The Guardian 2024-03-06 22:31:30


Food aid convoy looted after delay at Israeli checkpoint

Food aid convoy for northern Gaza looted after delay at Israeli checkpoint

Trucks attacked by desperate people as logistical obstacles and restrictions imposed by Israel limit urgently needed aid

A new drive by the United Nation’s World Food Programme to deliver aid to an estimated half million people at risk of famine in northern Gaza has failed amid further scenes of chaos and violence.

A 14-truck convoy destined for northern Gaza was looted on Tuesday after being held at an Israeli army checkpoint for several hours, aid workers said. As the convoy turned back after the delay, it was attacked and 200 tonnes of food looted by “a large crowd of desperate people”.

Insecurity, logistical bottlenecks, ongoing fighting and restrictions on movement imposed by Israel have combined to limit aid deliveries to a fraction of what is needed, aid officials said.

The WFP convoy was the first to try to reach northern Gaza since insecurity forced the agency to pause efforts on 20 February despite looming starvation, because Israeli forces had twice shot at desperate Palestinians trying to get food from WFP trucks, senior WFP officials told the Guardian earlier this week.

Hopes were raised last week that Hamas and Israel were close to agreeing a deal that would pause, or possibly definitively end, hostilities and so facilitate humanitarian assistance.

Prospects of an agreement have receded in recent days, though a Hamas delegation remains in Cairo for talks with mediators from Egypt and Qatar.

Eylon Levy, as Israeli government spokesperson, said on Wednesday that Israel still wanted to see a temporary pause for humanitarian purposes that would allow the release of about 130 hostages still held by Hamas.

“We will do everything we can to get them out … [But] this war will end ultimately with the total defeat of Hamas or its surrender,” Levy told reporters.

The war was triggered in October by bloody attacks into southern Israel launched by Hamas. The militant organisation, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, killed 1,200 Israelis, mainly civilians, and abducted another 250 in the surprise operation.

Health officials in Gaza said the number of people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive had now passed 30,700, with 86 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. Most of the victims are women and children, the officials said.

Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields in Gaza and says its forces are acting entirely lawfully.

Shaban Abdel-Raouf, a Palestinian electrician and father of five from Gaza City, said: “Every day costs us dozens of martyrs. We want a ceasefire now,.”

He is now in the southern city of Khan Younis, where fighting is continuing. Residents reported hearing explosions all through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Israeli warplanes struck areas of Al-Nuseirat refugee camp and Deir al-Balah city in central Gaza, and part of the southern city of Rafah, witnesses said.

Jordanian and American planes have repeatedly airdropped food in recent days but humanitarian organisation say only delivery by road will allow sufficient quantities to reach the needy and without any distribution mechanism.

“Airdrops are a last resort and will not avert famine”, World Food Programme deputy directory Carl Skau said.

Gaza’s health ministry reported on Wednesday that a 15-year-old girl became the latest child to die from malnutrition or dehydration, at Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

The UN said in February that more than a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people were “estimated to be facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation”. It said without action widespread famine could be “almost inevitable”.

Aid can currently be delivered into southern Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA has said that during February an average of nearly 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 trucks a day in January – well below a target of 500 trucks a day.

The UN has described aid access as “unpredictable and insufficient”, blaming military operations, insecurity and extensive restrictions to delivery of essential supplies.

Even when aid enters Gaza, all cargos have to be unloaded from Egyptian trucks and onto local transport. There is now an acute shortage of both suitable vehicles and fuel in Gaza, which is causing further problems. Other challenges include patchy communications, limited electricity, crowds of refugees and roads strewn with rubble.

Israel has said there is no limit on the aid for civilians and has blamed the UN for any delivery issues, saying limitations on the quantity and pace of aid are dependent on the capacity of the UN and other agencies.

Aid officials say the insecurity has been caused by a lack of police, who have stopped guarding convoys after being targeted by Israeli forces.

Israel say the police are part of Hamas and on Wednesday called on international aid organisations to find ways to distribute aid that does not make them “complicit with terrorists”.

On Friday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) delivered vaccines formula milk and other supplies to Shifa, and managed to reach other hospitals in the north of Gaza two days later.

Tess Ingram, a spokesperson for Unicef, told the Guardian that her colleagues had described desperation for food at the hospitals they visited and doctors described their complete inability to treat dying children.

“It defies all logic that children are dying because of access restrictions, We’ve got the food they need, the treatments for malnutrition required to save lives just a few miles away yet we cannot get it to them. This is a test of the world’s conscience,” Ingram said.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Israel to alleviate the suffering, a message echoed by the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron.

“People are dying of hunger. People are dying of otherwise preventable disease,” Cameron told the House of Lords ahead of talks with Benny Gantz, an opposition politician who joined Israeli war cabinet shortly after the outbreak of the war.

In Beirut, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official, said any exchange of prisoners could only take place after a ceasefire.

Basem Naim, a second senior Hamas official, said Hamas had presented its own draft deal and was awaiting a response from Israel, and that “the ball now is in the Americans’ court”.

A deal is being sought before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday. Violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories often rises during Ramadan, as does hostility towards Israel in the Arab and Muslim world.

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LoopholeUS keeps 100 arms sales to Israel under the radar amid Gaza war

US uses loophole to keep 100 arms sales to Israel under the radar amid Gaza war

Biden administration not required to disclose sales below set dollar amount, in addition to public shipments worth over $573m

The US is reported to have made more than 100 weapons sales to Israel, including thousands of bombs, since the start of the war in Gaza, but the deliveries escaped congressional oversight because each transaction was under the dollar amount requiring approval.

The Biden administration has become increasingly critical of the conduct of Israeli military operations in Gaza and the failure to allow in meaningful amounts of humanitarian aid, with the death toll now over 30,000 and with famine looming. But it has kept up a quiet but substantial flow of munitions to help replace the tens of thousands of bombs Israel has dropped on the tiny coastal strip, making it one of the most intense bombing campaigns in military history.

The Washington Post reported that administration officials informed Congress of the 100 foreign military sales to Israel in a classified briefing. Few details are known of the sales, because keeping each one small meant their contents remained secret, but they are reported to have included precision-guided munitions, small diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid.

The Arms Export Control Act makes significant exceptions for arms sales to close allies – a limit of $25m for ‘major defense equipment’, defined as big-ticket items that require a lot of research and development, but the limit rises to $100m for other “defense articles” like bombs.

“This doesn’t just seem like an attempt to avoid technical compliance with US arms export law, it’s an extremely troubling way to avoid transparency and accountability on a high-profile issue,” Ari Tolany, director of the security assistance monitor at the Centre for International Policy thinktank, said.

She added that, in exploiting the loophole, the Biden administration was following the steps of its predecessor.

“They’re very much borrowing from the Trump playbook to dodge congressional oversight,” Tolany said. The state department office of the inspector general found that between 2017 and 2019, the Trump administration had made 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, worth an estimated total of $11.2bn.

The under-the-radar deliveries made by the Biden administration to Israel were additional to the three major military sales that were made public since the start of the war: $320m in precision bomb kits in November and 14,000 tank shells costing $106m and $147.5m of fuses and other components needed to make 155mm artillery shells in December. The December deliveries of tank and artillery shells also sidestepped congressional scrutiny because they were made under an emergency authority.

In defending its continued arms sales to Israel, despite ever more public misgivings about its conduct of the Gaza war, the administration has argued that they are part of the US’s basic commitment to Israel’s self defence.

“We continue to support Israel’s campaign to ensure that the attacks of 7 October cannot be repeated. We have provided military assistance to Israel because it is consistent with that goal,” Matthew Miller, the state department spokesperson, said. “We support Israel’s legitimate military campaign consistent with international humanitarian law.”

The state department has been vague about how much effort it is putting into assessing whether Israeli forces are committing war crimes. A process called Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance (CHIRG) was set up in September last year, before the Gaza war, to make assessments of the use made of US armaments, and Israel’s military operations are under review, but the process is slow and does not commit the administration to taking remedial action.

“The revelation that the administration has made 100 arms sales to Israel since the beginning of its attacks on Gaza – most of them hidden from public view – makes a mockery of its rhetoric about pressing the Netanyahu government to do more to protect civilians,” William Hartung, an arms industry expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “Israel’s attacks on homes, hospitals – even on civilians waiting to receive humanitarian aid – are clear violations of US and international law, not to mention stated Biden administration policy.”

Hartung added: “It’s long past time for the administration to cut off arms supplies to Israel as leverage to stop the slaughter in Gaza. To do otherwise is both immoral and strategically bankrupt.”

