what Canadian intelligence knows. What would change the situation is if firm proof was established.

If that happened, Western powers would have to make a choice between backing Ottawa or New Delhi, a choice between supporting the principle of the rule of law or the hard necessity of realpolitik.

In the past, Western nations have condemned alleged extraterritorial assassinations carried out by countries such as Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia.

They will not want India to join that list.

HS2: Johnson warns against 'mutilated' version of rail link, yesterday

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged the government against building a "mutilated" version of HS2.

He said suggestions the high-speed rail link that began construction under his premiership could be scaled back were "Treasury-driven nonsense".

Last week, the government refused to guarantee HS2 would continue between Birmingham and Manchester.

It comes as more than 80 companies and business leaders seek clarity over the commitment to HS2.

In a letter to the government, they expressed "deep concern" over "the constant uncertainty" that "plagues" the project.

However, a government spokesperson said on Friday that "our focus remains on delivering" HS2.

It was under Mr Johnson's government that HS2 - intended to link London, the Midlands and the north of England - was given the green light to start construction in 2020.

The first part of HS2, between west London and Birmingham, is in mid-construction, and £2.3bn has already been put towards the next sections including acquiring land and property.

But the scheme as a whole has already faced delays, cost increases and cuts - including to the planned eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds.

On Thursday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said it was to be expected that he and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would have discussions when "major infrastructure projects overrun in their costs", but said no decisions had been made.

Mr Johnson argues that what he calls "desperate truncations" would not yield any short-term savings "and make no difference to the case for tax cuts".

He added that it would be "the height of insanity to announce all this just before a party conference in Manchester".

The former prime ministersaid: "It makes no sense at all to deliver a mutilated HS2", adding there was a "need" for the rail link in the north of England.

The bosses of dozens of businesses and business groups - including Manchester Airports Group, British Land, Virgin Money, and the Northern Powerhouse - have all signed the letter to the government urging renewed commitment to HS2, saying that repeated mixed signals are damaging the UK's reputation and the wider supply chain.

"Two years ago, Yorkshire and the North-East lost the eastern Leg of HS2, with no settled alternative yet identified following protracted delays," they said.

"It is now reported that the entire line from Birmingham to Crewe - allowing access to Scotland - the new line to Manchester, and Euston station as the terminus may all be cancelled entirely in the upcoming Autumn Statement".

They added the "repeated mixed signals" on HS2 were damaging the country's wider supply chain as "spending commitments cannot be made with confidence".

[HS2 map]

Northern Powerhouse chief executive Henri Murison said any rowing back on HS2 may come to be seen as Sunak's "worst decision as prime minister".

"It will put back the cause of rebalancing this country for another 100 years", he told BBC Breakfast.

Mr Murison heavily criticised recent government changes in policy, arguing: "What that says to British business is: 'You can't rely on this government. If they tell you something is going to happen, you shouldn't believe them.' And that's terrible for our country."

John Dickie, Business London's chief executive, also suggested policy shifts were "no way to run Britain's long-term infrastructure projects."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "The constant chopping, changing, the uncertainty over the scope and the timing of this project is a big reason why its costs have risen over the past decade or so.

"It makes no sense to stop doing work now today when it will just cost taxpayers more in the future."

John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg "would be a tragedy".

He told Today: "Here is a country which sets itself ambitions and then runs away when it starts to see some challenges. We have to meet the challenges."

Labour's position on HS2 has not been completely clear.

Labour peer and deputy chair of the Oakervee review Tony Berkeley told the Today programme that money would be better spent elsewhere.

But party leader Sir Keir Starmer insists he still supports the project and blames the government for introducing the "uncertainty" over its future as ministers consider the move to save billions.

The party's campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden said that he needs to see the price-tag before committing to the full original route as "there may be revised costs".

Shadow Treasury minister Tulip Siddiq has also said it would be irresponsible for her to make a commitment without the final costs.

HS2 is meant to create more capacity and speed up journey times.

The government has previously argued it would have economic benefits too, but critics think it is far too expensive and the money could be better used in other ways.

In March, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said there would be a two-year delay on the Birmingham to Crewe leg.

Work on Euston was also paused while an "affordable" design was worked on.

The eastern leg to Leeds was scrapped by the government in 2021.

The government's official estimate of the cost of the project, excluding the eastern leg, is about £71bn in 2019 prices.

Amazon Prime Video content to start including ads next year, 2 days ago

Amazon is set to introduce adverts to its Prime Video streaming service in 2024 as it seeks to put more cash into creating TV shows and films.

UK Prime customers, along with those in the US, Germany and Canada, will see ads early next year unless they subscribe for an "ad-free" option at an additional cost.

In a statement, Amazon said Prime Video still offered "very compelling value".

It follows similar moves by rivals including Disney+ and Netflix.

Amazon said that the ads would be introduced across France, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Australia later in 2024.

It will roll out the "ad-free" subscription tier for an extra $2.99 (£2.44) per month for Prime subscribers in the United States.

Pricing for other countries will be announced at a later date, Amazon said.

At the moment, a Prime subscription, which includes free one-day delivery on goods as well as access to its streaming service, costs £8.99 per month, or £95 a year, in the UK.

"To continue investing in compelling content and keep increasing that investment over a long period of time, starting in 2024, Prime Video shows and movies will include limited advertisements in the UK," Amazon said.

But in the wake of similar announcements by other streaming companies, customers have expressed their disappointment.

Disney+ expanded its ad-supported service to the UK in August, while Netflix introduced its "basic with ads" streaming plan last year.

It marked a massive change for Netflix, which pioneered the world of ad-free, subscription-based, streaming.

Analyst Hanna Kahlert at Midia Research said many people do not like the idea of adverts on services they have already paid for - though some accept the practice if it makes the streaming plan cheaper.

But she said Amazon has the power to make the change without fearing a wave of cancellations, since streaming is just one part of the Prime package.

"The competition is not like-for-like," she said. "Audiences are not just making the decision to subscribe because of its content or viewer experience in video, but rather a whole host of convenience factors... Ads or no ads, Amazon still wins on convenience, with its content arguably a bonus."

In its announcement on Friday, Amazon said that it would aim "to have meaningfully fewer ads than linear TV and other streaming TV providers".

The company said it would get in touch with Prime members a few weeks before ads are introduced to show how to sign-up for the ad-free option if they wish to.

Live event broadcasts, like sports matches, will still include adverts even for those who sign up to the ad-free option.

Data previously released by analysts Kantar showed that people cut back on video streaming services in their droves last year as they sought out different ways to deal with the spike in the cost of living.

It found that the number of paid-for video streaming subscriptions in the UK fell by two million, from 30.5 million to 28.5 million.

Although demand picked up around Christmas, Kantar said, people quickly looked to cut back again afterwards.

Insider Intelligence senior analyst Max Willens said ad-supported tiers have become standard in the streaming industry, setting the stage for Amazon's move.

"It is slightly unusual for Amazon, which relentlessly positions itself as a customer-first company, to degrade a service it offers those customers, especially a service whose price has risen 75% since it was first introduced, but this feels unsurprising," he said.

Microsoft's new Call of Duty deal set for UK approval, 3 days ago

The UK's competition watchdog has said Microsoft's revised offer to buy the Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard "opens the door" to the deal being cleared.

The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) said the updated deal appeared to address concerns it had raised.

Under the new proposals, Microsoft will not buy the cloud gaming rights owned by Activision Blizzard.

Its original $69bn (£59bn) deal was blocked by UK regulators.

Earlier this year, the CMA prevented Microsoft from taking on the whole of Activision over concerns that the deal would harm competition in cloud gaming in the UK.

Microsoft then submitted a restructured deal for the competition watchdog to look at last month.

Under the new offer, Microsoft agreed to transfer the rights to stream Activision games from the cloud to the French video games publisher Ubisoft for 15 years.

The sale to Ubisoft of this portion of Activision's business will mean the cloud streaming of games like Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft will not come under Microsoft's control.

In a statement on Friday, the CMA's chief executive, Sarah Cardell, said: "The CMA's position has been consistent throughout - this merger could only go ahead if competition, innovation, and choice in cloud gaming was preserved."

A consultation will be opened before a final decision on the deal is taken.

Controversial deal

This latest update is likely to come as a big relief for those bosses at the top of Microsoft and Activision who have pushed hard, and risked reputations, to get this deal over the line.

Microsoft's plan to buy Activision Blizzard - the largest takeover in the history of the gaming industry - was originally announced in January last year.

However, it has proved controversial and received a mixed response from regulators around the world.

The deal was passed by regulators in the European Union in May, while the US competition watchdog recently saw its attempt to pause the purchase rejected by an appeals court.

Given that the takeover looked like it would collapse earlier this year, the fact that it is now on the verge of approval is some achievement.

However, in its latest announcement, the CMA's Ms Cardell said: "It would have been far better... if Microsoft had put forward this restructure during our original investigation.

"This case illustrates the costs, uncertainty and delay that parties can incur if a credible and effective remedy option exists but is not put on the table at the right time."

Sony also objected to the deal originally, concerned that Microsoft could stop major games being made available to its own PlayStation business.

The CMA said that with extra protections, the move would mean that gamers have the opportunity to access Activision's games in many different ways, including through the cloud-based multigame subscription services.

It added that while it still had "limited residual concerns", the revised deal "keeps the cloud distribution of these important games in the hands of a strong independent supplier, Ubisoft, rather than under the control of Microsoft".

Ms Cardell told the BBC's Today programme that this was "not a tweak", but a "fundamentally restructured deal".

The agreement brings to a close the first "test case" for the CMA - and reveals how competition rules might work in the UK - since it gained extra powers after Brexit.

[Candy Crush]

Microsoft still hopes the merger will boost demand for its Xbox console and its gaming subscription business.

Its vice chairman and president Brad Smith said it was "encouraged" by this positive step.

"We presented solutions that we believe fully address the CMA's remaining concerns related to cloud game streaming, and we will continue to work toward earning approval to close prior to the 18 October deadline."

Microsoft hopes the CMA will make a final decision on the revised bid next month - after the consultation closes on 6 October. Without its approval, the deal cannot go ahead globally.

Activision said that the preliminary approval was "great news" for its future with Microsoft.

"We look forward to working with Microsoft toward completing the regulatory review process," it added.

It may take some time for players to notice what this all means. But with Microsoft taking control of such a major slice of gaming real estate, business strategists and games makers at the company are pondering what they can do with access to some of the biggest franchises in gaming.

Although any big announcements on what games or updates might be next are yet to be made, one expert told the BBC that the deal placed Microsoft in a "unique position".

Gareth Sutcliffe, senior games analyst at Enders Analysis, pointed out that it will bring Activision's studio solely for mobile games in-house for Microsoft.

"It's ultimately about covering all games imaginable with one subscription. Microsoft can now cover every different platform - mobile, consoles and PC.

"It's all about the transfer of knowledge [from Activision's team]," he added, while Microsoft will hope Activision continues the successes of its games like Candy Crush.

The announcement from the comes days after an unredacted document accidentally made public during Microsoft's battle with US regulators appeared to suggest the company planned to release refreshed versions of its Xbox Series S and Series X consoles in 2024.

One presentation slide included in the leak showed plans for a new next-generation console in 2028, although there were few details.

It also included an old memo suggesting Nintendo was at one point floated as a potential purchase for Microsoft, although this would have been sent prior to any bid emerging for Activision.

Chevron and unions agree to end Western Australia gas strikes, 3 days ago

Energy giant Chevron and unions have struck a deal to end strikes at two large liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Australia.

Workers accepted a proposed agreement put forward by the country's labour regulator, said the Offshore Alliance, which is a grouping of two unions.

The current industrial action has been suspended, the company said.

Strikes had been taking place at the Gorgon and Wheatstone facilities over pay and conditions since 8 September.

"At a late night mass meeting members endorsed the latest offer which incorporates the Fair Work Commission's recommendations," Brad Gandy, a spokesperson for the Offshore Alliance said in a statement.

Australia's industrial arbitrator, the Fair Work Commission, had hosted mediation negotiations between the company and union representatives.

"The Offshore Alliance will now work with Chevron to finalise the drafting of the agreement and members will soon cease current industrial action," Mr Gandy added.

A spokesperson for Chevron Australia told the BBC the agreement "resolves the issues that remained outstanding following conciliation sessions this week."

The US oil and gas giant's Gorgon and Wheatstone plants in Western Australia account for more than 5% of global LNG capacity.

The dispute triggered volatile trading in LNG markets over concerns that the walkouts could have an impact on global gas supplies.

The world's energy markets been under pressure since Russia's invasion of Ukraine early last year. Oil and gas prices soared, leading to a sharp rise in energy bills for homes and businesses.

The Kremlin has also slashed supplies of natural gas to Europe, which led countries to find alternative sources of energy. Many countries are relying on LNG to fill the gap.

Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of LNG, along with Qatar and the US, and its supplies have helped to cool global energy prices.

"It was quite remarkable that a few hundred workers offshore Western Australia have managed to roil global markets and cause tens of billions of dollars in market movements," energy industry expert Saul Kavonic told the BBC's Asia Business Report.

"But it happened because there is no resilience left in our global gas system," he added.

LNG is methane, or methane mixed with ethane, cleansed of impurities and cooled to approximately -160C.

This turns the gas into a liquid and it can then be shipped in pressurised tankers.

At its destination, LNG is turned back into gas and used, like any other natural gas, for heating, cooking and power.

Warner Bros to expand Barbie movie studios in UK, 3 days ago

Warner Bros Discovery has announced a major expansion of the UK studios where much of the Barbie movie was filmed.

The project will see capacity of the Leavesden facility near London growing by more than 50%.

It will create 4,000 "direct or indirect" jobs across the country, according to the media giant.

Warner Bros also says the expanded studios will become a primary production hub for DC Studios, the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

The company also said the expansion would increase the value of its production in the UK by £200m a year, bringing it to £600m.

The announcement was made during a visit to Los Angeles by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

"Warner Bros Discovery's ambitious plan to grow its Leavesden studio is a huge vote of confidence in the UK," he said.

Mr Hunt added that it means "British-made entertainment will continue to delight and entertain global audiences".

Building work on the expansion of the studios, where Harry Potter and House of the Dragon were also filmed, is due to start by the summer of 2024.

It is expected to be completed in 2027, boosting the number of stages at the facility from 19 to 29.

The expansion plan was approved by Three Rivers District Council last December and by Watford Borough Council the following month.

About 10% of the land for the development is in Watford borough with the rest in the Three Rivers district.

Warner Bros said in its statement that "the expansion plan has been developed in close consultation" with the two councils "with careful consideration given to prioritising sustainability".

The investment comes as Warner Bros Discovery's productions in California have been hit hard by the first joint writers' and actors' strikes in more than six decades.

The walkouts have delayed major projects and prompted the company to cuts its revenue forecasts for the rest of the year.

JPEX: Hong Kong investigates influencer-backed crypto exchange, 3 days ago

Hong Kong police are investigating allegations of fraud against cryptocurrency trading platform JPEX after investors complained of HK$1.3bn ($166m; £134m) in losses.

Eleven people, including popular influencers, were arrested this week after complaints filed by 2,000 people.

The case could be one of Hong Kong's biggest fraud cases, local media say.

It also tests new financial regulations as Hong Kong positions itself as a global hub for virtual assets.

Last week, Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) revealed the Dubai-based JPEX had been operating without a license for virtual asset trading.

The platform, on the other hand, said it had "strived to comply" with the local requirement which took effect in June this year, but its efforts were "dismissed or sidestepped with official rhetoric" by the Commission.

Many of the complainants are inexperienced investors who were promised high yields, police said. Aside from tapping influencers, JPEX also advertised widely on Hong Kong's MTR train system with giant billboards.

Footage aired on local TV showed police escorting one of the arrested influencers, Joseph Lam, onto a car following a raid on his house. Mr Lam is a barrister turned insurance salesman who describes himself on Instagram as Hong Kong's "Trolling King".

In his posts, Mr Lam showed his followers how Bitcoin profits could help them buy a house and grow their social clout.

Also arrested was Chan Yee, a YouTube personality with 200,000 subscribers.

In Hong Kong, some trading operations on JPEX have been shut down since the arrests and the city's authorities have appeared to block web access to it.

The platform has also said it is working to resolve a "liquidity shortage" as some users have complained that they are unable to withdraw their funds.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said regulators will "monitor the situation very closely and ensure that investors are sufficiently protected".

"This incident highlights the importance that when investors want to invest in virtual assets, then they must invest on platforms that are licensed," he told reporters.

Hong Kong has required virtual asset trading platforms to be licensed by the SFC since the start of June this year. That is an offshoot of the amended Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing law from late 2022 that sought to reassert Hong Kong's position as a world financial centre,

Mr Lee said his government would step up investor education so that the public could better understand risks and how platforms are regulated.

