BBC 2024-02-16 06:01:34

US warns key Ukrainian town could fall to Russia

The US has warned that Russia could seize Ukraine’s key eastern town of Avdiivka – the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months.

“Avdiivka is at risk of falling into Russian control,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, citing Ukraine’s ammunition shortages.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to do everything to “save as many Ukrainian lives as possible”.

Russian troops have made gains in Avdiivka, threatening to encircle it.

The town – which has been almost completely destroyed – is seen as a gateway to nearby Donetsk, the regional Ukrainian capital seized by Russian-backed fighters in 2014 and later illegitimately annexed by Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

  • Ukraine battles frostbite and shell shortage in ruined town
  • Nothing but rubble: Ukraine’s shattered ghost town Avdiivka

At Thursday’s briefing in Washington, Mr Kirby said Avdiivka could fall largely “because the Ukrainian forces on the ground are running out of artillery ammunition”.

“Russia is sending wave after wave of conscript forces to attack Ukrainian positions,” he said.

“And because Congress has yet to pass the supplemental bill, we have not been able to provide Ukraine with the artillery shells that they desperately need to disrupt these Russian assaults.

“Russian forces are now reaching Ukrainian trenches in Avdiivka, and they’re beginning to overwhelm Ukrainian defences.”

Earlier this week, the US Senate approved a $95bn (£75bn) foreign aid package – including $60bn for Ukraine – after months of political wrangling, but it faces an uphill battle in the House of Representatives.

Ukraine is critically dependent on weapons supplies from the US and other Western allies to be able to continue fighting Russia – a much bigger military force with an abundance of artillery ammunition.

Nato Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg warned on Thursday that the US failure to approve continued military assistance to Ukraine was already having an impact on the battlefield.

In his video address late on Thursday, President Zelensky said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure that our warriors have enough managerial and technological capabilities to save as many Ukrainian lives as possible.”

On Friday, Mr Zelensky is visiting Berlin and Paris where is expected to sign security pacts with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

A similar agreement on security co-operation was signed between Ukraine and the UK in January.

Late on Thursday, Ukrainian General Oleksandr Tarnavsky admitted that “fierce battles” were taking place “within” Avdiivka.

“We value every piece of Ukrainian land, but the highest value and priority for us is the preservation of the life of a Ukrainian soldier,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy acknowledged that Ukrainian troops in Avdiivka were being forced to “sometimes move to more advantageous positions… in some places leaving positions”.

Some Ukrainian soldiers have privately admitted the town could fall at any moment.

“We’re upset,” Ukrainian officer Oleksii, from Ukraine’s 110th Mechanised Brigade in the Avdiivka area, told the BBC earlier this week, standing beside a huge mobile artillery piece as Russian guns boomed in the distance.

“Currently we have two shells, but we have no [explosive] charges for them… so we can’t fire them. As of now, we have run out of shells,” said Oleksii. He suggested that the shortages were widespread and having a dramatic impact on the fighting in Avdiivka.

“We feel a very strong responsibility for our guys fighting right now in the town, armed only with assault rifles.”

Ukraine’s newly appointed commander-in-chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, visited the frontline in the Avdiivka area this week, acknowledging that the situation there was “difficult”.

He said the Russian military did not “count losses”, using its troops as cannon fodder.

Kyiv says an elite Ukrainian brigade has now been sent to Avdiivka and reserve artillery has been deployed.

In unverified reports, Russian military bloggers said on Thursday that a key Ukrainian defence position in southern Avdiivka – known as Zenit – was now under Moscow’s control.

Gaza hospital in ‘catastrophic’ state as Israeli troops raid

Israel’s military claims it has captured “dozens” of terror suspects during a raid on southern Gaza’s main hospital, as staff and patients were forced to flee under gunfire.

Israel said it launched a “precise and limited mission” at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, adding it had intelligence that Hamas had held hostages there.

Hamas dismissed the claim as “lies”.

The hospital’s director told the BBC that conditions inside were “catastrophic and very dangerous”.

The Israel Defense Forces’ chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said among those captured was a participant in Hamas’s attack inside Israel on 7 October, “an ambulance driver for Hamas” who had driven a hostage into Gaza, and a member of the armed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group.

He said that interrogations of “terrorists who were arrested or surrendered in the area” and the testimonies of freed hostages, had “determined that kidnapped Israelis were previously held in the hospital compound”.

However, he said Israeli special forces involved in the hospital raid had yet to find any evidence of kidnapped Israelis and that the search was continuing.

His comments came hours after images, verified by the BBC, showed medical staff rushing patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust.

