BBC 2024-02-26 04:31:39

Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil’s former president denies coup allegations

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has claimed he has been a victim of political persecution since leaving office just over a year ago.

He told tens of thousands of supporters in São Paulo that coup allegations against him were a “lie”.

He also called for an amnesty for hundreds of his supporters convicted for attacks on public buildings.

Police are investigating whether Mr Bolsonaro incited a failed coup after losing the 2022 election.

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Addressing Sunday’s rally in Brazil’s largest city, the 68-year-old former president dismissed the allegations against him as politically-motivated.

He said it was time to forget the past and let Brazil move on.

He also used his speech to talk about the next presidential elections in 2026.

Mr Bolsonaro is still barred from running for office for eight years for undermining the electoral system in Brazil and claiming the last election was fraudulent, despite there being no evidence of electoral fraud.

Huge crowds wearing yellow and green – the colours of the Brazilian flag – gathered to hear Mr Bolsonaro speak. Those I have spoken to say they are here demonstrating for freedom, and in particular freedom of speech.

They criticise what they see as threats to put Mr Bolsonaro in prison for “saying his opinion”.

Several of his supporters at the rally repeated unproven claims that the last election was fraudulent. He had asked them not to bring posters saying this or criticising institutions like the Supreme Court.

Alexandre França, a 53-year-old commercial director, told the BBC many people gathered for the rally because “we must express what we want for our country.

“Today everyone is afraid of being repressed. So I think we’re here to show our faces. We want Brazil for everybody, freedom for everybody,” he added.

Rogério Morgado, a 55-year-old military official, was another rally participant interviewed by the BBC. He said: “Brazilian politicians are afraid of people on the streets, it’s the only thing that Brazilian politicians are afraid of.”

Mr Bolsonaro’s speech is being watched closely by the authorities for anything that could be seen as inciting riots or undermining the electoral system.

Earlier this month, the former president had to surrender his passport as he is facing an investigation over the accusations that he tried to overturn the October 2022 election results and pressure military chiefs to join a coup attempt.

After he lost the poll to the left-winger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, thousands of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasília – including the presidential palace, the Supreme Court and Congress – looting and vandalising the buildings.

Three of Mr Bolsonaro’s allies have since been arrested, and the head of his political party has also been detained.

Police accuse them of spreading doubts about the electoral system, which became a rallying cry for his supporters.

This, police argue, set the stage for a potential coup. When it failed to get the support of the armed forces, however, his frustrated supporters stormed Congress, the building housing the Supreme Court and the presidential palace, on 8 January last year.

Mr Bolsonaro was in the US when the attack on Congress happened. He returned to Brazil in March 2023, saying he had nothing to fear.

He remains the most influential figurehead for the right in Brazilian politics.

Zelensky says 31,000 troops killed in war in Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky says 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed during Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The Ukrainian president said he would not give the number of wounded as that would help Russian military planning.

Typically, Ukrainian officials do not make casualty figures public, and other estimates are much higher.

It comes after the defence minister said half of all Western aid for Ukraine has been delayed, costing lives and territory.

Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that he was providing an updated death toll in response to the inflated figures that Russia has quoted.

“31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in this war. Not 300,000 or 150,000, or whatever Putin and his lying circle are saying. But each of these losses is a great loss for us.”

Speaking about the wider losses in the war, Mr Zelensky said tens of thousands of civilians had died in the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia but the true number was unknown.

“I don’t know how many of them died, how many were killed, how many were murdered, tortured, how many were deported.”

It is rare for Ukraine to provide a military death toll, and other estimates suggest a much higher number.

US officials in August put the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed at 70,000 and as many as 120,000 injured.

In terms of Russian losses, Mr Zelensky said 180,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands more injured.

BBC Russian, in a joint project with the Mediazona website, has established the names of more than 45,000 Russian servicepeople who had died. But it estimates the total number to be greater than that.

In February, the UK’s defence ministry estimated that 350,000 Russian troops had been killed or injured.

President Zelensky’s address came after his defence minister, Rustam Umerov, called out the country’s Western allies for delays in military aid.

“At the moment, commitment does not constitute delivery,” he said.

Ukraine is currently experiencing a variety of setbacks in its mission to drive Russia from its territory.

Mr Umerov said that the lack of supplies put Ukraine at a further disadvantage “in the mathematics of war”.

“We do everything possible and impossible but without timely supply it harms us,” he said.