There have long been concerns about cryptocurrencies due to their lack of regulation and oversight by central banks. Despite this, consumers have been drawn to the appeal of of peer-to-peer digital currencies.

Hong Kong is one of Asia's financial capitals and since its handover to China from British rule in 1997, it has become a gateway for investors to the mainland.

Now, it is seeking to establish itself as a hub for the next generation of internet technologies or Web 3.0, which includes cryptocurrency trading. China has banned cryptocurrencies on the mainland since late 2021, saying it "seriously endangers the safety of people's assets".

The license requirement for platforms like JPEX is meant to ensure accountability and compensation when needed, Francis Fong, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, told BBC Chinese.

"It means that if there is supervision, nothing bad will happen." he said.

[Hong Kong Police hold press conference on the investigation into the unlicensed virtual asset trading platform JPEX on 19 September 2023.]

However, some digital economy experts have told the BBC that existing laws may not be enough to prevent virtual asset platforms from operating illegally and to protect investors from losses.

On Facebook, anguished investors have formed Facebook groups named "JPEX Sufferers".

One group member said he was lured to JPEX because of the ubiquity of its MTR ads. Criticism of the train operator from internet commentator Fung Hei-kin received 3,700 likes and 400 reposts.

According to its website, JPEX is headquartered in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and is licensed to facilitate trade of digital assets in the US, Canada and Australia. The About Us section of its website shows blurry images of what appear to be the licenses from the three countries.

Founded in 2020, JPEX said it handled $2bn worth of assets and aimed to be among the world's five largest virtual asset exchanges.

A check by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post on JPEX's Hong Kong address showed the space was occupied by a co-working firm called Coffee.

The publication quoted the shop's staff as saying that they were unaware of JPEX and that Hong Kong police had checked on the address earlier.

[Nine Chen Taiwan celebrity and influencer]

JPEX also has an office in Taiwan, according to local media. However, a recent check showed it to be empty. It had employed popular Taiwanese celebrity, Nine Chen, as its influencer and once sponsored a boxing match on the island.

Mr Chen had posted on Instagram last week, after Hong Kong regulators had said that JPEX was operating without a licence.

"After learning about the JPEX incident, I wanted to understand the situation, but currently I can't contact the relevant people at JPEX," he said.

"The company is handling other details. If relevant units need to investigate, I will fully cooperate," he said.

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UK interest rate freeze ends run of 14 straight increases, 3 days ago

In a surprise move, UK interest rates have been left unchanged after the Bank of England said price rises were slowing faster than expected.

Interest rates were held at 5.25%, already their highest for 15 years.

It comes after figures on Wednesday revealed an unexpected slowdown in inflation in August.

"Inflation has fallen a lot in recent months, and we think it will continue to do so," said Bank governor Andrew Bailey.

There were also "increasing signs" that higher rates were starting to hurt the UK economy, the Bank said.

The Bank has raised rates for the past 14 times in a row in its battle to tame inflation - the rate at which prices rise - which remains much higher than usual.

The increases have led to higher mortgage payments for many homeowners and on loans, but also higher savings rates.

Many analysts had expected rates to rise again, but the Bank's decision to leave them on hold raises the prospect that this is a turning point.

Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Bailey warned against "complacency" and "premature celebration" explaining "we've got a long way to go to bring inflation down to the Bank's 2% target".

He also played down any chances that rates might start to be cut soon.

"I can tell you that we have not had any discussion... about reducing rates, because that would be very, very premature. Our job is to get inflation down."

[Nicola in her garden]

Nicola Valentine said she was "breathing a sigh of relief" on hearing that rates were being held.

But the tax accountant, from Isleham, Cambridgeshire, is still "hugely anxious" because her mortgage is due to go up by about £300 a month.

Her 2.9% fixed-rate mortgage deal expires in November. She has cancelled TV and gym subscriptions, and stopped buying new clothes and takeaways, but still does not know how she will find the extra money.

"I'm praying the rates have peaked now and will start to go down because this is really unsustainable for me. I feel completely helpless," she said.

The Bank's decision was a very close call, with four of the nine-strong rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voting for a rise, and five opting for a pause. Mr Bailey used his casting vote to pause the relentless series of rate rises.

In the end the inflation figures on Wednesday, which showed all of the main measures on cost of living easing, was enough for the Bank to conclude its medicine is working.

The chancellor has welcomed it as such.

"We are starting to see the tide turn against high inflation, but we will continue to do what we can to help households struggling with mortgage payments," said Jeremy Hunt.

"Now is the time to see the job through. We are on track to halve inflation this year and sticking to our plan is the only way to bring interest and mortgage rates down."

Both the Bank, and the Treasury, however, will be wary of warnings of "premature celebration" from the International Monetary Fund, which has flagged how the jump in energy prices in the 1970s triggered inflation that proved tough to defeat.

[Interest rate graph]

The decision to hold rates will bring some relief to homeowners with tracker mortgages who have seen their monthly repayments get consistently more expensive.

For those coming to an end of their fixed-rate deal, there will also be some hope that mortgage rate rises have halted.

There is some competition back in the mortgage market and, if this is the end of a run of rate rises, then lenders may have even more confidence to offer better deals.

However, there are warnings from the sector that this latest decision could lead to more of a plateau than any significant drops in mortgage rates.

Savers, meanwhile, are likely to be told that the returns they can get - the highest for about 15 years - may not improve much more, so shopping around for the best deal becomes a little more urgent.

'Weaker' growth

The theory behind raising rates is that it makes it more expensive for people to borrow money, so households will cut back and buy fewer things. It also might mean that firms will raise prices less quickly.

But it is a tricky balancing act, as raising rates too aggressively could cause people to cut back on their household spending, hitting businesses and economic growth.

The MPC said that since June, inflation had fallen much faster than expected, dropping to 6.7% in August.

But it also said that unemployment was inching up and overall economic growth was "weaker than expected".

For these reasons it kept rates on hold. But the MPC added that rates would need to remain "sufficiently restrictive for sufficiently long" to get inflation back down to the Bank's 2% target. It is not expected reach this rate until 2025.

Further rate increases might be needed if price rises start accelerating again, it added.

[Cost of living: Tackling it together]

What can I do if I can't pay my debts

* Take control. Citizens Advice suggest you work out how much you owe, who to, which debts are the most urgent and how much you need to pay each month.

* Ask for a payment plan. Energy suppliers, for example, must give you a chance to clear your debt before taking any action to recover the money

* Check you're getting the right money. Use the independent MoneyHelper website or benefits calculators run by Policy in Practice and charities Entitledto and Turn2us

Tackling It Together: More tips to help you manage debt


Japan's Toshiba set to end 74-year stock market history, 4 days ago

Toshiba, one of Japan's oldest and biggest firms, is set to end its 74-year stock market history as a group of investors have bought a majority stake.

The company has announced that a consortium led by private equity firm Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) has purchased 78.65% of its shares.

Owning more than two-thirds of the firm allows the group to complete a $14bn (£11.4bn) deal to take it private.

The firm's roots date back to 1875, as a maker of telegraph equipment.

Under the deal its shares could be taken off the stock market as early as the end of this year.

The company "will now take a major step toward a new future with a new shareholder," Toshiba's president and chief executive officer, Taro Shimada, said in a statement.

Toshiba's shares started trading in May 1949 when the Tokyo Stock Exchange reopened as Japan emerged from the ravages of World War Two (WW2).

Its divisions range from home electronics to nuclear power stations, and for decades after WW2 was a symbol of the country's economic recovery and its technology industry.

In 1985, Toshiba launched what it described as "the world's first mass-market laptop computer".

[Toshiba Electric workers checking TV sets in Kawasaki in 1970.]

However the Tokyo-based company has faced a number of major setbacks in recent years.

"Toshiba's catastrophe is a consequence of inadequate corporate governance at the top," Gerhard Fasol, chief executive of business advisory firm Eurotechnology Japan told the BBC.

In 2015, it admitted to overstating its profits by more than a $1bn over six years and paid a 7.37bn yen ($47m; £38m) fine, which was the biggest in the country's history at the time.

Two years later, it revealed major losses at its US nuclear power business, Westinghouse, taking a 700bn yen writedown.

To avoid bankruptcy it sold its memory chip business in 2018, which was seen as a crown-jewel in the company's portfolio.

Since then Toshiba has received several takeover offers, including one from UK private equity group CVC Capital Partners in 2021, which it rejected.

In the same year, the company was found to have colluded with the Japanese government to suppress the interests of foreign investors.

"Toshiba, in the eyes of many Japanese people and especially government, is a national treasure, which is part of the problem," Mr Fasol said.

The firm then announced plans to break up the company into three separate businesses. Within months the plan was revised, with its board saying it would instead split the company into two units.

Before the new breakup plan was carried out the company's board said it was considering JIP's offer to take the company private.

"The company needs to radically reinvent itself after spinning off many of its core business units, notably its semiconductor group," said Marc Einstein, chief analyst at Tokyo-based research and advisory firm ITR Corporation.

Toshiba was also the most iconic name to join the trend for Japanese firms going private to avoid "having to be accountable" to shareholders, he added.

Google accused of directing motorist to drive off collapsed bridge, 4 days ago

The family of a US man who drowned after driving off a collapsed bridge are claiming that he died because Google failed to update its maps.

Philip Paxson's family are suing the company over his death, alleging that Google negligently failed to show the bridge had fallen nine years earlier.

Mr Paxson died in September 2022 after attempting to drive over the damaged bridge in Hickory, North Carolina.

A spokesperson for Google said the company was reviewing the allegations.

The case was filed in civil court in Wake County on Tuesday.

Mr Paxson, a father of two, was driving home from his daughter's ninth birthday party at a friend's house and was in an unfamiliar neighbourhood at the time of his death, according to the family's lawsuit.

His wife had driven his two daughters home earlier, and he stayed behind to help clean up.

"Unfamiliar with local roads, he relied on Google Maps, expecting it would safely direct him home to his wife and daughters," lawyers for the family said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

"Tragically, as he drove cautiously in the darkness and rain, he unsuspectingly followed Google's outdated directions to what his family later learned for nearly a decade was called the 'Bridge to Nowhere,' crashing into Snow Creek, where he drowned."

Local residents had repeatedly contacted Google to have them change their online maps after the bridge collapsed in 2013, the suit claims.

[The collapsed bridge]

Barriers that were normally placed across the bridge entrance were missing due to vandalism, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The lawsuit is also suing three local companies, arguing they had a duty to maintain the bridge.

"Our girls ask how and why their daddy died, and I'm at a loss for words they can understand because, as an adult, I still can't understand how those responsible for the GPS directions and the bridge could have acted with so little regard for human life," his wife, Alicia Paxson, said in a statement.

"We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family," a spokesman for Google told AP News.

"Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in Maps and we are reviewing this lawsuit."

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Despite risks fish farms are booming in Africa, 3 days ago

"It was horrible," says Allan Ochieng of the disaster that struck the fish farmers of Lake Victoria late last year.

Thousands of fish were killed when Africa's largest lake experienced a natural and recurring phenomenon known as upwelling.

It happens when deep waters mix with surface water, causing a sudden depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, killing the fish.

Some of the farmers believe that raised levels of algae, or pollution might have played a role.

Mr Ochieng lost all his 120,000 tilapia, of which half were almost ready for harvest. Many other farmers experienced similar losses.

Along with three partners, the entrepreneur owns 24 cages, close to Ogal beach on the Kenyan shoreline, which cost them around $100,000 (£80,000). They spent another $185,000 on the baby tilapia, feed and labour.

"Cage fish farming comes with enormous risks but can also be extremely profitable," says Mr Ochieng, who is determined to continue.

As its name suggests, cage aquaculture involves raising fish in a net cage. It's become one of the fastest growing food sectors in sub-Saharan Africa, as wild fish stocks have declined and the demand for fish has risen.

The number of cages grew from nine in 2006 to more than 20,000 in 2019, according to a study published in Nature Food.

In East Africa, between 2017 and 2021, the industry tripled in size, according to a report by Gatsby Africa.

[Tilapia fish at Victory Farms]

Yalelo Zambia is the biggest tilapia producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, producing 25,000 tonnes of fish combined at its facilities on Lake Kariba in Zambia and on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria.

The company's chief executive, Ulric Daniel, says it's an increasingly high-tech business.

"As we deal with a product that we can't see, once it's under water, we have to rely heavily on technology to measure what is actually happening under the surface," the chief executive tells the BBC. He adds that cage fish farming is way more data rich than, for example, the poultry industry.

He says all that data can help mitigate farming disasters like last year's.

"Upwelling can happen rather suddenly, but some indicators can predict it coming. Therefore, we daily measure the dissolved oxygen, the pH values and the ammonia content in the water," Mr Daniel says.

"Once we see first signs of upwelling, we can reduce the number of fish in a cage to prevent mortality."

Victory Farms, which is Kenya's biggest producer of caged fish, also collects a lot of data.

"We measure multiple depths and locations to assess underwater activity and biology, assess algae in the lake as an indicator for upwelling, and, in case of reduced dissolved oxygen levels, we check water currents as well as the level of algae build-up on the nets of the cages," says chief executive Joseph Rehmann.

"With a history of seven years of data, we can now usually predict whether there's a high, medium or low risk for upwelling. In case of high risk, we change stocking densities, reduce feeding, and slow or stop fish handling, both to reduce stress."

[Harvesting fish at Victory Farms]

Victory Farms has also developed technology to cut losses during the transport of live eggs to the hatchery.

It developed a mobile incubation system, which keeps the eggs in motion in oxygenated water.

The technology emerged from a project to construct brood stock ponds on plots in the nearby community.

In return participants are paid for the harvested fish eggs, which are then transported to Victory Farms own ponds.

Such innovations are beyond reach of the growing number of small-holder farmers who have ventured into cage fish farming.

[Smaller scale fish farm in Kenya]

"Although measuring oxygen levels in cages is extremely important, most small holders don't do it as they cannot afford the required equipment, which costs more than $1,000," says Dave Okech, chairman of the Cage Fish Farmers Association Kenya.

Another problem, according to Mr Okech, is the lack of knowledge among many of the new farmers. "As a result, some put their cages in too shallow waters, which might lead to water pollution, and can result in higher mortalities in the case of upwelling.

"Some entrepreneurs also use low quality feed which sinks, which negatively affects the ecosystem and causes losses, since tilapia feed on floating pellets," Mr Okech adds.

He thinks more precise feeding would lead to healthier fish and save farmers money.

His company, AquaRech, is currently working on a system that will monitor the water temperature in cages.

He says that is a key piece of data, as colder temperatures make it harder for tilapia to digest what they have eaten.

Armed with that information, his system can advise farmers on exactly how much feed to use.

"We need these kinds of innovations to professionalize the sector and make it more productive and beneficial to those involved," the Kenyan entrepreneur adds.

More technology of business:

However, some are worried about the rapidly growing industry. There's concern over the considerable amount of uneaten feed and fish faeces that accumulates under the cages, and their affect on water quality.

"The presence of these environmental issues underscores the importance of responsible fish cage placement, in deep enough waters with enough water circulation," says Chrisphine Nyamweya, research scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

Joe Rehmann, from Victory Farms, says his company and government officials regularly test the water conditions.

"So far, we have not had any issues with fish carrying capacity," he says.

He points out that overfishing has depleted Lake Victoria's population of wild fish.

"If Victory Farms today has 3,000 tons of biomass, we are adding to the nutrient load, but well within the natural carrying capacity that existed before human-led overfishing depleted the lake."

Who is Rupert Murdoch?, 3 days ago

Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as chairman of Fox and News Corp, seemingly heralding the end of a career as one of the world's most influential media tycoons.

Revered as a businessman for his ruthlessness and energy, he has helped shape the media landscape in the UK, US and Australia with his ownership of powerful newspapers such as the Sun and the Times and broadcasters such as Sky and Fox News.

However, the 92-year-old is also seen as a controversial figure and has attracted his share of scandal.

In 2011 he was forced to close down the UK's biggest newspaper, the News of the World, after it became mired in allegations of phone hacking.

His papers have also been accused of distorting the news to ensure his political allies won elections.

Small beginnings

Born in Melbourne in 1931, Murdoch developed an interest in the media at a young age. While at Oxford University in the UK he tried to buy the student newspaper and flirted with left-wing politics - putting a bust of Lenin on his mantelpiece and canvassing for the country's Labour party.

His father Sir Keith Murdoch, one of Australia's most distinguished newspapermen, died in 1953 and left the family a controlling share of a single newspaper, the Adelaide News. Rupert returned from Britain to run it aged 22.

He quickly expanded the business, buying a string of other titles in Australia and New Zealand and growing their circulation by employing racy tabloid techniques imported from the UK.

He was known to personally write headlines and redesign pages, although he claimed he gave editors a great deal of freedom. "The only ones who claim I don't are the ones who don't know how to use it," he once said.

[Rupert Murdoch in 1985]

But Murdoch's ambitions were global.

