INDEPENDENT 2024-05-16 01:05:12


Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico left fighting for life after ‘politically motivated’ shooting

Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was rushed to hospital in a life-threatening condition after he was shot in the stomach in an assassination attempt

Reports said that Fico, 59, was injured after five shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova where the leader was meeting with supporters.

Deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba said the operation “went well” and added: “I guess in the end he will survive … he’s not in a life threatening situation at this moment.”

After being treated briefly at a local hospital, Fico was airlifted to Banska Bystrica Hospital where he was seen being carried on a guerney.

The suspect, who is understood to be a 71-year-old former security guard, was detained at the scene with the attack believed to be politically motivated.

Peter Pellegrini, Slovakia’s president-elect and an ally of Mr Fico, has said that “an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister is a threat to everything that has adorned Slovak democracy so far.”

Mr Fico, a well-known ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is a divisive figure with Slovak politics, with the European Union Parliament elections due to take place in three weeks.

Russia-Ukraine: Putin’s forces ‘pushed back’ in key Kharkiv town

Ukraine has “partially pushed back” Russian forces in the key frontier town of Vovchansk just a few miles from the border, the military has reported.

The town has become Ukraine’s primary defensive line against Russia’s advancing forces in the Kharkiv region since the Kremlin launched an assault last Friday, opening up a second front after more than two years of war.

In its latest update, Ukraine’s general staff claimed on Facebook that their forces had fought back against the Kremlin’s troops, who recently entered the north and northwest sectors of the town. The claim came after a local police official from Vovchansk said Russia was “taking positions on the streets” of the town.

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s press secretary announced that the leader had cancelled all his foreign trips to concentrate on the developing situation on the frontline.

“Volodymyr Zelensky has instructed that all international events scheduled for the coming days be postponed and new dates coordinated,” said Sergii Nykyforov, Mr Zelensky’s press secretary, on Facebook.

Mr Zelensky was due to visit Spain and Portugal later this week to discuss bilateral agreements.

Piers Morgan denies exploitation after ‘real Baby Reindeer’ interview

Piers Morgan has hit back at critics who suggested he “exploited” Fiona Harvey, who claims to be the inspiration for comedian Richard Gadd’s stalker in his hit Netflix series, Baby Reindeer.

The seven-part drama follows struggling comic Donny Dunn, played by Gadd, as he is relentlessly harassed and stalked by Martha Scott, played by Jessica Gunning, for four and a half years.

Last week, Morgan interviewed Scottish lawyer Harvey on his YouTube series, Piers Morgan Uncensored. Viewers were quick to question the ethics of the interview since Gadd has said his real stalker was “mentally unwell.”

Appearing on BBC Sounds’ The Media Show on Wednesday, Morgan fiercely refuted the exploitation claims, adding he had “no qualms” about conducting the interview.

“If she was a convicted stalker who had gone to prison and put his life through hell, clearly we had to think long and hard about the public interest justification in giving her the platform,” Morgan told BBC News Culture and Media Editor Katie Razzall.

“But I felt there was enough of a question mark surrounding that part of the story to justify her at least giving her side of the story. She is emphatic that there was no court case, no conviction, she never pled guilty and there was no prison sentence.”

Asked if he and his team had performed checks into Harvey’s criminal history before the interview, Morgan responded: “There were obviously other reports of her having stalked other people but again, nothing that led to any apparent conviction. I think that is a crucial distinction I would draw here, which is there’s a big difference legally between someone who may have been obsessive towards some people, may have even harassed them, but if it hasn’t crossed the bar of a crime, then to call them in a series where they have been immediately identified a convicted criminal, that is a serious failure by Netflix.”

In the Netflix series, Martha is sentenced to nine months in jail for harassing Gadd’s Donny; however, in her interview with Morgan, Harvey vehemently denied having ever been sent to prison.

Razzall then asked Morgan if the show had looked into Harvey’s mental health prior to the interview, to which Morgan replied: “We had long conversations about it but actually I have no qualms at all about offering her the platform because I certainly didn’t get the feeling when she came in that I was dealing with someone who was a vulnerable person.

“If anything, she was pretty combative with me. When it comes to the mental health issue, Richard Gadd has been very searingly honest about his own mental health issues and yet that doesn’t seem to factor into people’s concerns, he was allowed a platform to tell what he says is his story… If he can be allowed to do that, then I think the person he has put up there as a convicted stalker who has gone to prison for harassing him should be allowed to have her say if, as she says, it isn’t true.”

