The Guardian 2024-02-05 04:04:49


US says strikes on Iran-linked militias ‘just the beginning’ of its response

US says strikes on Iran-linked militias just ‘the beginning’ of its response

National security adviser refuses to rule out targeting Iran after 85 sites were attacked in Iraq and Syria

US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East were just the beginning of a sustained response, the White House national security adviser warned on Sunday, as he refused to rule out strikes on Iranian soil.

Jake Sullivan said the strikes on Friday night against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, designed as retaliation for the killing of three US soldiers, “were the beginning, not the end of our response, and … there will be more steps, some seen, some perhaps unseen, all in an effort to send a very clear message that when American forces are attacked, when Americans are killed, we will respond and we will respond forcefully”.

Speaking on NBC the day after separate overnight US and UK airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, Sullivan three times rejected a chance to rule out strikes on Iran itself, which would be a major escalation that the US has so far been determined to avoid.

Senior figures in the Iraqi government, many close to Iran, demanded an end to the presence of US troops in their country, claiming Washington was taking the region to “the edge of an abyss”. The US strikes are due to be debated in an emergency session of the UN security council on Monday in New York. US diplomats are expected to say the strikes are in self-defence, and that US troops in Iraq are present at the request of the Iraqi government.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was on his way to the region on Sunday, his fifth trip since Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October. He is to make yet another attempt to secure a hostage release deal and remove the blockages to aid reaching Gaza, as the war approaches its fifth month.

Iran, for its part, warned the US against any move against the Iranian-flagged ship Behshad, which is stationed in the Red Sea and suspected by the US of providing surveillance information to help direct Houthi onshore cruise-missile attacks on commercial shipping in the area.

Iran said the ship was “deployed in the Red Sea in official coordination with the International Maritime Organization to ensure the security of Iranian ships against pirates”. Any attack on the ship would be at the risk of those taking such steps, Tehran said.

The Iranian warning came after a third wave of US and UK strikes hit 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday night, prompting a vow from the Tehran-backed militant group to continue attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

The assault was supported by six other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands and Bahrain. The US said the strikes targeted 13 locations across Yemen and hit underground weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping.

The UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said on Sunday night the strikes were in self-defence and that he would not “hesitate to protect British lives”.

Speaking on a visit to Northern Ireland, he said: “Since the last set of strikes, we have seen the Houthis continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea.

“That is obviously unacceptable. It is illegal. It puts innocent people’s lives at risk and it has economic consequences. It includes attacks, by the way, on British-linked vessels. And that is why we have acted again in self-defence, in a proportionate way, and together with our allies.

“I have been clear that I won’t hesitate to protect British lives, British interests, and our diplomatic efforts are focused on bringing de-escalation and stability back to the region.”

The US and UK previously launched joint strikes on 11 and 22 January.

The larger strategic conflict pits the US – which is trying to press Tehran into reining in its allied forces across the region – against Iran, which is determined to aid those forces to put pressure on the US to leave the region and for Hamas not to be destroyed in Gaza.

Neither Washington or Tehran, however, want to slip into direct conflict. Tehran has set a red line by telling the US not to mount any direct attack on Iranian soil, the course favoured by many US Republicans.

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said: “This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.”

His UK counterpart, Grant Shapps, said: “The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation.

“That is why the Royal Air Force engaged in a third wave of proportionate and targeted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.”

The Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said the strikes “will not pass without a response and consequences”. The Houthis said 48 attacks had been launched, including 13 in the capital, Sana’a.

Military and diplomatic experts are divided on whether the strikes will undermine the Houthis’ military and political base along the Red Sea coast and in the north of the country, including Sana’a. The group, which is armed and advised by Iran but is not a full-scale client agent, feels it has gained prestige in the Middle East by taking the lead in acting in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Its strikes have successfully deterred commercial shipping from using one of the world’s busiest waterways, pushing up transport costs and insurance premiums.

The strikes on Yemen are running in parallel to Washington’s continuing retaliation for repeated attacks on US military bases in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The first wave of attacks on Friday struck targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40 people.

The strikes in Iraq, telegraphed by the Pentagon for a week, do not appear to have killed any Iranian military advisers and were largely focused on munitions dumps of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, the umbrella group for militias operating there.

Sullivan said he was not prepared at this stage to give details on the damage inflicted by the US.

Iraq’s national security adviser, Qasim al-Araji, said: “This aggressive strike will put security in Iraq and the region on the brink of abyss, and it also contradicts efforts to establish the required stability.”

In a sign of Iraqi sympathies, Araji met Abu Idris al-Sharafi, the special representative of the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi last week, when the two sides “confirmed that the war in Gaza is the reason for the escalation in the region and its continuation is dragging the region into a war with dire consequences. The war must be stopped and the suffering of the Palestinian people must be lifted.”

Within hours of the US strikes, Islamic Resistance claimed to have targeted three US bases in Syria and Iraq, including the al-Tanf bases at the border triangle between Jordan, Iraq and Syria, and another base in Erbil, northern Iraq.

Houthis may sabotage western internet cables in Red Sea, Yemen telecoms firms warn

UN-recognised government and telecoms firms speak of threat to digital infrastructure, with some submarine cables lying just 100 metres below the surface

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Telecom firms linked to the UN-recognised Yemen government said on Sunday they fear Houthi rebels are planning to sabotage a network of submarine cables in the Red Sea critical to the functioning of the western internet, and to the transmission of financial data.

The warning came after a Houthi-linked Telegram channel published a map of the cables running along the bed of the Red Sea. The image was accompanied by a message: “There are maps of international cables connecting all regions of the world through the sea. It seems that Yemen is in a strategic location, as internet lines that connect entire continents – not only countries – pass near it.”

Yemen Telecom said it had made both diplomatic and legal efforts during the past few years to persuade global international telecom alliances not to have any dealings with the Houthis since it would provide a terrorist group with knowledge of how the submarine cables operated. It has been estimated that the Red Sea carries about 17% of the world’s internet traffic along fibre pipes.

In a statement, Yemen’s General Telecommunications Corporation condemned the threats of the Houthi terrorist militia to target international submarine cables.

It warned as many as 16 of these submarine cables – which are often no thicker than a hosepipe and are vulnerable to damage from ships’ anchors and earthquakes – pass through the Red Sea towards Egypt. One of the most strategic is the 25,000km (15,500 mile) Asia-Africa-Europe AE-1 that goes from south-east Asia to Europe via the Red Sea.

Security analysts at the Gulf Security Forum claimed last week in a report the “cables have been kept safe more due to the Houthis’ relative technological underdevelopment than for a lack of motivation”.

It added “the Houthis have maintained the capability to harass surface shipping through missiles and fast-attack craft but lack the submersibles necessary to reach the cables”.

However, it warned the cables at some points run at a depth of 100 metres, reducing the need for hi-tech submarines. In 2013, three divers were arrested in Egypt for attempting to cut an undersea cable near the port of Alexandria that provides much of the internet capacity between Europe and Egypt.

Moammar al-Eryani, the information minister in Yemen’s Aden-based government, said the Houthis posed a serious threat to “one of the most important digital infrastructures in the world”, adding the Houthis are a terrorist group that has no ceiling or limits.

Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul Salam has said the Houthis are willing to use new tactics to stop the American-British aggression against Yemen.

He said, our “decision to support Gaza is firm and principled and will not be affected by any attack. Regarding Yemeni military capabilities, we would like to stress that they are not easy to destroy and have been rebuilt during years of harsh war. Instead of escalation and igniting a new front in the region, America and Britain should submit to international public opinion, which demands an immediate halt to the Israeli aggression, lift the siege on Gaza, and stop protecting Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Overnight Israeli airstrikes kill scores in Gaza as fears grow of push into Rafah

More than 127 reportedly killed in bombings, including in Rafah where more than a million people are sheltering

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Israeli airstrikes across Gaza killed scores of people overnight, as fears grow of the military campaign intensifying in the southern city of Rafah, a tiny pocket of the territory where more than a million people are sheltering.

Amid intensifying divisions in Israel’s government over the war, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was expected to arrive in the region on Sunday, his fifth trip since the militant group attacked Israel on 7 October, killing at least 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage.

Blinken is expected to spend the week visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank to discuss a deal to secure the freedom of at least 136 remaining hostages in Gaza and a ceasefire intended to calm regional tensions, particularly in the Red Sea.

His French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, travelled to Egypt, telling a news conference that “we stand in favour of a ceasefire, but we also need to prepare for the return of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza”.

Bombardments across the Gaza Strip killed more than 127 people overnight, according to Gaza sources, including strikes on two residential towers in Rafah, the southernmost area of the territory next to the border with Egypt that is housing more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. Strikes also hit Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, where thousands who feared fleeing south have remained.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the army had destroyed 17 of 24 Hamas battalions. “Most of the remaining battalions are in the southern Strip and in Rafah, and we will deal with them,” he said.