In 1968, he bought the UK's News of the World and within a year had picked up the ailing Sun newspaper, relaunching it as an irreverent tabloid.

Circulation soared thanks to its sex-and-sensation formula and it went on to became Britain's biggest-selling daily newspaper.

His papers were frequently accused of political manipulation, while his critics have called him a cynic who degraded standards of journalism by pandering to a sensation-seeking public.

However, the tycoon's loyal admirers have always heaped praise on him, applauding the businessman for his chutzpah and astonishing willingness to take risks.

In 1986, by now owner of the UK's Times and Sunday Times newspapers as well, Murdoch moved all four newspaper titles into a huge printing plant in London and sacked 5,000 workers.

The ensuing battles with strikers outside the Wapping site heralded a revolution in Britain's newspaper industry as old ways of working were ditched.

[Printworkers demonstrating on picket line outside newspaper owner Rupert Murdoch's Wapping, London plant]

A television revolution followed, as Murdoch went on to launch the satellite TV service Sky in Britain.

Despite criticism of its programmes, satellite dishes soon became commonplace on UK homes and Sky acquired its rival BSB to become hugely profitable.

Among other things it bought the rights to screen English football's newly formed Premier League in 1992, cementing its position in the media landscape.

But Murdoch had his eye on a bigger prize and began to focus on the US, where he had gained a foothold in 1976 with tabloid the New York Post.

In 1985, News Corp bought 20th Century Fox, establishing America's fourth major television network, Fox, and handing Murdoch a Hollywood movie studio.

Fox shows such as the Simpsons cartoon series sold around the world, while the Fox News network saw the emergence of a populist, right-leaning perspective in American TV news.

Too much control?

By the late 1980s Murdoch's empire had wracked up near-crippling debts, but it survived, going on to turn HarperCollins into a leading book publisher and buying Star TV in Hong Kong, which broadcasts to the whole of Asia.

However, there were growing concerns over how much control he had over the media landscape and his influence on politics.

"People say we're anti-competitive when we do something which is open for anybody in the world to do," he once said.

[Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall]

During the the 1980s and early 90s, Murdoch's publications were generally supportive of the reigning Conservative government.

But prior to Tony Blair's election in 1997, he switched sides after inviting the politician to meet him in Australia, telling his papers to tone down their attacks on Labour.

It was part of a trend of backing winners. One former Downing Street official from the time complained that Murdoch was effectively a member of the cabinet.

The tycoon has also had dealings with other politicians over the years including Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.


Murdoch faced further criticism in 2011 when journalists at his UK newspaper the News of the World were found to have hacked the phones of countless celebrities and of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

Members of the House of Commons Culture Committee described him as "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company".

He was forced to close the newspaper and make a humiliating apology. The scandal, for a while, curtailed his plans to expand his business, although he soon went on to do more deals, well into his ninth decade.

He has been married four times, first in 1956 to Patricia Booker, a former shop assistant and flight attendant from Melbourne.

He divorced his second wife, Anna Torv, after 32 years together and his third wife, TV executive Wendi Deng, in 2013.

And in 2016, aged 85, the mogul married former model Jerry Hall. The couple went on to divorce within five years.

Earlier this year the billionaire abruptly ended an engagement to radio host Ann Lesley Smith, 66, after announcing plans for his fifth marriage.

The tycoon has had close relationships with his children, with son Lachlan now set to take over the Fox and News Corp businesses.

Daughter Elisabeth and son James have held various senior positions in their father's empire, although James resigned as a News Corp director in 2020, stating it was "due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company's news outlets and certain other strategic decisions".

The decline of the newspaper industry in recent years has been hard on some Murdoch titles. Recently he was involved in a deal to sell Fox to Disney - although not its news operation - and Sky to Comcast.

This, he felt, would free the company of parts of the business that had been losing revenue.

The Murdoch family's net worth is currently estimated to be $17.4bn (£14.1bn) by Forbes magazine.

Forget LA – it’s British film studios that are in demand, 5 days ago

Like it or loathe it, the Barbie movie has been the cinematic blockbuster of the year, taking more than $1.38bn (£1.1bn) at the box office so far.

The film, made with a reported budget of $145m, was produced by the US entertainment giant Warner Bros. But much of it was actually shot in the UK.

Barbie's pink paradise, Barbieland, was designed to look like a toytown California. But the set was built at Warner Bros studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire.

The movie is one of a growing number of film and high-end TV projects to be wholly or partially produced in this country.

According to the British Film Institute (BFI), spending on such productions reached a record £6.27bn last year, with most of that money coming from overseas.

The impact of strikes by actors and screenwriters in the US, which has put a number of UK-based projects on hold, means that figure is unlikely to be beaten in 2023. But the longer term outlook remains positive.

Demand for studio space has been growing dramatically. Among those to take advantage is Frank Khalid, the owner of West London Film Studios.

The company is based on a rather drab industrial estate in Hayes, a couple of miles from Heathrow Airport. From the outside, it hardly exudes Hollywood glamour.

Yet its five sound stages have played host to the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey and Emilia Clarke.

Scenes from movies such as The Imitation Game, The Gentlemen and Bridget Jones's Baby were filmed here, along with all three seasons of the high-profile Apple TV+ drama Ted Lasso.

Across the road, the finishing touches are being made to another four cavernous new stages - the result of a £23m expansion project.

[Scene from Ted Lasso]

When Mr Khalid bought the company 15 years ago, things were very different. The studio he bought had been closed down, and his original plan was to use the space as a venue for elaborate Asian weddings.

Since then, however, the backdrop has changed. First came the introduction and later expansion of a generous tax incentives scheme, which allowed UK-based co-productions to claim cash rebates on a portion of their expenditure.

Then, the emergence of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ created a wave of new demand for original content.

Mr Khalid says both of these factors have had a "massive impact". Enough, he says, to persuade him to sell his weddings business and focus wholly on films and TV.

"When I first bought the studios, there were no tax breaks, and a lot of studios were closing down," he says.

"But since the tax breaks have come along the demand has just gone up by so much. Now so many film studios are being built to accommodate that demand."

Some of the projects currently planned are on a huge scale.

Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, already the UK's largest facility, intends to build 21 new sound stages at its site near Iver Heath, taking the total to 51. The project as a whole is expected to cost £800m.

At Leavesden, Warner Bros wants to build 11 new stages, along with production offices and workshops.

[Scene from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny]

Ben Roberts, chief executive of the BFI, says there is a long history of international productions being made in Britain, with Elstree being used to film the original Star Wars movie, for example.

He agrees tax breaks have certainly made the country more attractive to overseas firms, but emphasises that other factors also come into play.

"I think the reason we have such a successful global production hub here in the UK is a combination of the tax breaks, but also the quality of our crews, the availability of talent… on-screen acting talent from the UK is world-renowned and very popular," he says.

But he admits that such high demand for production facilities also creates challenges of its own, notably ensuring that enough skilled staff are available.

"We need accountants, gardeners, carpenters, electricians, as well as all the more well-known jobs. We have calculated we probably need in the region of 20,000 jobs, in addition to what we currently have, by 2025."

The Hollywood strikes have also demonstrated how exposed the UK industry now is to events elsewhere. Earlier this month, the film and TV union Bectu said the disputes were having a severe effect on freelance workers, with major projects such as Deadpool 3 coming to a halt.

"Many of our members have been laid off from productions under 'force majeure' clauses with little notice or pay," says the head of Bectu, Philippa Childs.

And despite the influx of cash from foreign firms, some parts of the industry are struggling. The BFI's statistics show that spending on independent filmmaking fell 31% last year, to £174m, for example.

[Victoria Adeola Thomas]

Victoria Adeola Thomas is a film producer and lecturer at the London Film School. She is concerned that big-budget film and TV productions are making life harder for independents.

"Independent filmmakers do now have to compete with everyone else on a commercial level, which means more money. So the average indie film cost has increased," she says.

"Trying to make an independent film now for less than half a million is going to be a real challenge, unless you have lots of 'in kind' support - and probably paying your crew minimum wage!"

Although streaming services do provide an avenue for commercialising independent films, she says their business model, which minimises ongoing payments to content creators, is not helpful.

"Once you sell to a streamer, that's the end of the revenue stream, because they're never going to pay royalties," she explains. "And that is a model that has really disrupted everything."

She thinks that the amount of taxpayer money going into the industry places a duty on policymakers to ensure it isn't only large multinationals that benefit.

"I think governments really need to pay attention so that they don't end up killing the independent space, and enabling big businesses, the majority of whom are not even British," she says.

The turbo-charged plants that could boost farm output, 6 days ago

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, almost three-in-ten people around the world went short of food in 2022, with more than a tenth severely food insecure.

Improving plant yields is one way to cut the shortfall, and there have been great advances. But while maize yields, for example, have tripled over the past hundred years, so has water usage.

"We need to be able to increase productivity without increasing further demand, particularly in terms of water," says Prof Steve Long of the University of Illinois.

One aspect of plant growth that hasn't seen significant improvement is conversion efficiency - how effectively a plant converts solar radiation to biomass through photosynthesis.

Prof Long says that photosynthesis in current varieties of crops, like wheat and soybeans, has barely improved in decades.

He is principal investigator and director of a project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (Ripe), which aims to genetically tweak plants to increase their yields by improving their ability to photosynthesise.

[Professor Steve Long]

The efficiency of photosynthesis in crop plants is well below the theoretical maximum, but has been hard to influence thanks to the complex nature of the process - there are more than 100 steps, coded for by even more genes, giving millions of potential permutations.

Prof Long and his team have used powerful computers to build a digital twin of the photosynthesis process. It can tweak that process in millions of ways.

From those millions of options the software can identify those that will make the biggest improvements.

"We then engineered these into crops, and if that results in an improvement in the glasshouse, then we take it to our experimental farm and test it in a real-world environment," says Prof Long.

That's already had promising results. Changes to the mechanism of photosynthesis in soybean plants have resulted in yield improvements of more than 20% in controlled environments, with field trials now underway.

One focus of the work is tweaking the way plants respond to changes in light levels.

[Ripe tissue culture plants]

The team has been working with three genes that code for proteins of the xanthophyll cycle. This occurs as leaves move from light to shade, preventing the plant from absorbing more light than it can use.

However, this process can take several minutes - and Ripe's gene changes mean that plants can adjust to changes in light levels more quickly.

Other teams around the world are also trying to pump-up photosynthesis.

Wild Bioscience, a spinout from Oxford University, is working to improve the proportion of each leaf that can photosynthesise, by ramping up the expression of a gene found in wild plants.

The process involves sophisticated computational biology: "What we're doing is trying to reverse engineer the naturally occurring upgrades to photosynthesis that are out there in the wild, so we can copy them in crops," says co-founder Ross Hendron.

Often, that gene is already present in the plant, and can be activated in different areas.

"We can look at wheat and find that gene is already in the wheat genome, it's just on in the wrong place," says Mr Hendron. "So when we want to improve this particular process in this part of the plant, what we need to do is flick on a switch and turn that gene on in that location."

[Wild Bioscience lab]

Another example is a gene found in maize that helps the plant carry out what's known as C4 photosynthesis, a particularly efficient form of photosynthesis that's also found in millet; Wild Bioscience has activated it in wheat.

The company is working on wheat, soybean and maize, and has achieved increases of more than 20% in seed biomass, with field trials currently under evaluation. If all goes well, says Mr Hendron, crop plants could be available commercially by around 2030 or 2031.

Both Ripe and Wild BioScience are engaged in gene editing. It involves switching genes on and off by removing DNA, and is different from genetic modification (GM), which involves importing genes from other species.

Earlier this year the UK government relaxed the regulation of gene-edited crops to enable commercial growing in England.

The regulation of gene-edited and GM crops differs from country to country, with the European Union having the strictest rules.

Campaigners have long fought against the introduction of GM crops and are resisting gene-edited crops as well.

"This unproven science offers only a potential short-term relief of the symptoms of an unsustainable farming industry. In the meantime, it is diverting time, investment and attention away from real and already-proven solutions," Friends of the Earth Europe said in a report, titled Editing the Truth.

Researchers at Imperial College London are not at the stage of doing any gene editing yet.

They are in the early stages of investigating whether plants can be engineered to photosynthesise using lower-energy far-red light instead of visible light.

"There is potential under some circumstances, but we are still in the early phases of working out how it works and what are the pros and cons," says Prof Bill Rutherford of the Department of Life Sciences.

[Harvest stock shot]

Some scientists are cautious about what's actually achievable in terms of crops in the field.

Matthew Paul, principal research scientist at agricultural research institution Rothamsted Research, suggests that increasing leaves' photosynthetic ability could simply result in smaller leaves, and that high rates of photosynthesis could mean more water loss, meaning plants would need more irrigation.

"For any GM or gene editing approach to have widespread impact it would need to be reproduced in varieties grown in different regions. Subtleties of expression control and interaction with genetic background of each variety will make this tricky," he says.

More technology of business:

With work still in the early stages, it remains to be seen how much commercial yields can be improved through changes to photosynthesis.

However, Mr Hendron says different techniques could be used in combination to even greater effect.

"We know these are stackable improvements that can drive further and further increases," he says.

So there will be other technologies out there - Ripe will be one of them - so we can say both of us are doing this individually, but how much more powerful is this in combination?"

New tax divides India's booming computer games sector, 7 days ago

Charanjot Singh plays football professionally, only he doesn't wear a pair of boots and run around on a pitch.

The 20-year-old instead earns a living playing football computer games, including the tournaments organised by the electronic sports (esports) division of football world governing body Fifa.

Back in June, Mr Singh represented India in Fifa Esports' Nations Cup 2023. This was held in Saudi Arabia, and Mr Singh says he came 64th. According to one report, this earned him $10,000 (£8,000).

"I have no idea if I'm good or not, I just enjoy playing," he says.

Mr Singh, who is from the city of Chandigarh, in northern India, is indicative of a country that increasingly really likes computer games.

[A young man in New Delhi playing a computer game on his mobile phone]

Last year, there were 421 million people in India who played online games, according to a report in April by accountancy group Ernst & Young. This was up from 300 million in 2019, and the number is expected to rise to 442 million this year.

The study also said that the combined revenues of online games in India were 135bn Indian rupees ($1.6bn; £1.30bn) in 2022, 22% higher than in 2021. And it predicted that annual growth will continue around this level.

At the same time, a separate report said that the number of Indians participating in organised esports competitions had soared from 150,000 in 2021, to 600,000 in 2022.

This big growth is said to have been fuelled by the coronavirus lockdowns giving people more leisure time, and the increased availability of affordable smartphones and cheap internet data packs - 90% of Indian gamers use their phones rather than a computer or games console.

While only an estimated 20% of online games played in India are currently made by Indian gaming firms, the homegrown sector has been growing quickly in recent years. And there are now more than 900 Indian gaming start-ups.

Yet while all had been looking good, shockwaves were sent through the industry back in July when the government announced that it was inducing a new 28% tax on online gaming. Such was the vagueness of the wording that the fear was that it could affect all Indian gaming firms.

However, New Delhi subsequently clarified that the tax, which starts next month, will only apply to so-called "iGaming". These are gambling sites, such as online casinos; or "real money" games in which the players have to pay to enter, and then compete to win prize money, such as some fantasy cricket competitions.

The tax does not apply to esports competitions, which are classified as a genuine sport. And while such competitions offer prize funds, you do not have to pay to take part. The prize money instead is covered by sponsorship and people paying to watch the games.

Nor does the new tax affect casual gaming, such as games in which the user may have to pay to participate, or then make in-app purchases to be able to continue. This is because these games do not offer any prize funds.

[Indian computer game Raji]

"This GST is neither applicable nor will it have any impact on the video gaming industry or the esports industry," says Lokesh Suji, director of the Esports Federation of India.

"Esports has been officially recognized as a sport by the government, which finally distinguishes it from iGaming. It will be taxed in the way that it has always been."

Mr Suji adds: "We think the prospects of esports is very bright, especially in the years ahead where we're expecting more corporate support for our young players. And the primary objective of 400 million Indian video gamers, and three billion gamers worldwide, is purely entertainment, and not financial gains or making money."

As for the firms that are affected by the new tax, in terms of collective revenues, they are currently three times larger than the esports and casual gaming sectors. Revenues for iGaming totalled 104bn Indian rupees last year, compared with a combined 31bn rupees for esports and casual gaming.

Deepak Manepalli is chief executive of Open Play, an Indian gaming firm that will be affected by the new tax - his games charge users to play them, in return for offering prize money.

[New Tech Economy]

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

"The change will render many businesses unviable, and potentially lead to players with cash reserves or a healthy, profitable track record, leading the show. Companies will have to rethink the unit economics and business models to ensure that player retention and profitability are still achievable in this new normal."

Meanwhile, some analysts say that haphazard regulation remains a problem, as does the fact that rules can differ across Indian states.

