BBC 2024-02-07 12:01:39

Deadly blasts in Pakistan day before election

Two bomb explosions have killed at least 22 people in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the eve of general elections, officials say.

The first blast killed 14 people in front of an independent candidate’s party office in Pishin district.

A second explosion left eight people dead in Qillah Saif Ullah district, about 150km (93 miles) away. Many others were injured in the two blasts.

The election has been marred by violence and claims of poll-rigging.

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No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in Pishin, a town about 50km from the city of Quetta and 100km south-east of the Afghan border. The provincial authorities said 25 people were also wounded.

Images on social media show cars and motorbikes blown apart by the force of the explosion. It took place outside the election office of a local independent candidate who officials told the BBC was meeting his polling agent at the time.

Details of the second blast are still emerging. A senior police official told AFP news agency it took place in Qila Saifullah’s main bazaar, targeting the election office of the JUI-F party.

There have been violent incidents in both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in the last week or so in the build-up to Thursday’s vote.

Police are trying to determine the cause of the blasts and the injured have been transported to nearby hospitals.

The Balochistan government said the vote would proceed as planned.

“Rest assured, we will not allow terrorists to undermine or sabotage this crucial democratic process,” provincial information minister Jan Achakzai posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Hamas sets out three-stage plan for ceasefire deal

Hamas has laid out a series of demands, including exchanging hostages for Palestinian prisoners and rebuilding Gaza, in response to an Israel-backed ceasefire proposal.

The armed group wants a full withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to the war after three 45-day truce phases.

The offer is likely to be unacceptable to Israel’s prime minister, who has called for “total victory” in Gaza.

The question is whether a middle ground can be reached to move the process on.

Hamas’s response is a counteroffer to a ceasefire proposal backed by Israel and the US and mediated by Qatar and Egypt – details of which have not been made public.

According to a draft of the Hamas document seen by the Reuters news agency, it suggests:

  • A first 45-day pause in fighting during which all Israeli women hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be exchanged for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza and the reconstruction of hospitals and refugee camps would begin
  • A second phase which would see remaining male Israeli hostages exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and Israeli forces leave Gaza completely
  • A third and final phase during which both sides would exchange remains and bodies

The deal would also see deliveries of food and other aid to Gaza increase. By the end of the 135-day pause in fighting, Hamas says negotiations to end the war would have concluded.

The proposal received a tepid response from US President Joe Biden, who called it “a little over the top”. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said there was still “a lot of work to be done” to reach a permanent ceasefire, but stressed the importance of reaching a lasting peace.

A previous one-week truce in November saw about 100 hostages freed in a swap with 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Around 1,200 people were killed during the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on 7 October last year. The armed group is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by many Western governments, including the UK and US.

More than 27,500 Palestinians have been killed and at least 65,000 injured by the war launched by Israel in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Demands by Hamas for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces are likely to be seen as entirely unacceptable by Israel.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the goal is “total victory”, Israeli officials acknowledge that is still a long way off and some insist it is not even achievable militarily.

  • Hamas responds to proposed Gaza ceasefire plan
  • Western officials in protest over Israel Gaza policy
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Mr Netanyahu’s office says Hamas’s counteroffer has been delivered and is being “evaluated” by Israel.

Earlier, a senior Hamas official told the BBC the armed group had “presented a positive vision” to the Israel-backed proposal but had asked for some amendments relating to the rebuilding of Gaza and the return of its residents to their homes.

The US, one of the main brokers in these indirect Israel-Hamas talks, still sees this process as the “best path forward” and is pressing hard along with its Arab partners.

Their goal is to achieve a sustained humanitarian pause, which could lead to a ceasefire and provide breathing space to focus on a more ambitious plan for the “day after” the end of the war.

Mr Blinken called it an “incredibly powerful path” which would pave the way to the rebuilding of Gaza, a reformed Palestinian Authority and eventually a Palestinian state, as well as a normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

But the Israeli military is still focused on destroying Hamas brigades and hunting down Hamas leaders. And Mr Netanyahu, ever mindful of his own political survival, is under pressure from right-wing allies who warn they’ll bring down his government if he makes any concessions.

Israeli families of hostages are growing ever more anxious about the fate of their loved ones, particularly following disclosures that a fifth of the more than 130 hostages remaining in Gaza are dead.

The US and its Arab allies worry about the growing risks of a wider regional conflagration. And many international organisations are loudly warning of the deepening humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Strip. Many clocks are ticking loudly.

Haley beaten by ‘none of the candidates’ in Nevada

Nikki Haley has suffered a humiliating defeat in the Republican primary in Nevada, despite facing no competition in the absence of Donald Trump.

She received fewer votes than “None of these candidates” by a large margin, the Associated Press projected.

The state governor had advocated voting in this way as a protest because Ms Haley will skip Thursday’s caucuses.

Mr Trump runs unopposed in that vote as he closes in on the presidential nomination.

With 86% of precincts reported, “None” had 63% of Tuesday’s primary votes and Ms Haley had 31%.

