BBC 2024-06-10 18:07:02


Macron takes huge risk with surprise election

By Hugh SchofieldBBC News, Paris

President Emmanuel Macron has called snap parliamentary elections later this month in the wake of a big victory for his rival Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in the European Parliament vote.

The far-right party is on course to win 32% of the vote, exit polls say, more than twice that of the president’s Renaissance party.

Announcing the dissolution of parliament, he said the two rounds of voting would take place on 30 June and 7 July, a few weeks before the Paris Olympics.

Mr Macron made the dramatic and surprise decision in a televised address from the Élysée Palace an hour after voting closed and exit polls had been declared in France’s EU elections.

His decision came not long after National Rally’s 28-year-old leader, Jordan Bardella, had openly called on the president to call parliamentary elections.

“I have heard your message,” the president told French voters, “and I will not let it go without a response.”

“France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony,” he said, adding that he could not resign himself to the far-right’s progress “everywhere in the continent”.

Now barely two years into his second term as president, Mr Macron already lacks a majority in the French parliament, and though this European vote in theory has no bearing on national politics, he clearly decided that continuing his mandate without a new popular consultation would place too much of a strain on the system.

The upcoming parliamentary elections also won’t affect Mr Macron’s own job, as they are separate from the presidential elections and his term as president still runs for three more years.

Ms Le Pen, who has twice been defeated by Mr Macron in presidential elections, immediately reacted, saying her party was “ready to exercise power, ready to put an end to mass immigration”.

Emmanuel Macron calls snap elections in wake of EU election results

Calling a snap election is a huge surprise for the country, and a huge risk for President Macron.

He could have reacted differently. He could have just kept going, explaining the far right’s massive victory as a European aberration which would be corrected at more important elections.

He could have trusted to the impending European football championship in Germany and above all the Paris Olympics to keep people’s minds off politics for a couple of months.

That was certainly how the Paris commentariat thought he would take his party’s rout.

But one can only assume the president had seen this coming, and planned his response in advance.

Certainly the result was an almost exact replica of the polls, so he would have had plenty of time to consider his options.

The fact is that he is stuck.

Without a majority, getting any bill through the National Assembly is already a struggle. With most of the country now so clearly against him, any new legislation – for example the upcoming budget – could have proved explosive.

So he has plumped for “clarity”. If National Rally has the votes then, he says, they should be given the chance to govern.

Obviously the president will hope his own Renaissance party can mount a fight-back at the elections on 30 June and 7 July – or that other parties will do better too.

But he must appreciate that the odds favour another victory for National Rally. Maybe not one so sweeping as Sunday’s result, but enough for it to become the biggest party in parliament.

At which point we might well have a Prime Minister Marine Le Pen, or indeed Jordan Bardella.

A cartoon cat has been vexing China’s censors – now he says they are on his tail

By Tessa WongAsia Digital Reporter

As anti-lockdown protests flared across China’s cities in November 2022, hundreds of thousands around the world were glued to an unlikely source: a mysterious X account, fronted by a cartoon cat.

Protest footage, details about police movements, news of arrests – Teacher Li Is Not Your Teacher posted a torrent of real-time updates sourced from ordinary citizens.

Little of it could be found on China’s tightly-controlled state media or internet. All of it was curated by one person, sitting in a bedroom in Italy – an art school student named Li Ying.

Mr Li has since become a vital chronicler of information deemed politically sensitive by Beijing. His X account is a window into Xi Jinping’s China where authorities’ vice-like grip on information keeps tightening. From major protests to small acts of dissent, corruption to crime, it is zealously scrubbed off the Chinese internet, only to turn up on Mr Li’s account.

He says this has earned him the wrath of the authorities and, in an interview with the BBC, he painted a clear picture of how Beijing pressures dissidents overseas. He alleged the Chinese government is not only harassing him but also his friends, family and X followers in a coordinated campaign of intimidation.

The Chinese government has not responded to our questions and we are unable to independently verify all of Mr Li’s claims. But the tactics he detailed have been documented by activists, rights groups and other governments.

His activism was an accident, he told the BBC over the phone.

“It is the Chinese authorities’ unrelenting constriction of freedom of speech and media freedoms that has led me to slowly change from an ordinary person to who I am today.”

