BBC 2024-03-01 10:32:11


Alexei Navalny funeral: Heavy police presence as people gather in Moscow

Alexei Navalny is expected to be buried later today – and so far we haven’t heard anything from his wife, Yuliya.

She is believed to be abroad currently, but her exact whereabouts are unknown.

In a recent poignant speech at the European Parliament, she alleged that her husband was tortured, starved, cut off and killed on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has previously branded allegations of government involvement in his death as “absurd”.

Israel-Gaza war: UN chief urges probe into deadly aid convoy incident

The head of the UN has called for an independent investigation into the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians during an aid delivery in Gaza.

At least 117 people were killed and more than760 injured on Thursday as they crowded around aid lorries.

UN Secretary General António Guterres condemned the incident and said “desperate civilians” need urgent help.

Hamas accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said most died in a crush after it fired warning shots.

On Thursday international criticism of Israel mounted with French President Emmanuel Macron saying civilians had been “targeted by Israeli soldiers”.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, described the incident as “totally unacceptable carnage”.

Reacting to the incident, Mr Guterres wrote on social media: “I condemn Thursday’s incident in Gaza in which more than 100 people were reportedly killed or injured while seeking life-saving aid.”

“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the north where the UN has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week.”

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry called the incident a “massacre”.

The UN Security Council scheduled a closed-door emergency meeting to discuss the incident, during which Algeria – the Arab representative of the body – put forward a draft statement blaming Israeli forces for “opening fire”.

While 14 of the Council’s 15 members supported the motion, the US blocked it, according to AP news agency, citing the Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour who spoke to reporters afterwards. US envoy Robert Wood said the facts of the incident remained unclear.

  • More than 30,000 killed in Gaza, Hamas-run health ministry says
  • Checking Israel’s claim to have killed 10,000 Hamas fighters

Thursday’s incident took place shortly after 04:45 (02:45 GMT) at the Nabulsi roundabout, on the south-western edge of Gaza City.

A convoy of 30 lorries carrying Egyptian aid was making its way north along what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described as a “humanitarian corridor” which it said its forces were securing.

IDF’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said civilians surrounded the convoy and people began climbing on the lorries.

“Some began violently pushing and even trampling other Gazans to death, looting the humanitarian supplies,” he said. “The unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured.”

Israeli tanks, he said, “cautiously tried to disperse the mob with a few warning shots” but pulled back “when the hundreds became thousands and things got out of hand”.

Hamas rejected the IDF’s account, citing “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing”.

The incident came hours before Gaza’s health ministry announced that more than 30,000 people, including 21,000 children and women, had been killed in Gaza since the start of the current conflict on 7 October. Some 7,000 were missing and 70,450 were injured, it said.

Mr Gutteres added: “I am appalled by the tragic human toll of the conflict in Gaza – more than 30,000 people reportedly killed and over 70,000 injured.

“I reiterate my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.”

The executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the UK, Natalie Roberts, said delivering aid to a starving population without adequate security was risking disaster.Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she said: “We know that there have been very few aid convoys in the last weeks in the north, people have been unable to get anything to eat.

“We know from our own colleagues that they’re having to eat animal food, that they go without food for days on end sometimes. And so people are just completely desperate, and the minute you start trying to deliver food to the region without any sort of security for the convoy, then this was always going to happen.”

The UN is warning of a looming famine in the north of the territory, where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

Israeli military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas – which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK and others – after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Suicide poison seller tracked down by BBC

A Ukrainian man selling a poison thought to be linked to at least 130 UK deaths has been identified by the BBC.

Leonid Zakutenko advertised his services on a website promoting suicide and he told an undercover reporter he sent five parcels a week to the UK.

He has been supplying the same substance as Canadian Kenneth Law, who was arrested last year and is now facing 14 murder charges.

Mr Zakutenko denied the claims when challenged by the BBC.

He was tracked down to his home in Kyiv and denied that he sold the deadly chemical, which the BBC is choosing not to name.

However, our investigation found that he has been supplying the substance for years.

The chemical can legally be sold in the UK, but only to companies using it for a legitimate purpose.

Suppliers must not sell to customers unless they have carried out basic checks on what the substance is to be used for.

It can prove fatal if ingested in even small doses.

‘Contemptible’

Zakutenko was described as a “contemptible and evil human being” by the family of twin sisters Linda and Sarah, who died in London last year after the Ukranian supplied them with poison.

Linda was given “easy access to a ‘death kit’ for a few pounds” after finding out about the seller on a well-known suicide forum, according to sister Helen Kite.

She described her sisters, 54, as “intelligent, caring and articulate”.