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‘All we can do is pray’Jerusalem’s Old City on edge as Ramadan nears

‘All we can do is pray’: Jerusalem’s Old City on edge as Ramadan nears

With war in Gaza raging, tensions in annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are at boiling point

Bab Hutta, a neighbourhood in Jerusalem’s Old City, lies right outside the gates to the most contested religious site in the world – the Temple Mount, or al-Haram al-Sharif.

Normally, the area is one of the most beautiful places in the city for Ramadan celebrations, covered in strings of festive lights and lanterns that take about 30 volunteers several weeks to set up. This year, there are no decorations, and the narrow passageways of the Muslim Quarter are quiet. About half of the usually lively souvenir shops and restaurants are closed; on some streets, there are more Israeli border police officers than civilians.

The holy month of fasting and feasting is expected to begin on 10 March, but with war in Gaza raging, and tensions in annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank at boiling point, there is little for Palestinians to celebrate.

“It is difficult to fast or eat when we think about our people in Gaza, who are starving,” said Bab Hutta resident Zeki al-Basti, 54. “There were no Christmas celebrations, and there will be no Easter celebrations, as long as the war continues … All we can do is pray.”

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip and 85% of the 2.3 million population displaced from their homes in the worst violence in the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict to date, according to local health ministry and UN data. The war broke out after Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, in which about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli figures.

Five months on, with a quarter of Gaza facing starvation, a comprehensive ceasefire in which sufficient aid can reach all areas of the besieged territory is more vital than ever. The longer the war lasts, the greater the risk of conflagration: Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have already been drawn into the conflict.

Despite frequent claims from several quarters that a truce deal is imminent, however, both Israel and Hamas appear to still be far from agreeing terms. With just a week to go, an unofficial deadline of the start of Ramadan – during which violence often surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is slipping away.

Israel has insisted it will press ahead with a threatened ground offensive on Rafah, the last place of relative safety in Gaza, during Ramadan if no deal is agreed to release Israeli hostages, a move that the international community has warned will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and could serve as a trigger for escalating violence across the region.

Every year without fail, Ramadan puts Israeli control of the Temple Mount or al-Haram al-Sharif under the spotlight, as hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers try to access the compound for special prayers only performed during the fasting month.

The site is administered by Jordan, and under a longstanding compromise Jewish people are allowed to visit but not pray there. Any perceived attempt to alter the status quo acts as a lightning rod for violence; clashes between worshippers and border police in Ramadan 2021 helped ignite the last round of fighting in Gaza. Police raids in 2022 and 2023 on the compound’s al-Aqsa mosque were cited by Hamas as a major reason for the 7 October attack.

Israel, which has ultimate control over access to the compound and often restricts it, citing security concerns, has only allowed Muslim men over the age of 60 to enter the Temple Mount since the war began.

The far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, caused uproar last month when he recommended to the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that even Israel’s Muslim minority of about 18% be banned from the compound this Ramadan.

He was later overruled by Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, but not before Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s political chief in exile in Qatar, called on Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to march to al-Aqsa on the first day of Ramadan.

“Hamas’s overarching goal at this moment is to cause the Temple Mount to catch fire,” Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, told reporters last week.

The government is deploying more security forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank to manage the threat, he added.

Last year was already the bloodiest in the West Bank since the second intifada of the 2000s, even before the latest conflict erupted. At least 400 Palestinians in the occupied territory have since been killed in confrontations with Israeli settlers or during clashes with soldiers, and army operations targeting cells belonging to Hamas and other militant groups are at a 20-year-high.

On Monday, Israeli forces launched the biggest raid in years on the Am’ari refugee camp in the Palestinian administrative capital of Ramallah, killing a 16-year-old, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Raids also took place in Jenin and Tulkarem, and the Palestinian Prisoners Club said that at least 55 people had been arrested in the last 24 hours.

Israeli operations in the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus have become commonplace over the last two years, as well as, latterly, the western town of Tulkarem. Raids on Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, are still relatively rare, however, and Monday’s operation was widely viewed as a worrying sign that the violence may be spreading.

“Even in other wars and the intifada, or in the pandemic, it was never this bad,” said Ala, 32, who owns a grocery shop close to a checkpoint used for accessing the Western Wall.

“The pain and hunger that the families in Gaza are suffering is unbearable and we are afraid there is worse to come.”

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USGaza ceasefire protest vote gains traction on Super Tuesday

Gaza ceasefire protest vote gains traction in US on Super Tuesday

Grassroots groups organized quickly after similar effort in Michigan brought in more than 100,000 ‘uncommitted’ votes

A protest vote against Joe Biden gained more traction around the country on Super Tuesday as voters in several states sought to send a message to the Democratic president to support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Grassroots groups organized quickly after a similar effort in Michigan last week far exceeded its goal of 10,000 votes for “uncommitted” brought in more than 100,000 votes, or 13% of the vote.

A smattering of Super Tuesday states – Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee – had an option on the Democratic ballot where voters could decide not to commit to a specific candidate. These options included “uncommitted”, “noncommitted delegate” and “no preference”.

In Minnesota, about 19% of voters chose “uncommitted”, far more than chose Dean Phillips, the congressman from that state who is challenging Biden in the primary. Massachusetts saw about 9% of votes go to a “no preference” options. In North Carolina, about 13% of voters picked “no preference”. Democratic protest votes were also recorded in Alabama (6% “uncommitted”), Iowa (4%) and Tennessee (8%).

Minnesota’s campaign was seen as the most likely to bring in more votes because the state has a large Muslim population, high voter turnout and a progressive left, all factors that could help it get more people to send a protest vote.

Organizers in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Colorado also worked to push voters toward uncommitted options after Michigan. In Massachusetts, volunteers spread the word over the past few days that voters there should choose “no preference” on their primary ballots. Colorado voters were urged by the Colorado Palestine Coalition to pick “noncommitted delegate” on their ballots, Colorado Public Radio reported.

“We join a national movement which has been galvanized by what has come out of Michigan and we’re asking people to use their ballot to tell Biden ‘we say no to genocide,’” Lara Jirmanus, one of the “no preference” organizers in Massachusetts, said, according to Mass Live.

The uncommitted campaign is moving nationally to push Biden on the ceasefire issue. This weekend, Kamala Harris called for an “immediate ceasefire” for six weeks. But organizers in the movement have called for a permanent ceasefire and seen temporary measures as a half-step to try to assuage the Democratic base.

The movement got a boost this weekend when the Democratic Socialists of America, the country’s largest socialist group, endorsed “uncommitted”.

“Until this administration ends its support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza and delivers a permanent, lasting ceasefire, Joe Biden will bear the responsibility for another Trump presidency,” the group wrote on X.

Biden allies and Democratic officials across the country have drawn attention instead to the eventual Trump-Biden matchup, saying the threat Trump poses to the country is too great for people to choose other options.

But Biden’s campaign acknowledged the movement, with campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt telling the New York Times on Tuesday that “the president hears the voters participating in the uncommitted campaigns. He shares their goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace – and he’s working tirelessly to that end.”

The Minnesota uncommitted campaign had only about a week to put together an effort to sway voters. They didn’t have a set vote goal and instead saw any total as a way to force Biden to pay attention to the issue, a key liability among Democratic voters. They called and texted voters and showed up at mosques around the state to spread the word about the uncommitted option, explaining how it was a protest of Biden on his Israel stance.

Ruth Schultz, a Minneapolis voter, was inspired by Michigan’s uncommitted vote and started reaching out to people she organized within a group called MN Families for Palestine. She saw the vote as a way to show the Biden administration how many registered Democrats want a ceasefire, pressuring him to be accountable to that base of people.

She said she probably would not have voted in the Minnesota presidential primary if there wasn’t an uncommitted campaign. In November, it was a “given” that she would not vote for Trump, but she wants to see Biden move on a ceasefire.

“I want to see President Biden take a stronger stance for peace and how to get a ceasefire and to use all the tools at his disposal in order to do that,” she said. “I am watching that as a voter in the general election. I believe that there is the ability and time for him to be a stronger leader in this arena.”

After Super Tuesday, movement organizers say they are planning to share what they learn to help other states organize and keep the pressure up. Already, states such as Washington have been getting to work – there, the state’s largest labor union endorsed “uncommitted”, a major boost to the protest campaign.

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Soldier injured in NSW parachute training; Virgin announces in-cabin travel for small cats and dogs

An Australian Defence Force soldier has been injured in a parachute accident during a training exercise, AAP reports.

The incident occurred last night during what defence described as a “routine training activity” at the RAAF Base in Richmond, about 50km north-west of Sydney.

In a statement, defence confirmed the soldier had been injured:

First aid was rendered at the scene and the member was taken to hospital by NSW Ambulance.

Defence did not provide any details about the soldier’s current condition and said it would not provide further comment due to privacy.

