INDEPENDENT 2024-02-21 22:34:34


Boy, 2, who fell into river is named as father describes him as ‘bundle of joy’

A two-year-old boy reported to have fallen into the River Soar has been named by police as Xielo Maruziva.

Xielo has been missing since Sunday evening after he fell into the swollen river as his father was rushed to hospital after trying to save him.

His father said in a statement: “Xielo is a bundle of joy to us.

“He is a charming and creative little boy and has just started at nursery. He loves cuddles, playing with his toys and going to the park.”

His devastated mother said: “Xielo is a cheeky, funny, friendly, smart, caring and independent little boy. He never fails to make me laugh or smile and always loves a cuddle and some kisses.

“Xielo loves playing with his toys and watching cartoons including Bino and Fino.

“Me, his dad and the whole family are so heartbroken at what has happened. We thank everyone who has supported us and helped us during this time. We are extremely grateful for this.

Biggest snake species in the world discovered in Amazon rainforest

Scientists have discovered a previously undocumented species of giant anaconda in the Amazon which they say can grow up to 7.5m and weighing close to 500kg, making it the largest and heaviest snake yet known in the world.

Until now, four species of anacondas were known, with the largest one – the green anaconda – inhabiting tropical parts of South America such as the basins of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Esequibo rivers, as well as some smaller watersheds.

These anacondas, found in the rivers and wetlands of South America, are well known for their lightning speed and ability to squeeze the life out of prey by coiling around, asphyxiating them, and swallowing them whole.

A newly published decades-long study has now found that the green anaconda is genetically two different species.

Researchers working with the indigenous Waorani people captured and studied several specimens of the newly named northern green anaconda (Eunectes akayima) in the Bameno region of Baihuaeri Waorani Territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The species was found during filming for National Geographic’s Disney+ series Pole to Pole with Will Smith.

Scientists documented several anacondas belonging to the new species “lurking in the shallows, lying in wait for prey” as they paddled canoes down the Amazonian river system.

“The size of these magnificent creatures was incredible – one female anaconda we encountered measured an astounding 6.3 metres long,” study co-author Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland said in a statement.“There are anecdotal reports from the Waorani people of other anacondas in the area measuring more than 7.5 metres long and weighing around 500 kilograms,” Dr Fry said.

The new species, described in the journal Diversity, diverged from the previously known southern green anaconda about 10 million years ago, differing genetically from it by 5.5 per cent.

To put this in perspective, humans differ from chimpanzees by only about 2 per cent.

The finding, according to researchers, is pivotal for the conservation of anacondas, which are apex predators and vital to maintaining balance in their ecosystems.

A healthy anaconda population means their ecosystems are vibrant with ample food resources and clean water, while declining numbers of the snake may indicate environmental distress, scientists say.

“So knowing which anaconda species exist, and monitoring their numbers, is crucial,” researchers write in The Conversation.

The anacondas and their habitats are under increasing threat from land fragmentation caused by industrialised agriculture, forest fire, drought, climate change, as well as heavy metal pollution linked to spills from oil extraction activities.

“Of particular urgency is research into how petrochemicals from oil spills are affecting the fertility and reproductive biology of these rare snakes,” Dr Fry said.

Out-of-control satellite falls to Earth – live

An out-of-control satellite has fallen to Earth, nearly three decades after it launched.

The ERS-2 satellite, which served as an observation platform after launching in 1995, landed in the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Hawaii on Wednesday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said the risks associated with the two-tonne satellite were “very low”, however there was still a chance that fragments could hit populated areas.

Mirko Albani from ESA’s Earth Observation Ground Segment Department said: “It’s worth highlighting that none of the elements that might re-enter the atmosphere (and reach the surface) are radioactive or toxic.”

The predicted time for the satellite entering the Earth’s atmosphere was originally 3.49pm GMT (10.49 EST) on Wednesday, however it remained orbiting the planet for up to an hour.

You can follow all the latest news, updates and developments of the ERS-2 satellite as it heads towards Earth in our live blog below.

Liverpool v Luton LIVE: Result and reaction as Reds win from behind

Liverpool host Luton Town on Wednesday night, with Jurgen Klopp’s side having seen Manchester City close to within a point of them one night previous. The Reds will remain focused on their own progress though, having won their last two following a poor defeat at Arsenal.

Luton themselves are back in the Premier League relegation zone without having kicked a ball since the weekend, after Everton’s Monday night draw forced the Hatters down one place on goal difference. A win or draw for the visitors to Anfield tonight, however, will see them jump back out again. These two sides drew 1-1 at Kenilworth Road earlier this season.

Follow all the latest updates in our live blog below and get the latest Liverpool vs Luton odds and tips here.

Dune: Part Two is like no other blockbuster in existence

There are moments in Dune: Part Two that feel so audacious, they play out as if they were already etched onto the cinematic canon. A lone figure stands astride a mountainous worm as it pummels through the sand like Moses parting the Red Sea. A man is trapped by a psychic seduction, its effects splintering across the screen in what could only be described as an indoor thunderstorm. Gladiatorial combat takes place on a planet with an environment so inhospitable, its colours so drained, that it looks almost like a photographic negative.

Dune: Part Two, like its predecessor, is a work of total sensory and imaginative immersion. As precious as the spice of Arrakis itself, it’s the ultimate payoff to 2021’s great gamble, when filmmaker Denis Villeneuve chose to adapt half of Frank Herbert’s foundational sci-fi novel, with no guarantee a sequel would ever be made. Despite its release at the height of the pandemic, with a same-day launch on streaming services, Part One earned a hefty $400m (£317m) at the box office and 10 Oscar nominations.