Anusha Ganapathi is a Chennai-based data analyst, whose own passion for gaming began as a teenager. She says that India's homegrown games producers need to make more games that appeal to women and families, rather than more multiplayer, shooting games. Currently women represent 40% of India's gamers.

"Creating a game is an art, like making a movie," she says. Ms Ganapathi, who reviews games for the New Indian Express newspaper, adds: "What the industry really needs now are more nuanced games, with rich storylines that would appeal to everyone."

[Mourvi Sharma]

That's exactly what Mourvi Sharma is trying to do. She is co-founder of Indian games developer BigFatPhoenix. Out of their 12 employees, eight are women.

The team is currently designing what is says are more thoughtful games for children aged eight to 12. "We create a world with diverse characters, using classic adventure storytelling," says Ms Sharma.

"At every twist and turn in the plot the player must make choices, but there's no right or wrong answer. The outcome often allows children to think about the consequences of their choices."

Kamala Thiagarajan is an independent reporter

Game of Thrones author sues ChatGPT owner OpenAI, 3 days ago

US authors George RR Martin and John Grisham are suing ChatGPT-owner OpenAI over claims their copyright was infringed to train the system.

Martin is known for his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which was adapted into HBO show Game of Thrones.

ChatGPT and other large language models (LLMs) "learn" by analysing a massive amount of data often sourced online.

The lawsuit claims the authors' books were used without their permission to make ChatGPT smarter.

OpenAI said it respected the rights of authors, and believed "they should benefit from AI technology".

Other prominent authors named in the complaint include Jonathan Franzen, Jodi Picoult and George Saunders.

The case has been brought to the federal court in Manhattan, New York, by the Authors Guild, a trade group in the US working on behalf of the named authors.

According to the filing, it accused OpenAI of engaging in "systematic theft on a mass scale".

It follows similar legal action brought by comedian Sarah Silverman in July, as well as an open letter signed by authors Margaret Atwood and Philip Pullman that same month calling for AI companies to compensate them for using their work.

A spokesperson for OpenAI said: "We're having productive conversations with many creators around the world, including the Authors Guild, and have been working co-operatively to understand and discuss their concerns about AI.

"We're optimistic we will continue to find mutually beneficial ways to work together."

AI 'displacing humans'

The case argues that the LLM was fed data from copyrighted books without the permission of the authors, in part because it was able to provide accurate summaries of them.

The lawsuit also pointed to a broader concern in the media industry - that this kind of technology is "displacing human-authored" content.

Patrick Goold, reader in law at City University, told BBC News that while he could sympathise with the authors behind the lawsuit, he believed it was unlikely it would succeed, saying they would initially need to prove ChatGPT had copied and duplicated their work.

"They're actually not really worried about copyright, what they're worried about is that AI is a job killer," he said, likening the concerns to those screenwriters are currently protesting against in Hollywood.

"When we're talking about AI automation and replacing human labour... it's just not something that copyright should fix.

"What we need to be doing is going to Parliament and Congress and talking about how AI is going to displace the creative arts and what we need to do about that in the future."

The case is the latest in a long line of complaints brought against developers of so-called generative AI - that is, artificial intelligence that can create media based on text prompts - over this concern.

It comes after digital artists sued text-to-image generators Stability AI and Midjourney in January, claiming they only function by being trained on copyrighted artwork.

And OpenAI is also facing a lawsuit, alongside Microsoft and programming site GitHub, from a group of computing experts who argue their code was used without their permission to train an AI called Copilot.

None of these lawsuits has yet been resolved.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth: Reaction to demo as Tokyo Game Show starts, 4 days ago

Tokyo Game Show has begun, and fans will have their first chance to play Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.

Developers Square Enix are launching a demo of the long-awaited follow-up to 2020's FF7 Remake at the annual convention held in Chiba, Japan.

Critics have already had a chance to play the open-world section and brief story mission featuring fan favourite-characters Cloud Strife and Sephiroth.

And the verdict? "More of the same, but it's been supercharged".

That's according to Eurogamer's Ed Nightingale, who said the demo was "familiar yet fresh... the sort of magical spectacle fans will relish".

Polygon's Oli Welsh had a similar take, observing that Rebirth's gameplay felt like it was "expanding the scope, adding features, but cleaving close to what made the first game tick".

And IGN's Bo Moore said the brief flash of the game's story felt "very familiar, yet also different", noting the "tremendous difference in scale and presentation" in the PlayStation 5 exclusive.

BBC Newsbeat spoke to two of the game's leading creatives - producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Naoki Hamaguchi - to find out more.

Here's five things they told us during our interview, which was conducted before the most recent trailer dropped on 14 September.

The ending is going to be big

The original Final Fantasy 7 is famous for one of the most devastating plot twists in video game history (no spoilers here).

But when FF7 Remake made tweaks to the original's plot, it got fans wondering whether that moment would also be altered.

Producer Mr Kitase told Newsbeat Rebirth's story will climax in the Forgotten Capital - the location of that iconic scene in the 1997 original.

"What happens there is going to be a big surprising development," he said, "and a hook to get people interested and motivated to want to see what happens in the final part of the series".

So, a cliffhanger, then? The Final Fantasy equivalent of the Empire Strikes Back?

"The second part of the trilogy is a very important one and I don't think it's going to disappoint," he added.

But it might take you a while to get there

[Cloud Strife is seen from behind, riding a two-wheeled device along a cobbled seaside promenade. It's sunny, with palm trees, and we can see other people milling around in summer wear - it has a resort feel to it.]

Final Fantasy VII Remake's main story took most players between 30 and 40 hours to complete.

We asked director Mr Hamaguchi if players could expect a similar playtime from Rebirth.

"I'd say just doing the main story alone, you're looking at 40 to 50 hours to complete without doing anything else," he said.

"Then on top of that we've got so much side content and exploration content in the world. There's actually more side content than there is main story content.

"So if you're going to really go into everything, dig deep, explore the world and find everything you're easily looking at over 100 hours if you want to do everything."

The open world is going to be a major feature

Like Final Fantasy 16, Square Enix's most recent PS5 title in the mainline series, FF7 Rebirth will feature a large, open-world area.

But Mr Hamaguchi told Newsbeat it won't be a "go anywhere you want, do anything you want" style of game from the get-go like Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

"We start out with a fairly broad area, a fairly wide area to explore," he said. "But there are limitations on it.

"Then as the story progresses, as the game progresses, you get new abilities and open up new areas, and the game expands further and further."

Mr Hamaguchi says the developers want the open world to work as "one single space" with "all of the towns, all of the dungeons and everything linked together seamlessly in one space".

"It was a really important feature that we wanted to add to this game and one thing we wanted to focus on was the idea that you're giving the player the opportunity to explore and experience the world," he said.

It's staying on PlayStation 5... for now

Square Enix announced this week that it's sold seven million copies of FF7 Remake and its enhanced update, Remake Intergrade, across PlayStation and PC.

We know from previous reports that about five million of those were sold on PlayStation 4.

That console sold close to 120 million units, according to Sony, which says over 40 million PS5s have been bought since its launch in November 2020.

BBC Newsbeat asked if there were plans to bring Rebirth to other consoles, such as Xbox or the rumoured new Nintendo console.

Mr Kitase told us "that's very much to be confirmed at the moment".

A slide at the end of the latest trailer says the game "is not available on other formats until 29 May 2024" at the earliest.

This sparked speculation that we might see Rebirth elsewhere just three months after it comes out on PS5.

But Mr Kitase also told Newsbeat Rebirth "has been developed very much optimised for the PS5 hardware".

"So for the time being we hope everyone can enjoy the game on PS5."

The battle system will grow on you... hopefully

[A man with long black hair and red velvet cloak is seen from behind, looking down at six other characters from an elevated position. They are in a candlelit room that looks Medieval in style, with ornate furniture, an opulent rug and stone floor.]

Based on the previews, critics were not instantly convinced by Rebirth's Synergy system - a new addition to battles that allows two characters to perform combo attacks.

While most agreed a demo was not enough time to properly judge the new feature, there were worries it could overcomplicate things.

Mr Hamaguchi told Newsbeat character relationships were a deeper focus for Rebirth's team, and the new battle system will play into that.

"Throughout the whole story, you're seeing these characters learning and growing together and learning about each other," he said.

"We felt that we wanted to have that as a core pillar throughout the whole of the game.

"The synergy system very much came from the idea that players, depending on how well they know each other and get on together, that will reflect in battle as well."

Even though FF7 Remake won huge praise and many awards there were some criticisms - mainly of its linear story and "padding" in some sections.

Mr Hamaguchi's spoken previously about the importance of staying humble and learning from the previous game.

So we asked him what lessons the team had taken into Rebirth.

"I think certainly the reaction from the fans to the storytelling and the dramatic story experience of the game was really positive so we didn't feel that there was any need to change that much at all," he said.

"We really need to maintain that.

"But certainly there were some voices who said that it was lacking in terms of player choice or freedom. So that is definitely something we've looked at and tried to improve on and address."

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Inside Tiktok's real-life frenzies - from riots to false murder accusations, 4 days ago

TikTok is driving online frenzies that encourage anti-social behaviour in the real world, a BBC Three investigation reveals.

Ex-employees say the issue is not being tackled for fear of slowing the growth of the social media app's business.

These frenzies - where TikTok drives disproportionate amounts of engagement to some topics - are evidenced by interviews with former staffers, app users and BBC analysis of wider social media data. They have then led to disruption and disorder in everyday life.

The BBC's investigation found that TikTok's algorithm and design means people are seeing videos which they wouldn't normally be recommended - which, in turn, incentivise them to do unusual things in their own videos on the platform.

TikTok has previously distanced itself from outbreaks of disorder, such as the threatened looting of London's Oxford Street last month, which politicians blamed on the billion-user app.

However, the BBC has identified four episodes in recent months where disproportionate engagement on TikTok was connected to harmful behaviour:

* An online obsession with a murder case in Idaho, USA, that led to innocent people being falsely accused

* Interference in the police investigation of Nicola Bulley, who went missing in Lancashire, UK

* School protests involving vandalism spreading across the UK

* Fanning flames of riots in France, which spread at an unusual intensity and to unexpected locations

Ex-staffers at TikTok liken these frenzies to "wildfires" and describe them as "dangerous", especially as the app's audience can be young and impressionable.

A spokesperson for TikTok told the BBC that its "algorithm brings together communities while prioritising safety". It said it recommends different types of content to interrupt repetitive patterns, removes "harmful misinformation" and reduces the reach of videos with unverified information.

The Idaho murders - November 2022

I had never heard of Moscow, Idaho, before November last year. My TikTok feed became flooded with details of the murder of four students in their bedrooms while two surviving housemates slept - before the case was widely covered by the media.

Speculative theories around who committed the murders gripped TikTok, without any evidence to back them up. TikTok users were uniquely obsessed. Videos I found about the case racked up two billion views from November 2022 to August this year, compared to just 80,000 on YouTube.

Former employees say this is a product of TikTok's design. Users mostly view content through their For You page, a feed of short videos which are selected by an algorithm to appeal to each individual.

[A photo of the four victims of the Idaho murders - Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen, aged 21, and Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, both 20 - with two other people blurred out]

When you post a video on TikTok, it will appear on the feeds of other users who TikTok thinks could be interested in it, rather than just being promoted to your friends and followers as on some other social networks.

Depending on how users engage with that video, the algorithm might decide to push it to millions more at a speed and scale seemingly greater than on the other social media platforms. Former employees also say that, while most social media users tend to just consume content, TikTok users are much more likely to make and post their own videos.

Participation is one of TikTok's "number one priorities", according to an internal document from 2021 revealed by Chris Stokel-Walker in his book TikTok Boom. He told the BBC the company wants users "actively invested" in the app.

That element of participation can be terrifying for people like Jack Showalter, dubbed "hoodie guy" by some TikTokkers and falsely accused of involvement in the Idaho killings. His sister condemned the threats and harassment his family received. "There were so many victims created through internet sleuth videos," she said.

One TikTokker, Olivia, did not just become gripped by a drama thousands of miles from her home in Florida - she flew for more than six hours and filmed at the scene for a week. At least one of her videos reached 20 million views.

"I felt this need to go out there and dig for answers and see if I can help out in any way," Olivia told me.

[Olivia, a TikTok creator who travelled to the scene of the Idaho murders to make social media videos]

An experienced content creator who has posted videos on several true crime cases, she also acknowledges that the TikTok content "does much better" when she travels to the scene.

Olivia did not explicitly level false accusations at people. But she said that unlike traditional news media, she can post controversial claims without confirmation. "I have the power to do that," she said.

Olivia said the high levels of engagement on TikTok around subjects like the Idaho murders encourages users to create videos. "One video on TikTok could get millions of plays versus if I post the same video on Instagram, it'll get like 200 views. And it's just the algorithm of Tik Tok."

In December, Bryan Kohberger - a man not previously named by any of the online sleuths - was arrested and later charged with murder.

The Nicola Bulley case - January 2023

While Olivia was an experienced social video creator, frenzies can also draw in people who seem never to have posted content like this before - and reward them with huge numbers of views.

When 45-year-old Nicola Bulley went missing in the small village of St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire, Heather was one of the people caught up by the way the mystery took over TikTok.

[A woman holding up a poster appealing for information about Nicola Bulley's disappearance]

"When you see it video after video after video of the same content on the same topic, it's very easy to just think, well, I can join in. I'm just another person," Heather told me.

She posted a video which falsely implied Nicola's best friend, Emma White, had posed as the missing woman, and says it received 3.6 million views within 72 hours.

Within the first three weeks of her disappearance, I found videos using the hashtag of Nicola Bulley's name had 270 million views on TikTok, compared to far lower numbers I found across the other major social media sites.

Mainstream media was also blamed for its wall-to-wall coverage of the case, but on TikTok more explicit misinformation spread more quickly.

The BBC has seen emails Heather received from TikTok encouraging her to keep posting once her speculation had gone viral and applauding her posts as a hit.

She said the feeling of "empowerment" and "entitlement" from this attention can change people's behaviour.

[Heather, a TikTok user who says she regrets posting false information about Nicola Bulley's disappearance]

Now she said she regrets her part in the frenzy and has deleted her videos.

Heather never headed to the scene of the disappearance, but many other TikTokkers did. The police criticised the way people were interfering with the case to film social media videos, eventually issuing a dispersal order, which allows officers to remove people from the area to prevent anti-social behaviour.

Nicola Bulley's body was found on 17 February in the river not far from where she disappeared. An inquest determined her death was due to accidental drowning.

A spokesperson for TikTok told the BBC that users "naturally" took more of an interest in stories at "moments of national conversation, which are intensified by 24-hour news reporting". They also pointed out that the BBC has posted on TikTok about many stories like this.

Protests and riots - February 2023 and June 2023

Events in British schools and on the streets of France have shown how TikTok can help disturbances escalate and spread from place to place.

In February 2023, a protest about Rainford High School in Merseyside checking the length of girls' skirts was posted on TikTok. Within three days, students at over 60 schools had held and filmed their own version of the protest. After a week, students at over 100 schools had got involved.

In some cases, they also got out of hand: windows were smashed, trees were set on fire and teachers were assaulted.

[A composite image of three TikTok videos from UK schools protests, with two saying that police were called and another apparently showing a bin being thrown by students]

"I feel like what TikTok is enabling people to do now is to take one thing that's viral in one school and transport it to like the whole region and make it a competition about who can up the other schools and make it more extreme," said Jasmine, a former TikTok moderator.

According to TikTok, most of the videos showed pupils engaging in peaceful demonstrations - but teachers and students I spoke to were concerned about the cumulative effect of all the videos.

During the school protests, I decided to see what type of content TikTok's algorithm might recommend to an undercover account pretending to belong to a 15-year-old boy with typical interests, such as football.

After being recommended videos about football and gaming, the fourth video I was shown was from a 25-year-old influencer called Adrian Markovac. As well as promoting self-improvement, some of his videos encourage rebellion against school rules on uniform, homework and asking to go to the toilet, as well as calling teachers offensive names.

Comments under his videos included some teenagers in the UK saying they had been suspended or excluded from school after following Mr Markovac's advice.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Markovac said he encourages young people to "rebel against ridiculous rules", but he said he could not be held responsible for the poor decisions of a minority of viewers.

A few months after the school protests, riots spread across Paris and the rest of France after the death of 17-year-old Nahel M, who was shot by a police officer, who was later charged with homicide. The French president Emmanuel Macron levelled the blame for the disorder at TikTok and Snapchat.

[Screenshots of TikToks showing disorder in Viry-Chatillon]

But was there another TikTok frenzy at play? Or was the French President just deflecting responsibility?

The sense of injustice over Nahel's death meant riots began without the influence of social media.

But the attention I found it received on TikTok was much higher compared to other platforms. I found public videos on Snapchat using Nahel's name with 167,700 views (that doesn't include some which may have been circulated in private chats). On TikTok, public videos using the hashtag racked up 850 million views.