Li’s online existence began with writing and posting love stories on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform. “I was someone who had made love my main creative theme, I had nothing to do with politics,” the son of two art teachers explained. Even the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which Beijing stamped out, hardly made an impact on him: “I was just like many ordinary people, I didn’t think that the protests had anything to do with me.”

Then the pandemic struck. As China sealed itself off, Mr Li – by now studying at a prestigious art school in Italy – became desperate to find out what was going on back home. Scouring social media, he was shocked to read about the crushing lockdowns: “There were people starving, even jumping off buildings… the feeling at the time was of a lot of suffering and pressure.”

He started discussing these stories on Weibo. Some followers privately sent him their stories asking him to publish on their behalf, which he did. Censors took notice, and blocked his account.

Undeterred, he began a cat-and-mouse game, setting up a new Weibo account each time they shut one down. Fifty-three accounts later, he had enough: “I said okay, I’m going on Twitter.”

On X, unfettered by China’s censors, yet accessible through virtual private networks, Mr Li’s following grew. But it only really exploded, to more than a million, in late 2022 during the White Paper protests against China’s punishing zero-Covid measures.

His account became an important clearing house for protest information; at one point, he was deluged with messages every second. Mr Li hardly slept, fact-checking and posting submissions that racked up hundreds of millions of views.

Online death threats from anonymous accounts soon followed. He said the authorities arrived at his parents’ home in China to question them. Even then, he was sure life would return to normal once the protests died down.

“After I finished reporting on the White Paper movement, I thought that the most important thing I could ever do in this life was finished,” he said. “I didn’t think about continuing to operate this account. But just as I was thinking about what I should do next, suddenly all my bank accounts in China were frozen.

“That’s when I realised – I couldn’t go back anymore.”

Fears about Chinese espionage have been steadily growing in the West as ties with China sour. What worries them are reports that Beijing is surveilling and pressuring its citizens who live in foreign jurisdictions. China has dismissed these allegations as “groundless and malicious defamation”, and said it is committed to protecting the rights and safety of its people abroad.

But the accusations are mounting. Last year US authorities alleged that a Chinese police taskforce was using social media including X to harass Chinese targets online, and charged dozens for “interstate threats”.

Australia is reportedly investigating a Chinese espionage operation targeting residents and a former spy has told Australian media how he targeted a political cartoonist in Cambodia and an activist in Thailand. Rights group Amnesty International found that Chinese studying overseas who took part in anti-government protests were being surveilled.

Analysts trace China’s so-called transnational repression back to the decade-old Operation Foxhunt to catch fugitive criminals. They believe those tactics are now used to target anyone overseas that Beijing deems a threat.

Mr Li believes there are enough signs suggesting he is now one of these people. He said the police showed up at a company in China from which he had ordered art supplies in the past, demanding his Italian shipping information. He received calls from someone claiming to represent an European delivery service and asking for his current address, though he had never placed the order.

Details of his former address and phone number were published on the messaging platform WeChat. A stranger turned up at his former home, asking to meet him as he wanted to discuss a “business proposal”.

It is not clear whether Chinese authorities were directly behind these incidents. But this kind of ambiguity can be intentional as it stokes “an ever-present fear of persecution and distrust” in targets, said Laura Harth, campaign director for rights group Safeguard Defenders which recently highlighted Mr Li’s situation.

Beijing is accused of working with middlemen, such as Chinese businessmen based abroad, so the government can later deny direct involvement. Safeguard Defenders alleges the person who showed up at Mr Li’s former home is a businessman linked to one of China’s controversial overseas police stations.

“Often there are nationalists and patriotic people who work with the government in a tandem, symbiotic relationship,” said Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House. The thinking, she said, is “if I do this for the authorities then it’s good for my business”.

The pressure has ramped up in recent months, Mr Li said.

Authorities began surveilling and questioning his parents more – at one point the visits happened every day, he said. Even officials from the school they used to work for asked them to persuade Mr Li to stop.

“They are interrogating everyone in China who is linked to me, even WeChat contacts, trying to understand my life habits, understand what kind of restaurants I like to go to,” he said. One person was allegedly even pressured to confess he was Mr Li.

Followers on X have been telling Mr Li they have been asked to “drink tea” – a euphemism for police interrogations – since the end of last year.

He estimated a few hundred people have been questioned and told to unfollow him. Some people have been shown long lists of names purportedly of his followers, with one list running up to 10,000 names, according to Mr Li. He believes authorities did this to show the scale of their interrogations and intimidate him and his followers.

