BBC 2024-02-06 06:01:48


King spends night at home after starting cancer treatment

The King’s cancer diagnosis comes after more than two weeks of reports over his health. Here’s a timeline of what’s been happening:

  • 17 January: Buckingham Palace announces that King Charles will attend hospital for treatment for an enlarged prostate the following week
  • 26 January: The King receives his treatment for an enlarged prostate, after being admitted to the London Clinic in the morning. Queen Camilla says of her husband: “He’s doing well”
  • 29 January: King Charles leaves hospital after three nights. The Palace says he will have to postpone his public engagements “to allow for a period of private recuperation”
  • 31 January: The Queen says her husband is “doing his best” after hospital treatment
  • 4 February: The King and Queen attend church in Sandringham, with Charles waving at well-wishers, in his first public outing since treatment
  • 5 February: The Palace announces that King Charles has been diagnosed with a form of cancer discovered during his recent treatment and he has started “regular treatments”

A jailed Imran Khan leaves Pakistan divided ahead of election

In the Zeshaan household there is a ground rule – conversations about politics are not allowed when the family gets together.

It was a rule laid down shortly after Imran Khan was elected Pakistan’s prime minister in July 2018.

“I remember my father didn’t vote for Imran Khan in the 2018 elections. My sister and I didn’t talk to him for three months. We couldn’t sit together at meals or anything,” said Nida Zeshaan, who calls herself a “diehard Khan supporter”.

While political differences among families and friends are nothing unusual, no other politician has caused as many rifts in relationships in Pakistan as the former cricket star who rose to be PM before being ousted.

Khan was elected after he vowed to to fight corruption and fix the ailing economy, but he has been fighting a series of cases since he fell out of power in 2022. Several criminal convictions have now barred him from standing in general elections on Thursday. The 71-year-old claims these are politically motivated to boot him off the ballot.

And yet he still dominates conversation ahead of the 8 February vote.

‘We couldn’t sit together at meals’

“I can say it out loud that I love Imran Khan but my father thinks he is not a good politician,” Ms Zeshaan says.

The 32-year-old homemaker says she was especially drawn to the ideal of an Islamic welfare state (or Riyasat-e-Madin) championed by Khan “where equality and equity can be for everyone”.

  • What led to Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s downfall
  • Friend to foe: How Imran Khan took on Pakistan’s army

But her father disapproves of the populist politician because of his perceived close ties to the military at the start of his political career.

The military is widely regarded as Pakistan’s most powerful institution and has deep influence on its politics. It has ruled the country directly for more than three decades since its formation in 1947, and has continued to play a big role thereafter.

No prime minister in Pakistan has ever finished a five-year term, but three out of four military dictators were able to rule for more than nine years each.

“I believe my father was judging Khan for his past life. Whatever it is, political differences are hard to resolve, so we’ve agreed not to discuss politics when we are together,” said Ms Zeshaan, who lives in Pakistan’s second largest city Lahore.

It is widely believed that Khan first rose to political prominence with support from Pakistan’s military establishment, but tensions between both sides emerged once he was in office. He allegedly fell out with then-military leaders over the appointment of the head of the country’s intelligence agency.

Then, four years into his premiership, Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote that he alleges was backed by the US in a “foreign conspiracy” that also involved Pakistan’s military. Both the US and the military have rubbished these allegations.

This galvanised his supporters, who like Ms Zeshaan, have jumped to his defence.

“Unfortunately he did not get enough time and chances to implement all of these things. Also, the circumstances and other powers of the country didn’t let him perform,” she said.

Many Pakistanis are frustrated that his economic and anti-corruption pledges have rung hollow, but his popularity has not waned even from behind bars.

A Gallup opinion poll in December showed his approval ratings stand at 57%, putting him narrowly ahead of rival Nawaz Sharif with 52% of the votes. A Bloomberg survey last month showed Khan to be the top pick among some Pakistani finance professionals to run the country’s failing economy.

Some citizens say Khan sparked a political awakening by portraying himself as a “change candidate” who promised to end dynastic politics.

“It was Imran Khan and his party who explained to a villager like me how two parties plundered the wealth of the nation. He taught us how to vote for change,” said farmer Muhammad Hafeez, who lives in Nabipura, a village in Punjab.

Mr Hafeez was referring to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – led by two political families that have dominated Pakistani politics for decades.

Once bitter rivals, they united to topple Khan and his PTI in 2022.