Grim visions of an American apocalypse

Trump’s Super Tuesday victory speech: grim visions of an American apocalypse

Rather than bask in his Republican primary victories, the ex-president asserted that the state of the union is bleak

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If this is what he sounds like when he wins, imagine how he would react to defeat.

Donald Trump swept to victory after victory on Super Tuesday, all but clinching the Republican presidential nomination, but you wouldn’t have known it from his joyless victory speech.

For hours his fans had partied in the gilded ballroom of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, accompanied by Abba’s Dancing Queen, Elton John’s Rocket Man, Queen’s We Are the Champions and other golden oldies. Waiters glided between them serving pastries, prawns and sausage rolls. Each time Fox News – displayed on four giant TV screens – declared another state for Trump, they whooped and cheered and chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump! USA! USA! USA!”

Then, after 10pm, into this gaudy pageant walked the Grim Reaper, raining on their parade with a 19-minute speech laden with doom and gloom about the state of the nation.

This was Trump as Eeyore.

No balloons, no confetti, no parade of family members on stage and no mention of opponent Nikki Haley. No fun.

“Some people call it an experiment – I don’t call it an experiment,” Trump said of the United States. “I just say this is a magnificent place, a magnificent country, and it’s sad to see how far it’s come and gone … When you look at the depths where it’s gone, we can’t let that happen. We’re going to straighten it out. We’re going to close our borders. We’re going to drill baby drill.”

As the unhappy warrior spoke, 10 guests headed for the exit, apparently worn down by the misery of it all.

The strange thing about Trump’s subdued mood is that this should have been his “I told you so” speech, full of braggadocious crowing over the media and his vanquished foes. After all, when he used Mar-a-Lago in late 2022 to announce his third consecutive run for president, there had been widespread scepticism: Republicans had just flopped in the midterms and it was far from certain whether Trump could beat the coming man, Ron DeSantis.

Who’s got the last laugh now? It should have been Trump on Tuesday night, revelling in the opulence of crystal chandeliers and gold leaf and Corinthian-style columns, after swatting aside a dozen challengers, leading Joe Biden in opinion polls and watching legal dominoes continue to fall his way.

But it turns out he has upended and inverted yet another political convention: optimism. Not for him Ronald Reagan’s morning in America or Bill Clinton’s place called Hope or Barack Obama’s yes, we can. Instead only murder, mayhem and total darkness.

If only he had still been running things, he lamented, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine, Israel would not have been attacked and Iran would be broke. Now inflation is “destroying the middle class, it’s destroying everything”. He added morosely that inflation was called the “country buster”.

But wait, there is one bright spot: the stock market! It’s going gangbusters. According to Trump, this has nothing to do with Biden, “the worst president in the history of our country”, but the Republican frontrunner’s own healthy poll numbers indicating his return.

Then it was back to the bad news of border security and immigration.

“Our cities are being overrun with migrant crime, and that’s Biden migrant crime,” Trump grimaced. “But it’s a new category and it’s violent, where they’ll stand in the middle of the street and have fistfights with police officers. And if they did that in their countries from where they came, they’d be killed instantly. They wouldn’t do that. So the world is laughing at us. The world is taking advantage of us.”

The room of bejewelled, permatanned partygoers was silent. At this point Trump was like the dinner guest who insists on talking about how sausages are made and what dying animals sound like. And he still wasn’t done, riffing on energy independence and how you turn tar into oil. Boring as well as sad.

Maybe his handlers had got to him. Donald, don’t set everyone’s hair on fire. We have to pivot to the general! So it was he did not dwell on his big lie about the 2020 election being stolen from him. But he did grumble about the “weaponisation” of government against a political opponent.

“It happens in third world countries,” he said. “And in some ways, we’re a third world country. We live in a third world country with no borders … We need a fair and free press. The press has not been fair nor has it been free … The press used to police our country. Now nobody has confidence in them.”

The grim list kept coming: the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the loss of American soldiers in Afghanistan. And Trump naturally could not resist circling back for another bite at the border – no matter that he was the one who ordered Republicans to torpedo bipartisan legislation that might have begun to fix the crisis.

“We have millions of people invading our country,” he asserted. “This is an invasion. This is the worst invasion probably.” For good measure, he tossed out an uncheckable fact. “The number today could be 15 million people. And they’re coming from rough places and dangerous places.”

There were polite ripples of applause but not much chanting from a crowd that included men in leather Bikers for Trump vests; a young man sporting a Maga hat and dark suit, white shirt and red bow tie; a woman with an eye patch and Moms 4 Liberty T-shirt; a young boy in a suit with a Stars and Stripes tie; and a tattooed white rapper with a Mayor of Magaville cap and thick golden chain with a giant medallion resembling Trump’s head.

Two days from now, the audience will be somewhat different for Biden’s State of the Union address in Washington. Trump delivered his own version on Tuesday night: the state of the union is bleak. Perhaps that was fitting for a nation digesting the reality that it really will have to do Biden v Trump all over again.

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AnalysisNikki Haley has one last card to play: will she eventually endorse Trump?

Analysis

Nikki Haley has one last card to play: will she eventually endorse Trump?

Martin Pengelly in Washington

The question for the Trump campaign is how to get Haley onside and win back as many of her supporters as possible, as quickly as possible

Nikki Haley’s withdrawal from the Republican presidential primary on Wednesday was “not a shocker”, a leading anti-Trump conservative said, in a contender for understatement of the political year.

“As we’ve said for months,” Tara Setmayer added, “she has no path and [Donald] Trump will be the GOP nominee.”

But Setmayer also pointed to the impact Haley did make in the Republican primary, what it means for Trump, and the choice now facing the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador as she seeks to retain political relevance.

“Now let the over/under begin for when Haley endorses Trump,” Setmayer, a Republican operative turned member of the anti-Trump Lincoln project, said on social media.

On Super Tuesday, Haley added Vermont to her weekend win in Washington DC but otherwise suffered a wipeout. Though Trump has not yet mathematically secured the nomination, Haley bowed to the inevitable the following morning.

There was consolation for Haley. Across the slate of states which voted on Tuesday, she once again finished closer to Trump than expected, her vote shares above those predicted by polling.

Tellingly, that illustrated sizable opposition to Trump among some Republicans and conservative independents.

“Nikki Haley’s performance across the board is a warning signal for … Trump’s lieutenants,” Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and ad maker turned Lincoln Project co-founder, wrote on Substack.

“Trump’s senior strategist, Chris LaCivita, saw the results in key states late last night, read the exit poll data, scanned the turnout areas, and knew within hours that Trump’s party isn’t unified.

“It’s smaller, darker, and more passionately devoted to the dear leader, but depending on the state, between 25% and 40% of Republican and conservative independents just aren’t into Donald Trump.”

If most of those voters do not come back, Trump will face a near-impossible task in November against Joe Biden.

The question for Trump and his aides, therefore, is how to get Haley onside and win back as many of her supporters as possible, as quickly as possible, while keeping them out of Biden’s camp.

Whether Haley will endorse Trump, it follows, is now a central campaign question.

In Charleston on Wednesday, announcing her withdrawal, Haley said that in campaigning against Trump for so long, with so little chance of success, she had “wanted Americans to have their voices heard”.

“I have done that,” she said. “I have no regrets.”

But having recently avoided re-committing to supporting the Republican nominee – which she previously pledged to do – she did not go on to endorse him.

Having ruled out a third-party bid, an endorsement is Haley’s last card to play. Endorsements are often bartered for plum jobs (if not in this case vice-president, which Haley has said she does not want). Endorsements, and campaign-trail efforts on behalf of the nominee, can also be used to win support for candidacies yet to come, in Haley’s case after Trump finally leaves the stage.

It is fair to say Haley has earned her position of relative influence in a party controlled by Trump. A rare Republican woman of colour in a primary dominated by white men, she vastly outperformed expectations.

Though she started out with single-figure polling numbers, confident debate-stage displays saw her eclipse rivals including the former vice-president Mike Pence and Ron DeSantis, the hardline Florida governor who was initially expected to be Trump’s leading challenger, perhaps even his conqueror.

Trump skipped every debate. Tellingly, though, he did not need to be onstage to dominate his opponents who were. Before the field began to shrink, all candidates other than Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, two doomed anti-Trumpers, fought shy of attacking him, aware of his grip on the base.

When DeSantis quit, before the New Hampshire primary, Haley finally had a clear field to take the fight to Trump. She began to turn fire his way. But however strongly she spoke – calling the 77-year-old former president “unhinged” and diminished”, doubting he would adhere to the constitution – it was clearly too little, too late.

Haley has disappointed Trump’s opponents too.

She has said she will vote for Trump over Joe Biden. She also said that if she was elected, and if Trump was convicted on any of the 91 criminal charges he faces, she would give him a pardon.