In one town, Viry-Châtillon, on the outskirts of Paris, videos showed a bus on fire and a ransacked newsagents. Jean-Marie Vilain, the mayor, said demonstrations were rare in the town.

But what was "incredible and dramatic" in his view was that the riots spread to "the provinces, in cities, in small towns where nothing is happening, where everything is fine" - as far afield as Provence and Guadeloupe.

[Jean-Marie Vilain, mayor of Viry-Châtillon, pictured at his office]

"Unfortunately, once the riots started, TikTok became a tool to show, here, this is what I'm capable of doing. Can you do better?" Mr Vilain told me. His claim is backed up by videos I found on TikTok, which became more extreme as the riots went on.

From speaking to protestors, Mr Vilain also said seeing acts of destruction widely shared on TikTok "became the norm" for some people. TikTok users sharing this content who I messaged said the same.

[BBC iPlayer]

The TikTok Effect

What connects amateur sleuths turning up at crime scenes, anti-social behaviour in UK schools and French riots? This film finds evidence that they are all examples of TikTok "frenzies".

Watch on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

[BBC iPlayer]

'It grew so fast'

Several former TikTok employees in the US and UK told the BBC that limiting these frenzies of harmful content was not a priority for the social media company, because it could slow down the app's meteoric growth.

One of them, who I'm calling Lucas, worked in data strategy and analysis at the company. He said TikTok was not equipped to become more than just an app for dance crazes.

"It grew so fast that they couldn't possibly keep up with or predict every single way the app was going to go," he said.

"But in terms of dangerous content, at least I never heard of them trying to proactively prevent them from getting big. And in general, they don't want to, they don't want to stand in the way of entertainment growing quickly on their platform."

TikTok told the BBC it has more than 40,000 "safety professionals" using technology to moderate content, with the "vast majority" of videos with harmful misinformation never receiving a single view.

"Prioritising safety is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense," the spokesperson said.

The company also said it collaborates with academics, law enforcement agencies and other experts to improve its processes.

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Musk start-up Neuralink seeks people for brain-implant trial, 4 days ago

Elon Musk's brain-computer interface (BCI) start-up Neuralink has begun recruiting people for its first human trial.

The company's goal is to connect human brains to computers and it wants to test its technology on people with paralysis.

A robot will help implant a BCI that will let them control a computer cursor, or type, using thoughts alone.

But rival companies have already implanted BCI devices in humans.

Neuralink won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its first human clinical trial, in May, a critical milestone after earlier struggles to gain approval.

The FDA approval represented "an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people", Neuralink said at the time

The company had sought approval to implant its devices in 10 people, former and current employees told news agency Reuters.

The number finally agreed upon is not known.

Brain signals

At the start of the six-year study, a robot would be used to surgically place 64 flexible threads, thinner than a human hair, on to a part of the brain that controlled "movement intention", the company said.

These allow Neuralink's experimental N1 implant - powered by a battery that can be charged wirelessly - to record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that decodes how the person intends to move.

The company says people may qualify for the trial if they have quadriplegia due to injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a disease in which the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain degenerate.

While Mr Musk's involvement raises the profile of Neuralink, he faces rivals, some with a track record dating back nearly two decades. Utah-based Blackrock Neurotech implanted its first of many BCIs in 2004.

Precision Neuroscience, formed by a Neuralink co-founder, also aims to help people with paralysis. And its implant resembles a very thin piece of tape that sits on the surface of the brain and can be implanted via a "cranial micro-slit", which it says is a much simpler procedure.

Meanwhile, existing devices are generating results. In two separate recent US scientific studies, implants were used to monitor brain activity when a person tried to speak, which could then be decoded to help them communicate.

Dr Adrien Rapeaux, a research associate in the Neural Interfaces Lab at Imperial College London told the BBC that "Neuralink no doubt has an advantage in terms of implantation" as their procedure was robotically assisted.

But Dr Rapeaux who is also a co-founder of a neural implant start-up Mintneuro, said it wasn't clear how their method for converting brain signals into useful actions would do better than that used by Blackrock Neurotech for example, and whether it is able to stay accurate and reliable over time, "a known issue in the field".

Fortnite: Parents in US offered refunds for game purchases, 4 days ago

Parents in the US whose children purchased items in the popular game Fortnite without their permission will be able to claim a refund from today.

The US regulator accused the game of tricking players into making unintended purchases and breaching privacy.

Fortnite developer Epic Games agreed to pay $245m (£198m) in refunds in 2022.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has now begun the process of contacting 37 million people to alert them to the compensation.

Fortnite is one of the most popular video games in the world, with more than 400 million players. It is a free-to-play video game - meaning while there's no upfront cost, it makes its money through players making in-game purchases.

The FTC said Epic Games duped players with "deceptive interfaces" that could trigger purchases while the game loaded, and accused it of having default settings that breached people's privacy.

In total, it agreed to a settlement of $520m with Epic Games over the concerns.

This includes a $275m fine relating to how Fortnite collects data on its users, including those aged under 13, without informing parents.

It is the largest fine ever levied by the FTC for breaking a rule.

The rest of the settlement will be paid out as refunds.

Though there is no similar agreement in the UK, Epic Games' vice president of marketing, Matthew Weissinger, previously told the UK government it would refund parents in the UK whose children made purchases without their knowledge.

The BBC has approached Epic Games and UK regulators to ask if there are any plans for refund payments to apply to customers in the UK.

Hot drop

Under the US settlement, refunds will be made for in-game purchases such as outfits and loot boxes, as well as Fortnite's virtual currency V-Bucks.

Those who have been contacted by the FTC will have until January 2024 to submit their request.

This includes claims from anyone in the US who believes they were charged in the game for items they didn't want between January 2017 and September 2022.

But it also specifically includes people who say their child made a purchase using their credit card without their knowledge - though this must have taken place between the more limited period of January 2017 and November 2018.

Finally, compensation can be requested by people who can show their Fortnite account was made inaccessible after they made a complaint with their credit card company about wrongful charges.

'Forefront of consumer protection'

When the settlement was first announced, Epic Games said it had made several changes to Fornite to tackle the problem of unintended in-game purchases.

The developers have introduced an array of parental controls, a spending limit for players aged under 13, and default high privacy settings for children.

"The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough," Epic said at the time.

"We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players."

The firm has since clarified that the FTC is handling the distribution of compensation, and concerned players must contact the regulator directly via its website.

Braverman and Facebook clash over private message plans, 5 days ago

Facebook's owner Meta has hit back at a government campaign strongly critical of its plans to encrypt messages.

Protecting messages with end-to-end-encryption would mean that they could only be read by sender and recipient.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said encryption could not come at the cost of children's safety, amid fears it can be used to conceal child abuse.

Meta argues that encryption protects users from invasion of privacy.

"We don't think people want us reading their private messages", the firm said.

"The overwhelming majority of Brits already rely on apps that use encryption to keep them safe from hackers, fraudsters and criminals", it added.

Ms Braverman set out her concerns to Meta in a letter co-signed by technology experts, law enforcement, survivors and leading child safety charities in July.

But on Wednesday she said: "Meta has failed to provide assurances that they will keep their platforms safe from sickening abusers. They must develop appropriate safeguards to sit alongside their plans for end-to-end encryption."

This is something Meta disputes. The BBC understands that the tech firm maintains it supplied that information in July. Much of that information has now been published online.

Meta said that it had spent the last five years developing robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security.

"As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry leading work on keeping people safe", it said.

But the plans mean hundreds of child abusers could escape punishment, according to the home secretary.

The National Crime Agency's (NCA) director of general threats, James Babbage, said if the platform introduces end-to-end encryption it will "massively reduce our collective ability" to protect children.

"We are not asking for new or additional law enforcement access, we simply ask that Meta retains the ability to keep working with us to identify and help prevent abuse," he said.

The new campaign was trailed in a speech by security minister Tom Tugendhat in May.

At the time he blamed Mark Zuckerberg for the plan - criticising what he called the "extraordinary moral choice" to expand encryption.

Meta - the American company of which Mr Zuckerberg is chief executive - has announced it will add end-to-end encryption, also known as E2EE, to all Facebook messenger chats, by default, by the end of the year.

The company already owns encrypted messaging app WhatsApp. Other platforms such as Signal and Apple's iMessage also use encryption. All these platforms have criticised measures in the recently passed Online Safety Bill that might undermine the privacy of encrypted messages.

Meta writes: "When E2EE is default, we will also use a variety of tools, including artificial intelligence, subject to applicable law, to proactively detect accounts engaged in malicious patterns of behaviour instead of scanning private messages".

It also sets out measures the firm takes to protect children, such as restricting people over 19 from messaging teens who don't follow them.

But speaking to BBC Breakfast on Wednesday the Home Secretary said Facebook Messenger and Instagram direct messages were the platforms of choice for online paedophiles: "We are arresting in this country about 800 perpetrators a month, we are safeguarding about 1200 children a month from this evil crime.

She said there was an increasing trend of paedophiles "seeking out children online, grooming them gaining their trust and duping them into performing sexual acts, indecent acts, pornographic acts online."

Challenged as to why, given the powers in the online safety bill, it was necessary to ask Meta to stop the roll out of e2ee Ms Braverman said: "We now have wide ranging powers contained in this new legislation that enables us via Ofcom the regulator to direct companies to take necessary steps in particular circumstances.

"But I'd far rather work constructively with these social media companies. They play a valuable part in our lives"

As part of its campaign against the move, the Home Office has joined the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to provide a guide for parents to "advise them how best to keep their children safe if Meta does implement end-to-end encryption".

It has also supported the production of a film against Meta's plans, which includes testimony from a survivor of child sexual exploitation online.

The IWF says its data shows prevalence of the most severe forms of online child sexual abuse have more than doubled since 2020.

'Magical thinking'

Powers in the Online Safety Bill which was passed on Tuesday enable the regulator Ofcom to compel companies to deploy approved technology that would enable them to identify child sexual abuse material in encrypted messages.

Government experts say there is technology available which would allow end-to-end encryption to take place, whilst still alerting authorities to child sexual exploitation.

However many other experts argue this is "magical thinking", and that allowing scanning for child abuse content would necessarily involve weakening the privacy of encrypted messages.

Ciaran Martin, the former head of the National Cyber Security Centre, has previously told the BBC that scanning for child abuse content in encrypted messaging apps would involve processes that could undermine privacy for all users.

"Essentially it's building a door that doesn't currently exist, not into the encrypted messaging app but into devices, which could be used or misused by people who aren't interested in protecting children for more nefarious purposes", he said.

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FTX: 'King of Crypto' parents sued over missing millions, 5 days ago

The parents of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried are being sued for money they allegedly received improperly from the crypto firm ahead of its collapse.

In a filing, managers at the bankrupt firm accuse the couple of holding millions of "fraudulently transferred" dollars and of turning a blind eye to misconduct at the company.

The action was filed on behalf of those owed money after the firm's failure.

The fall of the company led to the arrest of Mr Bankman-Fried last year.

US prosecutors have accused the former billionaire, once dubbed the "King of Crypto", of illegally transferring millions from the exchange to plug losses at his trading firm, make political donations and buy property.

He has denied the charges and is in jail awaiting trial next month.

Attorneys for his parents said the claims against them were "completely false" and designed to hurt their son's chances at trial.

The legal action, filed as part of a wider bankruptcy suit, says Mr Bankman-Fried's parents - then both professors at Stanford University - exploited their "access and influence within the FTX enterprise to enrich themselves, directly and indirectly, by millions of dollars".

They received a $10m (£8m) gift in cash from funds that belonged to Alameda, an FTX partner company, while FTX also gave them a $16.4m property in the Bahamas, according to the filing.

FTX was once one of the biggest cryptocurrency trading firms in the world, holding assets worth an estimated $15bn in 2021. It filed for bankruptcy last year, after a sudden rush by customers to withdraw funds revealed a huge gap in the company's finances reportedly worth up to $8bn.

Managers for the bankrupt firm say it was used by Mr Bankman-Fried and other "insiders" as a "piggy bank" and his parents "helped perpetuate or benefited from this fraudulent largesse".

The filing claims his father, Allan Joseph Bankman, an expert on US tax law, served as an adviser to FTX and "played a key role in perpetuating this culture of misrepresentations and gross mismanagement and helped cover up allegations that would have exposed the fraud".

He also helped to quash an internal complaint alleging price manipulation made in 2019, it adds.

Mr Bankman was allegedly treated to stays at hotels charging $1,200 a night, while the lawsuit cites messages in which he complains about receiving a $200,000 salary, claiming it is supposed to be $1m.

Meanwhile Mr Bankman-Fried's mother, Barbara Fried, helped direct her son's political donations, encouraging him to obscure their source, according to the filing.

Managers for FTX are seeking to recover money from the couple.

The downfall of Mr Bankman-Fried, one of the most high-profile players in the industry, sent shudders through the sector and helped to galvanise regulatory scrutiny.

* BBC Panorama's Downfall of the Crypto King will be on BBCiPlayer (UK) on Monday, 25 September

Mortal Kombat 1: Nintendo Switch version will be fixed, says boss, 5 days ago

Mortal Kombat 1 - the new game in the long-running series - is out.

But the Nintendo Switch version of the beloved beat-'em-up has been getting a bit of a kicking vs its Xbox and PlayStation rivals.

Fans have been posting side-by-side comparisons showing the gulf in graphics and criticising the game's overall performance.

Series creator Ed Boon tells BBC Newsbeat the hybrid console's version will "absolutely be getting an update".

"And a number of the the concerns of the issues that had come up will absolutely be addressed," he says.

"It would have been ideal for us to have released the version that we absolutely wanted.

"But anything that we're finding a problem with is on our list and is going to be fixed."

One of the common criticisms of the Switch version is its price - it costs the same as the more advanced PS5 and Xbox Series editions.

The game - a soft reboot of the series' timeline - was ported to the Nintendo machine by Shiver Entertainment and Saber Interactive, rather than main developer NetherRealm Studios.

But Ed's message to fans who've bought or are thinking of buying the title on Switch is that "it will be supported, like we did with Mortal Kombat 11".

"Anything that we see that is not acceptable will absolutely be addressed," he says.

Away from the Switch version, critics have had kinder words for the other editions with both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions logging respectable scores on Metacritic.

And one thing that's got fans talking is the inclusion of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Ed tells Newsbeat why getting the actor - who appears as a skin for series regular Johnny Cage - why that's a big deal for the series.

"When we made our very first Mortal Kombat game, before it was even called Mortal Kombat, we wanted to make Van Damme the video game," he says.

But in 1992, Ed says, the 80s action star was understandably not in a rush to work with "two guys in their 20s saying hey we want to make a video game based on you".

"So I could see why he would say no," says Ed.

Instead, they created Johnny Cage, the cocky movie star with a strong resemblance to the "Muscles from Brussels", as Van Damme is known.

Ed says the team tried "a few more times" to recruit Van Damme, "but the planets would not align".

"Until 30 years later they did," says Ed. "And here we are with Mortal Kombat 1 - the ultimate kind of full circle moment."

[Ed Boon - a middle-aged man with short black hair - wears a navy v-necked sweater with white t-shirt underneath. He's standing, arms folded, in front of a brick wall with a sign that reads "NetherRealm Studios" on it. The sign shows a ninja character in silhouette, on top of a vortex design in red and yellow shades resembling a swirling fire]

Mortal Kombat's characters are one of its stand-out features, and fans think they may have found hints about upcoming special guests in the latest game's files.

One of the names floated is Ghostface, from the Scream movies.

When Newsbeat asks Ed about these he says we'll have to "wait and see".

"We always have seeds that are being planted that might not pop up until a year later," he says, but adds that a lot of time and research goes into these.

Despite the criticism of the Switch version, Ed says Mortal Kombat has continued to grow and the past few releases have been the biggest sellers to date.

"I don't know how many games that have been around for 30 years are at their peak," he says.

"That's a really special kind of thing, where players are still with us, players who are now grown up with their own kids, still playing Mortal Kombat.

"That just blows my mind."

[Newsbeat logo]

Follow Newsbeat on Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.

YouTube suspends Russell Brand from advert income, 5 days ago

YouTube has suspended Russell Brand's channels from making money from adverts for "violating" its "creator responsibility policy".

The video platform said it was taking action "to protect" its users.

Meanwhile, the BBC said it had removed some programmes featuring the comedian and actor from its streaming services.

It comes after he was accused of rape and sexual assaults between 2006 and 2013. He denies the claims, saying his relationships were "always consensual".

The BBC said it had removed some content that "now falls below public expectations" from iPlayer and BBC Sounds.

Earlier on Tuesday, a YouTube spokesperson said: "If a creator's off-platform behaviour harms our users, employees or ecosystem, we take action."