“Of course I feel very guilty. They only wanted to understand what is going on in China, and then they ended up being asked to ‘drink tea’,” he said. In February, he made these reports public with a warning on X – overnight, more than 200,000 people unfollowed him.

It’s unclear how the authorities tracked down X users in China, where the app is blocked. While some could have been identified through their tweets, many would have tried to conceal their identities.

It is plausible the Chinese government asked for user details, said Ms Wang. If so, X “should be transparent” about whether it agreed to any such requests. X has yet to respond to the BBC’s queries.

Shortly after Mr Li posted about the interrogations, anonymous accounts began flooding his inbox and X comment threads with spam. They sent crude cartoons of his parents and pornographic content; in recent weeks, he has received gruesome images from horror films, and photos and videos of cats being tortured – he said it’s because they know he loves cats. The BBC has seen screenshots of this.

These messages have hit a fever pitch in recent days, with one showing up in his inbox every few minutes. This coincided with Mr Li’s posts related to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 ahead of its anniversary on 4 June, a taboo topic for the Chinese Communist Party.

Personal information about him and his parents, including their pictures, have been posted on a website promoted by anonymous X accounts. The website also alleges he is working for the Chinese government, in a seeming attempt to sow distrust among his followers.

A check on the website’s domain found it was set up in April and its registrant listed their location as China and Tasmania. Its IP address is hosted by a Hong Kong company.

It is not clear who is behind all of this, but Mr Li said it is a “psychological attack” aimed at wearing down his nerves.

China is not alone in going after overseas dissidents, said political scientist Ho-fung Hung of Johns Hopkins University, pointing to similar allegations against India and Turkey. “As more overseas communities become more active and social media connects them to people back home, authoritarian governments increasingly feel diaspora communities can pose a threat to them,” he said.

But in China’s case, he added, they are stepping up their tactics because of “the growing paranoia of the Chinese government” besieged by an economic slowdown and outward flows of money and talent.

Observers say this paranoia appears to be fuelling a uniquely intense repression of Mr Li. Ms Wang said what was happening to him had the signs of a “national, really high-level plan”.

“He has become the aggregator which people send information to, and that is very scary to the authorities… he has a kind of power that nobody else has had in the past.”

Wryly, Mr Li said he could be dubbed China’s “most dangerous cat” – a reference to his X profile picture, which he drew.

His government targets him because he stymies their vast efforts to censor negative news, and also because he represents a new generation of internet savvy, politically conscious Chinese youth, he said. “What this White Paper protest generation represents is exactly the kind of ideology they do not want everyone to see.”

His work has come at an enormous personal cost. He moves frequently within Italy, staying only a few months in each location, and hardly leaves the house. He hasn’t found steady work, and survives on online donations and earnings from YouTube and X.

He lives alone with his two cats, Guolai and Diandian. In previous interviews he had mentioned a girlfriend, but they have since parted ways. “I’m all by myself now,” he said matter-of-factly. “There was too much pressure. But I don’t feel lonely because I interact with a lot of people on social media.”

He admitted, though, that he is feeling the mental strain of his situation and the long hours he spends online. “I feel lately my ability to express myself has dropped, and I’m very unfocused.”

Though he recently renewed his passport, he believes Chinese authorities allowed this to keep tabs on him. It is a bitter gift from his government – once an avid traveller, he now feels trapped.

“I often mourn [the life I could have],” he added. “On the other hand, I don’t regret this.”

“I don’t see myself as a hero, I was only doing what I thought was the right thing at the time. What I’ve demonstrated is that an ordinary person can also do these things.” He believes that if his account shuts down, “naturally a new Teacher Li will appear”.

The thought of getting arrested scares him, but giving up is not an option. “I feel I am a person with no future… until they find me and pull me back to China, or even kidnap me, I will continue doing what I’m doing.”

By going public with his allegations, he hopes to expose the Chinese government’s tactics. But it’s also because he believes they crossed a line by escalating their repression, and wants to fight back. “I post something you don’t like, so you crush me, that is the process of a mutual fight. But doing all these things to my parents, I really don’t understand it.”

Now, he is making defiant plans to expand his operations, perhaps recruiting others to join his mission, or posting in English to widen his influence. The Chinese government “is really afraid of outsiders knowing what China is really like… [Posting in English] is something they are even more afraid of.

“They may feel they have a lot of tactics, but I actually have a lot of cards I can play.”