Though Haley has “earned the votes and support of millions of Republican and conservative independent voters in her brief time in the spotlight”, Wilson said, she will soon “break their hearts for nothing.

“Reality has now set in for millions of Republican voters. They must choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In all likelihood, Nikki Haley will make the wrong choice and back Trump.”

That endorsement, Wilson said, “will prove it was all for nothing. The abyss is calling, and she’s peering down into the darkness.”

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‘No regrets’Haley drops out of race after Super Tuesday defeats

‘I have no regrets’: Nikki Haley drops out of Republican presidential race

Former South Carolina governor in effect cedes Republican 2024 nomination to Trump but does not immediately endorse him

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Nikki Haley ended her presidential campaign on Wednesday after being soundly defeated in coast-to-coast Super Tuesday contests, in effect ceding the 2024 Republican nomination to Donald Trump.

The former South Carolina governor, who became Trump’s UN ambassador and the first prominent woman of color to seek the Republican nomination for president, declined to immediately endorse the former president as nearly all of his other Republican rivals did. Instead she challenged Trump to earn the support of her voters, calling it his “time for choosing”.

“The time has now come to suspend my campaign,” Haley said, announcing her decision during a three-minute speech in Charleston, South Carolina. “It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond who did not support him and I hope he does that.”

After vanquishing Haley in 14 out of 15 Republican primary elections, Trump is on the verge of securing enough delegates to clinch his party’s nomination for a third consecutive time despite facing 91 criminal charges, attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection and civil court rulings requiring him to pay more than $400m having been found liable for financial fraud and defamation. Joe Biden, meanwhile, swept past his nominal challengers on his inexorable march to the Democratic nomination. Haley’s departure from the race in effect ends the primary season, far earlier than in past cycles, setting the stage for a Trump-Biden rematch she tried to forestall.

Haley had previously pledged to the Republican National Committee that she would support the eventual nominee. But Haley recently said she no longer felt bound by the commitment after Trump’s campaign moved aggressively to assume control over the organization despite her continued presence in the race.

In the final weeks of her campaign, Haley had become the leader of her party’s disparate anti-Trump movement. Moving past her initial reluctance to take on Trump, Haley leveled increasingly pointed and personal attacks at her former boss, casting doubt on his mental fitness and loyalty to the US constitution.

Haley had vowed to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday and for as long as she remained “competitive”. But Tuesday’s results left no path forward for the Republican.

“I said I wanted Americans to have their voices heard. I have done that,” she said on Wednesday. “I have no regrets.”

Among Trump’s prominent primary rivals, Haley was the last candidate left standing, so her withdrawal ensures that Trump will capture the Republican nomination.

Despite enduring a long string of losses, exit polls showed her strength among suburban women and independents – key constituencies in a general election that she warned Trump was continuing to alienate. A sizable share of her supporters – and Republican voters more broadly – say they would not vote for a candidate convicted of a crime.

“At its best politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away,” Haley said in her Charleston speech, “and our conservative cause badly needs more people.”

Ahead of Haley’s remarks on Wednesday, Trump attacked her in a social media post, accusing his rival of drawing support from “Radical Left Democrats” and downplaying her sole win in Vermont. “At this point, I hope she stays in the ‘race’ and fights it out until the end!” he wrote, before inviting her supporters to “join the greatest movement in the history of our Nation”.

Biden by contrast praised the “courage” he said Haley displayed in seeking the Republican nomination despite knowing it was likely to provoke the wrath of Trump and his most loyal supporters.

“Nikki Haley was willing to speak the truth about Trump: about the chaos that always follows him, about his inability to see right from wrong, about his cowering before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said in a statement issued by his campaign. In an appeal to Haley’s supporters, Biden said: “There is a place for them in my campaign.

“I know there is a lot we won’t agree on,” he continued. “But on the fundamental issues of preserving American democracy, on standing up for the rule of law, on treating each other with decency and dignity and respect, on preserving Nato and standing up to America’s adversaries, I hope and believe we can find common ground.”

When Haley launched her campaign just over a year ago, she began as an underdog, polling far behind Trump and his other rivals, including the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. But she eventually outlasted them all, securing the one-on-one race with Trump that she sought.

She could not quite squeeze DeSantis out of second place in Iowa – both a long way behind Trump, the winner – but she did see him leave the race before the New Hampshire primary. She notched her best performance in the New Hampshire primary, but she still fell 11 points short of Trump in the state, which inspired a rush of fundraising that defied her narrowing path to the nomination.

Ultimately, though, Haley simply could not convince enough Republicans it was time to dump Trump.

In the Nevada presidential primary, which Trump opted out of, Haley suffered an embarrassing defeat to the ballot line “None of these candidates” and then faced defeat by 20 percentage points in South Carolina, the state that twice elected her governor.

On Tuesday, when voters in 15 states cast ballots in contests known as Super Tuesday, Haley lost every state apart from Vermont. The surprise victory also made history: Haley became the first Republican woman to prevail in a state presidential primary. She had previously only won in Washington DC.

Haley was governor of South Carolina from 2012 to 2017, before resigning in the aftermath of Trump’s shock win in the 2016 presidential election, in order to be appointed US ambassador to the UN. Despite her popularity in South Carolina when she was governor, Haley was unable to carry her home state, sealing her fate in the Republican primary.

In a surprise move, Haley resigned her role as US ambassador to the UN in 2018, becoming one of the few administration officials to leave on relatively good terms with then president Trump. Widely thought to have ambitions to run for president after Trump departed the scene, she denied speculation linking her to a place on his ticket.

Trump did not leave the scene – even after inciting the deadly attack on Congress on 6 January 2021, in an attempt to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden.

When the 2024 race kicked off in earnest, Haley sought to position herself as a fresh alternative to Trump. She made steady inroads in polling, benefiting particularly from strong debate performances while Trump refused to take the stage.

The 51-year-old made electability a centerpiece of her message, arguing she was the only Republican who could beat Biden in a general election. On the campaign trail, she liked to remind voters: “Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president – that’s nothing to be proud of.”

Once elected the “Tea Party” governor, Haley ran as a conservative, seeking to appeal to the base by railing against the size of the national debt and the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

Allies argued that her support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and her relatively nuanced stance on abortion – she called for a “consensus” rather than backing a proposal to ban the procedure after a specific number of weeks – would help the party appeal to independents and suburban women alienated by Trump.

Haley also emphasized her relative youth, asking Republicans to put their faith in a “new generation” of leaders. She made a splash with a call for “mental competency tests” for politicians over 75, a group pointedly including Biden and Trump.

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Mitch McConnellTop senator endorses Trump for president despite acrimony

Top senator Mitch McConnell endorses Trump for president despite acrimony

Leading Republican, who blamed Trump for January 6, says he will support likely nominee despite ex-president’s personal taunts

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Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, endorsed Donald Trump for president despite years of acrimony including Trump calling McConnell a “piece of shit” and attacking his wife in racist terms, and McConnell deeming Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6 insurrection.

“It is abundantly clear that Trump has earned the requisite support of Republican voters to be our nominee for president of the United States,” McConnell, 82, told the Washington Post on Wednesday, after Trump dominated the Super Tuesday primaries and his last rival, Nikki Haley, dropped out.

“It should come as no surprise,” McConnell said, “that as nominee, [Trump] will have my support. During his presidency, we worked together to accomplish great things for the American people including tax reform that supercharged our economy and a generational change of our federal judiciary – most importantly, the supreme court.”

In the words of the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the 2017 tax law McConnell referred to was “skewed to the rich, expensive, and failed to deliver … promised economic benefits”.

In the case of the courts, McConnell did stock the federal bench with rightwingers and steer three justices onto the supreme court, appointments made possible by ruthless tactics and paving the way for policy victories including the removal of the federal right to abortion.

That ruling, however, has powered Democrats to victories in campaigns centered on rightwing threats to reproductive rights.

McConnell and Trump ultimately fell out over Trump’s refusal to admit defeat by Joe Biden in 2020, culminating in the deadly attack on Congress of 6 January 2021 – the event which prompted McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, to resign as Trump’s transportation secretary.

McConnell voted to acquit Trump at his subsequent (and second) impeachment trial, claiming that as Trump had left office the sanction was not needed.

But though McConnell excoriated Trump in a Senate speech, labeling him guilty of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and “practically and morally responsible for provoking” January 6, the former president did not leave the national scene as McConnell clearly expected.

As Trump dominated the Republican primary, notwithstanding 91 criminal charges under four indictments, multimillion-dollar civil penalties and attempts to remove him from the ballot, his relationship with McConnell went into deep freeze.

Trump’s “piece of shit” remark was reported. Other insults thrown McConnell’s way included “stone cold loser”, “dumb son of a bitch” and “old broken down crow”.