If you’ve been affected by the issues in this story, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line

Ms Kite said that the lack of action by the authorities to prevent her sisters and many others getting access to the chemical was “a national disgrace”.

The chemical Zakutenko sells is openly discussed on the forum used by Linda, with members advising one another on how to buy and then use it.

The chemical may be linked to more than 130 UK deaths since 2019, according to scientist Prof Amrita Ahluwalia, an expert in vascular pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London.

She analysed blood and other samples from people who had died, which were sent to her from pathologists and police around the UK.

Of 187 tests she found 71% showed high traces of the chemical, indicating that at least 133 people may have died as a result of ingesting it.

“Something needs to be done,” Prof Ahluwalia said.

“With what it’s being used for, there has to be a full investigation of the issues. It has to be regulated so that its use is for its intended purposes.”

Murder charges

Chef Kenneth Law was arrested in Canada in May 2023 and has now been charged with 14 counts of murder and of aiding suicide..

He is thought to have sold the chemical more than 1,200 times to buyers in 40 countries around the world and is linked to at least 93 deaths in the UK.

Our investigation found that Zakutenko has been selling the same chemical since at least November 2020.

He also offers three different prescription medicines, referred to in online suicide guides.

He even briefly promoted his service on the same suicide forum as Mr Law.

Since then, users have passed on his contact details through direct messages.

We traced Zakutenko to a small flat in a Soviet-era tower block in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

We challenged him outside his local post office where he had been posting more parcels.

We asked him why he was sending a poisonous chemical to people who wanted to end their lives.

“That is a lie,” he told us, before putting his hand over our camera and trying to walk away.

We know that at least one of the parcels contained the chemical because we placed an order that day and received a tracking number shortly after Zakuetenko left the post office.

When asked what he had to say to the families of the dead, he replied: “I don’t understand what you are talking about”.

Firmer action

David Parfett’s son Tom, 22, bought the same chemical from Kenneth Law, and used it to end his life in October 2021.

Mr Parfett now campaigns to shut down the suicide forum and stop sellers like Zakutenko.

The British authorities have known about the chemical and the online trade since at least September 2020, when they were alerted by a coroner who examined the death of 23 year-old Joe Nihill.

The coroner wrote to police, the chief coroner and a chemical supplier warning them about the lethal trade in the substance.

  • What are assisted dying, assisted suicide and euthanasia?
  • Suicide website linked to 50 UK deaths still active despite warnings

Since then, coroners across England have written to different government departments on at least five occasions recommending action be taken about the chemical and the suicide forum.

Mr Parfett bought a consignment from Zakutenko in December 2023 because he wanted to test the system to see if the authorities would intercept the parcel.

He had a “welfare check” from police a few days after placing the order, but he still received the chemical within weeks and did not receive another police visit.

“I still can’t believe that was happening today, with everything we know now about the number of deaths,” said Mr Parfett.

Similar welfare checks on UK buyers were carried out after Kenneth Law was arrested in Canada.

The National Crime Agency has confirmed that there are cases of people – who bought the substance from Law – dying after police had carried out welfare checks.

“Such cases are addressed by police forces in line with their policies and national guidelines,” a spokesperson said.

Mr Parfett and Ms Kite are both calling for firmer action to be taken against the forum where their loved ones Tom and Linda found out about the chemical.

Ms Kite described the site as “an abomination, preying, unimpeded by the authorities, on the most vulnerable and causing untold misery and suffering for those left behind”.

The government says the new Online Safety Act, which became law last year should help restrict access to this kind of forum.

Why some animals have ‘virgin births’

A lone female stingray recently fell pregnant, despite having no male companions in her tank. What are “virgin births” and why are they happening more frequently for animals in captivity?
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It is an event that appears to defy the laws of nature. In February 2024, a female stingray, named Charlotte, fell pregnant at a small aquarium in Hendersonville, North Carolina, US – even though she had not encountered a male stingray in over eight years. It left scientists at the Team Ecco Aquarium & Shark Lab stumped.

How exactly Charlotte conceived four stingray pups, while floating around in her tank without a mate, was a mystery. One theory pointed the finger (or fin) at two white-spotted bamboo sharks who share the tank with Charlotte, due to some suspicious bite marks found on the stingray’s body. Such marks can be a sign of mating behaviour in sharks. 

But that would lead to an unusual shark-stingray hybrid. Instead, scientists believe the pregnancy could be the result of a rare phenomenon called parthenogenesis. Stemming from the Greek, parthénos, meaning “virgin”, and genesis, meaning “creation”, it is where an egg develops into an embryo without being fertilised by sperm.