In recent years, the former TV and radio personality has repositioned himself, posting regular video about spirituality, anti-establishment politics and, recently, UFOs, to his 6.6 million subscribers. He also posts on Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter) and Rumble.

Russell Brand allegations

YouTube's decision to block his revenue streams applies to "all channels that may be owned or operated" by the 48-year-old, it confirmed to the BBC.

Other channels associated with his main YouTube page include Awakening With Russell, Stay Free With Russell Brand and Football Is Nice, which have about 500,000 subscribers between them.

Sara McCorquodale, author and chief executive of social media analysis agency CORQ, estimated Brand made about £2,000 to £4,000 per YouTube video.

"He was probably making more revenue from YouTube than any other platform," she told BBC News. "Everything existed to drive people towards his YouTube channel, so that probably was a significant revenue stream that has obviously now been paused."

However, Rumble is still carrying adverts on his content, "so his ability to make money has by no means means stopped", she said.

According to Companies House, Brand's company - called Pablo Diablo's Legitimate Business Firm Ltd - saw its net assets more than double from £2m in 2020 to £4.1 million in 2021.

YouTube's move "will have some impact", Ms McCorquodale said. "But his audience is still there. They are very passionate, they want his content, and so they're going to follow him."

She predicted that Brand could launch an "independent, subscription-based platform" instead, where his legions of fans could pay to watch his videos.

How do YouTubers make money?

There are lots of different ways for people to make money on YouTube.

One of the most obvious is through ad revenue. After gaining enough viewers, YouTubers can have ads running before and during their videos, earning varying amounts. One YouTuber with half a million subscribers recently showed the BBC they made around £10,000 from a video with 1.5 million views.

But the exact money made from videos can vary dramatically and be much lower - or even higher - than this.

Other ways of making money include channel memberships, where people subscribe to see more of your content, as well as super chat and super thanks, where a viewer can pay to have their message to the creator appear more prominently.

But the big way YouTubers make money is through sponsorships, known as "spons" in the community.

At the top of the description of all but his most recent video, in which he commented on the allegations, Brand has a prominently-placed spon. The companies include a skincare firm, a food supplement powder, a VPN and a coffee alternative.

Companies pay for prominent sponsorship on videos earning hundreds of thousands of views, and will generally pay much more for the amount of conversions - people who buy the product using the link. This could be anything from one twentieth to half the purchase price.

It's impossible to accurately estimate how much this is, as the finances are agreed on a case-by-case basis. But suffice to say, it is not uncommon for a YouTuber to make more money through spons than any other income source on the platform.

Investigation and reaction

The allegations against Brand were made in a joint investigation by the Sunday Times, the Times and Channel 4's Dispatches.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Police said it had received a report of an alleged sexual assault in 2003.

On Tuesday, the Times reported claims from two more women, including one who alleged he was threatening and verbally abusive towards her when she refused to have sex with him.

Ahead of the Dispatches broadcast, Brand took to his online social media video platforms to pre-emptively deny all claims of misconduct, saying he was the subject of "a co-ordinated attack" involving "very serious allegations that I absolutely refute".

[Russell Brand leaving the gig]

On Monday, one of the women who has accused him of sexual assault when she was 16 has told BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour his behaviour was an "open secret".

The woman, known as Alice, added that allegations against him have been "a long time coming".

Speaking for the first time since accusations became public, she said his denial was "laughable" and "insulting".

The remaining shows of Brand's Bipolarisation tour have also been postponed.

He still has a presence on Rumble, where he has 1.4 million followers, and he hosts a regular show every weekday, but there was notably no new episode on Monday.

Prior to his reinvention as an online guru, the comedian's traditional earnings were made through high-profile TV and radio presenting jobs, books and movie appearances, as well as his live comedy shows.

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Is it possible to regulate artificial intelligence?, 4 days ago

Can artificial intelligence be kept under control? Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, says that believing it can be is akin to "magical thinking".

"In many cases politicians and their aides have a weak understanding of how the internet works, and what it is possible to achieve," says Mr Wales, who has spent many hours explaining both technology and its role in free speech to politicians around the globe.

"The question of a body like the United Nations regulating AI is like suggesting the UN regulate [image editing app] Photoshop." His point is that he thinks it would be pointless.

The issue of whether AI should be regulated, and to what extent, heated up this summer when UN Secretary General António Guterres convened the first ever UN Security Council meeting to specifically discuss its potential dangers.

Speaking in regard to everything from AI-powered cyber attacks, to the risk of malfunctioning AI, how AI can spread misinformation, and even the interaction between AI and nuclear weapons, Mr Guterres said: "Without action to address these risks, we are derelict in our responsibilities to present and future generations."

Mr Guterres has since moved forward with the establishment of a UN panel to investigate what global regulation might be needed. Called the High-Level Advisory Body for Artificial Intelligence, this will comprise "present and former government experts, as well as experts from industry, civil society, and academia".

It is due to publish its initial findings before the end of this year. Meanwhile, last week US tech bosses such as Elon Musk and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg held talks with US lawmakers in Washington to discuss AI and potential future rules.

However, some AI insiders are sceptical that global regulation can be successful. One such person is Pierre Haren, who has been researching AI for 45 years.

His experience includes seven years at computer giant IBM, where he led the team that installed Watson super computer technology for customers. Debuted in 2010, Watson can answer a user's questions, and was one of the pioneers of AI.

Despite Mr Haren's background, he says he was "flabbergasted" by the emergence and capability of ChatGPT and other so-called "generative AI" programs over the past year.

Generative AI is, put simply, AI that can quickly create new content, be it words, images, music or videos. And it can take an idea from one example, and apply it to an entirely different situation.

Mr Haren says that such an ability is human-like. "This thing is not like a parrot, repeating what we feed into it," he says. "It's making high-level analogies."

So how can we create a set of rules to stop this AI getting out of control? We can't, says Mr Haren, because he says some countries won't sign up to them.

"We live in a world with non-cooperative nations like North Korea and Iran," he says. "They won't recognise regulations around AI.

"The regulation of non-cooperative actors is pie in the sky! Can you imagine Iran looking for a way to destroy Israel and caring about AI regulations?"

[Pierre Haren]

Physicist Reinhard Scholl is the founder of the UN's "AI For Good" programme. This aims to find and implement practical AI solutions to help achieve the UN's sustainable development goals. These include everything from ending poverty, to eradicating hunger and giving everyone access to clean water.

AI for Good began life in 2017 as an annual event, and has blossomed into a regular schedule of online seminars that address every facet of AI.

With over 20,000 subscribers, AI for Good has hit a nerve, but the appetite for positive AI doesn't mean Mr Scholl is optimistic.

"Should AI be regulated? It's a no-brainer, yes!" he declares, comparing the situation to how car or toymakers have to comply with safety regulations.

His big worry is that AI makes it relatively easy for bad actors to employ the technology as a springboard to acquire dangerous capabilities.

"A physicist knows how to build a nuclear bomb in theory, but to do it in practice would be very difficult," he says. "But if someone uses AI to design a biological weapon they don't need to know so much.

"And if it becomes too easy for people to do major damage using AI then someone will do it."

But what form should a future UN regulatory body on AI take? One suggestion is that it mirrors the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which regulates global air travel and its safety. This has 193 member nations.

[Banner around links to stories about AI]

Read additional stories on artificial intelligence

[Banner around links to stories about AI]

Robert Opp is one AI expert who backs the formation of a body similar to the ICAO. Mr Opp is chief digital officer for the UN Development Programme.

The agency is tasked with helping countries drive economic growth and end poverty. His job sees him try to find ways to make technology boost the organisation's impact.

This includes the use of AI to quickly check satellite images of farmland in impoverished areas. Mr Opp says he doesn't want to impede that kind of capability, or restrain the potential of generative AI to assist the poor in building up a business.

But he also accepts the potential downside of AI. "There is a sense of urgency in figuring out AI governance."

Urgent or not, Wikipedia's Mr Wales thinks the UN is utterly misguided.

He believes the international bodies are making a big error in overestimating the role of tech giants like Google in the avalanche of AI products. Mr Wales adds that no amount of good intentions can hold back individual software developers and their use of AI.

He says that beyond the boundaries of the tech giants countless programmers are using freely available AI software, where baseline code is available across the internet. "There are tens of thousands of individual developers who are building on these innovations. Regulation of them is never going to happen."

The firms hoping to take psychedelic drugs mainstream, 10 days ago

This July in Bend, Oregon, Josh Goldstein facilitated one of the first magic mushroom sessions under the state's new regulatory framework for people to access their active ingredient - psilocybin.

Mr Goldstein's 71-year-old client was seeking help with his obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The man experienced his psychedelic trip at a licensed psilocybin service centre after eating a measured quality of the dried fungi. Mr Goldstein, a licensed psilocybin facilitator with Bendable Therapy, prepared him for what to expect ahead of time, and then guided him through his six-hour long experience.

At the follow-up integration session, the man described his experience to Mr Goldstein as "lifechanging". "He had a profound realisation, which he believes has subsequently significantly shifted his OCD," says Mr Goldstein.

Oregon voted by ballot to legalize psilocybin for use by adults in supervised settings in 2020, becoming the first state to enact such a measure (the drug is illegal in the US federally).

Colorado recently followed with a wider swathe of psychedelics, and other states seem poised to continue the trend.

The states' approaches are for non-medical use - the drugs do not have regulatory approval for therapeutic use, and are currently banned at the federal level.

But the promise they have shown in helping combat a variety of hard-to-treat mental health conditions has doubtless influenced Oregon's framework, and will likely drive much of the demand for the services there.

[Psilocybin mushrooms stand ready for harvest in a humidified "fruiting chamber"]

In therapeutic trials the standard approach is to give the drugs in supervised sessions augmented to a greater or lesser extent by therapy before, during and after.

If psychedelics are ever going to go mainstream they will have to be approved by regulators as prescription medicine, which, in addition to providing assurance they are safe and effective, in the US opens up the potential for health insurance coverage.

MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin assisted therapy for PTSD and treatment resistant depression, respectively, are furthest forward, with MDMA recently successfully showing efficacy in a phase 3 clinical trial, and a similar trial for synthetic psilocybin is currently in progress.

As well as clearing regulatory hurdles, it's likely the treatments themselves will have to change.

The six-hour treatment experienced by Mr Goldstein's client is likely to be too time-consuming for many patients.

So biotech firms are already working on next generation psychedelics, which aim to either shorten the trip time, or cut out the mystical, hallucinogenic part altogether.

"Shorter-acting psychedelics and non-hallucinogenic psychedelics have become popular among investors in the past couple of years," says Josh Hardman, an analyst at Psychedelic Alpha, which tracks the sector.

They remain a "hotspot" even of late, as investment in the psychedelic drug industry more broadly has been dipping. Mr Hardman estimates about a dozen or so companies have adopted it as a main or at least significant focus, and, while it is hard to estimate precisely, at least $500m (£400m) in investment has flowed in.

[Delix Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer David E. Olson_Research, Performing Tissue Culture]

Among those pursuing a shorter trip with a novel molecule similar biologically to psilocybin is Gilgamesh, a US start-up founded in 2019 (others include Canadian public companies Mindset Pharma and Bright Minds).

A shorter psychedelic experience could both entice more patients - not everyone is able to spend a day in a dosing clinic - and free up clinical space so more people can receive treatment, says Andrew Kruegel, the company's co-founder and chief scientific officer.

Gilgamesh has a compound, which is intended, with some psychotherapy, to treat depression and anxiety. It is currently in a phase 1 clinical trial (focussed on safety).

Like psilocybin, it targets serotonin receptors in the brain, which drives the hallucinogenic effects, but the length of the trip is reduced to about an hour.

Alternative approaches others are pursuing include starting with very short-acting psychedelics related to psilocybin, and modifying them chemically so things last longer. And, separately, changing the way psilocybin is delivered from orally to intravenously to give a shorter experience.

UK-based Small Pharma has a drug candidate that extends the trip length of DMT (the active ingredient in the hallucinogenic beverage Ayahuasca) from 20-30 minutes to about 45 minutes.

Beckley Psytech, also UK-based, is looking at the intravenous administration of psilocybin's biologically active metabolite, psilocin, which would bring down the length of the trip to about an hour and a half. Both have initiated phase 1 clinical trials.

Other firms are looking at losing the hallucinogenic component altogether, which, potentially, would open up psychedelics to being taken at home (as there's no longer a chance of a bad trip).

[David Olson, Delix chief innovation officer]

Among the start-ups taking a purely non-hallucinogenic tack include US-based Delix Therapeutics and Psilera, both also founded in 2019.

Delix's approach is to try and harness the anti-depressant like neuroplasticity effects of psychedelics - research shows they promote the growth of new neural connections which better allow the brain to rewire its circuitry - but leave behind the subjective, mystical experience.

Convincing people is hard, but there is "no definitive evidence" that the hallucinogen experience is the cause of psychedelics' therapeutic effects, says David Olson, the company's chief innovation officer and an associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Prof Olson, co-founded Delix off the back of his laboratory's work there.

Tested in mice, Delix's leading molecule doesn't appear hallucinogenic. It is currently also in a phase 1 clinical trial that will tease out whether that's also true in people, says Prof Olson.

The company hasn't declared which mental illness will be its first target, but the advantages Prof Olson anticipates of non-hallucinogenic psychedelics over antidepressants is they would kick in much sooner, and could be taken less often (antidepressants take weeks to months to work and need to be taken daily).

More technology of business:

Yet others are doubtful the same outcomes will be seen with shorter trips, or without the trip altogether - they believe that the subjective, mystical experience is important, and the longer the trip, the better.

Gül Dölen, an associate professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, studies how psychedelics work. Her research shows they open a window of time - a so called "critical period" - in the brain where it is more sensitive to the environment, and has an enhanced ability to learn and form lasting memories (psilocybin's critical period, for example, lasts two weeks). And the longer the trip, the longer the critical period.

The companies trying to shorten trip duration or remove the hallucinogenic component "are probably going to interfere with the therapeutic effect" says Prof Dölen, who also emphasises the importance of therapy after the trip for the learning opportunity it can provide.

Mr Goldstein, the psilocybin facilitator agrees. For him, the idea of either snuffing out or shortening the psychedelic experience is nothing short of repulsive.

"Coming into contact with yourself takes time and active participation," he says.

Help and support

If you're affected by any of the issues in this article you can find details of organisations who can help via the BBC Action Line.

The app teaching Somalis to read and write, 12 days ago

Hodan Artan is patching up the roof of her home, sewing together pieces of fabric of different colours with blue string.

She works as a cleaner in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa. With the little money she earns, a mud hut with a cloth roof flapping in the wind is all the 23-year-old single mother can afford for herself and her baby daughter.

Until recently, she did not think she could aspire to anything more.

"When I was a child, I couldn't afford to go to school, neither could my parents," she says.

Ms Artan was never taught to read or write.

Then, a few months ago, she found out about an app called Daariz, which, according to their user data, has now taught over 410,000 people across the Horn of Africa to do just that.

Encouraged by her friends, she started studying on her phone in her spare time and - in just over two months - has made remarkable progress: the young mother is now able to read and fully comprehend some short stories in Somali.

[Ms Artan meeting her friends in a bookshop in Hargeisa to study Somali]

Her case is far from unique in Somaliland, a place that has long struggled with illiteracy.

The region declared independence in 1991 in the course of a civil war. It is not internationally recognised as a separate state, but it has a democratically elected government and has enjoyed greater stability than the rest of Somalia.

The legacy of the war, the lack of infrastructure and a recurring drought have made it one of the regions with the lowest literacy rates in the world.

According to data from 2022 from the UN children's agency, Unicef, around three in every four adults cannot read and write and one child in four is not in school.

In 2019, the Somaliland government and Unicef announced a joint investment in education, aimed at reaching more children and ensuring they could complete at least their primary education.

But even so, progress has been slow and big challenges remain.

"A lot of the population are pastoralists and rural. They are isolated. Some of them are on the move," says Peter Quamo, education chief at Unicef Somalia.

"And it's not just Somaliland. Somalia [and] South Sudan have a similar large population like that. It's very difficult sometimes to sustain education with those children and those families," he adds.

The issue of how to reach those kids has been the focus of many education projects in the region, launched both by the local authorities and international NGOs.

But Ismail Ahmed and his charity, the Sahamiye Foundation, believe they have found the perfect formula to work around it.

Mr Ahmed left Somaliland for the UK as a refugee in his early 20s.

His life is quite an extraordinary journey: he studied in some of London's top business schools and got a job at the UN. But he was fired after he alleged corruption within the organisation and, with the compensation he was awarded for being wrongly dismissed, he launched a successful money transfer app, World Remit.

When he stepped down from leading the company, he created the Sahamiye Foundation to "give back to his community", he says.

He tells me that during the Covid lockdown, as he was trying to teach Somali to his children in London, he came up with the idea of using "mobile phones to tackle the learning crisis" in his country of origin.