Trump called Chao “Coco Chow” and McConnell’s “China-loving wife”. Last year, Chao spoke out against such racist mockery.

Last week, amid speculation that McConnell would soon endorse, the Kentucky senator said he would step down as leader at the end of this year, after elections in which Republicans hope to regain Senate control.

A senator since 1985, McConnell is the longest-serving Senate party leader, having assumed his role in 2006. Contenders to replace him include John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota. Both have endorsed Trump. On Wednesday, Joni Ernst of Iowa also endorsed, giving Trump a full house of GOP Senate leaders.

McConnell is destined to be remembered as a hugely influential figure. But his decision to endorse Trump met with widespread scorn.

Norman Ornstein, an author and emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said McConnell had “once again demonstrate[d] a level of moral cowardice that is destructive and pathetic.

“He was responsible for letting Trump off the hook, and having him as the Republican nominee, when he deep-sixed [the] impeachment trial. Now he endorses the vicious autocrat. Shame”.

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Microsoft ignored safety problems with image generator, engineer complains

Microsoft ignored safety problems with AI image generator, engineer complains

Shane Jones said he warned management about the lack of safeguards several times, but it didn’t result in any action

An artificial intelligence engineer at Microsoft published a letter Wednesday alleging that the company’s AI image generator lacks basic safeguards against creating violent and sexualized images. In the letter, engineer Shane Jones states that his repeated attempts to warn Microsoft management about the problems failed to result in any action. Jones said he sent the message to the Federal Trade Commission and Microsoft’s board of directors.

“Internally the company is well aware of systemic issues where the product is creating harmful images that could be offensive and inappropriate for consumers,” Jones states in the letter, which he published on LinkedIn. He lists his title as “principal software engineering manager”.

A Microsoft spokesperson denied that the company ignored safety issues, stating that it has “robust internal reporting channels” to deal with generative AI problems. Jones did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The letter focuses on issues with Microsoft’s Copilot Designer, a tool that can create images based on text prompts and is powered by OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 artificial intelligence system. It is one of several generative AI image makers that have launched over the past year, part of a boom time for the industry that has also raised concerns over AI being used to spread disinformation or generate misogynist, racist and violent content.

Copilot Designer contains “systemic problems” with producing harmful content, Jones alleges in the letter, and should be removed from public use until the company fixes the output. Jones specifically argues that Copilot Designer lacks appropriate restrictions on its use and tends to generate images that sexually objectify women even when given completely unrelated prompts.

“Using just the prompt ‘car accident’, Copilot Designer generated an image of a woman kneeling in front of the car wearing only underwear,” Jones states in the letter, which included examples of image generations. “It also generated multiple images of women in lingerie sitting on the hood of a car or walking in front of the car.”

Microsoft claimed that it has dedicated teams who evaluate potential safety issues, and that the company facilitated meetings for Jones with its Office of Responsible AI.

“We are committed to addressing any and all concerns employees have in accordance with our company policies and appreciate the employee’s effort in studying and testing our latest technology to further enhance its safety,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said in a statement to the Guardian.

Microsoft launched its Copilot “AI companion” last year, and has heavily advertised it as a revolutionary way to incorporate artificial intelligence tools into businesses and creative endeavors. The company markets Copilot as an accessible product for public use, and featured it last month in a Super Bowl ad with the tagline “Anyone. Anywhere. Any device.” Jones argues that telling consumers Copilot Designer is safe for anyone to use is irresponsible, and that the company is failing to disclose well-known risks associated with the tool.

Microsoft updated Copilot Designer in January over safety concerns similar to Jones’, 404 Media reported, closing loopholes on the AI’s code after fake, sexualized images of Taylor Swift spread widely across social media. Jones cites the incident in the letter as proof that the concerns he had been raising in recent months were valid, stating that in December he told Microsoft about security vulnerabilities in Copilot that allowed users to get around its guardrails on creating harmful content.

Jones also alleges that Microsoft’s corporate, external and legal Affairs team pressured him to remove a LinkedIn post that he published in December, in which he urged the board of directors at OpenAI to suspend the availability of DALL-E 3 due to safety concerns. Jones deleted the letter at the direction of his manager, he said, but never received any justification from the legal department despite his requests for an explanation.

Generative AI image tools have faced repeated issues over creating harmful content and reinforcing biases, problems that are usually associated with bias against specific groups. Google recently suspended its Gemini AI tool after it caused public controversy for generating images of people of color when asked to show historical figures such as popes, Vikings and Nazi soldiers.

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Microsoft ignored safety problems with image generator, engineer complains

Microsoft ignored safety problems with AI image generator, engineer complains

Shane Jones said he warned management about the lack of safeguards several times, but it didn’t result in any action

An artificial intelligence engineer at Microsoft published a letter Wednesday alleging that the company’s AI image generator lacks basic safeguards against creating violent and sexualized images. In the letter, engineer Shane Jones states that his repeated attempts to warn Microsoft management about the problems failed to result in any action. Jones said he sent the message to the Federal Trade Commission and Microsoft’s board of directors.

“Internally the company is well aware of systemic issues where the product is creating harmful images that could be offensive and inappropriate for consumers,” Jones states in the letter, which he published on LinkedIn. He lists his title as “principal software engineering manager”.

A Microsoft spokesperson denied that the company ignored safety issues, stating that it has “robust internal reporting channels” to deal with generative AI problems. Jones did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The letter focuses on issues with Microsoft’s Copilot Designer, a tool that can create images based on text prompts and is powered by OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 artificial intelligence system. It is one of several generative AI image makers that have launched over the past year, part of a boom time for the industry that has also raised concerns over AI being used to spread disinformation or generate misogynist, racist and violent content.

Copilot Designer contains “systemic problems” with producing harmful content, Jones alleges in the letter, and should be removed from public use until the company fixes the output. Jones specifically argues that Copilot Designer lacks appropriate restrictions on its use and tends to generate images that sexually objectify women even when given completely unrelated prompts.

“Using just the prompt ‘car accident’, Copilot Designer generated an image of a woman kneeling in front of the car wearing only underwear,” Jones states in the letter, which included examples of image generations. “It also generated multiple images of women in lingerie sitting on the hood of a car or walking in front of the car.”

Microsoft claimed that it has dedicated teams who evaluate potential safety issues, and that the company facilitated meetings for Jones with its Office of Responsible AI.

“We are committed to addressing any and all concerns employees have in accordance with our company policies and appreciate the employee’s effort in studying and testing our latest technology to further enhance its safety,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said in a statement to the Guardian.

Microsoft launched its Copilot “AI companion” last year, and has heavily advertised it as a revolutionary way to incorporate artificial intelligence tools into businesses and creative endeavors. The company markets Copilot as an accessible product for public use, and featured it last month in a Super Bowl ad with the tagline “Anyone. Anywhere. Any device.” Jones argues that telling consumers Copilot Designer is safe for anyone to use is irresponsible, and that the company is failing to disclose well-known risks associated with the tool.

Microsoft updated Copilot Designer in January over safety concerns similar to Jones’, 404 Media reported, closing loopholes on the AI’s code after fake, sexualized images of Taylor Swift spread widely across social media. Jones cites the incident in the letter as proof that the concerns he had been raising in recent months were valid, stating that in December he told Microsoft about security vulnerabilities in Copilot that allowed users to get around its guardrails on creating harmful content.

Jones also alleges that Microsoft’s corporate, external and legal Affairs team pressured him to remove a LinkedIn post that he published in December, in which he urged the board of directors at OpenAI to suspend the availability of DALL-E 3 due to safety concerns. Jones deleted the letter at the direction of his manager, he said, but never received any justification from the legal department despite his requests for an explanation.

Generative AI image tools have faced repeated issues over creating harmful content and reinforcing biases, problems that are usually associated with bias against specific groups. Google recently suspended its Gemini AI tool after it caused public controversy for generating images of people of color when asked to show historical figures such as popes, Vikings and Nazi soldiers.

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‘The worst AI-generated artwork we’ve seen’Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Facebook ad fail

‘The worst AI-generated artwork we’ve seen’: Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Facebook ad fail

A ‘poorly considered’ use of AI has resulted in a perplexing number of fingers – and a large amount of mockery

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At first glance, if you squint, you might think it was a photograph: a couple nuzzling together in the front row of a concert hall, in a Facebook advertisement for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO).

But look again and you’ll see why it’s caused a stir among creative workers and the union representing them. The couple’s tangled fingers are both too large and too many; there’s a strange sheen making them look more like wax dolls; and then there’s the clothes: she in a tulle gown encrusted with jewels, he in a tuxedo – and, simultaneously, a tulle gown encrusted with jewels. Also: she has a large cube on her lap.