Germany warned in November that a European Union (EU) plan to deliver a million artillery shells by March would not be met.

In January, the EU said just over half of these would reach Ukraine by the deadline and that the promised amount would not be there until the end of 2024.

President Zelensky said one of the reasons Ukraine’s highly anticipated counter-offensive last year did not start earlier was the lack of weapons.

That counter-offensive largely failed – one of a number of setbacks Kyiv has faced after some early successes in repelling Russia after it invaded in February 2022.

Mr Zelensky also suggested on Sunday that plans for the counter-offensive were leaked to Russia ahead of time.

Last week, it was announced that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the key eastern town of Avdiivka – Moscow’s biggest win in months.

Mr Zelensky also blamed this partly on faltering Western weapon supplies.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has said the hold-up in Congress of a $60bn aid package for Ukraine contributed to the fall of the town.

Western leaders travelled to Kyiv on Saturday in a show of solidarity with Ukraine as the country marked two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

There, it was announced that Italy and Canada had signed security deals with Ukraine – bolstering support until the country could join Nato.

Canada’s deal included more than three billion Canadian dollars (£1.7bn) in financial and defence aid.

It is not only Ukraine that is having trouble resourcing its military activities. Russia is also struggling to provide ammunition and weapons, according to Western officials.

“Russia’s domestic ammunition production capabilities are currently insufficient for meeting the needs of the Ukraine conflict,” a Western official claimed.

They added that Moscow has been able to increase its supply only by seeking out alternative sources of ammunition and weapons, which do not offer a long-term solution.

‘My bank manager stole $1.9m from my account’

An Indian woman has accused a manager at one of the country’s largest banks of defrauding her by siphoning off 160m rupees ($1.9m; £1.5m) from her account.

Shveta Sharma says she had transferred money to the ICICI Bank from her US account, expecting it to be invested in fixed deposits.

But she alleges that a bank official created “fake accounts, forged her signature, took out debit cards and cheque books in her name” to withdraw money from her accounts.

“He gave me fake statements, created a fake email ID in my name and manipulated my mobile number in the bank records so I won’t get any withdrawal notifications,” she told the BBC.

A spokesman for the bank admitted to the BBC that “indeed the fraud had happened” but said that the ICICI “is a bank of repute which holds trillions of rupees in deposits from millions of customers”.

“Whoever is involved will be punished,” he added.

Ms Sharma and her husband, who returned to India in 2016 after living for decades in the US and Hong Kong, met a banker through a friend.

As the interest rate on bank deposits in the US was negligible, he advised Ms Sharma to move her money to India where fixed deposits were offering an interest of 5.5% to 6%.

She opened an NRE account meant for non-resident Indians on his advice after visiting the ICICI’s branch in old Gurugram near the capital, Delhi, and in 2019, began transferring money into it from her US account.

“Over a period of four years from September 2019 to December 2023, we deposited our entire life savings of around 135m rupees in the bank,” she said, adding that “with interest, the sum would have grown to more than 160m rupees”.

She said she never suspected anything was amiss because the branch manager “would give me proper receipts for all the deposits on bank’s stationary, regularly send me email statements from his ICICI account and sometimes even come over with folders of documents”.

The fraud came to light in early January when a new employee at the bank offered to get Ms Sharma better returns on her money.

It was then that she discovered that all her fixed deposits had vanished. There was also an overdraft of 25m rupees taken on one of the deposits.

“My husband and I were shocked. I suffer from an autoimmune disorder and I was so traumatised that I couldn’t get up from bed for an entire week,” she told me. “Your life is being ruined right in front of your eyes and you can’t do anything about it.”

Ms Sharma says she has shared all the information with the bank and held several meetings with top officials.

“At our first meeting on 16 January, we met the bank’s regional and zonal heads and the head of the bank’s internal vigilance who had flown in from Mumbai. They told us they accepted that it had been their fault, that this branch manager had cheated us.

“They assured us that we will get all our money back. But first, they said, they needed my help in identifying fraudulent transactions.”

Ms Sharma and her team of accountants spent days going through the statements for the past four years. Her accountants then sat with the vigilance team to mark the transactions which they were “100% sure” were fraudulent.

“It was shocking to actually discover how the money had been siphoned from my account and where it had been spent.”

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Ms Sharma says despite the bank’s assurances that the issue would be resolved within two weeks, more than six weeks later, she’s still waiting to see any of her money back.