Charlotte is far from being the first animal to have conceived alone. Parthenogenesis is quite common in insects, such as mayflies, although it is rarer in vertebrates. Since a captive bonnethead shark gave birth in 2001, more cases have been reported in sharks and reptiles. Charlotte is believed to be the first recorded incidence of a stingray to have undergone parthenogenesis.  

Exactly why parthenogenesis occurs is something of a mystery. Some scientists suggest it is a “last ditch” attempt for females to pass their genetics onto offspring.

It is rare for vertebrates to undergo parthenogenesis, but a stingray in North Carolina appears to have fallen pregnant without a male (Credit: Getty Images)

“The goal of evolution is to pass your genes on,” says Kevin Feldheim, a molecular biologist who uses genetics to study shark populations and mating behaviour at Chicago’s Field Museum. “A female who is isolated from males, who would normally give birth by sexual reproduction, just doesn’t have that opportunity.”

Feldheim investigated another case of parthenogenesis among zebra sharks at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium in 2008. First, he had to rule out the possibility of promiscuity among the aquarium’s inhabitants.

“There was no direct evidence that the males mated with the female, but unfortunately, the tank doesn’t have cameras on it 24/7,” he says. Figuring out shark parentage can be extra-complicated, as some female sharks can store sperm for months after mating, he adds.

Feldheim developed a paternity test to collect genetic markers called microsatellites. “These are used in human paternity cases, like in shows like CSI and NCIS,” he says. The results confirmed that the zebra shark’s offspring did not have any paternal DNA – only the female’s.

“The obvious question was how can this happen? Well, the answer is by parthenogenesis,” says Feldheim. 

Some populations of whiptail lizard in Mexico and California have become all-female and reproduce asexually

In most cases of animal reproduction, eggs are produced in a process called meiosis, where the cells divide, sharing out genetic material and the other cellular machinery between them. This process generates three cellular offshoots called polar bodies. Normally, these polar bodies are reabsorbed by the female, but in parthenogenesis, one of those polar bodies can fertilise the egg and form a viable embryo, therefore mimicking sexual reproduction.

This is a different process to cloning and has drawbacks, adds Kady Lyons, a research scientist who studies sharks, skates and rays at the Georgia Aquarium.  

“The cells that are being used are not a carbon copy of mum,” she says. However, because both the egg and the polar body contain only parts of the mother’s genome, the offspring end up less genetically diverse than their mother, as can be seen in a “highly inbred individual”, she adds.

For some species, asexual reproduction is advantageous. For example, some populations of whiptail lizard in Mexico and California have become all-female and reproduce asexually. The species has evolved an unusual way of maintaining its genetic diversity through parthenogenesis by doubling the number of chromosomes in the eggs of asexually reproducing females. There are some advantages of this, allowing the species to colonise new areas and avoid pitfalls such as sexually transmitted diseases.

But this also comes at a cost – their DNA picks up more harmful genetic mutations through parthenogenesis than they do through sexual reproduction, due to the absence of natural selection.

It is common for mayflies to reproduce through parthenogenesis (Credit: Getty Images)

Unfortunately, not all species are as well adapted to parthenogenesis as the whiptail lizard. Offspring of parthenogenesis in sharks tend to be short lived, rarely reaching sexual maturity. “There’s a lack of genetic variation in the offspring that could lead to what’s called the expression of delirious recessive alleles,” says Feldheim. 

In other words, despite their miraculous conception, vertebrates born by parthenogenesis can be short lived.

Lyons was part of an artificial insemination trial in zebra sharks, where scientists studied the chances of survival between sexually produced and parthenogenetic pups. The study found parthenotes (individuals generated by parthenogenesis) lived on average for a year less, with many displaying behaviour that weakened their chances of survival, such as lopsided swimming, spinning, headstands, and difficulty feeding.

Lyons says she was not surprised to see evidence of parthenogenesis in stingrays, although Charlotte’s case has not solved all the mysteries surrounding this phenomenon. “One thing we don’t know is if there is a trigger to females reproducing this way. We just assume that when you have boys and girls together, that they’re going to do their thing.”

However, it’s in these unique situations, such as having animals in human care, that parthenogenesis is occurring more frequently. “Obviously, life finds a way,” she says.

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The hearty Welsh stew for St David’s Day

The annual celebration to honour the patron Saint of Wales includes cawl, an easy and succulent lamb stew with potatoes and vegetables.
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The stew is piping hot. Steam rises from the chunks of tender lamb, potatoes, carrots and swedes (rutabagas) as I dip a slice of crusty bread, liberally spread with salty Welsh butter, into the bowl. Packed with nutritious vegetables and succulent lamb, cawl Cymreig (a traditional slow-cooked stew that translates as “Welsh soup”) is hearty, comforting and delicious.