The PML-N candidate, Nawaz Sharif is widely expected to win the election and become prime minister for a record fourth term.

This is being seen as a dramatic turnaround in his political fortunes. He was ousted from his second term in a 1999 military coup and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of hijacking and terrorism, and also convicted of corruption.

He returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia in 2007, and was elected prime minister for a third time in 2013. He was removed from power in 2017 following a corruption investigation related to the Panama Papers, and was sentenced to seven years’ jail in a separate graft case a year later. This paved the way for Khan to become prime minister.

Now it is Khan who is behind bars and the path for Sharif to become PM is clear. Many believe that he is the military’s preferred candidate this time around.

“Khan created awareness. Previously, people were not politically aware enough to speak up for their rights,” Mr Hafeez said.

  • Is Imran Khan’s political future over now he is in jail?
  • Pakistan’s king of comebacks looks set to win again

But other observers allege that Khan’s politics are nothing more than rabble-rousing and populism.

“We are supposedly expected to believe this was a wronged man, almost a martyr, who ostensibly had a clean record prior to entering this murky fray,” said Burzine Waghmar from the University of London’s SOAS South Asia Institute.

“[But] Khan’s style of governance comprised avoidable squabbles with the military top brass and irresponsible demagoguery.”

‘Divided loyalties’

Some believe Khan’s biggest offence was challenging the military, which has long been the ultimate arbiter of politics in the country – and is widely referred to as the “establishment”.

Other former prime ministers have fallen out with the army in the past but few have come as close to Khan in dividing loyalties there.

Some retired military officers – typically expected to toe the line – have spoken against the army’s political interference.

They allege that this has sparked a crackdown by military leaders against them. One retired senior officer said he was instructed to “stop talking in favour of Imran Khan”.

“I said I am not speaking in favour of him, nor am I speaking against the military. I am against the policies and interventions of a few individuals who are causing harm to the country,” he claims.

Some retired military officers told the BBC they were implicated after Khan fell out of power for not supporting the no-confidence vote against him. Others claim they had their pensions and government benefits suspended, while others received threats that further action could be taken against them.

Many have since gone quiet.

The BBC reached out to the military regarding these allegations but did not receive a response. A spokesman of the military said last year that retired army officers are “assets of the army but they are not above the law”, warning also that they should not get involved in organisations that “wear the garb of politics”.

But with Khan now out of the running and the PTI too dealt a big blow after Pakistan’s election commission banned its iconic cricket bat symbol from ballot papers in January, it may look like Khan has been effectively neutralised.

But instead, political divisions across the country look set to deepen.

Back in Lahore, Imran Khan supporter Ms Zeshaan said: “Even my friends know my political lines. Whenever any of them tries to cross them I stop meeting them or we usually end up fighting with each other.”

Additional reporting by Nicholas Yong in Singapore

‘Will you come and get me?’ Gaza girl’s desperate plea before losing contact

The voice on the other end of the line was small and faint; a six-year-old’s voice, crackling on a mobile phone from Gaza.

“The tank is next to me. It’s moving.”

Sitting in the emergency call-centre of the Palestinian Red Crescent, Rana tried to keep her own voice calm.

“Is it very close?”

“Very, very,” the small voice replied. “Will you come and get me? I’m so scared.”

There was nothing Rana could do except keep the conversation going.

Six-year-old Hind Rajab was trapped under fire in Gaza City and begging for help, hiding inside her uncle’s car, surrounded by the bodies of her relatives.

Rana’s voice was her only fragile link with a familiar world.

Hind had set off from her home in Gaza City earlier that day with her uncle, aunt and five cousins.

It was Monday 29 January. That morning, the Israeli army had told people to evacuate areas in the west of the city and move south along the coast road.

Hind’s mother, Wissam, remembers there was intense shelling in their area. “We were terrified, and we wanted to escape,” she said. “We were fleeing from place to place, to avoid the air strikes.”

The family decided to head for the Ahli Hospital to the east of the city, hoping it would be a safer place to shelter.

Wissam and her older child began making their own way there on foot; Hind was given a place in her uncle’s car, a black Kia Piccanto.

“It was very cold and rainy,” Wissam explained. “I told Hind to go in the car because I didn’t want her to suffer in the rain.”

As soon as the car left, she said, they heard loud shooting coming from the same direction.

As Hind’s uncle drove towards the city’s famous al-Azhar University, the car is thought to have unexpectedly come face to face with Israeli tanks. They pulled into the nearby Fares petrol station for safety, and appear to have come under fire.