Daariz was his brainchild. The app is free and can work offline, enabling people in remote areas and on the move to use it.

Mr Ahmed is confident this is the way of the future.

"It used to take us to go to class to learn our own mother tongue," he says, "and now we have thousands of users who were able to be functionally literate in their own tongue without going to a class."

[One of the main challenges for education in Somaliland is reaching a mostly rural and pastoralist population]

About 10km (six miles) outside Hargeisa, Mubaarik Mahdi is taking his camels out to pasture.

When he was a child, he could only go to school for two years and he does not remember much.

Doing business had become difficult for him. With most people nowadays using mobile payment apps like Zaad, Mr Mahdi was struggling even to read his customers' names on payment slips, he says.

So now, as his camels are scattered in the field, feeding on thick green bushes, Mr Mahdi sits in the shade of a tree and mumbles slowly the words on his screen.

He says thanks to learning on his phone, he has become more confident dealing with his customers on his mobile and has even started buying books.

Back in Hargeisa, as she is washing the dishes in her employer's kitchen, Ms Artan says learning to read has changed her perspective.

"I feel that I no longer belong to where I was yesterday," she says proudly.

"For the future, I hope to secure a more fulfilling position than my current job and use my skills and knowledge to succeed."

Net zero: Rishi Sunak 'destroying' UK green credibility, says Yanis Varoufakis, today

Rishi Sunak has been accused of a "very special combination of incompetence and cynicism" over his major change of direction on climate policies.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told the BBC that the prime minister was "destroying" the UK's green credibility in a desperate bid to appeal to sections of the public.

But Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was ahead on reducing carbon.

It follows a significant shift on net zero announced by Mr Sunak this week.

The PM pushed back a ban on new petrol-only cars from 2030 to 2035 and announced delays to several other key green policies.

Some sectors of the car industry backed the government's change in direction. But many - including Ford - said it undermined planning.

The Green Party co-leader said she felt "a bit sick" after Mr Sunak's announcement.

Speaking to the Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, Mr Varoufakis - seen as a leading economic voice on the left - launched a scathing attack on the government's green ambitions.

He told stand-in host Victoria Derbyshire: "It takes a very special combination of incompetence and cynicism to manage to unite the car industry and the Greens against you, and Rishi Sunak has demonstrated that.

"It is very clear that this was the result of the Uxbridge by-election," Mr Varoufakis said - referring to the narrow Conservative win in the Uxbridge by-election in July, which some commentators attributed to anger at the expansion of London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

Mr Sunak was trying to appeal to "nativist, rightish, anti-climate policy segments of the population... destroying all the credibility that governments have tried to build up regarding commitments to net zero", Mr Varoufakis added.

[Economist Yanis Varoufakis appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.]

On Tuesday, Mr Sunak announced the changes to the government's stance on green policies, including a delay on a ban of new petrol and diesel car sales.

The PM's speech, moved forward following a leak to the BBC, prompted fierce criticism from environmentalists, industry leaders and the opposition.

But Mr Sunak, who was also criticised by some in his own party, said he could not impose "unacceptable costs" on British families as a result of attempts to reduce emissions.

Mr Shapps told Victoria Derbyshire that he "entirely" backed the changed deadline on selling petrol and diesel cars, and defended the UK's green record.

"We have the leading position in the G7 in terms of the amount of carbon that we have reduced," he said.

The defence secretary argued that the UK had exceeded expectations set out in previous carbon budgets, which place restrictions on the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit over five years. Work is now being done on the latest version, which will start in 10 years' time.

Mr Shapps continued: "We have already identified - even after these changes in pace, to give families some relief - 90% of the things we need to do by 2037, so I am completely confident we will get there as well."

But panellist Rachel Johnson, a journalist and the sister of former PM Boris Johnson, said: "The lectern that he (Mr Sunak) stood in front of in Downing Street said something like 'long term decisions for a brighter future'. As I saw it, I thought, no, we are making short term decisions for a darker future... These are populist measures.

"He is equating green with expensive, which is wrong, green is going to be very good for the economy if they grip it."

On Saturday, the BBC revealed that a taskforce to speed up home insulation and boilers upgrades has been scrapped.

Mr Shapps did acknowledge the country had "found it difficult" to keep up with the rest of Europe on heat pumps and insulation.

But, he added: "We want to allow more time so we are not penalising households.

"The thing we are not prepared to do is to say to every household within a couple of years... a ban on gas boilers means that perhaps an average home would spend about £8,000 on having to rip out their gas boiler.

"We think that we can both meet our 2050 commitments and give families a bit of a break and enable them to change their boilers as time comes rather than force this sort of pace which is unrealistic."

Net zero means emitting no more greenhouse gases - such as carbon dioxide - than the amount taken out of the atmosphere.

Metal-mining pollution impacts 23 million people worldwide, 2 days ago

At least 23 million people around the world live on flood-plains contaminated by potentially harmful concentrations of toxic waste from metal-mining activity, according to a study.

UK scientists mapped the world's 22,609 active and 159,735 abandoned metal mines and calculated the extent of pollution from them.

Chemicals can leach from mining operations into soil and waterways.

The researchers say future mines have to be planned "very carefully".

This is particularly critical as the demand surges for metals that will support battery technology and electrification, including lithium and copper, says Prof Mark Macklin from the University of Lincoln, who led the research.

"We've known about this for a long time," he told BBC News. "What's alarming for me is the legacy - [pollution from abandoned mines] is still affecting millions of people."

The findings, published in the journal Science, build on the team's previous studies of exactly how pollution from mining activity moves and accumulates in the environment.

The scientists compiled data on mining activity around the world, which was published by governments, mining companies and organisations like the US Geological Survey. This included the location of each mine, what metal it was extracting and whether it was active or abandoned.

Prof Macklin explained that the majority of metals from metal mining is bound up in sediment in the ground. "It's this material - eroded from mine waste tips, or in contaminated soil - that ends up in river channels or [can be] deposited over a flood-plain."

[A map of south eastern Australia showing where active and inactive metal mines are located. There is a large cluster around Melbourne in the state of Victoria and also south west of Sydney in New South Wales. The majority of them are inactive.]

Prof Macklin and his colleagues used previously published field and laboratory analyses to work out how far this metal-contaminated sediment moves down river systems.

That data allowed the scientists to produce a computer model that could calculate the extent of river channels and flood-plains around the world that are polluted by mining waste - both from current and historical mining activity.

"We mapped the area that's likely to be affected, which, when you combine that with population data, shows that 23 million people in the world are living on ground that would be considered 'contaminated'," said Chris Thomas, who is professor of water and planetary health at the University of Lincoln.

"Whether those people will be affected by that contamination, we simply can't tell with this research, and there are many ways that people may be exposed," he stressed. "But there is agriculture and irrigation in many of those areas."

Crops grown on contaminated soils, or irrigated by water contaminated by mine waste, have been shown to contain high concentrations of metals.

[Waste leaks downstream after a dam partially fails at a mine in Romania]

"Animals grazing on flood-plains may also eat contaminated plant material and sediment, especially after flooding, when fresh metal-rich sediment is deposited," the scientists explained in their paper.

"With climate change and more frequent floods," Prof Macklin added, "this legacy [pollution] is going to extend and expand."

Prof Jamie Woodward from the University of Manchester, who was not involved in the study, said the research highlighted the threat posed by "silent pollution" stored in flood-plains.

"A good deal of river monitoring is focused on water when the real 'nasties' are often associated with river sediments," he told BBC News.

"We need to better understand how contaminants are transported in the environment and where they are stored. This allows us to assess hazards and to mitigate against them. Heavily contaminated flood-plain grasslands should not be used for livestock grazing, for example."

The researchers point out in their study that metal mining represents "humankind's earliest and most persistent form of environmental contamination". Waste from mining began to contaminate river systems as early as 7,000 years ago.

Data visualisations by Kate Gaynor and Mike Hills

Get a grip on greener housebuilding and pollution rules, government told, 4 days ago

The government must "get a grip" on its "haphazard" implementation of environmental rules on housebuilding, a new House of Lords report warns.

The Built Environment Committee says there is a "real risk" the government will fail to deliver both its housing targets and environmental ambitions.

The criticism comes a day after Rishi Sunak announced a major shift in key green policies.

The government said it would consider the committee's findings.

But environmental groups said that housebuilding should never come at the expense of the natural environment.

An inquiry by the cross-party Lords committee heard that 45,000 new homes a year might not be delivered as a result of current "nutrient neutrality" pollution rules.

It was in the Lords last week that a government attempt to amend the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was voted down., That would have scrapped those nutrient neutrality rules, which require housebuilders to ensure new developments do not add to the overall amount of river pollution.

[Polluted river]

Thursday's committee report said the government is failing to provide sufficient support to smaller developers dealing with those rules, which now risk putting them out of business.

Lord Moylan, chairman of the Built Environment Committee, said the government's current approach to managing any conflict between housebuilding and environmental needs "is failing to deliver for either side".

"Our inquiry found that the achievement of the government's housing policies has been hampered and sometimes completely blocked by lack of co-ordination in policy-making and haphazard and unbalanced implementation," he said.

"A government that sorted this out with proper leadership and got things lined up could, over time, give us the sort of environmental improvements we'd like to see, and the sort of housing numbers they have been promising. But that isn't happening."

The committee also criticised "poor agricultural and sewage management" over the decades for leading to water pollution that must now be mitigated through housebuilding practices.

Housing crisis 'critical'

And it warned that developers were being "disproportionately burdened" by the new requirement to deliver Biodiversity Net Gain, an incoming planning rule that means housebuilders will need to improve nature and wildlife habitats.

The Lords committee says that housebuilding targets should be given statutory weight, giving them an equal status with environmental goals.

New housing supply is currently lower than the government's ambition of 300,000 new homes In England per year. In 2021/22, about 233,000 were built, according to government figures.

Steve Turner, executive director of the Home Builders Federation, welcomed the Lords report, saying that "political failure" was "exacerbating our already critical housing crisis".

"With proper leadership it is eminently possible to deliver the homes the country needs and enhance our natural environment, and after four long years of failure we urgently need politicians to implement a solution," he said.

Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said the Lords committee was right that no one sector "should bear the weight of environmental action alone".

But he added that "the conclusion should be stronger regulation and more investment for environmental improvement across the economy - not weakening the rules that protect nature. We cannot have healthy homes without a healthy environment".

Meanwhile, the government is currently failing to meet most of its environmental targets, according to a report by the independent watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Earlier this month, the OEP also warned the government's attempt to amend the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill would have reduced the level of environmental protection provided for in law.

Elliot Chapman-Jones, head of public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said the public "outrage" caused by recent government proposals, "shows how people across society will not stand for the further degradation of our natural environment".

A government spokesperson said it was committed to its ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year and had invested £10bn to increase housing supply since the start of the current Parliament.

"We know we must work together to build the homes this country needs - tackling pollution at source while protecting and improving the environment," the spokesperson added.

UK migratory birds 'in freefall' over climate change, 4 days ago

British bird lovers will see a very different pattern of species as the climate warms, according to scientists.

They say climate change is bad news for birds, but locally we will see "winners and losers".

Migrants seldom seen on British shores, such as black-winged stilts and bee-eaters, are delighting bird watchers.

But populations of cuckoos are "in freefall" as UK wildlife struggles to cope with multiple pressures.

In nature-depleted Britain, almost half of all bird species are in decline due to a host of pressures - from the loss of meadows, hedgerows and other natural land to climate change and the use of pesticides.

[Bee-eater, UK]

The number of wild birds in Britain has fallen by 73 million since 1970, according to the British Trust for Ornithology, which studies birds in the British Isles.

Head of ringing, Dr Dave Leech, said climate change was a growing pressure, particularly for migratory birds dealing with extreme weather on several continents.

He told BBC News: "Climate change is one of the biggest pressures that all species are facing, but particularly migratory species, because they have to worry about the climate conditions not only where they're breeding, but also where they're wintering and the areas that they're travelling through to get here, which can be thousands of kilometres."

[Chart showing UK wild bird populations have been falling and now stand at 86% of what they were in 1970]

Some birds such as reed warblers are taking advantage of longer, hotter summers by producing more young. Others, such as the Cetti's warbler, which colonised the UK some decades ago, are expanding their range north.

Yet many species, including the cuckoo and the willow warbler, are declining in southern Britain as the climate warms.


Scientists think some birds are having difficulty adjusting their internal clocks to cope with changes in the seasons.

Cuckoos spend their summer in the UK, arriving in April when they can be heard making their distinctive call. They then leave in late June to over-winter in Africa.

Dr Dave Leech said the birds are struggling to make it back over the Sahara because climate change means there's less food for them to fuel up with before they make the crossing, and that their numbers were in "free fall".

"How terrible would it be if future generations never heard a cuckoo, something that was so commonplace in British wildlife before now?" he said.

[Cetti's warbler]

Many other migratory birds leave British shores and travel south around now, with others arriving from northern countries.

For decades, thousands of skilled bird ringers and other volunteers have been collecting data on changes in British bird populations, shedding light on their decline.

Peter has been ringing birds for many years in Gloucestershire. There "will be winners as a result of climate change and losers", he said.

"Future generations might not hear a nightingale or see a cuckoo but there will be other things they see.

"A bee-eater might become a common species for example. And by collecting all this ringing data we can monitor what is going on and mitigate for the human- led climate change that is the major driver behind most of these changes."

Follow Helen on Twitter @hbriggs.

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Could Rishi Sunak's green review threaten UK net zero?, 4 days ago

The prime minister has said he wants to be honest about the "costs and trade-offs" of tackling climate change.

In a statement on Tuesday, Rishi Sunak said he was proud that "Britain is leading the world on climate change", and will stick by the agreements the UK has made internationally.

But he then overhauled measures designed to meet these targets.

So, is the UK really a world leader on emissions cuts, and how will the changes the PM announced affect its efforts?

How has net zero progress been so far?

Mr Sunak said the government was still "completely committed" to the 2050 net zero target which his predecessor, Theresa May, made law back in 2019.

Net zero means a country does not add any additional greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

"This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching net zero by 2050. But we simply won't achieve it unless we change. We'll now have a more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach that eases the burdens on families," he said.

It is true the UK has been successful in cutting emissions compared to other countries.

Since 1990, emissions within the UK have fallen by 48.7% up to the end of 2022 - excluding international aviation and shipping - according to government data.

These cuts are greater than other countries in the G7 (Group of Seven), an organisation of the world's seven largest so-called "advanced" economies - although Germany has reduced its emissions at a faster rate compared with the UK since 2015.

Read more about net zero

But the cuts the UK has made so far are - arguably - the easiest ones.

One of the main ways they have been achieved is by switching away from fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - to generate electricity.

Emissions from electricity generation have fallen by around three-quarters since 1990, while the proportion of electricity generated by renewables - like wind and solar - has soared.

The government has bold plans to continue this "decarbonisation" process.

But achieving net zero means cutting emissions across all sectors of the economy.

That is why there are targets for phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles and switching from gas boilers to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives to heat our homes.

And, despite the UK's achievements on climate so far, there have been a number of warnings that progress is beginning to falter. These came even before today's announcement.

Earlier this year, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) - the government's independent advisers on cutting carbon emissions - warned that the UK's efforts to meet its net zero commitments were already "worryingly slow".

It also said it was "markedly less confident" than a year earlier that it would meet its 2030 and 2035 emissions reduction targets.

Similar warnings on electricity have come from the National Audit Office and a cross-party group of MPs.

But contrary to these findings, Mr Sunak claimed in his announcement that the UK was "on track" to meet its commitments.

He also announced a substantial increase in the subsidies available to people who want to install heat pumps to heat their home, with the grant increased by 50% to £7,500.

How would these changes affect net zero?

The CCC says it was not consulted ahead of the announcement, and needed to do the full calculations before determining the carbon cost.

[gas boiler]

But the changes certainly seem to make the current targets much harder to achieve - as any extra carbon costs would have to be balanced by extra savings in other areas. And how much carbon the UK can use in coming years has already been set down in carbon budgets.

"Today's announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments," said Piers Forster, the CCC's chair.

"This, coupled with the recent unsuccessful offshore wind auction, gives us concern," and "more action is needed," he added.

"What's depressing about all the changes [the PM] has told us about is they all go in the same direction," Prof Miles Allen of the University of Oxford told the BBC.

"If we do everything slower, we're just going to make it more difficult to reach that target," he said.

What will be the effect of delaying the new petrol and diesel car ban?

One of the most eye-catching changes is delaying the 2030 ban on sales of new, fully petrol and diesel cars, announced by Mr Sunak's predecessor Boris Johnson.

Despite what's often assumed, electric car sales are actually surging. In 2022, nearly 17% of new car sales were battery electric - ahead of the CCC's schedule and up from less than 2% in 2019.

Some in the car industry have warned that delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars could hit investment and therefore electric vehicle sales.