A strike on a kindergarten in Rafah that had been converted into a makeshift shelter killed at least two people and a strike on a car killed several more, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“There’s widespread fear that the military operation will expand to reach Rafah governorate, leaving absolutely nowhere to go for the vast majority of the internally displaced population,” said Hisham Mhanna, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stationed in Rafah.

“It’s adding yet more fear, stress and anxiety especially as people are faced with unprecedented inhumane living conditions. They have been forced into trying to survive.

“It’s more important than ever to put an end to this bloodshed and protect anyone who can be saved in Gaza,” he said, pausing at the sound of a nearby explosion. “That was a bomb, they are happening non-stop,” he added.

Fears that Rafah could be in the crosshairs of Israeli forces come amid increasingly fierce divisions within Israel over the direction of the war, and pressure on mediators to reach a swift ceasefire agreement.

Bombardments of Gaza from land, air and sea have so far killed at least 27,000 people since October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, with more than twice that number reported wounded and thousands more believed to be buried under the rubble.

Blinken is expected to arrive in the region shortly after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, criticised Joe Biden in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying the US president had failed to give full support to Israel and was “busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, which goes to Hamas”.

“If Trump was in power, the US conduct would be completely different,” he said.

There is little evidence that the trickle of aid and fuel allowed into Gaza is supplying Hamas as needs increase for the Gaza population. The UN and the ICRC have warned of an impending famine affecting more than 2 million people.

The Israeli opposition leader, Yair Lapid, rebuked Ben-Gvir and his coalition partner, Netanyahu.

Ben-Gvir’s statements, Lapid wrote on X, were “a direct attack on Israel’s international status, a direct attack on the war effort, harmful to Israel’s security and above all proves that he understands nothing about foreign policy.

“I would call on the prime minister to restrain him, but Netanyahu has no control over the extremists in his government.”

In remarks to a government meeting later on Sunday, Netanyahu presented himself as the only one capable of managing relations with international allies. “I am not in need of any assistance in navigating our relations with the US and the international community while steadfastly upholding our national interests,” he said.

A draft proposal put forward by the US and mediators from the Qatari government would bring an initial 30-day pause in the fighting tied to the release of female, elderly and sick hostages. If successful, this would be followed by a second 30-day pause when male hostages and those Hamas considers active-duty soldiers would be released.

The structure of the deal is intended to allow for talks on a permanent end to the fighting, a long-term sticking point.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CBS news’ Face the Nation that “the ball is in Hamas’ court at this time”.

The need to get food, medicine, water and shelter into Gaza will be “front and centre” of Blinken’s discussions with Israeli officials during his visit, he said.

Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s politburo, told a press conference in Beirut on Saturday night that the group was mulling the proposed deal but was focused on the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a demand Netanyahu has rebuffed.

Mhanna said that as discussions continued, conditions in Rafah were worsening. “There is a daily struggle here for people to find food, water suitable for human consumption, any piece of wood they can use to light a fire and to keep their families warm as it’s become extremely cold and rainy this week,” he said.

Estimates were that the majority of the 1.93 million people displaced within Gaza were now in Rafah governorate, he said, an area of just 65 sq km, less than 20% of the territory’s land area.

Dalia Cusnir, an Israeli whose two brothers-in-law are being held hostage in Gaza, said she wanted the Israeli government to prioritise freeing those abduted by Hamas.

Despite growing criticism of Netanyahu’s leadership and threats from Ben-Gvir to pull out of the governing coalition, Cusnir said she felt the prime minister was capable of making politically difficult decisions and wanted him to do more.

She pointed to Netanyahu’s success in freeing the former soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken hostage by Hamas in Gaza and freed in 2011 in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

“Bibi Netanyahu is my prime minister, he’s the prime minister of Israel and I’m not challenging that. For me, he’s the one that can bring the hostages back,” she said. “He brought back Gilad Shalit, he knows how to do it, he knows how to deal with the public when it means paying a high or difficult price.

“Looking at what Netanyahu is saying, I just feel confused. I feel like he wants to bring back 136 bodies.”

CNN staff say network’s pro-Israel slant amounts to ‘journalistic malpractice’

Insiders say pressure from the top results in credulous reporting of Israeli claims and silencing of Palestinian perspectives

CNN is facing a backlash from its own staff over editorial policies they say have led to a regurgitation of Israeli propaganda and the censoring of Palestinians perspectives in the network’s coverage of the war in Gaza.

Journalists in CNN newsrooms in the US and overseas say broadcasts have been skewed by management edicts and a story-approval process that has resulted in highly partial coverage of the Hamas massacre on 7 October and Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza.

“The majority of news since the war began, regardless of how accurate the initial reporting, has been skewed by a systemic and institutional bias within the network toward Israel,” said one CNN staffer. “Ultimately, CNN’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza war amounts to journalistic malpractice.”

According to accounts from six CNN staffers in multiple newsrooms, and more than a dozen internal memos and emails obtained by the Guardian, daily news decisions are shaped by a flow of directives from the CNN headquarters in Atlanta that have set strict guidelines on coverage.

They include tight restrictions on quoting Hamas and reporting other Palestinian perspectives while Israel government statements are taken at face value. In addition, every story on the conflict must be cleared by the Jerusalem bureau before broadcast or publication.

CNN journalists say the tone of coverage is set at the top by its new editor in chief and CEO, Mark Thompson, who took up his post two days after the 7 October Hamas attack. Some staff are concerned about Thompson’s willingness to withstand external attempts to influence coverage given that in a former role as the BBC’s director general he was accused of bowing to Israeli government pressure on a number of occasions, including a demand to remove one of the corporation’s most prominent correspondents from her post in Jerusalem in 2005.

CNN insiders say that has resulted, particularly in the early weeks of the war, in a greater focus on Israeli suffering and the Israeli narrative of the war as a hunt for Hamas and its tunnels, and an insufficient focus on the scale of Palestinian civilian deaths and destruction in Gaza.

One journalist described a “schism” within the network over coverage they said was at times reminiscent of the cheerleading that followed 9/11.

“There’s a lot of internal strife and dissent. Some people are looking to get out,” they said.

Another journalist in a different bureau said that they too saw pushback.

“Senior staffers who disagree with the status quo are butting heads with the executives giving orders, questioning how we can effectively tell the story with such restrictive directives in place,” they said.

“Many have been pushing for more content from Gaza to be alerted and aired. By the time these reports go through Jerusalem and make it to TV or the homepage, critical changes – from the introduction of imprecise language to an ignorance of crucial stories – ensure that nearly every report, no matter how damning, relieves Israel of wrongdoing.”

CNN staff say that some journalists with experience of reporting the conflict and region have avoided assignments in Israel because they do not believe they will be free to tell the whole story. Others speculate that they are being kept away by senior editors.

“It is clear that some who don’t belong are covering the war and some who do belong aren’t,” said one insider.

Edicts from on high

At Thompson’s first editorial meeting, two days after the 7 October Hamas attack, the new network chief described CNN’s coverage of the rapidly moving story as “basically great”.

Thompson then said he wanted viewers to understand what Hamas is, what it stands for and what it was trying to achieve with the attack. Some of those listening thought that a laudable journalistic goal. But they said that in time it became clear he had more specific expectations for how journalists should cover the group.

In late October, as the Palestinian death toll rose sharply from Israeli bombing with more than 2,700 children killed according to the Gaza health ministry, and as Israel prepared for its ground invasion, a set of guidelines landed in CNN staff inboxes.

A note at the top of the two-page memo pointed to an instruction “from Mark” to pay attention to a particular paragraph under “coverage guidance”. The paragraph said that, while CNN would report the human consequences of the Israeli assault and the historical context of the story, “we must continue always to remind our audiences of the immediate cause of this current conflict, namely the Hamas attack and mass murder and kidnap of civilians”. (Italics in the original.)

CNN staff members said the memo solidified a framework for stories in which the Hamas massacre was used to implicitly justify Israeli actions, and that other context or history was often unwelcome or marginalised.

“How else are editors going to read that other than as an instruction that no matter what the Israelis do, Hamas is ultimately to blame? Every action by Israel – dropping massive bombs that wipe out entire streets, its obliteration of whole families – the coverage ends up massaged to create a ‘they had it coming’ narrative,” said one staffer.

The same memo said that any reference to casualty figures from the Gaza health ministry must say it is “Hamas-controlled”, implying that reports of the deaths of thousands of children were unreliable even though the World Health Organization and other international bodies have said they are largely accurate. CNN staff said that edict was laid down by Thompson at an earlier editorial meeting.

Broader oversight of coverage from the CNN headquarters in Atlanta is directed by “the Triad” of three CNN departments – news standards and practices, legal, and fact checking.

David Lindsay, the senior director of news standards and practices, issued a directive in early November effectively barring the reporting of most Hamas statements, characterising them as “inflammatory rhetoric and propaganda”.

“Most of it has been said many times before and is not newsworthy. We should be careful not to give it a platform,” he wrote.

Lindsay said that if a statement was deemed editorially relevant “we can use it if it’s accompanied by greater context, preferably a package or digital write. Let’s avoid running it as a standalone soundbite or quote.”

