INDEPENDENT 2024-02-09 06:04:48


Queen gives health update on King at first royal engagement since cancer diagnosis

The King is doing “extremely well under the circumstances”, the Queen has said as she celebrated the work of charities at Salisbury Cathedral.

Asked about Charles, she replied: “Well, he’s doing extremely well under the circumstances, he’s very touched by all the letters and the messages the public have been sending from everywhere – that’s very cheering.”

Earlier, the Prince of Wales spoke about the King’s cancer diagnosis for the first time as he expressed his gratitude to the public for their “kind messages of support”.

Prince William’s words of praise, delivered during a fundraising gala dinner, also recognised those who wished the Princess of Wales well, as she recovers from successful, planned abdominal surgery.

He told the guests: “It means a great deal to us all.”

Zelensky sacks army chief in major military shake-up

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has sacked his armed forces chief as part of a major shake-up of the country’s military leadership nearly two years after the start of the war with Russia.

The move, which comes after weeks of speculation that Mr Zelensky and General Valery Zaluzhny were clashing over frontline strategy, marks the most serious change in Ukraine’s top military brass since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

General Zaluzhny has been replaced by Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces. He has been credited with a role, under General Zaluzhny, in the surprise and successful counterattack by Kyiv’s troops in Kharkiv in the summer and autumn of 2022 and has since been serving as the head of military operations in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine has faced an increase in attacks by Putin’s forces both on the ground and in the air in recent weeks, with a long-expected counteroffensive by Kyiv that started last summer having failed to gain back the level of territory from Russian forces that Ukraine would have hoped.

Much of the 600-mile frontline has moved little in recent months, but Russia is looking to make gains of its own in areas of eastern and northern Ukraine. This situation has been exacerbated by a failure by the US Congress to agree to fresh military aid for Ukraine after the previous support ran out in December.

Soldiers on the frontline have spoken to The Independent about shortages of ammunition and weapons to fight Putin’s weapons.

The US is Kyiv’s single largest provider of military aid, but some Republicans – particularly supporters of Donald Trump – have blocked tens of billions of dollars in fresh funding over a row about immigration on the US southern border. Leaders of both the Democrats and the Republicans are now scrambling to save the funding in a separate bill.

In a post on social media, Mr Zelensky thanked General Zaluzhny for his two years of service as commander-in-chief.

“Starting today, a new management team will take over the leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine,” he said.

President Zelensky added that he and General Zaluzhny had a “frank conversation” about the changes needed in the army.

“I proposed to General Zaluzhny to remain part of the team,” he added.

Speculation over General Zaluzhny’s dismissal reached its height in the last 10 days, since a meeting last week when Mr Zelensky is said to have asked the army chief to resign, which General Zaluzhny declined to do.

Mr Zelensky’s desire to replace his top army commander was clear, but there were suggestions he may be having trouble getting someone to take over from the general, who is extremely popular with both rank-and-file soldiers and the public and had earned the moniker “Iron General”.

General Zaluzhny, in a Telegram message, did not announce he had stepped down but said he accepted that “everyone must change and adapt to new realities” and agreed that there is a “need to change approaches and strategy” in the war.

The country’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, said in a statement: “[General Zaluzhny] had one of the most difficult tasks – to lead the armed forces of Ukraine during the great war with Russia.

“But war does not remain the same. War changes and demands change. Battles 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes, for which we must be ready. New approaches, new strategies are needed.

“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine … I am sincerely grateful to [General Zaluzhny] for all his achievements and victories.”

Earlier this week, Mr Zelensky suggested that the changes could extend beyond General Zaluzhny.

“I mean a replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military,” he said. “If we want to win we must all push in the same direction, convinced of victory, we cannot be discouraged, let our arms fall, we must have the right positive energy,” he added.

General Zaluzhny was appointed by Mr Zelensky in July 2021 and has overseen Ukraine’s military operations since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. He is seen as a hero by many in Ukraine for his forces’ use of stealth and speed to thwart Russia’s advance on Kyiv in the early weeks of Moscow’s invasion, helping to ensure that, even now, President Putin remains a long way from conquering Ukraine.

As the war progressed, general Zaluzhny’s stock rose, and he won praise at home and abroad in the counteroffensives in the northeast and south that recaptured swathes of land. A portrait of him smiling and flashing the peace sign was spray-painted on walls after the liberation of the southern city of Kherson, under the slogan ”God and Zaluzhnyi are with us”.

A December 2023 poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found 72 per cent of Ukrainians would view the dismissal of General Zaluzhny negatively, with only 2 per cent seeing it positively. Mr Zelensky’s popularity, meanwhile, had dropped from 84 per cent in December 2022 to 62 per cent a year later.