One patient – who is still in their bed – can be seen being moved through a corridor where the ceiling is damaged.

Other patients can also be seen, including one person being carried away in what looks like a blanket.

In another clip, people can be seen placing furniture and other items against a door as a narrator states in English that Israeli forces are about to enter.

A nurse inside the hospital told the BBC that a “large number of dogs” had been released inside the hospital during the operation.

Nahed Abu-Teima the director of Nasser, told BBC Arabic that there had been “violent shelling and severe explosions” for several hours “in the vicinity of the complex”.

He said the patients who had remained at the facility were “piled up in wards” with critical injuries and appealed to the UN and Red Cross to “save” them and the staff.

Nasser is one of the few hospitals still functioning in Gaza, and has been the scene of intense fighting between the IDF and Hamas for days.

Thursday’s operation came a day after the IDF ordered thousands of displaced people who had been sheltering at the site to leave.

Israel’s military said it had assured Nasser hospital staff that patients and staff were not obliged to leave, and that medics could continue treating Gazan patients.

Dr Ashraf al-Quadra, a spokesperson for the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, denied that was the case, saying Israeli troops had forced the hospital management to “keep intensive care patients without medical equipment”.

A pharmacist who works in the hospital, Rawan Al-Mughrabi, was among those evacuated by Israeli forces on Wednesday.

She told BBC Arabic there was “a state of panic that made people [being evacuated] stand on top of each other and scream. Many people were harmed, and others returned to the hospital.

“As soon as we left the hospital gate and reached the checkpoints, the entire hospital and departments were stormed by police dogs, and while we were standing at the checkpoints, many people were arrested.

“Most of the medical cases were evacuated from the hospital, and only the very critical cases remained,” she said.

On Wednesday, the UN’s humanitarian office said there were allegations of sniper fire at the complex, putting the lives of doctors, patients and displaced people at risk.

The medical charity Medicins San Frontieres said those ordered to evacuate faced an impossible choice – to stay “and become a potential target” or leave “into an apocalyptic landscape” of bombings.

Israel launched its military offensive after waves of Hamas fighters burst through Israel’s border on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mainly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 28,600 people, mainly women and children – have been killed in Israel’s campaign. Israel says its aim is to destroy Hamas and secure the return of the hostages.

Israel is facing increasing international pressure to show restraint. On Wednesday France’s President Emmanuel Macron phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say Israel’s operations in Gaza “must cease” and that the human cost of the Gaza operation was “intolerable”.

But Mr Netanyahu insisted his troops will advance on the Gazan city of Rafah, which has already come under bombardment. Some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in the area.

The prime ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand issued a joint statement expressing their “grave concern” that a military operation in Rafah would be “catastrophic”.

Pakistan: Imran Khan picks Omar Ayub as PM nominee

Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan has picked one of his party’s leaders as PM candidate.

Omar Ayub Khan will run against the candidate of Imran Khan’s rivals, who have agreed to a coalition.

Khan-backed independents unexpectedly won the most seats in last week’s election, but they did not have enough seats to form a government.

This has led to days of deal-making as the constitution requires the formation of a government by 29 February.

A senior leader of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, Asad Qaiser, announced Mr Ayub as his pick for PM after meeting with the former premier in prison.

Members of Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect the new speaker and 56-year-old Mr Ayub will face off against the nominee of former PM Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who joined forces earlier this week.

Mr Ayub is on the run from criminal charges, including those related to riots that followed Imran Khan’s arrest last year. But that does not disqualify him from seeking the PM post.

If elected PM, Mr Ayub said his top priority is to free political prisoners. He won last week as an independent backed by PTI.

He is the grandson of Mohamed Ayub Khan, a military dictator and Pakistan’s president from 1958 to 1969.

  • What now in Pakistan after Khan vote surprise?

With the PPP’s support, Mr Sharif on Wednesday put forward his brother Shehbaz as the PML-N’s PM candidate.

The vote for Pakistan’s next prime minister will take place after all new members of the National Assembly take their oaths, and the speaker and deputy speaker have been elected.

Independent candidates – a majority affiliated with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – won 93 of the 265 National Assembly seats that were contested in last Thursday’s election. The PML-N won 75 seats while the PPP came third with 54 seats.

  • Against the odds, election shows Imran Khan’s support is solid
  • Who is really pulling the strings in a divided Pakistan?

The PTI argues that its allies should have won even more votes and seats, alleging vote fraud and interference – which electoral officials have denied.

Earlier this week, a politician from the Jamaat-e-Islami party gave up his seat because he says the vote was rigged in his favour.