In contrast, one CNN staffer noted that the network repeatedly aired inflammatory rhetoric and propaganda from Israeli officials and American supporters, often without challenge in interviews.

They noted that other channels have carried interviews with Hamas leaders while CNN has not, including one in which the group’s spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, cut short questions from the BBC when he was challenged about the murder of Israeli civilians. One staffer said there is a view among correspondents that it is “agony to get a Hamas interview past the Triad”.

CNN sources acknowledged there have been no interviews with Hamas since the 7 October attack, but said the network does not have a ban on such interviews.

But CNN news desks and reporters have been instructed not to use video recorded by Hamas “under any circumstances unless cleared by the Triad and senior editorial leadership”.

That position was reiterated in another instruction on 23 October that reports must not show Hamas recordings of the release of two Israeli hostages, Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz. Two days later, Lindsay sent an additional instruction that video of the 85-year-old Lifshitz shaking hands with one of her captors “can only to be used when specifically writing about her decision to shake hands with her captor”.

In addition to the edicts from Atlanta, CNN has a longstanding policy that all copy on the Israel-Palestine situation must be approved for broadcast or publication by the Jerusalem bureau. In July, the network created a process it called “SecondEyes” to speed up those approvals.

The Jerusalem bureau chief, Richard Greene, told staff in a memo announcing SecondEyes – first reported by the Intercept – that, because coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is subject to close scrutiny by partisans on both sides, the measure was created as a “safety net so we don’t use imprecise language or words that may sound impartial but can have coded meanings here”.

CNN staffers said there is nothing inherently wrong with the requirement given the huge sensitivity of covering Israel and Palestine, and the aggressive nature of Israeli authorities and well-organised pro-Israel groups in seeking to influence coverage. But some feel that a measure that was originally intended to maintain standards has become a tool of self-censorship to avoid controversy.

One result of SecondEyes is that Israeli official statements are often quickly cleared and make it on air on the principle that that they are to be trusted at face value, seemingly rubber-stamped for broadcast, while statements and claims from Palestinians, and not just Hamas, are delayed or never reported.

One CNN staffer said edits by SecondEyes often seemed aimed at avoiding criticism from pro-Israel groups. They gave the example of Greene’s intervention to change a headline, “Israel is nowhere near destroying Hamas” – a perspective widely reflected in the foreign and Israeli press. It was replaced with headline that shifted the focus from whether Israel could achieve its stated justification for killing thousands of Palestinian civilians: “Three months on, Israel is entering a new phase of the war. Is it still trying to ‘destroy’ Hamas?”

Some CNN staff fear that the result is a network acting as a surrogate censor on behalf of the Israeli government.

“The system results in chosen individuals editing any and all reporting with an institutionalised pro-Israel bias, often using passive language to absolve the [Israel Defense Forces] of responsibility, and playing down Palestinian deaths and Israeli attacks,” said one of the network’s journalists.

CNN staff who spoke to the Guardian were quick to praise thorough and hard-hitting reporting by correspondents on the ground. They said those reports are often given prominence on CNN International, seen outside the US. But on the CNN channel available in the US, they are frequently less visible and at times marginalised by hours of interviews with Israeli officials and supporters of the war in Gaza who were given free rein to make their case, often unchallenged and sometimes with presenters making supportive statements. Meanwhile, Palestinian voices and views were far less frequently heard and more rigorously challenged.

One staffer pointed to the appearance of Rami Igra, a former senior official in the Israeli intelligence service, on Anderson Cooper’s show, where he claimed that the entire Palestinian population of Gaza could be regarded as combatants.

“The non-combatant population in the Gaza Strip is really a nonexistent term because all of the Gazans voted for the Hamas and as we have seen on the 7th of October, most of the population in the Gaza Strip are Hamas,” he said.

“Nonetheless, we are treating them as non-combatants, we are treating them as regular civilians, and they are spared from the fighting.”

Cooper did not challenge him on either point. By the time the interview aired on 19 November, more than 13,000 people had been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians.

Another CNN staffer picked out anchor Jake Tapper’s programme as an example of an anchor too closely identifying with one side while the other gets only a restricted look in. In one segment, Tapper acknowledged the death and suffering of innocent Palestinians in Gaza but appeared to defend the scale of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

“What exactly did Hamas think the Israeli military would do in response to that?” he said, referring to the attack on 7 October.

A CNN spokesperson said: “We absolutely reject the notion that any of our journalists treat Israeli officials differently to other officials.”

Another presenter, Sara Sidner, drew criticism for her excitable report on unverified Israeli claims that Hamas beheaded dozens of babies on 7 October.

“We have some really disturbing new information out of Israel,” she announced four days after the attack.

“The Israeli prime minister’s spokesman just confirmed, babies and toddlers were found with their heads decapitated in Kfar Aza in southern Israel after Hamas attacks in the kibbutz over the weekend. That has been confirmed by the prime minister’s office.”

Sidner called the claim “beyond devastating”.

“For the families listening, for the people of Israel, for anyone that is a parent, who loves children, I don’t know how they get through this,” she said.

Sidner then put it to a CNN reporter in Jerusalem, Hadas Gold, that the decapitation of babies would make it impossible for Israel to make peace with Hamas.

Gold replied: “How can you when you’re dealing with people who would do such atrocities to children, to babies, to toddlers?”

Gold, who was part of the SecondEyes team approving stories, again said the report was confirmed by Netanyahu’s office and she drew parallels with the Holocaust. She responded to a Hamas denial that it had decapitated babies as unbelievable “when we literally have video of these guys, of these militants, of these terrorists doing exactly what they say they’re not doing to civilians and to children”.

Except, as a CNN journalist pointed out, the network did not have such video and, apparently, neither did anyone else.

“The problem was that yet again the Israeli government’s version of events was promoted in an emotional way with very little scrutiny by someone who is supposed to be a neutral news presenter,” they said.

By the time of Sidner’s broadcast there were already good reasons for CNN to treat the claims with caution.

Israeli journalists who toured Kfar Aza the day before said they had seen no evidence of such a crime and military officials there had made no mention of it. Instead, Tim Langmaid, the Atlanta-based CNN vice-president and senior editorial director, sent an instruction that President Biden’s claims to have seen pictures of the alleged atrocity “back up what the Israeli government said”.

Even as the questions grew, Langmaid sent out a memo saying: “It is important to cover the atrocities of the Hamas attacks and war as we learn them.”

CNN insiders said senior editors should have treated the story with caution from the beginning because the Israeli military has a track record of false or exaggerated claims that subsequently fall apart.

Other networks, such as Sky News, were considerably more sceptical in their reporting and laid out the tenuous origins of the story which began with a reporter for an Israeli news channel who said soldiers told her that 40 children were killed in the Hamas massacre and that one soldier said he had seen “bodies of babies with their heads cut off”. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then used the claim to liken Hamas to the Islamic State.

Even after the White House admitted that neither the president nor his officials had themselves seen pictures of beheaded babies, and that they had been relying on Israeli claims, Langmaid told the newsroom it could still report the Israeli government assertions alongside a denial from Hamas.

CNN did report on the rolling back of the claims as Israeli officials backtracked, but one staffer said that by then the damage had been done, describing the coverage as a failure of journalism.

“The infamous ‘beheaded babies’ claim, attributed to the Israeli government, made it to air for roughly 18 hours – even after the White House walked back on Biden’s statement that he had seen the nonexistent photos. CNN had no access to photographic evidence, nor any ability to independently verify these claims,” they said.

A CNN spokesperson said the network accurately reported what was being said at the time.

“We took great care to attribute these claims across our reporting, and we also issued very specific guidance to this effect,” they said.

Some CNN staff raised similar issues with reporting on Hamas tunnels in Gaza and claims they led to a sprawling command centre under al-Shifa hospital.

Insiders say some journalists have pushed back against the restrictions. One pointed to Jomana Karadsheh, a London-based correspondent with a long history of reporting from the Middle East.

“Jomana has really pushed to shine a spotlight on the Palestinian victims of this war and she has had some success. She’s done some really important stories putting a human face on it all and in looking at Israeli actions and intent. But I don’t think it’s been easy for her. These stories don’t get the prominence they deserve,” one said.

The push for more balanced coverage has been complicated by Israel’s block on foreign journalists entering Gaza except under IDF control and subject to censorship. That has helped keep the full impact of the war on Palestinians off of CNN and other channels while ensuring that there is a continued focus on the Israeli perspective.

A CNN spokesperson rejected allegations of bias.

“Our reporting has confronted Israel’s response to the attacks, including some of our most detailed and high-profile investigations, interviews and reports,” they said.

CNN faced similar accusations of partiality in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when the network’s chair, Walter Isaacson, ordered that reports on the killing of Afghan civilians by US forces be balanced with condemnation of the Taliban for its links to al-Qaida.

“As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people,” he wrote in a memo, according to the Washington Post.

Some staffers say that after the first few weeks in which CNN reported the Hamas attack “like it was 9/11”, more space was made for the Palestinian perspective given the escalating death toll and destruction from Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza.