Will coalition turn domineering Modi into a humbler leader?

By Soutik Biswas@soutikBBCIndia correspondent

India is no stranger to coalition governments.

Some of the world’s largest coalitions, comprising between six and a dozen parties, have been formed in the world’s most populous democracy.

From 1989 to 2004, six general elections produced no single-party majority. Some of these coalitions have been particularly chaotic: between 1989 and 1999, eight were formed and many quickly collapsed.

But some of India’s most significant economic reforms and highest growth rates have come under coalition governments, led by both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

  • Why India’s Modi failed to win outright majority

Now, for the first time since 2014, India will have a coalition government, with no single-party majority.

Narendra Modi of the BJP, set for a third term as prime minister, has seen his majority reduced by a resurgent opposition, and now primarily relies on two allies in his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for a parliamentary majority.

But will Mr Modi, who always ruled with a majority as chief minister of Gujarat state and as India’s prime minister, and dominated politics for a decade, be able to run a coalition?

Can he shed his domineering style and carry disparate regional allies along? And will he curb a growing personality cult stoked by his party and a friendly media to adopt a more consensual, humbler image?

Many believe it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing for Mr Modi in a coalition.

The two allies that Mr Modi is most dependent on are two regional parties, Janata Dal (United) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP). They have 28 seats between them. Both are led by veteran, astute leaders – Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu, respectively – who have previously served in BJP-led federal coalition governments and then quit over differences with the ruling party, specifically over Mr Modi.

In 2019, while serving as Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Mr Naidu labeled Mr Modi, then his political rival, a “terrorist”.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows – India is no stranger to that fact.

Coalition governments dependent on just two or three allies are particularly vulnerable to collapse if even one withdraws support.

Many believe a coalition government under Mr Modi could contribute to a healthier democracy. They say it could reduce the prime minister’s dominance, decentralise governance, increase checks and balances, embolden the opposition, and make institutions like the bureaucracy, judiciary and media more independent.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s stalwarts, ran a successful multi-party coalition government from 1998 to 2004. The avuncular leader privatised state-owned firms, facilitated foreign investment, built expressways, relaxed trade barriers, and even ignited an IT revolution.

He ended a decades-old moratorium on nuclear tests, eased tensions with Pakistan and built closer ties with US.

Much of this had to do with Mr Vajpayee’s consensual style.

More from InDepth

But Mr Modi’s coalition is vastly different from the ones in the past.

Despite securing fewer than the 272 seats needed for a majority government, the BJP still took 240 seats, so remains an influential and dominant coalition leader.

And in the past, successful minority governments have been run with even less seats. Congress were able to run a successful minority government with 232 seats in 1991- and with just 145 and 206 seats in 2004 and 2009.

Furthermore, Mr Modi leads an aggressive and revamped BJP. Amit Shah, his closest confidant, embodies a redefined top leadership that Congress leader Shashi Tharoor characterises as a “my way or the highway” approach to governance.

In the past, BJP-led coalitions put the party’s key ideological and polarising issues on the backburner to accommodate the demands of their allies.

Much of the party’s agenda – revoking the autonomy of Kashmir, building the Ram temple – has already been achieved under Mr Modi’s leadership. Will his allies now urge him to tone down his divisive rhetoric, particularly against Muslims, which he used freely during the election campaign?

Effective coalition politics demands collective action to function as a bloc and offer checks and balances. The key question now is what major issues the coalition partners and the BJP can agree upon.

Mr Modi’s party has been pushing for a controversial plan to hold simultaneous federal and state elections, something India gave up in 1967.

His party has also promised an Uniform Civil Code or UCC, a single personal law for all citizens, irrespective of religion, sex, gender and sexual orientation. This has been resisted in the past by both the country’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

Then there’s the delicate issue of redrawing of parliamentary boundaries, due after 2026. The wealthier, less populated southern states fear that Mr Modi will expand parliament, with the seat count favouring the poorer, more populous Hindi heartland states – a traditional BJP stronghold.

Mr Modi will also have to listen to regional and state-specific demands from the allies and accommodate their leaders’ ambitions. Both the TDP and JD(U) have demanded special status for their states, which mean more federal funds. The allies, according to media reports, are also eyeing influential ministries.

Despite a rebounding economy fuelled by government spending, Mr Modi needs to create more jobs and boost incomes for the poor and middle class. India’s economy requires many structural reforms in agriculture, land and labour. Mr Modi may need a consultative approach with allies to achieve any of this.