“We will not allow our mandate to be stolen,” Mr Ayub said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“PTI as a party will work for strengthening democratic institutions in Pakistan so that the country’s economy can be put on a path of positive trajectory and we can initiate our reforms programme to benefit the people of Pakistan,” he said.

Mr Ayub was first elected into the nation’s National Assembly in 2002 as a candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, a breakaway party from the PML-N.

He joined PML-N in 2012, and then moved again in 2018 to join PTI. He was a minister in Khan’s cabinet from 2018 until the ex-PM’s ouster in April 2022. He was appointed PTI’s secretary-general since 27 May 2003, shortly after Khan’s arrest.

What Jon Stewart’s return really means

Jon Stewart is back in the host chair on The Daily Show. Critics weigh in on whether this will revive viewership for late night or mark a step backwards.

Nearly 10 years ago, on 7 August 2015, Jon Stewart tearfully wrapped what was intended to be his final taping of The Daily Show by telling viewers: “Nothing ends… It’s a pause in the conversation. So, rather than saying goodbye or goodnight, I’m just gonna say I’m going to get a drink. And I’m sure I’ll see you guys before I leave.”

Stewart’s words turned out to be prescient. This week, amid much fanfare, the popular comedian returned to the helm of the Comedy Central show that he single-handedly turned into a cultural phenomenon during his initial run as host.

It’s a return that Stewart has said in interviews was driven by his desire to have someplace to “unload thoughts as we get into this election season”. And Stewart wasted no time picking up right where he left off nearly a decade ago, making clear that he remains the king of dissecting and distilling the latest political developments and gaffes with a unique brand of authenticity.

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This time, however, Stewart will not remain in the host chair for a decade-plus as he did the first time around. The network has said that Stewart will make one-night-per-week appearances until the end of the 2024 election cycle – while also serving as the show’s executive producer.

The return of his incisive political and cultural skewering, however, is merely one of the takeaways from Stewart’s renewed presence on The Daily Show. TV critics say there’s far more that can be gleaned from the legendary comedian’s reprise.

Will Jon Stewart’s return increase interest in late night TV? (Credit: Alamy)

Renewed attention for late night

In the years since Stewart walked away from The Daily Show, the media landscape has changed and late night has struggled to hold onto viewers. With record numbers of people turning toward streaming or opting to watch clips on social media after a show has aired, advertising revenues for six of the top late-night shows has declined 50% since 2014 and more than 60% from their highs in 2016.

It’s also no secret that viewership for The Daily Show declined since Stewart’s departure amid this new dynamic. While his successor, South African comedian Trevor Noah, had a devoted following, the show didn’t have the same pull: During Stewart’s final season, The Daily Show garnered about 1.3 million viewers, according to the Associated Press. With Noah at the helm, the show averaged about 385,000 viewers.

While Stewart’s 2024 comeback is not likely to change the fractured media landscape, it may bring some renewed attention and buzz to the fading appeal of live late-night television.

“I think it provides a jolt of energy, publicity and interest for late-night TV,” said Kristen Baldwin, a television critic for Entertainment Weekly.

And that jolt of interest may not be a moment too soon for The Daily Show in a competitive media world offering a dizzying array of options from TikTok to Netflix and beyond. Marcus Collins, clinical assistant professor of marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and author of For the Culture, suggests Stewart’s presence may bring some viewers back into the fold of watching live or cable television.

“Stewart’s return will likely be a shot of adrenaline to late-night TV, providing an appointment-based viewing occasion, if only for Monday nights, that linear television needs,” explained Collins. “There was a shrinkage in viewership for The Daily Show after Stewart left, but I imagine many of those people will come back.”

Why will they come back? Because, says Collins, Stewart offers something that’s been sorely lacking in the cultural zeitgeist: a unique brand of “sensible social and political commentary”. And Stewart is bringing this to the table amid a highly charged US presidential election year.

“Stewart provides a voice that, while strong in its convictions, has no problem critiquing both sides of the aisle and driving to the heart of the matter in ways that are both clever and clear,” explained Collins. “That’s super powerful stuff, and it’s a white space in linear late-night TV that’s totally unoccupied.”

If early numbers are any indication, Collins may be onto something. Stewart’s epic return on Monday attracted nearly two million total viewers across simulcasts, Paramount reported.  That’s the show’s most-watched telecast in more than five years.

A more cost-effective late-night model

With high-paid marquee hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, late night is expensive to produce. Estimates peg both Fallon’s and Colbert’s salaries at around $16 million and $15 million respectively, while Stewart was reportedly paid somewhere between $25 million and $30 million. Amid this reality, late-night offerings have shrunk. After James Corden left The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2023, for instance, CBS axed the show rather than find a replacement host.