The only foreign journalist to report from Gaza without an Israeli escort has been CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who entered for two hours with a humanitarian team from the United Arab Emirates.

Ward acknowledged the challenges in the Washington Post last week. She wrote that her reporting from Israel allowed her “to create a vivid picture of the monstrosities of Oct 7” but she was being prevented from conveying a fuller picture of the tragedy unfolding in Gaza because of the Israeli block on foreign journalists, putting the burden solely on a limited number of courageous Palestinian reporters who are being killed in disproportionate numbers.

“We must now be able to report on the horrific death and destruction being meted out in Gaza in the same way – on the ground, independently – amid one of the most intense bombardments in the history of modern warfare,” she wrote.

“The response to our report on Gaza in Israeli media suggests an unspoken reason for denying access. When asked on air about our piece, one reporter from the Israeli Channel 13 replied, ‘If indeed Western reporters begin to enter Gaza, this will for sure be a big headache for Israel and Israeli hasbara.’ Hasbara is a Hebrew word for pro-Israel advocacy.”

Some at CNN fear that its coverage of the latest Gaza war is damaging a reputation built up by its reporting of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to a surge in viewers. But others say that the Ukraine war may be part of the problem because editorial standards grew lax as the network and many of its journalists identified clearly with one side Ukraine particularly at the beginning of the conflict.

One CNN staffer said that Ukraine coverage set a dangerous precedent that has come back to haunt the network because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far more divisive and views are much more deeply entrenched.

“The complacency in our editorial standards and journalistic integrity while reporting on Ukraine has come back to haunt us. Only this time, the stakes are higher and the consequences much more severe. Journalistic complacency is an easier pill for the world to swallow when it’s Arab lives lost instead of European,” they said.

Another CNN employee said the double standards are glaring.

“It’s OK for us to be embedded with the IDF, producing reports censored by the army, but we cannot talk to the organisation that won a majority of the votes in Gaza whether we like it or not. CNN viewers are being prevented from hearing from a central player in this story,” they said.

“It is not journalism to say we won’t talk to someone because we don’t like what they do. CNN has talked to plenty of terrorists and America’s enemies over the years. We’ve interviewed Muammar Gaddafi. We’ve even interviewed Osama bin Laden. So what’s different this time?”

Years of pressure

Journalists working at CNN have varied explanations.

Some say the problem is rooted in years of pressure from the Israeli government and allied groups in the US combined with a fear of losing advertising.

During the battle for narrative through the second Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s, Israel’s then communications minister, Reuven Rivlin, called CNN ‘‘evil, biased and unbalanced”. The Jerusalem Post likened the network’s correspondent in the city, Sheila MacVicar, to “the woman who refilled the toilet paper in the Goebbels’ commode”.

CNN’s founder, Ted Turner, caused a storm when he told the Guardian in 2002 that Israel was engaging in terrorism against the Palestinians.

“The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers, that’s all they have. The Israelis … they’ve got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism,” said Turner, who was then the vice-chairman of AOL Time Warner, which owned CNN.

The resulting storm of protest resulted in threats to the network’s revenue, including moves by Israeli cable television companies to supplant the network with Fox News.

CNN’s chair, Walter Isaacson, appeared on Israeli television to denounce Turner but that did not stem the criticism. The network’s then chief news executive, Eason Jordan, imposed a new rule that CNN would no longer show statements by suicide bombers or interview their relatives, and flew to Israel to quell the political storm.

CNN also began broadcasting a series about the victims of Palestinian suicide bombers. The network insisted that the move was not a response to pressure but some of its journalists were sceptical. CNN did not produce a similar series with the relatives of innocent Palestinians killed by Israel in bombings.

By 2021, the Columbia Journalism Review public editor for CNN, Ariana Pekary, accused the network of excluding Palestinian voices and historical context from coverage.

Thompson has his own battle scars from dealing with Israeli officials when he was director general of the BBC two decades ago.

In the spring of 2005, the BBC was embroiled in a very public row over an interview with the Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who was released from prison the year before.

The Israeli authorities barred Vanunu from giving interviews. When a BBC documentary team spoke to him and then smuggled the footage out of Israel, the authorities reacted by effectively expelling the acting head of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau, Simon Wilson, who was not involved in the interview.

The dispute rolled on for months before the BBC eventually bowed to an Israeli demand that Wilson write a letter of apology before he could return to Jerusalem. The letter, which included a commitment to “obey the regulations in the future”, was to have remained confidential but the BBC unintentionally posted details online before removing them a few hours later. The climbdown angered some BBC journalists who were enduring persistent pressure and abuse for their coverage.

Later that year, Thompson visited Jerusalem and met the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in an effort to improve relations after other incidents.

The Israeli government was particularly unhappy with the BBC’s highly experienced Jerusalem correspondent, Orla Guerin. The Israeli minister for diaspora affairs at the time, Natan Sharansky, accused her of antisemitism and “total identification with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups” after a report by Guerin about the arrest of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy carrying explosives. She accused Israeli officials of turning the arrest into a propaganda opportunity because they “paraded the child in front of the international media” after forcing him to wait at a checkpoint for the arrival of photographers.

Within days of Thompson’s meeting with Sharon, the BBC announced that Guerin would be leaving Jerusalem. At the time, Thompson’s office denied he acted under pressure from Israel and said that Guerin had completed a longer than usual posting.

Australian academic Yang Hengjun given suspended death sentence

Australian academic Yang Hengjun given suspended death sentence by Chinese court

Australia’s foreign minister said the government was ‘appalled’ by the sentence, which could mean life in prison for Yang

Australian academic Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court, after five years in detention on espionage charges.

Yang was arrested in 2019 at Guangzhou airport, accused of spying for an undisclosed foreign country. The 57-year-old pro-democracy blogger is an Australian citizen who was born in China. He was tried in a one-day, closed-door hearing in Beijing in May 2021, with a verdict not publicly disclosed.

Yang’s family was shocked and devastated by the court’s decision, with a spokesperson describing it as being at the “extreme end of worst expectations”.

Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, said on Monday the government was “appalled by this decision”, and said it had called in the Chinese ambassador, Xiao Qian, to lodge Canberra’s objection “in the strongest terms”.

Wong said the Australian government had advocated for Yang “at every opportunity and at the highest levels”.

“Australia will not relent in our advocacy for justice for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing,” Wong said. “All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family.”

The sentence revealed on Monday is formally described as a death sentence with a two-year reprieve. It is a relatively common ruling that allows death sentences to be commuted to 25 years, or life in prison after two years of good behaviour. China is believed to be the world’s biggest user of the death penalty, but there is no publicly available data. China’s court system is notoriously opaque, with conviction rates above 99.9% and very few cases overturned for wrongful convictions.

Associate Prof Chongyi Feng, Yang’s PhD superviser in Australia and advocate for his case, said Yang’s sentence would be converted to life in prison. He said his former student’s sentence was an “outrageous political persecution”.

“Dr Yang did not commit any crime of espionage. He is [being] punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”

Wong told media there were still avenues of appeal, however Feng said Yang was already struggling with poor health. “Five years of arbitrary detention and torture have taken a heavy toll on his health. He is now critically ill.”

Feng urged Australia to press for Yang’s return to Australia immediately, potentially on medical parole, so he could access treatment.

Yang’s detention in China has been a key point of friction between the Chinese and Australian governments. Last year another Australian, journalist Cheng Lei, was released after three years in jail also on national security charges. Her release was widely believed to be the result of Australian lobbying amid attempts by both governments to repair ties and reset the bilateral relationship, but efforts to secure Yang’s release were proving more complicated, according to sources familiar with the cases.

Despite Wong’s condemnation of the verdict, the foreign minister played down its potential broader impact on the Australia-China relationship, by noting the decision was made “within China’s legal system”.

“I have said stabilisation means we cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and we engage in the national interest.

“Clearly this is an occasion in which we disagree. However, Australia will continue to advocate for the interests of Dr Yang.”

In November, Yang’s sons wrote to the Anthony Albanese, ahead of the Australian prime minister’s visit to China, pleading with him to negotiate their father’s release.

“We request that you do all in your power to save our father’s life and return him immediately to family and freedom in Australia,” they wrote. “We know our father has done nothing wrong.

“They subjected him to more than 300 interrogations, over 18 months, including six months of intense torture … they deprived him of sleep, strapped his wrists and ankles and pinned him to a chair for days at a time, until he couldn’t walk.

“But still there has been no confession … He is in jail because he represents truth, democracy, respectful exchange of rational ideas.”

Grammys 2024: the winners, best moments and performances

Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr provides another confusing tonal moment, at once shouting out the global reach of music and mourning the loss of music fans killed at concerts, including the Israelis killed the Nova Dance and Music Festival on 7 October.

“We mourn the loss of all innocent lives,” he says. “Music must remain the common ground on which we all stand.” As evidence, I guess, he points to a string quartet on stage who are of Palestinian and Israeli descent, playing together.