In the meantime, she has sent letters to the CEO and deputy CEO of ICICI and lodged complaints with the Reserve Bank of India – the country’s central bank – and the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Delhi police, which deals with financial crimes.

In a statement sent to the BBC, the bank said they have offered to deposit 92.7m rupees into her account with a lien, pending the outcome of the investigation.

But Ms Sharma has rejected the offer: “It’s a lot less than the 160m rupees they owe me and the lien would effectively mean the account would be frozen until the case is closed by the police, which could take years.”

“Why am I being punished for no fault of mine? My life has turned upside-down. I can’t sleep. I have daily nightmares,” she added.

Srikanth L, who runs a fintech watchdog called Cashless Consumer, says such cases are not very common and banks use audits and checks to ensure such things don’t happen.

But if your bank manager decides to defraud you, he says, there’s little you can do.

“Since he was the bank manager, she had some implicit trust in him. But customers must be more vigilant. They must monitor the outflow of money from their account at all times.

“The lack of double checks on a customer’s part can lead to this kind of fraud,” he adds.

This is the second time just this month that ICICI bank has been in the news for the wrong reason.

Earlier this month, police in Rajasthan state said a branch manager and his aides had duped depositors of billions of rupees for years to meet targets set up by the bank.

Police said they withdrew money from customer accounts and used it to open new current and savings accounts and set up fixed deposits.

The ICICI spokesperson said in that case, the bank acted swiftly and took action against the manager involved. He added that none of the customers had lost any money.

In Ms Sharma’s case, he said it was “bewildering” that she remained “unaware of these transactions and balances in her account over the past three years, and only recently noticed a discrepancy in her account balance”.

The accused branch manager “has been suspended, pending investigation”, he said, adding “we have also been defrauded”.

“We have also lodged a complaint with the EOW and we have to wait until the police investigation is complete. She will get all her money back, along with the interest, once her allegation is proven to be true. But unfortunately, she has to wait.”

The BBC was unable to contact the manager for comment.

In pictures: Celebrating the Lantern Festival

Dazzling displays of lanterns have been lighting up the skies to mark the end of Lunar New Year celebrations and hail the coming of spring.

The Lantern Festival is held two weeks after Lunar New Year, which was on 10 February this year and ushered in the Year of the Dragon.

The new year, and subsequent Lantern Festival, is typically celebrated in parts of Asia, including China, South Korea and Vietnam, as well as in diaspora communities around the world.

As well as with the traditional lighting of lanterns, this weekend’s festival also saw firework displays, night markets and entertainment from dancers and performers.

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Why some animals have evolved a sense of humour

We think of humour as a distinctly human emotion, but some animals may also use it to strengthen their bonds.

When you think about what sets our species apart from other animals, a good sense of humour probably features fairly high up on the list. 

We love to laugh – so much so, that an appreciation of comedy seems almost ingrained into our species. Babies as young as three months old giggle and find it hilarious when their parents pull funny faces. By eight months, infants have learned how to use their own faces, bodies and voices to make grown-ups laugh. Soon after, parents may notice that their child has turned into a full-time comedian, deliberately playing with things they know they shouldn’t with a cheeky grin on their face.

However, a new study shows that humans may not be alone in their love of playing practical jokes. Animals can tease each other too. Together with colleagues, Isabelle Laumer, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), watched over 75 hours of videos of great apes interacting with each other. Great apes are our closest living relatives, and include orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. The apes in the study all lived in zoos, and were filmed attending to their daily routines.

Members of all four species were observed teasing one another. The researchers identified 18 distinct teasing behaviours, with the top five including poking, hitting, hindering the movement of a fellow ape, body slamming, and pulling on a body part. Some apes repeatedly waved body parts or objects in front of their fellow apes’ faces, or, in the case of orangutans, pulled each other’s hair.

Dogs can be encouraged to play by approaching with a loping gait and then suddenly running away (Credit: Getty Images)

“What we saw often was that a juvenile would sneak up behind an adult that was busy grooming another ape, and proceed to poke them or hit them on the back, sometimes even surprising them,” says Laumer, first author of the study.

“They’d then wait and watch for the adult’s response. Usually, the target would just ignore them, and so they’d persist in their teasing, making the behaviour more and more elaborate and difficult to ignore, until they sometimes ended up slamming the adult with their entire body.”

The teasing behaviour was similar to that adopted by young human children, according to the researchers, in that it was intentional, provocative, persistent and included elements of surprise, play and checking for the recipient’s response. The human equivalent might be sticking your tongue out at someone and then running away to gauge their reaction.