If that film seeded foreboding into each frame, then Part Two is entirely consumed by it. Herbert’s work eviscerates the idea of heroic destiny by exposing it as a lie built by others for the purposes of colonisation and control. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) arrives on the desert planet of Arrakis on his father’s orders – only to discover that he’s the product of generations of genetic manipulation by his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and her Bene Gesserit clan of space-witches. Their work has spread whispers of a prophet, the Lisan al-Gaib, who will lead the indigenous Fremen people towards freedom from their oppressors.

By Part Two, the House of Atreides has fallen, as Paul and Lady Jessica seek sanctuary and, eventually, acceptance with a Fremen tribe and their leader, Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Paul yearns for Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen warrior who’s walked right out of his dreams but has grown suspicious of claims that he is the tribe’s long-awaited saviour. Elsewhere, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), daughter of the Padishah Emperor (Christopher Walken), worries about her father’s inaction.

Herbert wrote the sequel, Dune Messiah, partly in response to those he believed had failed to grasp the complicated, sinister implications of Paul’s ascendancy. Villeneuve, in interviews, has already expressed his ambition to turn Messiah into a third film. But it, too, is no guarantee – and so he and co-writer Jon Spaihts have altered Herbert’s text in key places to make the second book’s thematic points here. And, my God, does the final third of Part Two emanate pure menace. It’s unlike any other blockbuster in existence.

Chalamet and Ferguson take all that was regal and dignified about their performances, and apply to them a poisoned tip. Chani is critical here, too, with a significantly expanded role as the film’s moral centre – Zendaya holds the film in her palm, with resolution and clarity. Granted, the traditional baddies are still here: Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen returns, still floating around in his evil little nightgown, and we’re finally introduced to his nephew and heir, Feyd-Rautha.

He’s played by Austin Butler without a trace of the Elvis drawl, but with such an uncanny Skarsgård impersonation that sons Alexander, Gustaf, Bill and Valter should be concerned they’re about to be replaced. Butler not only cleanses the mind of any memory of Sting in metal underpants (from David Lynch’s notorious 1984 take) but commits every cell of his body, from his bald head to ink-stained teeth, to snarling and slaying his way across the universe.

Anyone turned off by Dune: Part One’s portentousness won’t be converted here. But unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings, Herbert’s vision was always a funny, slightly disorienting clash of impenetrable lore and informal language (he named one of his characters “Duncan Idaho”, after all).

Villeneuve has honoured that tone, in his own way. Josh Brolin, as Paul’s mentor Gurney Halleck, performs a brief ditty about how his “stillsuit is full of piss”. And the film’s stacked with fiddly, HR Giger-inspired machines, like the desiccation pump that sucks vital water out of the Fremen dead. Part Two is as grand as it is intimate, and while Hans Zimmer’s score once again blasts your eardrums into submission, and the theatre seats rumble with every cresting sand worm, it’s the choice moments of silence that really leave their mark.

But, just as Herbert warned of hero worship, it’s critical not to treat Dune’s creative triumphs as a kind of blanket absolution. Part One was rightly criticised for its erasure of the book’s Middle Eastern and north African influences. Here, it appears someone may have listened. The Fremen’s Arabic-inspired language is now foregrounded, and onscreen representation is mildly improved – Souheila Yacoub, for example, an actor of Tunisian descent, plays Shishakli, Chani’s closest ally. On the other hand, it’s even harder now to watch Bardem pronounce Paul the prophesied Lisan al-Gaib, or use something not entirely unlike a prayer mat, and not interpret it as a form of whitewashing.

Yet, as Part Two makes clear, Villeneuve isn’t done with Dune, even if he’s already made his mark on sci-fi history. Now, the most compelling question is – what comes next?

Dir: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh. 12A, 165 minutes.

‘Dune: Part Two’ is in cinemas from 1 March

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Stop the blame games and put the Post Office scandal victims first

A new drama is being staged at the Westminster Palace of Varieties, which we may call “Ms Badenoch vs the Post Office (Chairman)”. It is likely to play out for a few days at least, and will – for those who follow these political dramas closely – be entertaining.

Kemi Badenoch, the combative business secretary, is never short of self-confidence but some observers wonder if the pretty flat assertions she’s made in the Commons about the former chair of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, might have been a little rash.

She sacked Mr Staunton only three weeks ago, and her decision continues to be controversial, not least so far as Mr Staunton is concerned. He has had a distinguished career in business and does not accept Ms Badenoch’s reasons for dismissing him, nor the way in which it was done. She, in response, accuses him of spreading falsehoods – a serious allegation, made via social media and amplified under parliamentary privilege in the Commons.

What does the SNP’s motion and vote on Gaza mean for Labour?

Since the Hamas atrocities in Israel on 7 October and the war that followed, the Labour Party has found itself in a series of dilemmas about what its policy on the conflict should be. The need to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself and condemn terror has had to be reconciled increasingly uneasily with Israel’s response – one that has led to the charge of genocide being considered at the International Court of Justice.

Some Muslim Labour supporters, including MPs, councillors and candidates, have found Keir Starmer’s past reluctance to call for an immediate ceasefire difficult to accept, and many others, not just on the left, share that view. In trying to root out antisemitism in his party as well as resist Islamophobia, he has found himself losing two of his party’s parliamentary candidates.

Now the SNP, Labour’s main rival north of the border, has tabled another Commons motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with a debate and vote on Wednesday. Starmer has had to react – and hold his party together…