Grammy awards 2024: list of winners

The 66th annual Grammy awards saw pre-telecast wins from SZA, Victoria Monét, Chris Stapleton and Killer Mike

Song of the year

Lana Del Rey – A&W
Taylor Swift – Anti-Hero
Jon Batiste – Butterfly
Dua Lipa – Dance the Night from Barbie
Miley Cyrus – Flowers
SZA – Kill Bill
Olivia Rodrigo – Vampire
Billie Eilish – What Was I Made For? from Barbie – WINNER

Best pop vocal album

Kelly Clarkson – Chemistry
Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation
Olivia Rodrigo – Guts
Ed Sheeran – “-” (Subtract)
Taylor Swift – Midnights – WINNER

Best R&B song

Halle – Angel
Robert Glasper featuring SiR and Alex Isley – Back to Love
Coco Jones – ICU
Victoria Monét – On My Mama
SZA – Snooze – WINNER

Best country album

Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling Up the Welcome Mat
Brothers Osborne – Brothers Osborne
Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan
Tyler Childers – Rustin’ in the Rain
Lainey Wilson – Bell Bottom Country – WINNER

Best música urbana album

Rauw Alejandro – Saturno
Karol G – Mañana Será Bonito – WINNER
Tainy – Data

Best pop solo performance

Miley Cyrus – Flowers – WINNER
Doja Cat – Paint the Town Red
Billie Eilish – What Was I Made For? from Barbie
Olivia Rodrigo – Vampire
Taylor Swift – Anti-Hero

Best progressive R&B album

6lack – Since I Have a Lover
Diddy – The Love Album: Off the Grid
Terrace Martin and James Fauntleroy – Nova
Janelle Monáe – The Age of Pleasure
SZA – SOS – WINNER

Best R&B performance

Chris Brown – Summer Too Hot
Robert Glasper featuring SiR and Alex Isley – Back to Love
Coco Jones – ICU – WINNER
Victoria Monét – How Does It Make You Feel
SZA – Kill Bill

Best folk album

Dom Flemons – Traveling Wildfire
The Milk Carton Kids – I Only See the Moon
Joni Mitchell – Joni Mitchell at Newport (Live) – WINNER
Nickel Creek – Celebrants
Old Crow Medicine Show – Jubilee
Paul Simon – Seven Psalms
Rufus Wainwright – Folkocracy

Producer of the year, non-classical

Jack Antonoff – WINNER
Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II
Hit-Boy
Metro Boomin
Daniel Nigro

Songwriter of the year, non-classical

Edgar Barrera
Jessie Jo Dillon
Shane McAnally
Theron Thomas – WINNER
Justin Tranter

Best pop duo/group performance

Miley Cyrus featuring Brandi Carlile – Thousand Miles
Lana Del Rey featuring Jon Batiste – Candy Necklace
Labrinth featuring Billie Eilish – Never Felt So Alone
Taylor Swift featuring Ice Spice – Karma
SZA featuring Phoebe Bridgers – Ghost in the Machine – WINNER

Best dance/electronic recording

Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f
James Blake – Loading
Disclosure – Higher Than Ever Before
Romy and Fred again.. – Strong
Skrillex, Fred again.. and Flowdan – Rumble – WINNER

Best pop dance recording

David Guetta, Anne-Marie and Coi Leray – Baby Don’t Hurt Me
Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding – Miracle
Kylie Minogue – Padam Padam – WINNER
Bebe Rexha and David Guetta – One in a Million
Troye Sivan – Rush

Best dance/electronic music album

James Blake – Playing Robots into Heaven
The Chemical Brothers – For That Beautiful Feeling
Fred again.. – Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022) – WINNER
Kx5 – Kx5
Skrillex – Quest for Fire

Best traditional R&B performance

Babyface featuring Coco Jones – Simple
Kenyon Dixon – Lucky
Victoria Monét featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and Hazel Monét – Hollywood
PJ Morton featuring Susan Carol – Good Morning – WINNER
SZA – Love Language

Best R&B album

Babyface – Girls Night Out
Coco Jones – What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe)
Emily King – Special Occasion
Victoria Monét – Jaguar II – WINNER
Summer Walker – Clear 2: Soft Life EP

Best rap performance

Baby Keem featuring Kendrick Lamar – The Hillbillies
Black Thought – Love Letter
Drake & 21 Savage – Rich Flex
Killer Mike featuring André 3000, Future and Eryn Allen Kane – Scientists & Engineers – WINNER
Coi Leray – Players

Best melodic rap performance

Burna Boy featuring 21 Savage – Sittin’ on Top of the World
Doja Cat – Attention
Drake and 21 Savage – Spin Bout U
Lil Durk featuring J Cole – All My Life – WINNER
SZA – Low

Best rap song

Doja Cat – Attention
Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice featuring Aqua – Barbie World from Barbie: The Album
Lil Uzi Vert – Just Wanna Rock
Drake and 21 Savage – Rich Flex
Killer Mike featuring André 3000, Future and Eryn Allen Kane – Scientists & Engineers – WINNER

Best rap album

Drake and 21 Savage – Her Loss
Killer Mike – Michael – WINNER
Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains
Nas – King’s Disease III
Travis Scott – Utopia

Best country solo performance

Tyler Childers – In Your Love
Brandy Clark – Buried
Luke Combs – Fast Car
Dolly Parton – The Last Thing on My Mind
Chris Stapleton – White Horse – WINNER

Best country song

Brandy Clark – Buried
Zach Bryan featuring Kacey Musgraves – I Remember Everything
Tyler Childers – In Your Love
Morgan Wallen – Last Night
Chris Stapleton – White Horse – WINNER

Best song written for visual media

Barbie World from Barbie the Album, Naija Gaston, Ephrem Louis Lopez Jr. and Onika Maraj, songwriters (Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice featuring Aqua)
Dance the Night from “Barbie the Album, Caroline Ailin, Dua Lipa, Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, songwriters (Dua Lipa)
I’m Just Ken from Barbie the Album, Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, songwriters (Ryan Gosling)
Lift Me Up from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — Music From and Inspired By, Ryan Coogler, Ludwig Göransson, Robyn Fenty and Temilade Openiyi, songwriters (Rihanna)
What Was I Made For? from Barbie the Album, Billie Eilish O’Connell and Finneas O’Connell, songwriters (Billie Eilish) — WINNER

Best comedy album

Trevor Noah – I Wish You Would
Wanda Sykes – I’m an Entertainer
Chris Rock – Selective Outrage
Sarah Silverman – Someone You Love
Dave Chappelle – What’s in a Name? – WINNER

Best global music album

Susana Baca – Epifanías
Bokanté – History
Burna Boy – I Told Them…
Davido – Timeless
Shakti – This Moment – WINNER

Best African music performance

Asake and Olamide – Amapiano
Burna Boy – City Boys
Davido featuring Musa Keys – Unavailable
Ayra Starr – Rush
Tyla – Water – WINNER

Best musical theater album

Kimberly Akimbo
Parade
Shucked
Some Like It Hot – WINNER
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best alternative music album

Arctic Monkeys – The Car
boygenius – The Record – WINNER
Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Gorillaz – Cracker Island
PJ Harvey – I Inside the Old Year Dying

Best alternative music performance

Alvvays – Belinda Says
Arctic Monkeys – Body Paint
boygenius – Cool About It
Lana Del Rey – A&W
Paramore – This Is Why – WINNER

Best rock album

Foo Fighters – But Here We Are
Greta Van Fleet – Starcatcher
Metallica – 72 Seasons
Paramore – This Is Why – WINNER
Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman…

Best rock song

The Rolling Stones – Angry
Olivia Rodrigo – Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl
Queens of the Stone Age – Emotion Sickness
boygenius – Not Strong Enough – WINNER
Foo Fighters – Rescued

Best metal performance

Disturbed – Bad Man
Ghost – Phantom of the Opera
Metallica – 72 Seasons – WINNER
Slipknot – Hive Mind
Spiritbox – Jaded

Best rock performance

Arctic Monkeys – Sculptures of Anything Goes
Black Pumas – More Than a Love Song
boygenius – Not Strong Enough – WINNER
Foo Fighters – Rescued
Metallica – Lux Æterna

Best country duo/group performance

Dierks Bentley featuring Billy Strings – High Note
Brothers Osborne – Nobody’s Nobody
Zach Bryan featuring Kacey Musgraves – I Remember Everything – WINNER
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin – Kissing Your Picture (Is So Cold)
Jelly Roll with Lainey Wilson – Save Me
Carly Pearce featuring Chris Stapleton – We Don’t Fight Anymore

  • The complete list of winners can be found on the official Grammys site

Killer Mike detained at Grammys moments after winning three awards

The 48-year-old rapper from Run the Jewels was seen being handcuffed and escorted out of the ceremony at Crypto Arena by Los Angeles police

Killer Mike was detained at the Grammy awards on Sunday after the rapper won three awards including his first in more than two decades.

In footage captured by the Hollywood Reporter at the annual music awards, the 48-year-old rapper was handcuffed and escorted out by Los Angeles police at Crypto Arena after some joyous moments for him at the Grammy premiere ceremony, where he won three awards in quick succession.