For a man used to basking in the spotlight, consensual politics may not come easily to Mr Modi, many believe.

“He has suddenly been asked to enact a role that he has never done before in his life,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a biographer of the prime minister .

But successful politicians master the art of reinvention. Will India now see a humbler, more consultative and consensual Mr Modi?

“We will have to wait and see,” says Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst. “We have to view this through the lens of current circumstances, not past alliances.” Watch this space.

CCTV shows Mosley near where his body was found

By Nikos PapanikolaouKathryn ArmstrongBBC News

CCTV footage appears to show TV presenter Dr Michael Mosley disappear from view as he makes his way down a hillside close to where his body was found, the BBC has been told.

A post-mortem examination is due to take place on Monday after the body of Dr Mosley was found four days after he went missing on the Greek island of Symi.

It is understood the coroner could not determine from the outset whether Dr Mosley had fallen because of the condition of the body.

The coroner – who has arrived on the neighbouring island of Rhodes where the post-mortem will take place – is believed to have ruled out the possibility of foul play.

Dr Mosley’s body was found on a hillside near the Agia Marina beach bar on Sunday.

Footage taken nearby, which the BBC has been told about but not seen, is said to show what appear to be Dr Mosley’s final moments, as he makes his way down a slope before disappearing behind a wall.

The 67-year-old father-of-four was reported missing after he left Agios Nikolaos beach to set off on a walk at about 13:30 local time (11:30 BST) on Wednesday.

Greek authorities conducted an extensive search for Dr Mosley amid high temperatures.

His body was found on Sunday as teams were searching the coastline.

A bar manager found his body, PA news agency reported, after the island’s mayor “saw something” by the fence of the bar and alerted staff.

A police source told BBC News the deceased had been dead “for a number of days”.

BBC reporter indicates area where a body was found

Dr Mosley’s wife, Dr Clare Bailey Mosley, on Sunday said her family was “taking comfort in the fact that he so very nearly made it”.

CCTV footage showed Dr Mosley had walked to the other side of the bay in intense heat and across rocky terrain.

“He did an incredible climb, took the wrong route and collapsed where he couldn’t be easily seen by the extensive search team,” Dr Bailey Mosley said in a statement.

She also paid tribute to her “wonderful, funny, kind and brilliant” husband after the “devastating” news his body had been found.

“We had an incredibly lucky life together,” Dr Bailey Mosley said.

“We loved each other very much and were so happy together.”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Lord Tom Watson, was among those to pay fresh tributes to Dr Mosley on Monday.

“He certainly changed my life. He gave me the idea that I wasn’t broken,” Mr Watson, who said in 2018 that he had “reversed” his type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Dr Mosley studied medicine in London and qualified as a doctor, and for the last two decades was working as a presenter, documentary maker, journalist and author.

He was known for his TV programmes including Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and BBC Radio 4’s Just One Thing podcast. He also wrote a column for the Daily Mail.

Mr Mosley had been an advocate for intermittent fasting diets, including through the 5:2 diet and The Fast 800 diet.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan, who co-presented Trust Me, I’m a Doctor with Dr Mosley, told the BBC’s Breakfast programme she was initially “terrified” to take on the role but that he “put me at ease almost immediately”.

She added: “That really personable, accessible character [that] comes across on television, that’s exactly how he was in real life.

“He did incredible things for medicine and for public health in a way that I think few others have.”

Lord Watson recalled the moment he first read a book by Dr Mosley, saying it was “like a light came on in my life”.

“I just became a real fan of his work and, over the years, he’s helped me maintain that and help millions of others,” he said.

“And that’s what great journalism is: he explained very complex ideas of science in a very simple way.”

Science broadcaster Dr Chris van Tulleken, who also worked with Dr Mosley, said his former colleague had invented “an entire genre of broadcasting” over the course of his career.

He added that Dr Mosley’s work “quietly changed my daily practices”, from brushing his teeth while standing on one leg to sometimes fasting.