Kyiv mayor, Vitali Klitschko, who has had his own disagreements with President Zelensky, had previously criticised the possibility of General Zaluzhny’s firing, saying it was due to the general’s leadership that “many Ukrainians truly trust the armed forces”.

In the wake of dismissing his army chief, Mr Zelensky said that the Ukrainian army required immediate changes with a new approach to mobilisation and recruiting.

On the frontline, Ukrainian forces claimed to have shot down a Russian attack helicopter in eastern Ukraine near the key town of Avdiivka, where soldiers are fighting from street to street as Russia’s army steps up its four-month campaign to surround defending troops.

Avdiivka has become “a primary focus” of Moscow’s forces, the UK Defense Ministry said in an assessment on Thursday.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces reported Thursday that its troops had fended off 40 enemy assaults around Avdiivka over the previous 24 hours. That is roughly double the number of daily Russian assaults at other points along the frontline. Both Kyiv and Moscow see Avdiivka as key to Russia’s stated aim of securing full control of the two eastern “Donbas” provinces – Donetsk and Luhansk.

Moscow controls the city of Donetsk, not far from Avdiivka and sees the town as a staging post for possible future advances. The fight has evolved into a gruesome effort for both sides. It has been compared to the nine months of fighting for Bakhmut, the Ukraine war’s longest and bloodiest battle. It ended with Russia capturing the bombed-out, deserted city last May in what Moscow hailed as a major triumph.

Colonel General Syrskyi faced some criticism of some soldiers on the frontline for keeping Kyiv’s forces under fire too long in Bakhmut.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

How the French finally lost their sex drive

Many’s the time I’ve stared wistfully into the distance and uttered the words: “God, I wish I was French.”

I blame film and TV. They’ve brainwashed me into thinking I would be totally different if I’d simply been born on the other side of the Channel: an effortlessly chic question mark of a femme, draped in black and dripping with aloof allure, Gauloise dangling insouciantly from two long, elegant fingers. (I may never have smoked a cigarette in my life but I would absolutement be courting lung cancer were my name Hélène Café.) Underneath this exterior of bored, beautiful sophistication would simmer a powerful sensuality suggesting that, if I hadn’t just had sex, I was probably just about to. Because, if there’s one thing we know about the French, it’s this: they’re sexy as hell and at it like lapins.

Fear not: I’m well aware of how totally delusional this caricatured trope is. And now it’s been officially proven that the sexed-up stereotype is, really and truly, a myth – a new survey has revealed that France’s national libido is on the wane.

The poll, conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), found that one in four (24 per cent) French adults between the ages of 18 and 69 reported they’d had no sex during the past year, compared to just 9 per cent in 2006. Of those aged 18 to 24, 28 per cent said they’d never had sex – a massive leap from 5 per cent in 2006. And the percentage of the 1,911 respondents who claimed to be having sex at least once a week had plummeted from 58 per cent in 2009 to 43 per cent today. It’s giving less ménage à trois, more ménage à blah.

Some of the reasons behind this lacklustre lack of lust were somewhat depressing to read for a devoted Francophile raised on a diet of Gallic sirens comme Brigitte Bardot and Juliette Binoche. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of respondents said they had avoided sex at least once to watch a television series, read a book, go on social media or play video games. This last distraction was particularly common for men under the age of 35 – some 53 per cent of them had wriggled out of une partie de jambes en l’air (”a game of legs in the air”) to focus on a different kind of gaming at least once.

Video games? Instead of sex? This, from the nation that gave us the Moulin Rouge, Madame Bovary, and the most poetic idiom for an orgasm ever created: la petite mort (the little death)? This, from the country that birthed Serge Gainsbourg, he of that infamous “Je t’aime… moi non plus” song that propelled the sound of a woman orgasming to No 1 in the charts? This, from a people so accepting of uncontrollable sexual appetites that it’s practically a legal requirement for the president to have a mistress, and where crime passionnel (crime of passion) was a valid defence for murder until the 1970s?

Say it ain’t so! C’est pas possible!

In fairness, modern-day tech and distractions don’t really fit with the hyper-sexualised image of the French immortalised in fiction and cinema. Imagine a Betty Blue – the “sex-and-suicide flick that turned a whole generation of men onto girls with mental illness”, in the words of Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan – in which oozing-with-charisma Béatrice Dalle catalogues her breakdowns via viral TikTok videos. Picture queer erotic-fest Blue is the Warmest Colour with Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos swapping frantic lesbian sex for bingeing a structured reality show. Visualise a version of whimsical Parisian love story Amélie where protagonist Audrey Tautou silently leads Mathieu Kassovitz to her bedroom – only to hand him a console and boot up World of Warcraft. It simply doesn’t work.