A Los Angeles police spokesperson did not offer a name or additional details, but confirmed a Black male was detained.

A representative for the rapper, whose real name is Michael Render, did not immediately respond to an emailed or text request for comment. Members of his team at the Grammys declined to comment when approached by the Hollywood Reporter.

“The only thing that limits your age is not being truthful about your age or what you’re doing,” Render said backstage before he was detained. He won for best rap performance, rap song and rap album.

“At 20 years old, I thought it was cool to be a drug dealer,” he said. “At 40, I started to live with the regrets and the things I’ve done. At 45, I started to rap about it. At 48, I stand here as a man full of empathy and sympathy for the things I’ve done.”

Render’s first win came after he won for best rap performance for Scientists & Engineers, which also took home best rap song. The single features Andre 3000, Future and Eryn Allen Kane.

He won best rap album for his album Michael.

When he collected his third award, the Atlanta-based rapper shouted out “Sweep! Atlanta, it’s a sweep!”

“For all the people out there that think you get too old to rap, bullshit,” he said during the pre-telecast.

He doesn’t care, he said using an expletive, “if you’re 78 rapping about how many gals you got in the nursing home, make sure we keep hip-hop alive”.

At least 99 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires

At least 112 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires in Chile

People told to evacuate homes as quickly as possible and curfews declared in cities most heavily affected

Firefighters are wrestling with huge forest fires that broke out in central Chile on Friday. Officials have extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said the death toll has increased to 112 killed.

The fires have been burning with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames. At least 1,600 people have been left without homes.

Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort.

Late on Sunday, Chile‘s forensic medicine service updated the confirmed death toll to 112 people.

Drone footage filmed by Reuters in Vina del Mar area showed entire neighbourhoods scorched, with residents rummaging through husks of burnt-out houses where corrugated iron roofs have collapsed. On the streets, singed cars littered the roads.

Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaíso region, said on Sunday he believed that some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, replicating a theory that had also been mentioned on Saturday by the president, Gabriel Boric.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mundaca said. “As authorities, we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”

The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.

On Saturday, Boric said unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds were making it difficult to control the wildfires in central Chile, which have already burned through 8,000 hectares of forest and urban areas.

Officials are asking people in affected areas to evacuate their homes as quickly as possible, while those further from the fires are being told to stay indoors in order to facilitate the transit of fire engines and ambulances.

Curfews have been declared in Viña del Mar and the neighbouring cities of Quilpué and Villa Alemana, as part of efforts to prevent looting.

The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.

With Reuters and Associated Press

At least 99 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires

At least 112 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires in Chile

People told to evacuate homes as quickly as possible and curfews declared in cities most heavily affected

Firefighters are wrestling with huge forest fires that broke out in central Chile on Friday. Officials have extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said the death toll has increased to 112 killed.

The fires have been burning with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames. At least 1,600 people have been left without homes.

Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort.

Late on Sunday, Chile‘s forensic medicine service updated the confirmed death toll to 112 people.

Drone footage filmed by Reuters in Vina del Mar area showed entire neighbourhoods scorched, with residents rummaging through husks of burnt-out houses where corrugated iron roofs have collapsed. On the streets, singed cars littered the roads.

Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaíso region, said on Sunday he believed that some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, replicating a theory that had also been mentioned on Saturday by the president, Gabriel Boric.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mundaca said. “As authorities, we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”

The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.

On Saturday, Boric said unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds were making it difficult to control the wildfires in central Chile, which have already burned through 8,000 hectares of forest and urban areas.

Officials are asking people in affected areas to evacuate their homes as quickly as possible, while those further from the fires are being told to stay indoors in order to facilitate the transit of fire engines and ambulances.

Curfews have been declared in Viña del Mar and the neighbouring cities of Quilpué and Villa Alemana, as part of efforts to prevent looting.

The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.

With Reuters and Associated Press

Parisians vote in favour of tripling parking costs for drivers

Parisians vote in favour of tripling parking costs for SUVs

The referendum comes as the city aims to reduce emissions by targeting wealthy drivers in large, polluting cars

Parisians have voted to triple parking costs for sports utility vehicles (SUVs), as the city aims to tackle air pollution and climate breakdown by targeting rich drivers in heavy, large and polluting cars.

In a referendum on Sunday, which was closely watched by other capital cities, including London, 54.6% voted in favour of special parking fees for SUVs, according to provisional results. However, the turnout – at about 5.7% of Paris’s registered voters – was lower than green campaigners had hoped for.

“Parisians have made a clear choice … other cities will follow,” said Paris’s Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, adding that road safety and air pollution were key reasons for the vote.

Hidalgo had previously described the move to curb the presence of SUVs through raising parking prices as “a form of social justice”. She said the aim was to deliberately target the richest drivers of expensive, heavy and polluting cars who had not yet made changes to their behaviour to address the climate crisis.

The new parking tariffs could come into force at the start of September. The cost of on-street parking for an SUV or 4×4 car would rise to €18 (£15) an hour in the centre of Paris and €12 an hour in the rest of the city.

The prices will apply to vehicles weighing more than 1.6 tonnes with a combustion engine or hybrid vehicles, and more than 2 tonnes for electric vehicles. The move will not apply to Paris residents’ parking.

Tony Renucci, director of the air quality campaign group Respire, said: “The result of the vote is a victory for Paris residents’ quality of life.” He added that Paris was sending a message that “the presence of these monsters on wheels was no longer desirable on our streets”.

Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor, posted on X as voting began: “Heavier, more dangerous, more polluting … SUVs are an environmental disaster.”

Last year, Paris held a similar vote on whether to ban rented electric scooters and subsequently became the first European capital to do so. The turnout for that vote – 103,000 people, about 7% of registered voters – was higher than for the vote on SUVs.

Under Hidalgo, Paris has for years raised pressure on drivers by increasing parking costs and gradually banning diesel vehicles, while expanding the bicycle lane network in the congested capital. The city has reduced the number of on-street parking spaces in order to make drivers use underground parking. There was a 71% rise in the use of bikes between the end of the Covid lockdowns and 2023, city hall said.

Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of transport, David Belliard, of the Green party, said about 10% of vehicles in Paris would be hit by the higher parking fees, which could bring in up to €35m for the city each year.

The motorists’ lobby group 40 Millions d’Automobilistes had argued that drivers should be free to choose whatever vehicle they want, warning that the move to raise parking tariffs was unjustified and the work of “an ultra-urban and anti-car minority”.

Christophe Béchu, France’s environment minister, Christophe Béchu, told broadcaster RTL that the SUV surcharge amounted to “a kind of punitive environmentalism” – even if drivers should “opt for lighter vehicles”.

‘Life-threatening’ storm system batters entire state

‘Life-threatening’ storm system batters California, with flooding and high winds

First-ever hurricane-force wind warning along coast, with millions of people under flood watches and power out for close to a million

An enormous atmospheric river-fueled storm unleashed rain and furious winds across California on Sunday, leaving destruction and hazards in its wake.

Howling winds tore down power lines and trees, and scattered debris in communities across the state, prompting officials to issue the first-ever hurricane-force wind warning along the coast. By late afternoon, streets in both northern and southern regions of California were left submerged, with far more rain on the way.

Roughly 36 million people were under flood watches on Sunday evening as large metro areas, including the city of Los Angeles – where the star-studded Grammy awards are being held – braced for impact.

The storm also pummeled mountain communities with snow and whipped up steep waves along the coast. By 6pm, nearly 850,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly concentrated along the coast and in snow-inundated districts at the center of the state.

The National Weather Service warned continuous rainfall would hit over a 48-hour period in some already sodden areas across the state, including the central coast, the Los Angeles basin and in the mountain ranges.

“This is a DANGEROUS SYSTEM [sic] with major risks to life and property,” NWS Los Angeles warned in a Sunday afternoon forecast discussion, adding that roads and highways would become inaccessible, rockslides were likely through canyons, and rising waters would surge into homes and businesses in low-lying neighborhoods.

Five rivers or creeks across the state had already exceeded flood stage on Sunday according to monitors with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with more than a dozen more on watch.

Even though the extreme weather wreaked havoc in the northern part of the state, southern California will likely be hit even harder. The storm is expected to stall out over Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The dangerous deluge could dump up to 15in of rain in the foothills and mountains, and up to 6in in coastal areas and valleys.

Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in eight southern California counties as the storm swirled in Sunday afternoon and state and local agencies pre-positioned essential resources, including millions of sandbags, water rescue teams and high-water vehicles before the onslaught.

Most Los Angeles public schools are planning to remain open Monday, unless conditions worsen, the superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Sunday. Cal State Fullerton and Cal State LA, two local universities, opted to hold classes virtually. Santa Barbara Unified school district announced its schools and offices would be closed Monday.

Wind gusts of up to 85mph were reported along the Big Sur coast Sunday morning, as the storm pulled down power lines and created other hazards along Highway 1.

Communities tucked into mountain slopes, near surging rivers, or close to wildfire burn scars were put under mandatory evacuations or evacuation warnings, including in Ojai, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Water managers began releasing water from reservoirs that were nearing capacity in the central valley and Sacramento valley, Karla Nemeth, the director of the California department of water resources, said.