“Want to do something different this Saturday? Come see an orchestra play,” reads the ad. It was apparently created by someone who has never seen an orchestra play, and imagines it as rows of violinists seated in the audience, many playing with three hands or one hand or no hands at all.

The picture, shared by the QSO on 22 February, appears to be sourced from stock image aggregator Shutterstock, where it is listed under the AI prompt “two people having a date at a indoor classical music romantic concert”.

On Tuesday, industry union the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) called it “the worst AI generated artwork we’ve seen”.

“It is inappropriate, unprofessional and disrespectful to audiences and the musicians of the QSO,” they added. “Creative workers and audiences deserve better from arts organisations.”

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The post also attracted criticism in its replies. “Next time pay photographers,” one comment reads. Another called it “terrible – literally an arts organisation not using artists.”

Classical music industry blog Slipped Disc was the first to report on the ad, claiming it had resulted in “uproar” and “fury” among the orchestra’s players.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra did not comment on that claim but justified their use of the AI image in a statement to Guardian Australia: “At QSO, we encourage exploration, innovation, experimentation and the adoption of new technologies across all facets of the business. From time to time we will use new marketing tools and techniques as we are an orchestra for all Queenslanders.”

Daniel Boud is a Sydney-based freelance photographer often employed by major performing arts companies for their promotional imagery and production shots. He said while he hasn’t noticed himself losing work yet to AI, “I’m getting more briefs now where the mock-ups are done by AI – so the design agency or a marketing person will use AI to visualise a concept, which is then presented to me to turn into a reality. That’s a reasonable use of AI because it’s not doing anyone out of a job.”

He called the QSO ad “poorly considered”.

“To me that should have been the mock-up for a real shoot – it’s a nice concept. But get real musicians in a real theatre.

“I’m also sympathetic. That shoot in real life would cost many thousands of dollars to turn it into reality.

“But the image they’ve used is awful, so it isn’t going to put photographers out of work. Although when the technology improves, I hope it won’t become the new norm.”

AI-generated imagery has stirred much debate and outrage since its rise in recent years due to the accessibility of consumer tools such as Dall-E and Midjourney. Much of the controversy revolves around AI’s potential to devalue or plagiarise human artists.

In the past 18 months, at least two art prizes have made headlines after their winners were found to have generated or altered their works with AI. “I’m not going to apologise for it,” said Jason M Allen, who took home an award for digital artists at the Colorado State Fair in 2022. “I won, and I didn’t break any rules.”

In 2023, German artist Boris Eldagsen won a prize at the Sony world photography awards for an AI-generated photograph of two women in black and white. He later admitted he had “applied as a cheeky monkey” in order to incite discourse around the ethics of AI – and refused to return the award.

Last September, the Australian Financial Review accompanied its annual list of the country’s 10 most culturally powerful people with AI-generated images of its subjects.

“How quickly can you spot that they’re fakes?” the publication asked in an editorial justifying its decision at the time.

Given its bizarro output of a marionette-like Margot Robbie and a many-fingered Sam Kerr, the answer for many was: alarmingly quickly.

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Matildas captain allegedly called police officer a ‘stupid white bastard’, source says

Sam Kerr allegedly called police officer a ‘stupid white bastard’, source says

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes says Australia star has the club’s ‘full support’ as she faces trial for racially aggravated harassment

The racial slur Matildas superstar Sam Kerr is alleged to have used against a British police officer was “stupid white bastard”, according to sources with knowledge of the case.

The 30-year-old appeared by video link at Kingston crown court this week accused of using insulting, threatening or abusive words that caused alarm or distress to a police officer in January 2023. She entered a not guilty plea.

The alleged exchange with the officer came after Kerr, who plays for London club Chelsea in the Women’s Super League, became involved in a dispute about a taxi fare after a night out in south-west London.

The police were called to the scene in Twickenham and then it is understood by sources with knowledge of the case that Kerr allegedly called an officer a “stupid white bastard”.

It came as Emma Hayes, the Chelsea Women’s team manager, said on Wednesday that Kerr had the club’s “full support”.

The club has so far refused to make any direct comment but Hayes made her position clear when asked about it at a scheduled media conference on Wednesday.

“Sam has our full support, she knows that,” Hayes said. “It’s a difficult time for her. Of course I can’t comment, you know that. I can say that I know she’s pleaded not guilty and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise anything for Sam by speaking about it.

“For that reason, I’m sure you can appreciate that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

“But she has our full support, she knows that, it’s really important I get that across, it’s something I really really value.

“There’s difficult moments, tough times and that’s what my role is at this football club, to make sure I look after our people and I want to make it clear that Sam will be supported by me and everybody else.”

Kerr is scheduled to stand trial on the charges in February 2025, more than two years after the alleged offence.

However, she may not have to face trial because her legal team is planning to have the charge downgraded or dismissed.

Documents filed by the player’s legal team show they will argue an abuse of process by crown prosecutors, according to multiple media reports, with a hearing set for 26 April.

Kerr joined Chelsea midway through the 2019-20 season and has scored 99 goals in 128 games for the team.

She has also won the Golden Boot twice, was runner-up to Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí at the Ballon d’Or awards last year, and finished second on the Guardian’s list of the top 100 female footballers in 2023 after being third in 2021 and 2022.

She tore her anterior cruciate ligament at a Chelsea training camp at the end of 2023 and the injury which will prevent her from playing for the Matildas at the Olympic football tournament in August.

Kerr has been contacted for comment.

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Only one harm reduction group and 28 betting companies consulted over NT gambling bill

Only one harm reduction group and 28 betting companies consulted over contentious NT gambling bill

Alliance for Gambling Reform criticises closed consultation process for draft bill regulating $50bn industry, accusing territory of being ‘out of its depth’

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The Northern Territory government – which regulates Australia’s $50bn online wagering industry – consulted just one harm reduction group before introducing laws welcomed by the gambling giants whose advice was sought during their drafting.

The Racing and Wagering Act 2024, which was tabled last month and could be voted on in coming weeks, would allow the chief minister to direct the NT gambling regulator and its director in “the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions”.

The government had also initially considered increasing maximum fines to 10,000 penalty units, which was about $1.75m, before reducing the cap by 75% to about $445,000 in the bill.

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The government sought feedback on its draft bill from all 28 online gambling companies licensed in the NT, including international giants Bet365 and Sportsbet.

It did not approach anyone based outside the NT, including regulators, gambling researchers, academics, treatment centres or financial counsellors.

Most online gambling companies were licensed in the NT due to historically lower tax rates, but operate nationally. Their conduct is policed by six members of the NT racing commission.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has criticised the NT government’s closed consultation process, accusing the territory of being “out of its depth” and undermining the push to establish a national regulator, as recommended by a federal parliamentary inquiry.

The government said the legislation would bring maximum fines in line with other jurisdictions.

Gambling critics have long argued the fines were so low as to have little regulatory impact.

“The 10,000 [penalty units] figure was proposed as a starting point, partly in recognition of the size of the online wagering industry,” an NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade spokesperson said.

“However, following advice from the Department of the Attorney General and Justice, the maximum was reduced to 2,500 penalty units to align with other statutory bodies.”

The spokesperson said the government sought feedback on the bill from all licensed gambling companies, the racing commission, the racing appeals tribunal, the NT civil and administrative tribunal, government agencies, lawyers for the gambling industry, and one gambling support group – Amity Services.

The government declined to answer questions about why it did not hold an open consultation process and why it only consulted one local counselling service, given the national inquiry documented “powerful evidence” of harm caused by the online gambling industry.

Carol Bennett, the chief executive of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the timing of the bill was “interesting”, given the Albanese government was expected to respond to the federal inquiry’s recommendations within weeks.

That inquiry, led by the former Labor MP Peta Murphy, called for a new national regulator to take responsibility away from the Northern Territory and be “responsible for all licensing and regulation”.

The inquiry’s final report said that “concerns were raised [during hearings] about perceived regulatory capture by online wagering providers in the Northern Territory”.

Bennett said the online gambling industry was too big and affected the livelihoods of too many Australians to be regulated by one territory.

“This is way beyond their remit and this is something the federal government should be stepping in to take control of immediately,” Bennett said. “They are way out of their depth.

“This effectively enables the Northern Territory government to propagate what is an opaque regulatory process already. It would allow the government to decide what probity assessments the regulator makes.”

When contacted for a response to Bennett’s criticism, a spokesperson for the NT government said it “takes regulation of the online wagering industry seriously and the new Racing and Wagering Bill demonstrates this by substantially increasing penalties and strengthening harm reduction measures”.

The spokesperson also said earlier legislation allowed a minister to direct the gambling regulator, and rejected claims this undermined its independence.