Since the interview, Harvey has said she felt “used” by Morgan, who she said placed “a heavy emphasis” on the thousands of emails she allegedly sent Gadd.

The 58-year-old has also demanded 1million pounds from the Uncensored host after she claimed she was only paid £250 for the appearance.

This week, Gadd reiterated his plea for internet sleuths to stop trying to uncover the identities of the people who inspired his hit show.

“I’ve put out a statement publicly saying I want the show to be received as a piece of art and I want people to enjoy the show as a piece of art. I’m called Donny Dunn. It exists in a sort of fictional realm, even though it is based on truth it exists in a fictional realm,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

“I’ve spoken publicly about how I don’t want people to do it and if I start playing a game of whack-a-mole, then I’m almost adding to it. I don’t think I’ll ever comment on it ever again.”

Cabin baggage confusion costs traveller £11,000 Antarctic cruise

“On Sunday 12 February 2023, I set off from home to Manchester airport for the holiday of a lifetime,” says Valerie Coleshaw.

“By Monday 13 April I was home by breakfast, without luggage and in total despair.”

Ms Coleshaw, from Bolton, lost her £11,000 Antarctic cruise with Hurtigruten (now HX) after cabin crew on a KLM flight from Manchester to Amsterdam asked her to check in her cabin baggage “as the plane was extremely full”.

She says she was told it would be returned to her at Amsterdam, where she was due to transfer to Buenos Aires and onwards to the southern Argentinian port of Ushuaia.

“I have heard of this happening before. So after checking several times that I would pick it up in Amsterdam, I agreed,” she says.

“Arriving at Amsterdam, my case was not on the carousel. I was advised to go straight to the boarding gate for Buenos Aires and it would be waiting for me there. It wasn’t.

“After hours of badgering the staff, my hand luggage could not be found. In it was my asthma spray.”

She explained to ground staff that her medication was missing. They told the KLM captain, who decided she would not be able to make the 7,100-mile journey without the asthma spray.

“I was left with a member of staff who said she would try to put me on another flight the next day. I realised that without my hand luggage I would have the same problem.

“I could not contact Hurtigruten as all the paperwork was in my hand luggage.

“Having never experiencing anything like this before, I felt humiliated and confused. I was given vouchers for a hotel and flight back to Manchester the following morning.”

KLM says when passengers are asked to put cabin baggage in the hold, they are asked to remove valuables and items needed during their flights as the hand luggage will be forwarded to the final destination.

Ms Coleshaw disputes that this happened and says that she was told the cabin baggage would be waiting for her at Amsterdam airport.

“I have never before been parted from my hand luggage but went along with the request – even checking four times before I boarded the flight to Amsterdam that it would be waiting for me,” she says.

KLM has given Ms Coleshaw a full refund for the value of the flights plus a £500 voucher for future travel.

“It suggests quite strongly to me that they understood the implications of my cases travelling on the plane without me,” she says.

However, this is just a small proportion of the total cost of the holiday. Ms Coleshaw paid Hurtigruten £10,660 for the package, and spent hundred of pounds more on preparations for the trip including travel insurance, guidebooks and Antarctic clothing that she never got to wear.

Under the Package Travel Regulations, the organiser of a holiday – in this case Hurtigruten (now HX) – is responsible for providing the trip as booked, including services contracted out such as flights.

Normally, if an airline does not fly a passenger in time to begin their holiday, the customer would expect a full refund.

But the cruise company does not accept that KLM was at fault, and therefore is refusing to hand the money back.

Instead, HX (formerly Hurtigruten) is offering £8,500 for an alternative cruise as a goodwill gesture.

Ms Coleshaw describes the offer as “honourable but not usable”. She tried to use some of the credit on a West African cruise, but the voyage was cancelled by the company ahead of departure.

She says her circumstances have changed significantly since losing the cruise, leaving her unable to plan any similar expedition. She has suffered a serious shoulder injury, and the health of her 95-year-old mother has deteriorated.

A spokesperson for HX said: “We are disappointed that we have been unable to resolve this current issue to date. Our guest experience team have been in direct contact with Ms Coleshaw for several months now and we have worked hard to try and find a resolution to this situation.

“Following a thorough review of this booking, we offered a ‘Future Cruise Credit’, equivalent to the value of the sailing and available for use on all our itineraries around the world. This amount far exceeds our standard cancellation policy and was provided by our team as a sincere goodwill gesture.