Many scientists believe that humour is far more widespread amongst the animal kingdom

This style of teasing could even form the foundation for more complicated forms of humour. “Joking in humans requires quite complex cognitive abilities,” says Laumer. “You need theory of mind (the ability to imagine the world from someone else’s perspective), knowledge of social norms, the ability to anticipate others’ responses and to appreciate the violation of other’s expectations,” she says.

As all four great ape species are capable of playful teasing, it suggests that a sense of humour may have been present in our last common ancestor, who lived 13 million years ago.

However, many scientists believe that humour is far more widespread amongst the animal kingdom than this. For example, in his book The Descent of Man, biologist Charles Darwin suggests that dogs may have a sense of humour, writing:

“If a bit of stick or other such object be thrown to one, he will often carry it away for a short distance; and then squatting down with it on the ground close before him, will wait until his master comes quite close to take it away. The dog will then seize it and rush away in triumph, repeating the same manoeuvre, and evidently enjoying the practical joke.”

Wolves and other species related dogs also seem to share some of the traits related to play (Credit: Getty Images)

Anyone who owns a dog may have also noticed that during play, they produce a sort of breathy snorting sound that almost sounds like laughter. In a 2005 study, animal behaviourist Patricia Simonet played the sound to dogs at a rescue shelter. She found that listening to dog “laughter” made the shelter dogs less stressed out.

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says he has collected decades worth of data showing dogs engage in teasing behaviour similar to that shown by Laumer and her colleagues.

For example, when trying to get an otherwise reluctant dog to play, one dog may approach another with a loose gambolling gait before running away.

“I’ve seen this in dogs, foxes, wild coyotes and wild wolves,” says Bekoff.

In fact, Bekoff says that during his career he has heard stories about many species who act like stand-up comedians and jokesters, including horses, Asian black bears and the scarlet macaw.

There’s even evidence that rats enjoy a good laugh

Meanwhile, other researchers have noted that dolphins appear to produce sounds of joy while they are play-fighting, and elephants trumpet in excitement when playing. Some parrots have been known to tease other animals for fun, for example by whistling at and confusing the family dog.

There’s even evidence that rats enjoy a good laugh. For the last decade or so, Jeffrey Burgdorf, research associate professor at Northwestern University in the US, has been tickling rats for a living. When the rats are tickled, they squeak joyfully in a high-pitched noise similar to a giggle. They come back again and again for more, and can even be taught to play hide and seek for a “tickling reward”, according to work done by a separate group at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Now Burgdorf and his team are using their findings to inform treatments for depression.

“What we’ve been learning is that the animals are most attentive when they are making these vocalisations,” says Burgdorf.

Rats have been observed emitting a high-pitch “giggle” when tickled (Credit: Getty Images)

“My supervisor [neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp] would always say play is the fertiliser for the brain, and it’s true. Their brains are connecting. They’re making new synapses and new neural connections. And so I think that tells us that when we’re in those playful humorous moods, we’re actually performing at our best and we are being our best selves,” says Burgdorf.

However, while rats clearly love being tickled, is their high-pitched giggle really evidence that they have a sense of humour? Most of the evidence for animals having a sense of humour is predominantly anecdotal, as few large-scale studies have been conducted. It’s also difficult to know why an animal engages in a certain behaviour. Are the apes in Laumer’s study simply playing a practical joke, or are they trying to defuse tension, initiate play, or even just get attention?

What better way to make friends, after all, than to share a good joke?

“Do I think that animals have a sense of humour? Yes, I think they do, but it’s difficult to prove,” admits Bekoff.

“For example, I’ve come across households with two dogs, where at feeding time one dog runs to the front door and barks. The other dog then runs to see who’s there, while the first dog runs back and eats their food. So, you could say that’s showing a sense of humour, but the first dog may have just learned that that’s how they get more food,” says Bekoff.

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There’s also the question of what evolutionary purpose humour could serve in animals. In humans, it’s thought that laughter evolved as a way of help individuals bond. What better way to make friends, after all, than to share a good joke?

Is it possible that humour serves the same role in animals?

“In humans, humour can serve as like an ice-breaker, removing social barriers and strengthening relationships,” says Laumer. “We don’t know if it’s the same in apes or other animals, but it’s possible. To know for sure we would need to test and observe more groups of primates and other species,” she says.

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