Inside the vehicle, the family called relatives for help. One of them contacted the emergency headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent, 50 miles (80km) away in the occupied West Bank.

It was now around 14:30 (12:30 GMT): operators at the Red Crescent call-centre in Ramallah called the mobile phone number for Hind’s uncle, but his 15-year-old daughter, Layan, answered instead.

In the recorded phone call, Layan tells the Red Crescent staff that her parents and siblings have all been killed, and that there is a tank next to the car. “They are firing at us,” she says, before the conversation ends with the sound of gunfire and screaming.

When the Red Crescent team ring back, it is Hind who answers, her voice almost inaudible, drowned in fear.

It soon becomes clear that she is the only survivor in the car, and that she is still in the line of fire.

“Hide under the seats,” the team tell her. “Don’t let anyone see you.”

Operator Rana Faqih stayed on the line with Hind for hours, as the Red Crescent appealed to the Israeli army to allow their ambulance to access the location.

“She was shaking, sad, appealing for help,” Rana remembered. “She told us [her relatives] were dead. But then later she described them as ‘sleeping’. So we told her ‘let them sleep, we don’t want to bother them’.”

Hind kept asking, over and over again, for someone to come and get her.

“At one point, she told me it was getting dark,” Rana told the BBC. “She was scared. She asked me how far away my house was. I felt paralysed and helpless.”

Three hours after the call began, an ambulance was finally despatched to rescue Hind.

In the meantime, the Red Crescent team had reached Hind’s mother, Wissam, and patched her phone line into the call.

She cried more when she heard her mother’s voice, Rana remembers.

“She pleaded with me not to hang up,” Wissam told the BBC. “I asked her where she was injured, then I distracted her by reading the Quran with her, and we prayed together. She was repeating every word I said after me.”

It was after dark when the ambulance crew – Yousef and Ahmad – notified operators that they were nearing the location, and were about to be checked for entry by Israeli forces.

It was the last operators heard from their colleagues – or from Hind. The line to both paramedics, and to the six-year-old girl they came to rescue, disconnected for good.

Hind’s grandfather, Bahaa Hamada, told the BBC that the girl’s connection with her mother lasted a few moments longer, and that the last thing Wissam heard was the sound of the car door being opened, and Hind telling her that she could see the ambulance in the distance.

“Every second, my heart burns,” Wissam told the BBC. “Every time I hear the sound of an ambulance, I think, ‘maybe it’s her’. Every sound, every gunshot, every falling missile, every bomb – I wonder if it’s heading for my daughter, if she’s been hit.”

Neither Red Crescent teams in Gaza, nor Hind’s family, have been able to reach the location, which still lies inside an active combat zone controlled by the Israeli army.

“It’s hard at night,” the call operator Rana said, “when you wake up and hear her voice in your ear, saying ‘come and get me'”.

We asked the Israeli army for details of its operations in the area that day, and about the disappearance of Hind and the ambulance sent to retrieve her. We asked again 24 hours later, and they said they were still checking.

“Where is the International Court of Justice? Why are presidents sitting in their chairs?” Hind’s mother, Wissam, asked.

A week on from her daughter’s disappearance, Wissam sits and waits at the Ahli hospital, day after day, filling the absence with a resolute hope that Hind will be brought back alive.

“I’ve brought her things, and I’m waiting for her here,” she said. “I’m waiting for my daughter any moment, any second. I’m begging from a broken mother’s heart not to forget this story.”

Additional reporting by Haneen Abdeen and James Bryant

The millennials shunning Lunar New Year reunions

Following a long-held tradition, many Chinese people travel great distances for the Spring Festival. But millennials are increasingly bucking the trend, making their own plans.
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For Lunar New Year on 10 February, Cassidy Yu has opted for a road trip with a friend instead of a family reunion. This won’t be her first time skipping the trek home.

“Heading home for the occasion doesn’t get me excited anymore,” says Yu, a 32-year-old marketing professional from Shenzhen, a city in southern China. As a child, she relished simple rituals of the Lunar New Year: home decorations, firecrackers and feast after feast. Not anymore. “With so many entertainment options available today, I’d rather travel and have a quieter holiday.” 

Like Christmas, Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions. People traditionally gather for a big dinner on the night of the New Year’s Eve, followed by visits to relatives’ homes during the week-long holiday. 