“Furthermore, we have also offered the opportunity to extend the rebooking period to the end of 2024, for any expedition voyage departing through to the end of 2025.

“We remain fully committed to making this option available to Ms Coleshaw. Our dedicated guest experience team will continue to look for a suitable resolution to this matter, in line with what has already been offered, and hope this can be achieved soon.”

Ms Coleshaw says: “I chose Hurtigruten for two reasons: one, I had travelled with them before and it was top class; and two, the flights were included so I felt that I had peace of mind if a connecting flight were delayed.

“I did not cancel my ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’ – but realised that without medication and everything in my hand luggage I would be unable to travel further. Tickets, holiday reservation, emergency contact details and so on. I asked repeatedly at the boarding gate about the collection of my hand luggage, and was told it would be waiting for me.”

She says the pursuit of the refund “is having a considerable impact on my health and well-being”.

“I am beginning to give up the challenge and quit, but it is so much money as well as the shattered dream.”

Mad Max prequel Furiosa is emotional, witty and savage

The fifth Mad Max movie, which has premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, arrives on screen without one seemingly vital ingredient – Max himself. But no matter – this is a film made with purposeful savagery, and with considerable wit and lyricism, too. It has the concentrated intensity of 2015’s Fury Road, to which it is a prequel, and yet it unfolds across a far broader canvas. This is the origin story of that film’s female protagonist Furiosa (played there by Charlize Theron), taking her from early childhood to her emergence as a warrior.

We are right back in the hellish din of the “wasteland”, where humans exist in a “half life” and engage in a desperate battle for survival. They roam the desert in their souped-up trucks and on motorbikes, wearing skull helmets and glorified bondage gear. We meet Furiosa as a youngster, played by actor Alyla Browne – half of the film has elapsed before we catch our first glimpse of its star, Anya Taylor-Joy.

Furiosa is from “a place of abundance”, an Edenic community up in the hills and far removed from the dirt and squalor of the desert below. The young girl is kidnapped by whip-cracking thugs who spirit her away to a camp run by the cunning and sadistic warlord Dementus, played impressively by Chris Hemsworth. Those used to the Australian actor playing likeable Marvel heroes will be surprised by his performance here. What makes him such a chilling and unsettling presence is his seeming amiability – the way he switches on a dime from easy-going charm to psychotic anger.

The first half of the movie chronicles Furiosa’s experiences after she is kidnapped and ends up in servitude to Dementus’s arch-rival, Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), Fury Road’s grotesque, silver-haired tyrant who wears a mask and tubing over his mouth. A time-jump introduces us to Taylor-Joy’s older Furiosa, a warrior outwardly loyal to her captors but eager to return home. An assignment to ride shotgun with the legendary war-rig driver Praetorian Jack (a cast-against-type Tom Burke, nicely underplaying it all) eventually provides an opportunity for escape.

Furiosa is divided into chapters. At various junctures, we’ll be whisked months or even years into the future, but the storytelling never feels choppy. There is always a new chase or fight sequence to keep the audience’s attention. Director George Miller combines speed, grace and explosive violence, emulating Sam Peckinpah westerns and even, at times, the work of Charles Dickens – Furiosa is a bit like a young Artful Dodger, using her wits and courage to stay alive.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum. But even in an action role almost entirely bereft of quieter moments, Taylor-Joy is still able to convey plenty about Furiosa’s raw inner emotions. Her eyes, captured in extreme close-up throughout, are endlessly expressive.

Furiosa reportedly cost around $170m (£134m) to produce, and it looks it, Miller unleashing sheer carnage at every turn. The wonder here, though, is that a film with so many bells and whistles also bears such an emotional kick. “My childhood, my mother, I want them back,” Furiosa bellows at one stage, in a rare moment of speech. This is a movie that turns out to be as much about yearning as it is about death and destruction.

Dir: George Miller. Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, Lachy Hulme. 15, 148 mins

‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ is in cinemas from 24 May

Off the beaten track in Costa Dorada

Blessed with swathes of golden sandy beaches between sea and mountains, Costa Dorada has an abundance of landscape to explore.

Jet2holidays makes it even easier to land your perfect active trip to Costa Dorada. Flying from 10 UK airports in 2024 and 11 in 2025, they provide package holidays you can trust and look after you every step of the way, with hotel, flights, free return transfers, 22kg baggage and 10kg hand luggage included – giving plenty of space to pack in the hiking boots and water shoes.

Here, we round up some of the best ways to immerse yourself in the region’s grand nature.