Said to have originated in the 14th Century in Wales, the unofficial national dish was traditionally simmered in a pot on an open fire and served during special occasions. Nowadays you can find the stew on Welsh menus year-round, but it’s a staple on St David’s Day (celebrated each 1 March), when Celtic nations celebrate the life of the greatest figure in the 6th-Century Welsh Age of Saints: David.

[jump to recipe]

Known as the “spiritual commander-in-chief” of Wales, David was said to have been born in 500AD and was the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, the king of the western Welsh territory of Ceredigion. David grew up to become a preacher of repute, founding numerous churches and monastic settlements. The saint, who followed an austere life and shunned meat and beer, is rumoured to have subsisted on leeks and water (this may be why the leek became a national symbol of Wales).

During the Middle Ages, pilgrims travelled to St David’s cathedral in Haverfordwest, Wales, to pray to the saint and seek blessings. In 1123, Pope Callixtus II in Rome declared that two pilgrimages to the cathedral were equal to one journey to Rome. The spectacular, purple-stoned cathedral is now the religious centre of Wales.

On 1 March (the day David died), the patron saint is honoured with decorations, buntings, singing, dancing and much eating. Every feast, whether in a fancy restaurant, small pub or family home, includes the stew.

“Cawl is always served on St David’s Day, although we eat it at other times as well. It’s a firm favourite during the winter months, eaten with chunks of homemade bread and Welsh cheese,” said TV chef and food consultant Nerys Howell, who is the author of the book Welsh Food by Season.

“The hearty dish is made of meat [typically lamb or beef] and any available vegetables. Recipes are often handed down through the family and vary from town to town, season to season, throughout Wales,” she said.

The hallmark of Welsh cuisine is that it is the food of the country’s farmers, miners, peasants and others. “Welsh food is the cooking of the ordinary folk of Wales. We have our own unique culture with recipes based on good quality, wholesome, seasonal produce and regional varieties,” Howell said.

The flags fly on 1 March in honour of St David’s Day (Credit: David Williams/Getty)

The country’s ingredients reflect its geography: meat and dairy from the hilly pastures; cockles, clams, and mackerel from the sea; root vegetables and leeks from the fields; cereals from the farms; and salmon and sewin (Welsh sea trout) from the rivers.

Sian Roberts, founder of culinary tour company Loving Welsh Food, agrees that Wales does not have a tradition of haute cuisine. “Our recipes, handed down for generations, are cooked using basic cooking methods. A country’s cuisine depends on geography, climate and cooking equipment. Most people in Wales didn’t have an oven so they cooked over an open fire. We have lots of recipes cooked in saucepans or cauldrons and on the griddle (bread, cakes and biscuits).”

Thrifty homemakers followed a nose-to-tail philosophy to eke out meals from every bit of meat and produce, balancing their lifestyle and pocket. The neck of the lamb – typically not used in other dishes – was used to create a stew that was healthy, tasty and economical. And despite the fact that David himself may have only eaten leeks, traditional versions of the stew often include meat.

“The use of cheap cawl cuts of meat for the recipe probably had more to do with the fact that families could not afford the most expensive cuts, as cawl was a peasant food,” Howell said. “Even today, the cheapest cuts of meat are the best, as this dish takes long, slow cooking and the meat will melt in your mouth. It is best cooked the day before so you can skim off any fat the next day.”

St David is often remembered for his famous last words: “Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.” The phrase Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd (“Do the little things in life”) is a well-known maxim in Wales.

On his day, it seems fitting to make a dish with “the little things” – a stew that showcases the resourceful, wholesome and practical nature of the Welsh people.

Made with succulent lamb and tender vegetables, cawl is hearty, comforting and delicious (Credit: Visit Wales)

Cawl recipe
By Nerys Howell

Serves 6

Method

Step 1
Place the meat in a large saucepan, add the onion, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours over a low heat. Leave overnight to cool in the fridge and the following day skim off any fat that has risen to the surface.

Step 2
Cut the meat off the bone and return to the saucepan. Add the potatoes, carrots, swede (or parsnips) and simmer until cooked through. Add vegetable stock if required. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 3
Finally add the sliced leeks and just before serving, throw in the chopped parsley. If needed, you can thicken the cawl by whisking in fine oatmeal or a paste of flour and water.

Note
It is better to use a cheaper cut of meat on the bone so that maximum flavour is obtained. You can also serve the meat separately to the vegetable soup.

BBC.com’s World’s Table “smashes the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food, through the past, present and future.

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