But the contest is non-binding because it has been disavowed by the Republican Party.

All the state’s 26 delegates that contribute to the nomination are up for grabs in the caucuses.

So the victory for “none of these candidates” in the primary will have no official impact on the race.

But it reflects the strength of Mr Trump that the backlash against Ms Haley resulted in her effectively losing the vote.

  • A very quick guide to US Republican primaries
  • Why Trump and Haley are contesting different Nevada votes

The fact there are two contests is a result of a dispute between the Republican Party and Democrats in the state legislature.

The legislature passed a law in 2021 to switch from caucus to primary after voting delays in 2020.

A caucus is a vote that requires people to attend in person at a specific time whereas a primary is held in the usual way at a polling station over a number of hours.

Ms Haley did not campaign in Nevada and chose instead to focus on her home state of South Carolina which votes in just over two weeks. And this rebuke by voters left her team undeterred.

“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots, the house wins. We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump,” said campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas.

“We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond.”

The Republican nominee, almost certain to be Mr Trump, will probably face President Joe Biden in November’s election.

Mr Biden won the Democratic primary in Nevada on Tuesday.

More on the US election

  • Explained: A simple guide to the US 2024 election
  • Analysis: Where Biden v Trump will be won and lost
  • Policies: What a Trump second term would look like
  • On the ground: Are black voters losing faith in Biden?

In History: The day Nelson Mandela walks free

In an exclusive clip from the BBC Archive, watch Nelson Mandela speak about his historic release from prison, which was a watershed moment for South Africa in its transition to democracy.

On 11 February 1990, at 16:14 local time, Nelson Mandela, once South Africa’s most wanted man, walked out of Victor Verster Prison hand-in-hand with his then wife Winnie, after spending 27 years behind bars. Huge crowds had waited for hours in the sweltering heat in anticipation of catching sight of him. Mandela had been largely hidden from view during his long years of imprisonment. The government had not released any photos of him while he had been in captivity, in the hope of curbing his growing fame since his conviction.

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Despite this, in the years that followed he had become an international symbol of resistance against the apartheid regime that oppressed South Africa’s black population. By 1990 he had taken on an almost mythic status. Hundreds of supporters thronged the street outside the prison, many of them waving the green, gold and black flags of recently unbanned African National Congress (ANC). The crowd broke out into euphoric cheers as the Mandelas emerged, determined and unbowed, and punched the air in a victory salute. His release that day was a moment of history. But it almost didn’t happen.

Born in 1918 in the eastern Cape of South Africa, Mandela had led the ANC’s nonviolent protest against the apartheid legislation which enforced a racial hierarchy that subjugated South Africa’s black majority. It governed every aspect of life for non-white South Africans who were subjected to forced removals, “pass laws” that restricted their free movement and the denial of their basic human rights. This had made Mandela a frequent target of the all-white government who sought to harass, intimidate and, at times, arrest him to undermine his efforts to organise boycotts and strikes against the regime.

Watch: Mandela’s prison years: ‘It is the government that is guilty’

What proved to be a turning point for him was the “horrific affair” of the Sharpsville massacre in 1960, when 69 black people were shot dead by police while protesting the pass laws. “People had tended to feel that we had done everything in our power, to try all options open to us,” Mandela told Joan Bakewell in a BBC interview in 1990. “Not only was there no improvement as far as our living conditions were concerned. But the government took advantage of our commitment to nonviolence and decided to be even more vicious. It was under those conditions that we decided to resort to violence.”

When we were sent to jail, we had the feeling that we had been victorious. And that the people who were actually the accused were the government itself – Nelson Mandela

This triggered a campaign of economic sabotage by the ANC that targeted infrastructure rather than people and led to Mandela’s arrest. He, along with several other men, was charged with sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy. Speaking from the dock in the courtroom, Mandela articulated his fundamental beliefs with conviction and defiance. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” he said.

Gruelling conditions

In 1964, Mandela received a life sentence, narrowly escaping the death penalty. “Although we were sentenced and sent to jail, we felt that we had come out head and shoulders above the government. Our defence was an attack on government policy, right from the time when they asked us, ‘Are you guilty?’ ‘No we are not guilty, it is the government that is guilty.’ And, therefore, when we were sent to jail, we had the feeling that we had been victorious. And that the people who were actually the accused were the government itself,” he said.

Mandela spent 18 years of his prison term on Robben Island. He was held in a small cell without any plumbing, sleeping on a mat on the stone floor. During the day he did gruelling work labouring at a limestone quarry. “Lime is a very difficult thing, you know, to dig because it is in layers. It is between layers of rock, hard rock.”

The authorities took efforts to keep him hidden from the world. Once a year he was allowed a visitor but only for 30 minutes. Despite his mother dying in 1968 and his eldest son being killed in a car crash less than a year later, he was not allowed to attend their funerals. However, he still managed to smuggle out letters and advocate for the ANC.