With roads being smooth and often car-free, Costa Dorada is an ideal destination for biking. There’s the Serra del Montsant mountain range for pushing those uphill challenges or coastal paths for smooth-sailing along the rugged cliff edges and golden sand beaches. The route from Falset can take in the lush wineries and rolling vineyards the area is known for. Start from this mountainous village and follow the road to the village of Margalef near the mountain edge before heading back to Falset. Or to take in the sea and mountains, start in the coastal resort of Salou before winding up the steep hairpin bends of La Mussara mountain. Make your way back to the sea at the coastal resort of Cambrils – known as the gastronomic hub of this region – for some well-deserved tapas.

There’s an abundance of coastal paths that navigate around the more secluded parts of the shores here. Camino de Ronda in Salou stretches for 6.5 km, curving in a U-shape along rocky coast and over golden sand beaches. The route can be stretched out to around 9km to cover the coastal path of Salou by starting in Vila-seca, La Pineda. The route runs between sea and mountains, with 23 viewpoints dotted along the way. It passes by plenty of places to stop for a spot of lunch with views over the Mediterranean Sea, too. If you want active pit stops along your walk, there are places along the route that offer up water sports.

Take a day trip out to the coastal city of Tarragona to explore its Roman ruins. The city was once a popular destination for Roman emperors, with the Amphitheatre dating back almost 2,000 years. There are other ruins along the coast to explore, with Roman, Spanish, Arabic and Moorish history weaved into the architecture. While in the port city, check out the Roman tombs and walled Medieval Old Town, before strolling along the harbour with its small fishing boats and pastel-hued houses.

Costa Dorada has an impressive total of 26 Blue Flag beaches, recognised for their calm, safe waters, cleanliness and environmental management. They’re particularly family-friendly, with resorts Salou, Cambrils and La Pineda being ‘Certified Family Destinations’ with dedicated facilities for families during the summer. Yet there are still many beaches that remain quiet and more secluded. Playa de la Pineda Platja is the main beach in the coastal resort of Vila-seca, La Pineda, yet remains fairly quiet. It also benefits from being close to Aquopolis Water Park with its giant slides and pools. While not being Blue Flag-accredited, Playa Llarga in Salou is outside of the city centre (but close enough to attractions like PortAventura amusement park), surrounded by a small pine forest that immerses you in nature.

The towering peaks of Montserrat National Park are one of the greatest symbols of Catalonia. The mountainous landscape is peppered with grottos and caves, while birds of prey soar above in the sky. While offering untouched nature, it overlooks one of the best wine regions in the area, with vineyards and wine cellars to visit. Head here for a full day hike or visit one of the four mountain villages in the area for a gentle walk. Elsewhere closer to ground level, Parc Sama Botanical Gardens in the coastal resort of Cambrils has an abundance of forest and foliage, with 1,500 species of flora and fauna. There’s also a lake with a canal and waterfall to stroll around.

To really win voters, Starmer must discover a radical edge

Heir to Blair” is a title to which many politicians have laid claim, not always with conspicuous success; but even if it is unspoken, it is clear that Sir Keir Starmer is making a rather more credible attempt to emulate Sir Tony Blair’s achievements than most of the imitators down the years.

Sir Keir’s latest staging post in what he hopes will be a decade of power is some key pledges for the initial stages of that administration – six “missions” and five “first steps”, all of them, no doubt, forged in the white-hot crucible of the marginal-seat focus group. They are fairly familiar to anyone paying much attention, and all are to be put on a New Labour-style pledge card.

They are unexceptionable, if not laudable – just like the ones in the Blair era. Few voters will want to quibble with shorter NHS waiting lists, recruiting 8,500 teachers, and more neighbourhood police officers to deal with anti-social behaviour. The two new bodies to be set up almost immediately after a Labour election win – Great British Energy and the Border Security Command – may well do some good, and certainly not any harm.

Can Labour’s new deal for workers satisfy the unions and business?

For a movement literally founded to promote the interests of working people, the Labour Party has found itself troubled by the question of workers’ rights and the power of trade unions to a remarkable degree. Today, as they will doubtless continue to do over the coming months in the run-up to the general election, the party’s leaders in parliament are negotiating with the Labour Trade Union Organisation (LTUO) in an effort to decide what Labour’s next manifesto should say about employment and industrial relations law.

The LTUO is the umbrella body that represents the 11 trade unions that are affiliated with the party and fund much of its activities. It is led by Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the train drivers’ union, Aslef.

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