“An example of this was the direction to the commission a few years ago, to establish licence conditions that prohibited wagering on the outcome of lotteries,” the spokesperson said.

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Tobacco giant makes first donation to Nationals in over a decade amid vaping crackdown

British American Tobacco makes first donation to Nationals in over a decade amid vaping crackdown

The $55,000 donation grants access to National party politicians via a policy forum membership scheme

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British American Tobacco has publicly donated to an Australian political party for the first time in more than a decade, as the Albanese government prepared to introduce vaping reforms.

The $55,000 donation in the 2022-23 financial year was disclosed by Laneway Assets, the body that collects membership fees for the Nationals, the disclosure return form published by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) shows.

It is the largest donation British American Tobacco has made to the party in 20 years.

The last time British American Tobacco donated to the party was in the 2011 financial year as the federal government prepared to introduce plain-packaging reforms to reduce the appeal of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The latest donation came as the federal government in 2023 announced the most significant tobacco and vaping control measures in the country in a decade, including reforms targeting the importation and sale of vapes.

A British American Tobacco Australia spokesperson said the donation was made in the form of “an annual membership to engage proactively on solutions to combat the rapidly growing unregulated nicotine market”.

The top-tier, $55,000 “foundation” membership to the party’s national policy forum gives members access to Nationals ministers and politicians at policy events, luncheons and budget dinners.

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Tobacco company Philip Morris Limited also donated $75,000 to the Nationals on 10 May 2023, one week after the health minister, Mark Butler, announced the vaping reforms. This is $20,000 more than the amount donated by Philip Morris Limited the year before, and in excess of the $55,000 required for foundation level membership.

It brings the total Philip Morris Limited has given the Nationals since the 1999 financial year to $570,000, of which $304,000 has been donated in the past decade.

Tobacco company funding to the Nationals in the 2022-23 financial year reached $130,000, comprising almost a fifth of the receipts disclosed in the Laneway Assets disclosure form, totalling $628,950.

The Electoral Act requires that donations totalling more than $13,200 be disclosed.

There has been growing concern about the potential influence of harmful industries in politics.

When the Senate debated the public health (tobacco and other products) bill in December, independent senator David Pocock called on politicians and political parties to stop accepting donations from tobacco companies and to revoke access given to tobacco industry representatives to enter Parliament House.

“There is obviously no transparency around who holds sponsored passes to access Parliament House,” Pocock said at the time. “But we know big tobacco do wander these halls, presumably to find choice moments to bump into their mates and to give them copies of the latest talking points.

“I find it disgraceful that an industry that has caused so much despair in our community could be allowed to curry favour with politicians by making donations. I’m certain they don’t make these donations with the expectation that they’ll get nothing in return.”

Guardian Australia contacted the spokesperson for the leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, for comment but did not receive a response.

Previously asked by Guardian Australia if he had met with tobacco and vaping industry representatives and lobbyists, Littleproud, said: “We’ve met with everybody.”

In response to allegations that tobacco companies are influencing Nationals policy and big tobacco donations are part of that influence, Littleproud said: “That’s a pure, petty political statement.”

The chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy, said: “Our donation system at the federal level is broken and is in urgent need of reform.

“Where you have large donations, they are clearly – in the main – attempts to gain access, or gain influence over government decisions,” he said.

“These are not what I would call donations made for democratic purposes, but donations made to try and influence decisions. And so it’s yet another example of the way in which our system is failing.”

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Tobacco giant makes first donation to Nationals in over a decade amid vaping crackdown

British American Tobacco makes first donation to Nationals in over a decade amid vaping crackdown

The $55,000 donation grants access to National party politicians via a policy forum membership scheme

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British American Tobacco has publicly donated to an Australian political party for the first time in more than a decade, as the Albanese government prepared to introduce vaping reforms.

The $55,000 donation in the 2022-23 financial year was disclosed by Laneway Assets, the body that collects membership fees for the Nationals, the disclosure return form published by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) shows.

It is the largest donation British American Tobacco has made to the party in 20 years.

The last time British American Tobacco donated to the party was in the 2011 financial year as the federal government prepared to introduce plain-packaging reforms to reduce the appeal of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The latest donation came as the federal government in 2023 announced the most significant tobacco and vaping control measures in the country in a decade, including reforms targeting the importation and sale of vapes.

A British American Tobacco Australia spokesperson said the donation was made in the form of “an annual membership to engage proactively on solutions to combat the rapidly growing unregulated nicotine market”.

The top-tier, $55,000 “foundation” membership to the party’s national policy forum gives members access to Nationals ministers and politicians at policy events, luncheons and budget dinners.

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Tobacco company Philip Morris Limited also donated $75,000 to the Nationals on 10 May 2023, one week after the health minister, Mark Butler, announced the vaping reforms. This is $20,000 more than the amount donated by Philip Morris Limited the year before, and in excess of the $55,000 required for foundation level membership.

It brings the total Philip Morris Limited has given the Nationals since the 1999 financial year to $570,000, of which $304,000 has been donated in the past decade.

Tobacco company funding to the Nationals in the 2022-23 financial year reached $130,000, comprising almost a fifth of the receipts disclosed in the Laneway Assets disclosure form, totalling $628,950.

The Electoral Act requires that donations totalling more than $13,200 be disclosed.

There has been growing concern about the potential influence of harmful industries in politics.

When the Senate debated the public health (tobacco and other products) bill in December, independent senator David Pocock called on politicians and political parties to stop accepting donations from tobacco companies and to revoke access given to tobacco industry representatives to enter Parliament House.

“There is obviously no transparency around who holds sponsored passes to access Parliament House,” Pocock said at the time. “But we know big tobacco do wander these halls, presumably to find choice moments to bump into their mates and to give them copies of the latest talking points.

“I find it disgraceful that an industry that has caused so much despair in our community could be allowed to curry favour with politicians by making donations. I’m certain they don’t make these donations with the expectation that they’ll get nothing in return.”

Guardian Australia contacted the spokesperson for the leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, for comment but did not receive a response.

Previously asked by Guardian Australia if he had met with tobacco and vaping industry representatives and lobbyists, Littleproud, said: “We’ve met with everybody.”

In response to allegations that tobacco companies are influencing Nationals policy and big tobacco donations are part of that influence, Littleproud said: “That’s a pure, petty political statement.”

The chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy, said: “Our donation system at the federal level is broken and is in urgent need of reform.

“Where you have large donations, they are clearly – in the main – attempts to gain access, or gain influence over government decisions,” he said.

“These are not what I would call donations made for democratic purposes, but donations made to try and influence decisions. And so it’s yet another example of the way in which our system is failing.”

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Labor pledges 12% superannuation on publicly funded paid parental leave

Labor pledges 12% superannuation on publicly funded paid parental leave

Plan designed to help close retirement savings gap between women and men is expected to cost $250m a year from July 2025

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Parents will receive 12% superannuation – or about $106 a week – on their publicly funded paid parental leave from July 2025, under a major initiative to be announced by the Albanese government.

The decision, expected to cost at least $250m a year to the federal budget, responds to calls from the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, unions and the crossbench to pay super on PPL as a way to help close the retirement savings gap between women and men.

The minister for women, Katy Gallagher, and social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, made the announcement ahead of Gallagher addressing the National Press Club on Thursday setting out the inaugural gender equality strategy.

Under the plan, eligible parents with babies born or adopted after 1 July 2025 will receive an additional 12% on their government-funded parental leave paid into their super account.

Based on the current rate of paid parental leave of $882.75 per week, parents would be eligible for at least an extra $106 per week paid into their super accounts. Around 180,000 families receive government-funded paid parental leave payments each year.

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The government has said the full cost of the measure will be revealed on budget night, but it is expected to be at least $250m a year, given the Treasury estimated in 2020 that it would cost $200m a year when the super rate was 9.5%.

Excerpts from the Working for Women gender equality strategy state that “to achieve gender equality, unpaid and paid care responsibilities need to be more equally shared, and care needs to be valued and celebrated”.

“The government will prioritise policies that support families to make choices that work for them,” it says.

“Equality cannot be achieved without addressing who takes on, and who is expected to take on, caring responsibilities.

“Nor can it be achieved without valuing the substantial contribution unpaid and low-paid care makes to families, the community and – notably – the Australian economy.”

In its first budget in October 2022 the Albanese government increased paid parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks by 2026, but disappointed super funds by refusing to recommit to pay super, a policy it dropped ahead of the 2022 election.

When Labor announced a reduction in tax concessions for big superannuation balances over $3m, the crossbench – including the Greens and senator David Pocock – pushed it to pay super on paid parental leave. The government responded that it would like to do so, when affordable.

Legislating super on paid parental leave was listed by the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce in October 2023 as an “immediate action” to improve gender equality.