The deluge comes as communities across the state are still reeling from last week’s storm, which unleashed torrents and thunderstorms on Wednesday and Thursday and tested the capacity of infrastructure.

With the grounds saturated from the first storm, the NWS warned that dangerous flash flooding would occur more quickly.

California could have several more wet weeks ahead, said climate scientist Daniel Swain during a discussion of the system posted on YouTube Friday. During strong El Niño years the wet season typically peaks between February and March, he noted. “There are at least 6-7 more weeks of potential [for storms] and I would not be surprised if there was another major storm cycle at some point in that window.”

El Niño, a climate pattern associated with increased ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, can supercharge atmospheric rivers like the ones now creating strong storms over California with vapor that evaporates off the warmer surface waters. While there can be variability, El Niño typically delivers hotter, wet winters in California and other parts of the US south-west.

Meanwhile, California reservoirs already stood at 115% of average going into this system, according to the California department of water resources, and water managers in the central valley opted to release waters ahead of the storm to ensure they wouldn’t spill over. With weeks left to go in California’s wet season, and exceedingly wet conditions still in the forecast, several regions across the state had already exceeded or were nearing average precipitation levels.

Scientists have warned that this is a taste of what’s to come as the world warms, when wetter conditions with smaller snowpacks are expected to become the norm. “This tells us something about what California winters may look like increasingly in a warmer climate,” Swain said, noting that it’s both an El Niño story and a climate crisis story.

Singer announces new album The Tortured Poets Department will be out 19 April

Taylor Swift announces surprise new album The Tortured Poets Department will be out 19 April

The 34-year-old singer used her acceptance speech at the 2024 Grammys to reveal her 11th studio album is on the way

Taylor Swift has used her acceptance speech at the Grammys to make a surprise announcement: her next album, The Tortured Poets Department, will be released on 19 April.

The 34-year-old singer revealed the existence of her new album while accepting her 13th Grammy for best pop vocal album for her previous album, Midnights.

“I want to say thank you to the fans by telling you a secret that I have been keeping from you for the last two years,” the singer said, before announcing The Tortured Poets Department.

Swift uploaded the cover to X after leaving the stage, with a photo of lyrics that read: “And so I enter into evidence / My tarnished coat of arms / My muses, acquired like bruises / My talismans and charms / The tick, / tick, / tick, / of love bombs, / my veins of pitch black ink.” The image was signed by “The Chairman of the Tortured Poets Department”.

The announcement for The Tortured Poets Department, her 11th studio album, mirrors that of Midnights, which Swift revealed while receiving the top honour at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards.

Before the ceremony, there had been speculation that Swift would use an acceptance speech to announce a re-recording of Reputation, continuing her project of re-releasing her past albums in order to regain control of the masters. But as Deadline observed, her announcement of a new album follows her pattern of releasing a new album, then two re-records, followed by new music.

Swift, who has been nominated for 52 Grammys over her career, was nominated for six this year, including album of the year. If she wins, she will become the first artist to win album of the year four times – she’s currently tied on three with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.

She also holds the record for the most-nominated artist to never win song of the year, having landed her seventh nomination in the category for track Anti-Hero this year. She lost in the category to Billie Eilish, who won with What Was I Made For?

Swift’s astronomical success has seen her dominate music charts and topple longstanding records. In October 2022, she became the first artist ever to land all top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart. She has won the most American Music Awards in history – 40 awards, followed by Michael Jackson with 26; and holds the record for the most-streamed album in a single day in Spotify history, for Midnights.

She is also the highest-earning female musician of the past decade. Her global Eras tour is likely to cross the $2bn revenue mark this year – which is more than twice as much as the previous highest-grossing tour, by Elton John.

Singer announces new album The Tortured Poets Department will be out 19 April

Taylor Swift announces surprise new album The Tortured Poets Department will be out 19 April

The 34-year-old singer used her acceptance speech at the 2024 Grammys to reveal her 11th studio album is on the way

Taylor Swift has used her acceptance speech at the Grammys to make a surprise announcement: her next album, The Tortured Poets Department, will be released on 19 April.

The 34-year-old singer revealed the existence of her new album while accepting her 13th Grammy for best pop vocal album for her previous album, Midnights.

“I want to say thank you to the fans by telling you a secret that I have been keeping from you for the last two years,” the singer said, before announcing The Tortured Poets Department.

Swift uploaded the cover to X after leaving the stage, with a photo of lyrics that read: “And so I enter into evidence / My tarnished coat of arms / My muses, acquired like bruises / My talismans and charms / The tick, / tick, / tick, / of love bombs, / my veins of pitch black ink.” The image was signed by “The Chairman of the Tortured Poets Department”.

The announcement for The Tortured Poets Department, her 11th studio album, mirrors that of Midnights, which Swift revealed while receiving the top honour at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards.

Before the ceremony, there had been speculation that Swift would use an acceptance speech to announce a re-recording of Reputation, continuing her project of re-releasing her past albums in order to regain control of the masters. But as Deadline observed, her announcement of a new album follows her pattern of releasing a new album, then two re-records, followed by new music.

Swift, who has been nominated for 52 Grammys over her career, was nominated for six this year, including album of the year. If she wins, she will become the first artist to win album of the year four times – she’s currently tied on three with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.

She also holds the record for the most-nominated artist to never win song of the year, having landed her seventh nomination in the category for track Anti-Hero this year. She lost in the category to Billie Eilish, who won with What Was I Made For?

Swift’s astronomical success has seen her dominate music charts and topple longstanding records. In October 2022, she became the first artist ever to land all top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart. She has won the most American Music Awards in history – 40 awards, followed by Michael Jackson with 26; and holds the record for the most-streamed album in a single day in Spotify history, for Midnights.

She is also the highest-earning female musician of the past decade. Her global Eras tour is likely to cross the $2bn revenue mark this year – which is more than twice as much as the previous highest-grossing tour, by Elton John.

Zelenskiy preparing to replace senior officials amid leadership ‘reset’

Zelenskiy preparing to replace senior officials amid Ukraine leadership ‘reset’

Comments come as speculation continues that the president is preparing to fire the commander of the Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi

  • See all our Ukraine war coverage

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he is considering a “reset” to replace several senior officials, amid ongoing speculation that he is preparing to fire the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

“It is a question of the people who are to lead Ukraine. A reset is necessary, I am talking about a replacement of a number of state leaders, not only in the army sector,” Zelenskiy said

Speculation has gripped Ukraine for weeks that the president is close to dismissing the highly popular commander of the armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. The two have been at odds over the conduct of the nearly two-year-old Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But in an interview on Sunday, Zelenskiy said any changes went beyond replacing a single person to harness efforts to oust Russian troops.

“When I speak of turnover, I have in mind something serious that does not concern a single person, but the direction of the country’s leadership,” Zelenskiy told Italian state television when asked about Zaluzhnyi.

To win the war, Zelenskiy said, “we must all push in the same direction, we cannot be discouraged, we must have the right and positive energy, negativity must be left at home.”

Differences have come to the fore since a Ukrainian counteroffensive launched last year made only limited gains against Russian forces which have been dug in along the 1,000-km frontline in Ukraine’s south and east.

In an essay for the Economist last November, Zaluzhnyi said the war had entered a new phase of attrition. That drew a rebuke from the president.

Last week, as speculation over his dismissal intensified, he set out his case in a commentary for broadcaster CNN for new electronic means of warfare.

He also said some Ukrainian institutions were keeping the country from achieving its objectives, including efforts to build an effective fighting force to match Russian numerical superiority through “unpopular measures” like mass moblisation.

Zaluzhnyi has earned the admiration of Ukrainians for overseeing operations to repel Russian forces advancing on Kyiv at the outset of the war and subsequent advances that recaptured large swathes of territory in the south and northeast.

On two occasions in the past week, Ukrainian media issued a torrent of reports that Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal was imminent. In at least one instance, the president’s spokesperson denied the commander had been replaced.

Questions were also raised over whether Zaluzhnyi had been offered an alternative job, like an ambassadorship, and who might replace him.

Senate releases draft bill to toughen border measures while securing aid to Ukraine and Israel

US Senate releases draft bill to toughen border measures while securing aid to Ukraine and Israel

Biden urges Congress to pass bill which includes measures to temporarily close border if over 5,000 undocumented people cross a day

US senators on Sunday evening released the details of a highly anticipated $118bn package that pairs federal enforcement policy on the US-Mexico border with wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and others, launching a long-shot effort to push the bill past sceptical, hard right House Republicans – whom Democrats accuse of politicizing immigration while being in thrall to Donald Trump.

The proposal is the best chance for Joe Biden to bolster dwindling US wartime aid for Ukraine – a major foreign policy goal that is shared by both the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, and top Republican, Mitch McConnell. The Senate was expected this week to hold a key test vote on the legislation, but it faces a wall of opposition from conservatives.

Joe Biden urged the US Congress to pass the legislation, for the sake of immigration reform and aid for US allies.