“He was giving people tools they could use that everyone could afford,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Timeline

Wednesday 1330 local time (11:30 BST) – Dr Michael Mosley leaves his wife Clare on Agios Nikolaos beach and sets off on a walk

1350 – Man carrying umbrella is seen on CCTV in Pedi

1357 – Same man is seen again at Pedi’s marina heading north-east

Thursday 1115 – Police are unable to find the presenter, so they inform Athens and request assistance from the Greek fire department

1400 – Greek fire services, with six firefighters and a drone team, arrive in Symi

1900 – Helicopter deployed to assist search

Friday – Divers join the search in the water around Symi

Saturday 0600 – Firefighters resume search for Dr Mosley

Sunday – Authorities looking for Dr Mosley find a body

Macron takes huge risk with surprise election

By Hugh SchofieldBBC News, Paris

President Emmanuel Macron has called snap parliamentary elections later this month in the wake of a big victory for his rival Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in the European Parliament vote.

The far-right party is on course to win 32% of the vote, exit polls say, more than twice that of the president’s Renaissance party.

Announcing the dissolution of parliament, he said the two rounds of voting would take place on 30 June and 7 July, a few weeks before the Paris Olympics.

Mr Macron made the dramatic and surprise decision in a televised address from the Élysée Palace an hour after voting closed and exit polls had been declared in France’s EU elections.

His decision came not long after National Rally’s 28-year-old leader, Jordan Bardella, had openly called on the president to call parliamentary elections.

“I have heard your message,” the president told French voters, “and I will not let it go without a response.”

“France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony,” he said, adding that he could not resign himself to the far-right’s progress “everywhere in the continent”.

Now barely two years into his second term as president, Mr Macron already lacks a majority in the French parliament, and though this European vote in theory has no bearing on national politics, he clearly decided that continuing his mandate without a new popular consultation would place too much of a strain on the system.

The upcoming parliamentary elections also won’t affect Mr Macron’s own job, as they are separate from the presidential elections and his term as president still runs for three more years.

Ms Le Pen, who has twice been defeated by Mr Macron in presidential elections, immediately reacted, saying her party was “ready to exercise power, ready to put an end to mass immigration”.

Emmanuel Macron calls snap elections in wake of EU election results

Calling a snap election is a huge surprise for the country, and a huge risk for President Macron.

He could have reacted differently. He could have just kept going, explaining the far right’s massive victory as a European aberration which would be corrected at more important elections.

He could have trusted to the impending European football championship in Germany and above all the Paris Olympics to keep people’s minds off politics for a couple of months.

That was certainly how the Paris commentariat thought he would take his party’s rout.

But one can only assume the president had seen this coming, and planned his response in advance.

Certainly the result was an almost exact replica of the polls, so he would have had plenty of time to consider his options.

The fact is that he is stuck.

Without a majority, getting any bill through the National Assembly is already a struggle. With most of the country now so clearly against him, any new legislation – for example the upcoming budget – could have proved explosive.

So he has plumped for “clarity”. If National Rally has the votes then, he says, they should be given the chance to govern.

Obviously the president will hope his own Renaissance party can mount a fight-back at the elections on 30 June and 7 July – or that other parties will do better too.

But he must appreciate that the odds favour another victory for National Rally. Maybe not one so sweeping as Sunday’s result, but enough for it to become the biggest party in parliament.

At which point we might well have a Prime Minister Marine Le Pen, or indeed Jordan Bardella.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz quits emergency government

By Jake LaphamBBC News

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz has quit the emergency government in a sign of deepening divisions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s post-conflict plans for Gaza.

Speaking during a news conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday where he announced his resignation, Mr Gantz said the decision was made with a “heavy heart”.

“Unfortunately, Mr Netanyahu is preventing us from approaching true victory, which is the justification for the painful ongoing crisis,” he said.

Considered by some to be a potential challenger for power in Israel, Mr Gantz called on Mr Netanyahu to set a date for elections.

Mr Netanyahu responded with a post on X: “Benny, this is not the time to quit the campaign, this is the time to join forces.”

Mr Gantz is a political rival of Mr Netanyahu and a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

His centrist National Unity party was in opposition until 11 October 2023 when, after the start of the war following Hamas’s 7 October attacks, he agreed to form an emergency government with Mr Netanyahu.

National Unity holds five posts in the emergency government.

Current opposition leader Yair Lapid backed Mr Gantz’s decision as “important and right” on social media.

Immediately after the announcement, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded a place in the war cabinet.

Mr Ben-Gvir is part of a right-wing coalition that has threatened to quit and collapse the government if Israel accepts a ceasefire proposal put forward by US President Joe Biden.

Mr Gantz’s influence in the government was widely seen as a counterbalance to that of far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.