It sets off the world’s biggest human migration, as millions return to their home villages and cities, where a labyrinth of celebrations, rooted in centuries-old regional traditions, awaits. One tradition is known as Chunyun, a 40-day period when billions of trips take place. Some experts estimate the 2024 season will bring record amount of movement, spurred by the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions of the past several years.

Yu is part of a growing number of young Chinese millennials who are making alternative plans and approaching the Spring Festival with a shrug. Changing family dynamics, new lifestyles and economic pressure have upended some holiday traditions – and many young Chinese are minting their own celebrations.

The ‘independent streak’ 

Numbering 400 million, Chinese millennials mostly came of age during China’s boom years of the 2000s. And this generation – many of whom are college educated and the only children in their family – doesn’t always hew to old playbooks as they forgo traditional values upheld by their parents. That can come to a head during the Spring Festival, as the Lunar New Year is often called in China.

Lunar New Year sets off a mass migration across China as people gather with their families for the festivities (Credit: Alamy)

A result is some millennials view the festival as just an extended vacation that doesn’t have to involve family gatherings. On Mafengwo, a Chinese travel website, a user asked: is solo travel during the Spring Festival tantamount to being unfilial? Most respondents said no. The post garnered more than one-million views and more than 6,000 answers. “Travelling is more fun than feeling just bored at home during the Lunar New Year, isn’t it?” the user wrote after posing the question. 

Millennials’ trepidation towards the festival partly stems from fraying familial ties, says Hu Xiaowu, an associate professor at Nanjing University in eastern China, who studies urban issues.

“The independent streak of young people as a result of urbanisation and social mobility has fractured family relations,” he says. “Traditional family ties in China de-emphasise personal boundaries, which can be manifested through excessive concern and overbearing behaviour from the elders. That’s partly why young people dread the Spring Festival.” The Chinese media has coined a term for this feeling of apprehension: kongguizu.

Many Chinese millennials, in pursuit of better opportunities, have left their hometowns for big cities. An individualistic lifestyle, coupled with the stress of living in big cities, often leave them with little time – or appetite – to talk to their families, says Hu. According to a survey Hu conducted in 2022, younger people between 18 and 30 years old interacted with relatives less frequently than their older peers. Most respondents born after 1990, the survey showed, only interacted with their relatives “occasionally”.

They want to know what you do and how much you make. If you get married, they will ask when you plan to have babies. Imagine being interrogated by a spy agency – Cassidy Yu

One reason Yu especially wants to avoid family and even neighbours this year is because she is single. Her family is always eager to play matchmaker, she says, and the prying can get particularly intense during the Spring Festival. No questions are too private. “They want to know what you do and how much you make. If you get married, they will ask when you plan to have babies,” she says. “Imagine being interrogated by a spy agency.”

‘No money’

A slowing economy isn’t helping. In recent years, companies have laid off workers and cut benefits. Even for those who are working, underemployment is widespread. Stocks have tumbled. And the housing market, to which nearly three-quarters of Chinese household wealth is tied, is in turmoil.  

Bill Bishop, who writes the China-focused newsletter Sinocism, expects a mixed mood for the festival this year. “This is the first new year holiday since 2019 that doesn’t have Covid hanging over it,” he says. “On the other hand, how many people are going to be talking about how much money they have lost in the stock market or have lost their jobs or had salaries and benefits reduced, or know people who have?”

On Zhihu, a Quora-like Q&A platform in China, users have posted their reasons for not going home for the Lunar New Year in 2024. One wrote simply, “No money”.

Not everyone avoids going home – but many have changed behaviours and attitudes when they do (Credit: Getty Images)

“For some people, the idea of setting aside 3,000 yuan (£330; $432) to go home to see family, after you take into account train tickets, clothing and gifts, can be an economic burden,” says Zak Dychtwald, founder of Young China Group, a market insights and management consulting firm. “And you want to return home triumphantly, rather than with your tail between your legs.”

‘I want to give my parents face’

Not every young millennial is avoiding the trip home – yet they aren’t all travelling with open arms. 

Yu Meiling, a 29-year-old freelance product manager in the eastern city of Hangzhou, will return to her ancestral village with her husband. She is doing the usual, time-consuming preparations: stuffing red envelopes with 1,000 yuan (£110; $140) each for her mum, dad and younger sister. The couple will also buy wine and cigarettes as gifts to other relatives, as per tradition.