Gallagher said: “The data is clear – that when women take time out of the workforce to raise children it impacts their retirement incomes with women retiring, on average, with about 25% less super than men.

“Paying super on government parental leave is an important investment to help close the super gap and to make decisions about balancing care and work easier for women.”

Rishworth said: “Paying superannuation on PPL is another key step to prioritise gender equality, better value care work and improve women’s workforce participation.

“It helps normalise taking time off work for caring responsibilities and reinforces PPL is not a welfare payment – it is a workplace entitlement just like annual and sick leave.”

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said “greater economic inclusion for women is at the centre of the Albanese government’s agenda”.

“Paying super on PPL is part of our efforts to ensure women earn more, keep more of what they earn, and retire with more as well.”

In 2020, the Treasury said the measure would have “a small impact on narrowing the retirement income gap”, but warned the benefit to retirees also results in “reduced age pension income due to the age pension assets test”.

Women in Super has previously argued that it is “unfair and discriminatory” that super is paid on sick leave, annual leave and long service leave but not paid parental leave, given that 95.5% of primary carers who access paid parental leave are women.

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Republican lashes out as UK reporter asks about conspiracy theories

Marjorie Taylor Greene lashes out as UK reporter asks about conspiracy theories

Extremist tells Emily Maitlis ‘you’re a conspiracy theorist’ and dismisses interviewer over ‘Jewish space lasers’ question

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Far-right Republican congresswoman, Trump ally and potential vice-presidential pick Marjorie Taylor Greene told a British interviewer to “Fuck off”, when asked about her frequent repetition of conspiracy theories.

Emily Maitlis, formerly a senior journalist at the BBC and now a presenter of the News Agents podcast, spoke to Greene at Donald Trump’s Super Tuesday celebration at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, as the former president closed in on the Republican nomination.

“Could you tell me why so many people that support Donald Trump love conspiracy theories, including yourself?” Maitlis asked.

Greene said: “Well, let me tell you, you’re a conspiracy theorist and the left and the media spreads more conspiracy theories. We like the truth. We like supporting our constitution, our freedoms and America first.”

Raising a famous instance of the congresswoman’s eager conspiracy theorising, concerning what she thought was to blame for starting forest fires, Maitlis said: “What about Jewish space lasers? Tell us about Jewish space lasers.”

“No,” Greene said. “Why don’t you go talk about Jewish space lasers and really, why don’t you fuck off? How about that?”

“Thank you very much,” Maitlis said, as Greene walked away.

Greene might have been advised to expect tricky questions. A highly experienced interviewer, in 2019 Maitlis memorably confronted Prince Andrew about his links with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a royal disaster so complete it has now been dramatised, Gillian Anderson starring as Maitlis.

Greene’s brief exchange with Maitlis started more civilly than it ended.

Maitlis asked what message Greene thought Republican voters were sending to Nikki Haley, the last challenger to Trump for the presidential nomination who suffered a near-Super Tuesday wipeout.

“Well, we’ve been encouraging her to drop out and support President Trump,” Greene said. “And I think tonight is the clear message that that President Trump is the clear frontrunner. He’s the winner in our Republican primary and it’s time for Nikki Haley to drop out and support him.”

Asked if she was on Trump’s list of potential vice-presidential picks – as she previously told the Guardian she was – Greene said: “That’s the question everyone asked and no, I don’t think Nikki Haley should be on the list. But of course, President Trump will choose who he wants for VP.

“He’s got a long list. I serve President Trump in any way he’d ask me, but I can assure you it won’t be Nikki Haley.”

Maitlis then asked about Trump, Greene and conspiracy theories. Things went downhill from there.

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ACCC to call for power of mandatory disclosure in investigations

Competition watchdog to call for power of mandatory disclosure in investigations

ACCC chief Gina Cass-Gottlieb wants legislation changed to enable it to force businesses to give up data without the need for government backing

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The competition watchdog should have its powers increased so it can initiate its own inquiries with mandatory disclosure clout, says Gina Cass-Gottlieb, the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The ACCC can now launch its own investigations, such as a probe into exorbitant foreign exchange transfer fees. However, the agency only has compulsory information collection powers if specifically directed by the government such as for its current probe into supermarket behaviour.

“There are a range of businesses that won’t provide information on a voluntary basis and particularly won’t go to the effort of producing very detailed data [or] internal documents on a voluntary basis,” Cass-Gottlieb told Guardian Australia.

The ACCC had been calling on the government to change its controlling act – originally legislated 50 years ago and renamed the Competition and Consumer Act in 2010 – for some time. Such an amendment only remains “under consideration” even though the power to self-start inquiries would be “proportionate and valid”, she said.

Cass-Gottlieb will unveil the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for the 2024-25 year in a speech on Thursday. Dealing with cost of living pressures and the push towards net zero emissions top the agenda based on complaints it received by the agency.

“We make a decision [on priorities] in terms of the areas that we see have the most capacity for harm in terms of consumers, businesses and to the state of competition,” she said.

Australia’s relatively small economy means many sectors are dominated by a couple of major competitors. Still, the Reserve Bank has said it sees little evidence the recent inflation spike has been driven by firms using their market clout to increase profit.

In the case of the year-long supermarket inquiry, launched in January, Cass-Gottlieb said ACCC would examine each of the steps from the farm gate to the supermarket shelf of Coles, Woolworths and others. The profit margins of processors, wholesalers and traders would be among those looked at closely.

Essential services such as energy were also getting scrutinised. The ACCC has, for instance, set up an encrypted portal specifically for people to provide anonymous disclosures about the gas industry.

“We are the agency to monitor and enforce the new mandatory gas code,” Cass-Gottlieb said, adding the energy supply support “very important” sectors of the economy in eastern Australia.

Monitoring the emerging decarbonisation field was also vital. “Many consumers are choosing products on the basis that they are investing in sustainability and reducing emissions and reducing impacts on our environment,” she said.

When firms made false claims about the sustainability of their products, not only were consumers cheated. Companies that were doing the right thing also faced “unfair competition” from companies that made unsubstantiated climate-friendly claims.

Cass-Gottleib said the ACCC had tapped the experience of the UK and New Zealand to head off potentially anti-competitive behaviour by firms providing electric vehicle charging. “We have an eye to ensuring that these new markets and new services are not the subject of anti competitive agreements, which will result in consumers seeing less innovation, less choice, and higher prices,” she said.

The agency was also working with state and federal governments to ensure safety standards were in place for products such as lithium-ion batteries after it released a report last year on the risks.

Penalties were on track to set record highs in the current 2023-24 year. This tally was led by the $438m fine imposed against on former vocational college Phoenix Institute of Australia Pty Ltd (Phoenix) and its marketing arm Community Training Initiatives Pty Ltd (CTI) “for acting unconscionably and misleading consumers”, Cass-Gottlieb will say in her Thursday speech.

“We are seeking higher penalties so that contravening our act does not just result in a penalty at a level that’s seen as a cost of doing business,” she said. The fines need to be large enough to deter companies similar actions in the future.

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Ancient stone tools found in Ukraine offer oldest evidence of human presence in Europe

Ancient stone tools found in Ukraine offer oldest evidence of human presence in Europe

Deliberately fashioned chipped stones date back more than 1m years and may have been used by homo erectus

Ancient stone tools found in western Ukraine may offer the oldest known evidence of the presence of humans in Europe, according to new research.

The chipped stones, deliberately fashioned from volcanic rock, were excavated from a quarry in Korolevo in the 1970s. Archaeologists used new methods to date the layers of sedimentary rock surrounding the tools to more than 1m years old.

“This is the earliest evidence of any type of human in Europe that is dated,” said Mads Faurschou Knudsen, a geophysicist at Aarhus University in Denmark and co-author of the study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

He said it was not certain which early human ancestors fashioned the tools, but it may have been Homo erectus, the first species to walk upright and master the use of fire.

“We don’t have fossil remains, so we can’t be sure,” said Roman Garba, an archaeologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences and co-author.

The chipped stone tools were likely used for cutting meat and perhaps scraping animal hides, he said.

The researchers say the tools may be as much as 1.4m years old, but other experts say the study methodology suggests that they may be just over 1m years old, placing them in roughly the same date range as other ancient tools unearthed in Spain.

The earliest stone tools of this type yet found were unearthed in eastern Africa and date back to 2.8m years ago, said Rick Potts, who directs the Smithsonian Institution’s human origins programme.

The Ukraine site is significant because “it’s the earliest site that far north”, suggesting that the early humans who dispersed from Africa with these tools were able to survive in diverse environments.

“The oldest humans with this old stone tool technology were able to colonise everywhere from warm Iberia [Spain] to Ukraine, where it’s at least seasonally very cold – that’s an amazing level of adaptability,” said Potts.

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