In 1982 he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, where the damp conditions contributed to him being hospitalised with tuberculosis in 1988. The apartheid government throughout this time periodically made offers to release him, but the freedom that was offered was always subject to government conditions, which Mandela resolutely refused. In 1989, FW de Klerk was elected South African president. The following year, he announced that he was lifting the ban on the ANC and ordering Mandela’s imminent release from prison.

On 10 February 1990, President De Klerk met Mandela to tell him he was going to be released the next day. This time it was an unconditional release. He would be a free man. But to President de Klerk’s surprise, Nelson Mandela’s response seemed muted. “I thanked Mr de Klerk, and then said that at the risk of appearing ungrateful I would prefer to have a week’s notice in order that my family and my organisation could be prepared,” he wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Taken aback, President De Klerk, after briefly consulting with his advisors, came back to say he would, in fact, have to insist that Mandela leave prison as planned. Mandela conceded and the two shared a drink. He walked to his freedom the next day and stepped into history. Three years later Mandela, as leader of the ANC, became South Africa’s first black and democratic president.

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The megafloods coming to California

Climate change is making it a matter of time before a megaflood hits the state.

The Santa Barbara police car blocked access to the bridge, lights flashing as the thundering, swollen brown river rampaged below. The water was running so high in this Southern California county that it gushed through the railings of the bridge, and poured out onto the road.

This region is familiar with water scarcity – usually battling extreme heatwaves, wildfires, and drought. Now, Southern California is confronting an overabundance of water, in the form of torrential rain and life-threatening floods.

Earlier this week, around half a year’s worth of rain was predicted to fall in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas in just one day.  

The city recorded its rainiest day ever on Monday, and it wasn’t better news for the rest of California either. A state of emergency was declared and evacuation orders were issued. Mudslides hit neighbourhoods, drivers were stranded, and half a million residents lost power. About 37 million residents, or 94% of the state’s population, are under flood alerts.

Flooding rescues and mudslides after California storms

The already-deadly storm is caused by an atmospheric river, a corridor of water vapour in Earth’s lower atmosphere which is carried along by the wind, forming long currents – a kind of sky river. The consequences can be dramatic. The precipitation that falls is comparable to the rain brought by hurricanes making landfall on the Gulf Coast.

And experts say that the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events will only increase. These severe floods in California are a “broadly underappreciated risk”, according to a 2022 paper, co-authored by Daniel Swain and Xingying Huang, scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“I think we’re reasonably prepared for what we’re seeing right now,” says Swain. “But the kinds of events we’re talking about in that paper are far greater – they’re longer in duration, more extreme and more widespread. Pretty much every dimension you could add to it. […] I don’t think that California has fully prepared to face the realities of these events,” says Swain.

Climate change is increasing the risk of a California megaflood, Swain’s study warns. This extreme storm scenario would produce runoffs 200-400% greater than anything seen before in the Sierra Nevada, the sprawling 400-mile (650km) mountain range that traverses 24 of the 58 counties in California.

The last such megaflood happened in 1861, inundating a 300 mile-long (483km) stretch of the Central Valley and large portions of modern-day Los Angeles with water. It could happen again, any time. And, the extremity of such a flood is increased by around 10% per 1C of global warming, because the warmer the planet the more capacity the atmosphere has to hold water vapour.

“Imagine that what’s unfolded over the past 48 hours [in California], just kept recurring for weeks. That’s the kind of scenario we’re talking about,” says Swain.

It’s difficult to quantify this kind of event, but one noticeable incident from 2023 that stands out is Tulare Lake, an ancient lake bed that was drained in the 1920s for agriculture. In March, the dry lake began to refill due to the atmospheric river storms that pummelled the state. Heavy farm machinery, orchards, and entire warehouses sunk beneath the water, a kind of modern-day farmyard Atlantis.

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2023’s intense rainfall also caused landslides and floods that devastated entire communities, killed at least 22 people, and caused billions in damage. These kinds of extreme weather events disproportionately impact people of colour and low-economic status, like those in Pajaro, a community in Monterey County, which was flooded after a levee, a type of flood wall, failed.

Scientists say the frequency and intensity of flash floods will increase due to climate change (Credit: Getty Images)

The flooding in Southern California that occurred in January 2024 reiterated the vulnerability of these groups.

“San Diego flooding two weeks ago showed again that disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of flood impacts when infrastructure is overtopped,” says Brett Sanders, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Irvine. “If this storm ends up causing mainstem flood channels to overtop, then once again there will be low-income communities impacted, leaving people scrambling to salvage their belongings and find a place to live while not losing their job from missed work.”

What California has experienced so far though, is nothing compared to what might be in store for the region. “I don’t think we can point to recent events as a good indicator of the impacts to come,” says Swain, “because these events will be far, far greater – larger, higher impact and more dangerous than what we’re seeing now.”

The state is beginning to experience what scientists are calling “hydroclimate whiplash” – essentially the climate veering wildly between extreme dryness, and extreme wetness. The swings of the pendulum will become greater as the climate warms, increasing these kinds of weather events – meaning Californians will need to adapt to both a drier, and wetter, world.

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