Yet expectations – and financial burdens – are weighing on her this year. She feels intensified pressure to uphold mianzi, a Chinese concept of saving face for social prestige and standing. In Yu’s world, that could be exhibited through the gifts one brings or even the attire one chooses to wear. To elevate mianzi, the couple will drive home this year in a new car they recently purchased.

“In the past, gifts we bought were pretty much the same during the Lunar New Year. Things were simpler because everyone’s living standard was more or less the same. Now with a wider wealth gap, we constantly compare ourselves to others when we go home for the festival,” she says. “I don’t particularly like the Spring Festival. But I’m going home this year with my husband because I want to give my parents face.” 

Whether young people like Yu Meiling are finding their way back home, or seeking the open road like Cassidy Yu, the Lunar New Year is looking increasingly different.

Do the Grammys have a Beyoncé problem?

As her husband Jay-Z referenced in his speech on Sunday night, despite winning 32 Grammys, Beyoncé has never won the coveted prize for album of the year.
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At Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, Jay-Z highlighted a surprising slight hidden in the Recording Academy’s recent voting record. Despite winning 32 Grammys across her remarkable career – more than any other artist – Beyoncé has never taken home the most prestigious prize of all: for album of the year. “Even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work,” Jay-Z said as he accepted the Dr Dre global impact award. “Think about that. The most Grammys, never won album of the year. That doesn’t work.”

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When the camera panned to Beyoncé, she did not respond visibly to her husband’s comments, but there were a few cheers of support from the audience at LA’s Crypto.com Arena. On X, the user @MJFINESSELOVER posted: “Jay-Z is 100% correct. The fact that Beyoncé has never won album of the year… is shameful.” Another user, @spicebae, wrote: “We just need to go ahead and applaud Jay-Z for saying what everyone’s been thinking about the nominations and Beyoncé never winning album of the year.”

This enduring snub becomes even more egregious when you factor in that Beyoncé has been nominated for album of the year on five separate occasions: first in 2010 for I Am… Sasha Fierce, then a year later as a featured artist on Lady Gaga‘s The Fame Monster. Each of Beyoncé’s next three nominations in this category – for the agenda-setting feminist missive Beyoncé in 2015, the genre-melding concept album Lemonade in 2017 and the heady dance opus Renaissance in 2023 – could have been converted into deserving wins.

Jay-Z, shown on stage with Blue Ivy Carter, used his speech to ask why Beyoncé hadn’t received the Grammys’ album of the year award (Credit: Getty Images)

Lemonade in particular looked like a sure-fire album of the year winner. It explored the emotional impact of Jay-Z’s rumoured infidelity through the prism of generational pain and racial inequality, making it culturally pertinent as well as musically accomplished. Across 12 tracks, Beyoncé effortlessly blended genres including reggae, rock, hip-hop, soul, funk, country and electronica. She also made a stunning accompanying visual album. When Adele won instead that year for her blockbuster third album 25, the British singer said in her acceptance speech: “I can’t possibly accept this award. And I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious. But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental.”

As Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn’t add up

Though it is never helpful (or fair) to compare female artists too closely, it is inescapable that Jay-Z’s comments came on the same night that Taylor Swift won album of the year for the fourth time. Her relatively low-key 10th studio album, Midnights, overrode strong competition from SZA, Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey, among others. Since 2000, several other female artists have won album of the year – Norah Jones, Dixie Chicks (now called The Chicks), Alison Krauss (jointly with Robert Plant), Kacey Musgraves, Billie Eilish and Adele (twice). But, as @MJFINESSELOVER noted in her viral tweet, the last time a black woman triumphed in this category came in 1999, when Lauryn Hill won with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Is some kind of racial bias to blame for Beyoncé being shut out? It definitely feels uncomfortable that just one of her 32 Grammy wins has come in a so-called “big four” category (to use the colloquial term that groups the highly coveted trophies for album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist). Beyoncé’s sole big four triumph came in 2010 when Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) was named song of the year.

Her other wins have been in genre categories, including a record five for best R&B song. Any Grammy triumph is a sign of widespread industry recognition, but as Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn’t add up. Over the last decade especially, she has made music that defined the respective genres she has worked in – from R&B and rap to dance/electronica. But she has also made albums that transcended those genres to become pop cultural touchstones. For that reason, she is well overdue for an album of the year win. Thankfully, her creativity remains so undimmed that the Grammys should get many more attempts in the future to right this oversight.

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