The bill “includes the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades,” he said in a statement issued by the White House.

He added: “Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border? I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem.”

Crucially, with Congress stalled on approving $60bn in Ukraine aid, the US has halted shipments of ammunition and missiles to Kyiv, leaving Ukrainian soldiers outgunned as they try to come out on top of a grinding stalemate with Russian troops.

“The United States and our allies are facing multiple, complex and, in places, coordinated challenges from adversaries who seek to disrupt democracy and expand authoritarian influence around the globe,” Schumer said in a statement.

In a bid to overcome opposition from House Republicans, McConnell had insisted last year that border policy changes be included in the national security funding package.

The bill would overhaul the asylum system at the border with faster and tougher enforcement, as well as give presidents new powers to immediately expel migrants if authorities deemed themselves overwhelmed with the number of undocumented people requesting asylum at the international boundary.

The tough new measures discussed among select senators for months include a new federal requirement to “shut down” the US-Mexico border if more than 5,000 undocumented people cross into the US daily and plans to swiftly throw out economic migrants.

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who broke from the Democratic party in 2022 to become an independent, told CBS’s Face the Nation earlier on Sunday some of what she and other Senate negotiators have been working on.

When the number of migrants crossing without an appointment with the US authorities approaches 4,000 people a day, the US government would be granted the power to voluntarily turn away all people presenting at border stations, to give time for the asylum application processing to catch up, she said.

At other times, migrants would be taken into short-term detention as their claims for asylum were rapidly assessed. Anyone failing to meet the standards for a claim would be “swiftly returned to their home country”, Sinema said.

“We believe that by quickly implementing this system, individuals who come for economic reasons will learn very quickly that this is not a path to enter our country and will not take the sometimes dangerous or treacherous trek to our border,” she told the Sunday morning TV show.

Alongside the faster deportation provisions, the draft bill would also speed up the time needed to process successful asylum applications. “Folks who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path, six months or less, to start a new life in America,” Sinema said.

The draft Senate bill meets several of the demands that have been raised by Republicans who have accused the Biden administration of failing to secure the US border. In particular, it proposes an end to the system of allowing people to remain in the US while their asylum applications are processed – a procedure Republicans dismissively call “catch and release”.

As many as 10,000 migrants a day have been encountered crossing the US-Mexico border without necessary immigration papers or an appointment with the US authorities.

But the Senate bill is likely to be blocked by Republican leaders in the US House who are following Donald Trump’s lead and opposing the deal. The former president, who is running for re-election, has made it clear that he does not want to see Biden presented with a legislative win on the border crisis.

Mike Johnson, the Republican House speaker, has said the Senate bill would be “dead on arrival” were it to reach his chamber. On Saturday he also made a pre-emptive move that could further imperil the chances of the Senate bill ever becoming law by announcing that he would bring to a vote on the House floor a separate $17.6bn military aid package for Israel.

Johnson was asked by NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday whether his aid for Israel plan was a ruse to kill the Senate compromise deal on the border. He was also asked whether he was merely doing Trump’s bidding, with Trump “calling the shots”.

“Of course not,” the speaker said. “He’s not calling the shots, I am calling the shots for the House – that’s our responsibility.”

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic minority leader in the House, derided House Republicans, in interview on the ABC US network’s This Week Sunday show, as “wholly owned subsidiaries of Donald Trump”.

With the numbers of migrants turning up at the border remaining high, and with the presidential election year getting under way, immigration is set to continue to cause ructions on both sides of the political aisle.

On Sunday Nikki Haley, Trump’s only remaining rival in the race to secure the Republican nomination, accused Trump in a CNN interview of “playing politics” with the border with his attempt to scupper the Senate deal.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed reporting

Government ready to use force to quell secession attempts as Duterte row deepens

Philippines says it is ready to use force to quell secession attempts as Duterte row deepens

Former president has called for his home town, Mindanao, to split from the Philippines as his alliance with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr crumbles

The Philippine government is ready to use “authority and forces” against attempts to divide the nation, a security official has said, after former president Rodrigo Duterte threatened to separate some southern islands from the rest of the archipelago.

Duterte has called for the independence of his home town, Mindanao, from the Philippines as his alliance with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr disintegrated this week over disagreements around efforts to amend the constitution.

Marcos said amending the 1987 constitution was meant to ease foreign investments, but Duterte accused him of using constitutional change to stay in power.

National security adviser Eduardo Ano said in a statement any attempt to secede “will be met by the government with resolute force”, citing “recent calls to separate Mindanao” but without specifically naming Duterte.

“The national government will not hesitate to use its authority and forces to quell and stop any and all attempts to dismember the republic,” Ano said.

Ano said calls for secession could reverse the gains of the government’s peace deal with former separatist groups.

Violence and conflict had plagued Mindanao for decades as the government battled insurgents and extremists, which has discouraged investments and left many villages in poverty.

The region’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014, withdrawing their fight for independence in exchange for enhanced autonomy in a Muslim region called the Bangsamoro.

Bangsamoro’s chief minister, Ahod Ebrahim, said in a statement on Friday that he remained committed to the peace agreement. Government peace process adviser Carlito Galvez Jr called on Filipinos to “turn away from any call … to destabilise” the country.

Philippine armed forces chief Romeo Brawner told soldiers on Saturday “to remain united and loyal to the constitution and the chain of command”.

UK Labour plans to extend rights to black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

Labour plans to extend equal pay rights to black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

Exclusive: Radical changes in a draft race equality act would give same protections as women now receive

  • Analysis: Labour’s proposals unlikely to be enough to end race disparities

A Labour government would extend the full right to equal pay that now exists for women to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers for the first time under radical plans for a draft race equality act seen by the Guardian.

The legal right, which would follow a consultation with business groups and unions, would be phased in to give employers time to adapt to paying all their staff fairly, with back pay only available from when the law changes.

The change, which would also cover disabled people, would mean that equal pay claims on the basis of ethnicity and disability were treated the same as those made by women who, under the existing law, have more stringent protections.

Labour would also appoint a Windrush commissioner if it won the general election to monitor the compensation scheme, which has faced criticism over its slow rollout, and has threatened to move it out of the Home Office if it continues to fail.

A commissioner would re-establish the Home Office team that was tasked with transforming the department after the scandal, but was disbanded last year, and act as a voice for the Windrush generation and their families as they pursue justice.

Keir Starmer first promised a race equality act in 2020 and later set up a taskforce chaired by Doreen Lawrence, but the party’s failure to come forward with more detail had prompted concerns over its commitment to tackling structural racism.

Inequality has risen over the last decade, with BAME families disproportionately hit by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, as well as being on the sharp end of cuts to the NHS, education and the criminal justice system.

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “It has never been more important to deliver race equality. Inequality has soared under the Tories and too many black, Asian and ethnic minority families are working harder and harder for less and less. This is holding back their families and holding back the economy.

“We are proud of our achievements in government, from the landmark Equality Act [in 2010] to strengthening protections against discrimination. The next Labour government will go further to ensure no matter where you live in the UK, and whatever your background, you can thrive.”

The proposals, which the party will announce on Monday, would enact protections against “dual discrimination”, where people face prejudice because of a combination of protected characteristics, that were originally in the Equality Act brought in by Harriet Harman in 2010.

A black woman who faces sexism and racism or a Muslim woman abused for wearing a headscarf, for example, would be able to bring one discrimination claim, rather than one for each protected characteristic.

Labour said this would have broader benefits for different groups of people, including women experiencing discrimination during the menopause, as well as easing backlogs in the tribunals system.

The new act would also place a duty on public services – including the NHS, police, schools and councils – to collect data and report on staffing, pay and, where relevant, outcomes, by ethnicity.

Measures already announced, but which would be covered by the act, include mandating ethnicity pay gap reporting, ensuring police officers and staff undertake anti-racism training, and reviewing the school curriculum to ensure it is diverse.

Labour has also said it would expand access to mental health support, bring in a new target to close maternal health gaps experienced by black and Asian women and update clinical training to better serve the diverse patient population.

Party sources said the new act would help deliver on its core mission to unlock economic growth through better jobs and more secure employment for BAME people, which they claimed could be worth more than £26bn a year in increased salaries.

Dr Shabna Begum, the interim chief executive of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said: “Labour’s race equality act signals a much-needed pivot from the years of regressive and harmful policies we have seen under successive governments.

“We welcome many of the commitments including those that address discrimination in the workplace, the lack of representation in our school curricula, as well as the promise to enact the principle of dual discrimination – finally recognising the interactive ways that discrimination can operate.

“However, the plans fall short of addressing the formidable scale of inequalities that shape the experiences and opportunities of people of colour.

“Committing to address structural racial inequality needs to understand that racism doesn’t simply arise when the system fails – but that racism is actually sewn into the very fabric of the system itself.

“Labour must use the race equality act as a platform to commit to an ambitious, cross-governmental approach supported with sustained investment addressing the unacceptable – and in some cases worsening – disparities in health, housing, wealth and policing, faced by so many communities of colour.”