But Stewart’s one-night-per-week return, which will include a rotating cast of other hosts the remainder of the week, may be an example or prototype for the late-night industry to follow. It offers a less expensive approach other shows could adopt and one that may be more intriguing for viewers.

“I think Stewart’s return will create inspiration for other late-night shows. He’s only on one day a week. That’s an interesting model for other shows,” said Collins. “Imagine if more networks programmed this way. It gives them the flexibility to partner with unbelievable talent without a huge investment from either side.”

In other words, you get both novelty and familiarity at the same time, says Collins, who suggests this approach may signal for other networks some of the creative possibilities available.

The Daily Show struggled to find a replacement for Trevor Noah.(Credit: Alamy)

A talent vacuum

Much like the criticism being leveled at the two primary US political parties these days, the comedy world may be suffering from a similar “men we’ve seen before” talent challenge. Stewart’s return to The Daily Show may offer some evidence of that.

Noah, who was Stewart’s replacement at the show’s helm, left the post in 2022. Since then, The Daily Show has struggled to find a suitable successor. Nearly a year after Noah’s departure, there was still no plan in place for a new host.

“What this kind of proves, is that the TV industry hasn’t done a great job of nurturing the next generation of talent,” said Baldwin. “I think the fact that The Daily Show has yet to find a permanent host is just another indication of that.”

The fact that he’s not a fresh talent entering the fray is not lost on Stewart himself. During his opening monologue Monday night, the 61-year-old joked about his age and the parallels between his return to The Daily Show host desk and the current US presidential election candidates vying to occupy the White House.

Stewart invited the cameras to zoom in on his face during the monologue in order to provide viewers a close-up of his wrinkles and how he’s aged over the years. And then further emphasised his age by offering up a fresh-faced picture of him taken 20 years ago.

But Lara Rosales, critic for Tell-Tale TV, says that while Stewart may not be a new commodity, he offers something that some feel has been lacking on late-night television – and may just help fill the void until the next generation of comedic talent emerges.

“He brings a different vibe. He is more irreverent, in a sense. He has no filters. That attracts a different kind of audience, who is looking for something more real,” Rosales said. “I don’t think it’s going to be difficult for him to fall back into captivating the audiences the way he used to.”

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Why Asia is the new hotbed for digital nomad visas

Japan joins other Asian countries in releasing a digital nomad visa, but barriers to entry might be too high for most.

Japan’s Immigration Services Agency just announced it will start issuing its long-anticipated digital nomad visa within the next few weeks. According to the Japan Times, the visa will be available to nationals of 49 countries, a list that includes the United Kingdom and the United States. Once obtained, visa holders can legally live and work remotely from anywhere in the country for up to six months.

It has come as welcome news to the global digital nomad community, with the announcement garnering plenty of praise in online communities such as Reddit’s r/DigitalNomad sub and hundreds more comments on the social platform’s r/Japan page. However, would-be digital nomads have been quick to point out that, like many new digital nomad visas, this one comes with some rather hefty requirements for eligibility.

As Japan Times reported, applicants must show they earn a minimum income of ¥10 million (about £54,356 or $66,622). Applicants must also hold private health insurance, and visa holders will not be allowed to obtain a residence card. The visa expires after six months and is not eligible for renewal. Although it comes with steep terms, the visa is likely to be a popular one. It’s the result of a survey of digital nomads, who overwhelmingly indicated they’d prefer to be able to stay longer than the current, 90-day visa-free tourist stays allow.

And why not allow for an extended stay? After all, Japan ranked as the fastest-growing remote working hub in 2023, according to data shared with CNBC by Nomad List, a website for remote workers, which analysed more than 300,000 check-ins on its database. 

The eligibility requirements are quite strict and difficult to meet for the average digital nomad – Brittany Loeffler

But, beyond simply providing supply for the growing demand, Japan is also likely hoping to cash in on the economic benefits that can come with digital nomads moving in. As the BBC previously reported, a 2023 survey by Carlos Grider estimates that digital nomads contribute nearly $800bn to the global economy annually. A lot of that cash was flowing to places such as Portugal and its neighbouring nation of Spain. The former was home to nearly 16,000 digital nomads in December 2023, according to Nomad List, thanks to its Golden Visa residency program for expats looking to make Portugal a permanent home – plus a newly launched digital nomad visa of its own. As for Spain, VisaGuide.World named the country the top destination for nomads thanks to its visa’s low barrier of entry, requiring proof of income at just €2,600 (£2,225, $2,394) per month, which equates to less than half the yearly salary Japan will soon require. Japan’s high-income requirement also appears to be a trend across several countries in Asia that are dipping their toes in the digital nomad visa waters.