Achieving the 2030 phase-out of new fully petrol and diesel car and van sales is "vital to meeting the UK's decarbonisation pathway", the CCC warned in June.

But Mr Sunak says it should be the consumer who decides whether or not to buy an electric car and not "government forcing you to do it". He also says the new plan is in line with countries including Germany, France, Spain and Canada.

[Fully electric and hybrid car sales have begun to grow more quickly in the last few years, although petrol sales remain higher. [June 2023]]

Will this help consumers' bills?

Mr Sunak says his review of the government's green pledges is all about putting the "long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment."

He said "some of the things that were being proposed would have cost typical families upwards of five, ten, fifteen thousand pounds".

But the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) - an independent climate change think tank - points out that nobody is being forced to take up these measures right now.

For example, the planned ban on the sale of new gas boilers was due to start in 2035 for all households. It is only relevant when your boiler breaks or you choose to switch.

It is a similar story with cars. Four out of five of us buy second-hand cars - for which there is no phase-out date - and older cars can continue to be driven after 2030.

The 20% of people who can afford to buy a new car already had six years until they would have had to choose between fully electric vehicles and hybrids - which can be filled up with petrol. Now they have 11 years.

The changes to net zero policy "will add to the cost of living for those struggling, not make things easier", argues Peter Chalkley, a director of the ECIU.

And an analysis by the ECIU suggests the PM's announcements could cost British households almost £8bn in higher bills over the next decade - and more if gas prices spike again - due to cancelling new energy efficiency regulations for the private rental sector.

What about the overall investment costs?

The CCC has estimated that meeting the legally binding 2050 goal will require an extra £50bn of investment every year by 2030.

It said that once the savings from reduced use of fossil fuels are factored in, the overall resource cost of the transition to net zero is less than 1% of GDP over the next 30 years. By 2044 it should become cost-saving, the CCC said, as newer cleaner technologies are more efficient than those they are replacing.

Many scientists have pointed out to the BBC that delaying investment simply increases the ultimate cost.

And of course, the global costs of climate inaction would be much higher, as the world would be hit by increasingly damaging climate impacts.

What is net zero and how are the UK and other countries doing?, 4 days ago

PM Rishi Sunak has announced plans to weaken some of the government's green commitments.

This includes delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, as well as scrapping policies that would force landlords to upgrade efficiency in their homes.

Even before these latest changes, the UK was being criticised for falling behind in its efforts to reach "net zero" by 2050, a key international target intended to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

What does 'net zero' mean?

Net zero means no longer adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. CO2 is released when oil, gas and coal are burned in homes, factories and to power transport. Methane is produced through farming and landfill.

These gases increase global temperatures by trapping the sun's energy.

Meanwhile, rapid deforestation across the world means there are fewer trees to absorb CO2.

Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, 197 countries - including the UK - agreed to try to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C by 2100.

To achieve this, scientists said that net zero CO2 emissions should be reached by 2050.

However, the UN wants countries to bring forward their net zero targets by a decade to avoid what it called "the growing climate disaster".

Would net zero mean a complete end to greenhouse gas emissions?

Not all emissions can be reduced to zero, so those that remain need to be matched by actively removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is known as "offsetting".

Natural offsetting methods include planting trees and restoring peatlands.

One industrial method is carbon capture and storage which involves using machinery to remove CO2 from the air and store it, often deep underground. However, the technology is still emerging and remains expensive.

Although offsetting is important, it can only cancel out a small fraction of current greenhouse gas emissions.

So scientists say drastic cuts to fossil fuel use are essential to meet the net zero goal.

[Tree seedlings laid out across the ground]

What changes has the government announced?

On 20 September, Rishi Sunak announced major changes to the UK's approach to the net zero target, including:

* a five-year delay in the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, meaning a requirement for all new cars to be "zero emission" will not come into force until 2035

* a nine-year delay in the ban on new fossil fuel heating for off-gas-grid homes to 2035

* raising the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500 to help households who want to replace their gas boilers

* the ban on the sale of new gas boilers in 2035 remains, but there will be exemptions for poorer households

* scrapping the requirement on landlords to ensure all rental properties have a Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of grade C or higher, from 2025

Mr Sunak denied he was "watering down" the government's net zero commitments, and insisted the UK was on course to reach its target by 2050, saying that a "more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach" was needed.

Labour said the prime minister had "sold out the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century" for Britain "to lead the world in transition to well-paid secured new jobs of the green economy".

There was also a mixed reaction from within his own party, as well as among business leaders, with some calling it a "mis-step" while others described the announcement as pragmatic.

The UK needs to reduce its emissions by 68% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, in line with the Paris Agreement - a key step towards achieving net zero by 2050.

[Graph showing the current projected future greenhouse gas emissions are some way short of the target path. Greenhouse gas emissions have been falling since 1990. [June 2023]]

What will net zero mean for individuals?

While the most significant changes need to come from government, individuals will also have to play their part to help reach net zero.

This could include:

* reducing energy use

* improving home insulation and energy efficiency

[Engineer inspecting heat pump]

What have other countries promised?

Around 140 countries have pledged to reach net zero, covering about 90% of global emissions. However, not all have set a 2050 deadline.

China - currently the biggest producer of CO2 worldwide - aims for "carbon neutrality" by 2060. Its plans to cut emissions aren't fully developed, but its renewable energy sector has been growing rapidly.

The US has historically been the biggest carbon emitter, and still emits more than China per head. It has pledged to reach net zero by 2050. In August 2022, it announced a major green investment package called the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to boost renewables and other clean technologies.

The EU, the third biggest emitter of CO2, also has a 2050 net zero target. In March it announced its own green investment package, called the Net Zero Industry Act.

India and Russia are also key emitters. They have pledged to reach net zero by 2070 and 2060 respectively, but have published few policies to back this up.

What is the problem with net zero targets?

There's controversy about how some countries might try to reach net zero.

For instance, a country might record lower emissions if it imported energy-intensive goods from overseas, rather than producing the goods itself.

But in reality, it wouldn't have reduced the total amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.

There are also schemes that enable rich countries to offset their emissions by paying poorer countries to switch to cleaner fuels.

But some climate scientists worry this could let wealthier nations avoid reducing their fossil fuel usage, by taking advantage of a switch to cleaner fuels in poorer countries which may have happened anyway.

Tantalising sign of possible life on faraway world, 12 days ago

Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope may have discovered tentative evidence of a sign of life on a faraway planet.

It may have detected a molecule called dimethyl sulphide (DMS). On Earth, at least, this is only produced by life.

The researchers stress that the detection on the planet 120 light years away is "not robust" and more data is needed to confirm its presence.

Researchers have also detected methane and CO2 in the planet's atmosphere.

Detection of these gases could mean the planet, named K2-18b, has a water ocean.

Prof Nikku Madhusudhan, of the University of Cambridge, who led the research, told BBC News that his entire team were ''shocked'' when they saw the results.

"On Earth, DMS is only produced by life. The bulk of it in Earth's atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments," he said.


But Prof Madhusudhan described the detection of DMS as tentative and said that more data would be needed to confirm its presence. Those results are expected in a year.

''If confirmed, it would be a huge deal and I feel a responsibility to get this right if we are making such a big claim.''

It is the first time astronomers have detected the possibility of DMS in a planet orbiting a distant star. But they are treating the results with caution, noting that a claim made in 2020 about the presence of another molecule, called phosphine, that could be produced by living organisms in the clouds of Venus was disputed a year later.

Even so, Dr Robert Massey, who is independent of the research and deputy director of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, said he was excited by the results.

''We are slowly moving towards the point where we will be able to answer that big question as to whether we are alone in the Universe or not," he said.

''I'm optimistic that we will one day find signs of life. Perhaps it will be this, perhaps in 10 or even 50 years we will have evidence that is so compelling that it is the best explanation.''

JWST is able to analyse the light that passes through the faraway planet's atmosphere. That light contains the chemical signature of molecules in its atmosphere. The details can be deciphered by splitting the light into its constituent frequencies - rather like a prism creating a rainbow spectrum. If parts of the resulting spectrum are missing, it has been absorbed by chemicals in the planet's atmosphere, enabling researchers to discover its composition.

[Artwork Webb telescope]

The feat is all the more remarkable because the planet is more than 1.1 million billion km away, so the amount of light reaching the space telescope is tiny.

As well as DMS, the spectral analysis detected an abundance of the gases methane and carbon dioxide with a good degree of confidence.

The proportions of CO2 and methane are consistent with there being a water ocean underneath a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Nasa's Hubble telescope had detected the presence of water vapour previously, which is why the planet, which has been named K2-18b, was one of the first to be investigated by the vastly more powerful JWST, but the possibility of an ocean is a big step forward.

Recipe for life

The ability of a planet to support life depends on its temperature, the presence of carbon and probably liquid water. Observations from JWST seem to suggest that that K2-18b ticks all those boxes. But just because a planet has the potential to support life it doesn't mean that it does, which is why the possible presence of DMS is so tantalising.

What makes the planet even more intriguing is that it is not like the Earth-like, so called rocky planets, discovered orbiting distant stars that are candidates for life. K2-18b is nearly nine times the size of Earth.

Exoplanets - which are planets orbiting other stars - which have sizes between those of Earth and Neptune, are unlike anything in our solar system. This means that these 'sub-Neptunes' are poorly understood, as is the nature their atmospheres, according to Dr Subhajit Sarkar of Cardiff University, who is another member of the analysis team.

"Although this kind of planet does not exist in our solar system, sub-Neptunes are the most common type of planet known so far in the galaxy," he said.

"We have obtained the most detailed spectrum of a habitable-zone sub-Neptune to date, and this allowed us to work out the molecules that exist in its atmosphere."

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Morocco earthquake movement mapped from space, 13 days ago

Satellites are making rapid maps of Morocco in the aftermath of Friday's catastrophic magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

The information they gather will be vital to responders trying to reach affected towns and villages in the High Atlas mountains.

Sharp orbital imagery will tell them where infrastructure has suffered the worst impacts - not just buildings but roads and bridges too.

Relief workers are having to contend with landslides. The space imagery can show them how to avoid blocked routes.

And in addition to the traditional visual data from satellites, other types of analysis are becoming available.

The map at the top of this page reveals how the ground lurched in response to the enormous energies unleashed on Friday.

It is based on observations by the European Union's Sentinel-1a satellite, around 06:30 GMT on Monday, as it traversed north to south over Morocco at an altitude of 700km (435 miles).

The Sentinel carries a radar instrument able to sense the ground in all weathers, day and night.

It routinely scans earthquake-prone regions of the world, tracing what are often very subtle changes in elevation at the surface. But, of course, the changes on Friday were anything but subtle.

Researchers use the technique of interferometry to compare "before" and "after" views:

* Blue colours on the map illustrate the upwards movement of the ground - the Sentinel sees this as a shortening of the distance between it and the surface

* The yellow/orange colours show where the ground has dropped since the previous time the European spacecraft measured the distance

The largest single movement towards the satellite was up to 15cm (6in). The maximum drop was around 10cm (4in).


But these are not exact elevation changes, because the Sentinel looks at the ground from an angle. The maximum vertical deformations at the surface would have been a little larger, therefore.

From this type of analysis, scientists can confirm a north-dipping buried thrust fault caused the quake:

* It was "buried" in the sense the rupture did not cut all the way through the upper layers of rock to the surface

* "North dipping" tells us about the direction of faulting - if a ball was placed on the rupture, it would roll to the north

"The fault plane dips away to the north from the gap between the blue and yellow patches on the map," Prof Tim Wright, from Leeds University, says.

"The plane gets deeper the further you go under the blue area. In geology, we call the part above the fault plane the 'hanging wall' and you get more motion on this than the part under the fault plane, which we call the 'foot wall'."

[Shaking intensity]

Scientists will use an interferometric analysis like this to try to understand the quake and the future hazard risks,

This is important because this particular area had not had a major quake in a very long time.

In the old days, to gather the same information the Sentinel now provides, geologists would literally put their boots on and go and inspect the ground.

"Go back to 1980 and the very big El Asnam earthquake - a magnitude seven - in Algeria, and it took very intense fieldwork to establish that the quake was the result of a buried thrust fault system," Prof Wright says.

Now, the UK Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (Comet), where he is director, can automate the type of analysis shown above, turning out interferometric maps within hours of a Sentinel overpass.

And on Thursday, the UK rejoined the EU's Copernicus Earth observation system, which will allow British scientists to once again take up leadership roles in the development of satellites such as Sentinel-1.

[Artwork: Sentinel-1 satellite]

Libya floods: Why damage to Derna was so catastrophic, 10 days ago

The Derna flooding death toll could reach 20,000 according to the city's mayor.

Entire neighbourhoods disappeared into the sea as a huge tsunami-like torrent of water swept the port city in eastern Libya.

Survivors described the situation as "beyond catastrophic".

BBC Verify and the BBC's Visual Journalism team have been analysing some of the reasons why the floods caused such catastrophic damage in Derna.

Record rainfall

The water was brought by Storm Daniel which hit Libya on Sunday.

The storm - a Mediterranean hurricane-like system known as a medicane - brought more than 400mm of rain to parts of the north-east coast within a 24-hour period.

That is an extraordinary deluge of water for a region which usually sees about 1.5mm throughout the whole of September.

Libya's National Meteorological Centre says it is a new rainfall record.

Satellite data shows the extent of some of the rainfall across the region - although in many places the amount recorded on the ground was higher.

[Map showing the heavy rainfall over northern Libya and highlighting Derna and Benghazi]

It's too early to attribute with certainty the severity of this storm to rising global temperatures.

However, climate change is thought to be increasing the frequency of the strongest medicanes.

Prof Liz Stephens, an expert in climate risks and resilience at Reading University in the UK, says scientists are confident that climate change is supercharging the rainfall associated with such storms.

[Central bridges and communities along riverbed were swept away]

Two dams overwhelmed

The Wadi Derna river runs from Libya's inland mountains, through the city of Derna and into the Mediterranean.

It is dry for much of the year, but the unusually heavy rain overwhelmed two crucial dams and destroyed several bridges.

[Satellite image shows dam and buildings on usually dry riverbed]

Residents of the city, who had been ordered by the local authorities to stay in their homes, reported hearing a loud blast before the city was engulfed in water.

"The dams would have held back the water initially, with their failure potentially releasing all the water in one go.

"The debris caught up in the floodwaters would have added to the destructive power," says Prof Stephens.

The upper dam had a storage capacity of 1.5 million cubic metres of water, whilst the lower dam could hold 22.5 million cubic metres.

Each cubic metre of water weighs about one tonne (1,000kg), so 1.5 million cubic metres of water would weigh 1.5 million tonnes.

Combine that weight with moving downhill, and it can produce enormous power. Witnesses have said that the waters were nearly three metres in places.

It is estimated that six inches (20cm) of fast moving flood-water is enough to knock someone off their feet, and 2ft (60cm) is enough to float a car. So it is no surprise that whole buildings were taken out in the flood.

[Analysis of satellite images shows how many buildings affected]

Experts say it's too early to know whether the extreme rainfall was simply too much for the dams to handle, or whether the condition of the structures also played a role.

Based on their observations, the dams are likely to be made from dumped and compacted soil or rocks, which is not as strong as concrete.

"These dams are susceptible to overtopping [when water exceeds a dam's capacity], and while concrete dams can survive overtopping, rockfill dams usually cannot," says Exeter University's Prof Dragan Savic, an expert in hydraulic engineering in the UK.

It appears that the upper dam failed first, according to structural engineer Andrew Barr.

He says the water then probably flowed down the rocky river valley towards the lower dam before overwhelming it, resulting in the sudden and catastrophic flooding of the city which lies trapped between mountains and the sea.

A research paper published last year on the hydrology of the Wadi Derna Basin highlighted that the area "has a high potential for flood risk", on the basis of likely historical flood volumes, and that the dams "needed periodic maintenance".

The report, by civil engineering expert Abdelwanees AR Ashoor from Libya's University of Omar Al-Mukhtar, said that "the current situation in the Derna valley basin requires officials to take immediate measures, carrying out regular maintenance of the existing dams, because in the event of a huge flood, the result will be disastrous for the residents of the valley and the city".

‏Several experts have highlighted the possible role that the political instability in Libya has played in the upkeep of the dam.

As rescue efforts in the city continue, Libyan journalist Johr Ali, who has spoken to survivors in the city, told the BBC: "People are hearing the cries of babies underground, they don't know how to get to them.

"People are using shovels to get the bodies from underneath the ground, they are using their own hands. They all say it's like doomsday."

[Car engulfed in mud and rubble]

[Toys seen in damaged shop]

Produced by Chris Clayton, Mike Hills, Paul Sargeant, Tural Ahmedzade, Kady Wardell, Gerry Fletcher, Filipa Silverio and Erwan Rivault. Additional reporting: Mark Poynting, Peter Mwai, Alex Murray, and Esme Stallard.

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