Of course, it’s not really the responsibility of the French to keep up the dying-from-desire image just to satisfy the repressed British contingent over here. Some of the data suggests there might be positive motives for doing it less: for example, the strides women have made in achieving greater independence. Just over half (52 per cent) of French women said they sometimes had sex without really wanting to, compared to 76 per cent in a similar poll conducted in 1981.

“Women’s financial autonomy has enabled them to realise that they don’t always need to say yes if they don’t want to,” François Kraus, the director of the IFOP politics and current events survey, pointed out. He also attributed the decline to a generational shift away from the sexual liberation that typified the end of the 1960s – “it’s counter-cyclical, what one generation does intensely, the next does less” – and to the fact that the social pressure to have an active sex life had diminished. Some 12 per cent of survey respondents identified as asexual.

But even so; I can’t help but be a little disappointed in our previously libidinous neighbours. Who are we supposed to hang our fantasies on now? Data aside, I’m inclined to blame Emily in Paris, the Netflix series viewers love to hate, in which Lily Collins plays the worst kind of vapid American. Swanning around the French capital in beautiful outfits, she is curiously charmless and has all the charisma and eroticism of a Formica worktop. Her asexuality is so powerful, in fact, it almost manages to drain Paris – the city of love! – of its seductive appeal.

If my theory’s correct, France’s sex slump will get worse before it gets better – series four is currently in the works. Quel dommage

Takeaway raided in hunt for Clapham suspect as police reveal last sighting

Armed police early on Thursday morning raided a pizza takeaway where Clapham chemical attacker Abdul Ezedi is believed to have worked.

A joint operation by the Metropolitan Police and Northumbria Police led to two raids being carried out by armed officers at addresses in Newcastle, including Ezedi’s place of work. No arrests were made.

But detectives have revealed a new last sighting of the suspect. Around 11.25pm on 31 January he was seen crossing Chelsea Bridge and entering Battersea Park.

Two minutes later he was seen leaving the park again.

CCTV images suggest he had also walked right past New Scotland Yard hours after the attack.

The victim was said to be a “devoted mother” who just wanted a safe home for her two girls.

The 31-year-old, who is still sedated, may lose the sight in her right eye.

The Metropolitan Police have put hospitals on high alert for Ezedi, whose face was badly burnt. They say he could die from his injuries.

Police interview man in mystery over seven dead giant tortoises

A man has attended a police interview after the mytsery discovery of seven dead giant tortoises found dead in Devon woodland.

Devon and Cornwall Police said that seven dead tortoises were found in a wooded area to the north of Exeter.

The force said inquiries are ongoing after a man, in his 50s from the Exeter area, came to a voluntary attendance police interview.

It was in relation to suspected offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Two of the tortoises were found on January 8, and another five were found nearby.

The force previously said they were thought to be Aldabra giant tortoises – classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

On Thursday, the police said they have been working with the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPCA on the investigation.

Post-mortem examinations are still to be carried out to establish the cause of death of the tortoises.

Inspector Mark Arthurs said: “We are grateful for the public support in response to our appeal and have been working through the information we have received.

“We have been working closely with specialists, including the RSPCA and our colleagues from the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

“Our inquiries are ongoing.”

Aldabra tortoises, together with their distantly related cousin, the Galapagos giant tortoise, are the largest species of tortoise in the world.

They can live for more than 150 years, with some having shells that reach more than a metre in length.

Unmissable New York State experiences

Did Rishi really mean to suggest Boris Johnson could make a comeback?

Rishi Sunak has been subjected to the personal profile treatment by ITV, featuring a previously unseen photo of him as a boy in front of a caravan… and an interview with Anushka Asthana in which he “doesn’t rule out” Boris Johnson returning to the cabinet.

“Doesn’t rule out” is being used in the journalistic sense, in which he also “didn’t rule out” flying to Mars and back in time for tea. It was not so much that Sunak “didn’t rule out” Johnson following Lord Cameron back to the front rank, but that he didn’t answer the question at all.

He told Asthana: “I’m proud of the work that we did together. And we worked well together for a long time…”

Labour’s green contortions are a foretaste of trouble ahead

Confirmation that global warming has exceeded 1.5C over the past year will rightly be seen as a flashing red light on the climate crisis dashboard.

As responsible news organisations – including The Independent – have reported, there are short-term factors behind this rise, notably the El Nino natural variation in winds and sea surface temperatures. And while that warning level set by the Paris climate agreement has not yet been breached by long-term average temperatures, the latest figures reinforce the likelihood that the long-term average will breach that 1.5C threshold within the next decade.

So it looks like bad timing for the Labour Party, which is likely to form a government by the end of the year, to announce the same day that it is retreating from its central policy aimed at minimising climate change.