“To be honest, it doesn’t seem that Asia is introducing ‘easy’ digital nomad visas,” says Brittany Loeffler, the head of operations at Nomad Embassy, a website that helps nomads obtain the proper visas. “They are requiring higher salaries compared to Europe’s digital nomad visas or have strict requirements for the nature of their remote work.”

Additionally, Loeffler says that Southeast Asia has become an especially popular destination for digital nomads “due to the affordable cost of living, reliable wi-fi and great weather” but that the entry barrier might be too high for some people. “When there was news that Thailand had released a digital nomad visa (officially known as the Long-Term Residence Visa), the community was very excited,” she says. “Unfortunately, the eligibility requirements are quite strict and difficult to meet for the average digital nomad.” 

(Credit: Getty Images)

Those requirements for Thailand include showing proof of income of at least $80,000 (£63,576) annually for the two years prior to the visa application date, and a minimum of $1 million in assets. But even with these higher barriers to entry, the country believes the visa could bolster the local economy. As the Thai Embassy explains, the visa “is believed to help boost economic development and stimulate overseas investment in the country, particularly in this post-pandemic phase. Through this special visa, the government hopes to bring in one million eligible foreigners over the next five years.”

“There is huge potential for digital nomads to help local economies – think tourism spending, but for weeks or months at a time,” Loeffler says. “Digital nomad visas are an excellent way for countries to boost their economies as they invite digital nomads to live in the country for a year and not have to worry about them taking jobs from citizens and residents. Instead, they earn their income overseas and spend it in the local economy where they hold the digital nomad visa.”

Loeffler, however, is aware that these visas can be problematic for locals. “There is a downside to inviting digital nomads to a country, as we have seen in Lisbon, Portugal. Real estate prices skyrocket, making renting or buying a home in popular areas more difficult for the residents of that country. As landlords realise digital nomads can pay two or three times [the] rent each month, they are raising prices and the rest of the market is following.” The same could hold true for major cities in Japan, like Tokyo, which has also experienced its own surge in housing prices even without the added pressures of the new visa. 

(Credit: Getty Images)

Even still, that post-pandemic economic afterglow is likely to benefit Japan’s inbound tourism recovery plan (of which the new visa is a part) that was set forth by prime minister Fumio Kishida and unveiled in May 2023. But, like Thailand, the high barriers might see some digital nomads forgoing the visa in favour of what is known as “visa runs“: staying as long as possible on a tourist visa, leaving the country to reset the clock and entering again on their tourist visa.

“Thailand is particularly hard because most people are there on an education visa [that] enables you to stay for six months or one year, or are there on a tourist visa and coming in and out doing visa runs,” says Evelina Krusinskaite, a 28-year-old digital nomad living in and out of Thailand. “It’s a bit of a pain because Thailand’s a great place to be.”

Krusinskaite was on a visa run back to her home in Ireland as we spoke but was already plotting her return back to Thailand, specifically to Chiang Mai, often touted as the “Digital Nomad Capital” of the world. While her move began under a working visa as a visiting English teacher, Krusinskaite explains she fell so in love with the city that, for now, she can’t wait to go back.

“I absolutely love Thailand,” she says. “People there are so kind.”

Though in true digital nomad form, when asked if she’ll continue this lifestyle of getting to live and work from anywhere forever, Krusinskaite refused to commit. She says, “Forever is a very long time.”

Ready to start a digital nomad life in Asia? Here are three other nations offering either a digital nomad visa or something close to it – and what they require.


Malaysia currently offers a digital nomad visa that allows people to stay in the country for up to one year. Applicants must have a valid passport; work remotely for their company; work in a “digital domain” such as IT, content creation or digital marketing; and show proof of income of at least $24,000 (£19,067) a year. Nomads must also show proof of health insurance.

South Korea

In January 2024, South Korea began offering its digital nomad visa that allows travellers to stay for up to two years. Applicants must also hold a valid passport, work remotely, show proof of income of at least $66,000 (£52,435) a year and hold valid international health insurance. 


The Phillipines

In 2023, the Philippines released its digital nomad visa, allowing travellers to spend up to 12 months in country. Those wishing to use the visa must show a proof of income of at least $24,000 a year (£19,050) and proof of health insurance. The nation is debating extending the visa for up to 24 months. 


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