Last month, Mr Gantz set a deadline of 8 June for Mr Netanyahu to lay out how Israel would achieve its six “strategic goals”, including the end of Hamas rule in Gaza and the establishment of a multinational civilian administration for the territory.

The prime minister dismissed the comments at the time as “washed-up words” that would mean “defeat for Israel”.

A retired army general and frequent critic of Mr Netayanhu, Mr Gantz had been a member of Israel’s key decision-making “war cabinet”, along with the prime minister and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

During the news conference, Mr Gantz said he was not only personally resigning from the government, but also withdrawing from the National Unity party that he chairs.

The move will not topple the Israeli government, since Mr Netanyahu will still hold a comfortable majority of 64 in the 120-seat Knesset.

It does, however, further isolate the prime minister and lay bare the deep political divisions over how he is running the war.

The resignation also comes one day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes a three-day trip to the region, where he plans to visit Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar to press for a ceasefire agreement.

In a separate development on Sunday, Israel’s army announced the resignation of a senior commander who headed the IDF’s Gaza division over what he called his failure to prevent the 7 October attacks.

Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld is the first IDF combat commander to step down since the attacks.

Widow of IS leader reveals details of their life together

By Feras KilaniBBC Arabic

In a rare interview from prison, a widow of the Islamic State group’s leader has shared her account of their life. Umm Hudaifa was the first wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was married to him while he oversaw IS’s brutal rule over large parts of Syria and Iraq. She is now being held in an Iraqi jail while she is investigated for terrorism-related crimes.

In the summer of 2014, Umm Hudaifa was living in Raqqa, IS’s then-stronghold in Syria, with her husband.

As the wanted leader of the extremist jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi often spent time in other locations, and on one of those occasions he sent a guard to the house to pick up two of their young sons. “He told me they were going on a trip to teach the boys how to swim,” says Umm Hudaifa.

There was a television in the house that she used to watch in secret. “I used to turn it on when he wasn’t at home,” she says, explaining he thought it didn’t work. She says she was cut off from the world and he hadn’t let her watch television or use any other technology, such as mobile phones, since 2007.

A few days after the guard took the children, she says she switched on the television and got “a huge surprise”. She saw her husband addressing the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, showing himself for the first time as the head of the self-declared Islamic caliphate. It was only weeks after his fighters had seized control of the area.

The footage of al-Baghdadi making his first public appearance in years, with his long beard, dressed in black robes and demanding allegiance from Muslims, was seen across the world and marked a key moment for IS as it swept across Iraq and Syria.

Umm Hudaifa says she was shocked to find out her sons were in Mosul with him rather than learning to swim in the Euphrates.

She describes the scene from the crowded prison in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where she is being held while Iraqi authorities investigate her role in IS and the group’s crimes. It’s noisy as inmates accused of various crimes, including drug use and sex work, are moved around the prison and food deliveries arrive from outside.

We find a quiet spot in the library and speak for nearly two hours. During our conversation she paints herself as a victim who tried to escape from her husband and denies she was involved in any of IS’s brutal activities.

This is a stark contrast to the way she is described in a court case brought by Yazidis who were abducted and raped by members of IS – they accuse her of colluding in the sexual enslavement of kidnapped girls and women.

During the interview, she doesn’t raise her head, not even once. She’s wearing black and only reveals part of her face, down to the bottom of her nose.

Umm Hudaifa was born in 1976 into a conservative Iraqi family and married Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, later known by the pseudonym Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 1999.

He had finished studying Sharia, or Islamic law, at the University of Baghdad and she says at the time he was “religious but not extremist… conservative but open minded”.

Then in 2004, a year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, American forces detained al-Baghdadi and held him at the detention centre at Camp Bucca in the south for about a year, along with many other men who would become senior figures in IS and other jihadist groups.

In the years after his release, she claims he changed: “He became short tempered and given to outbursts of anger.”

Others who knew al-Baghdadi say he was involved with al-Qaeda before his time in Bucca, but for her, that marked the turning point after which he became increasingly extreme.

“He began to suffer from psychological problems,” she says. When she asked why, he told her that “he was exposed to something that ‘you cannot understand’”.

She believes that although he did not explicitly say so, “during his detention he was subjected to sexual torture”. Pictures from another US-run prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, that came to light that year showed prisoners forced to simulate sexual acts and adopt humiliating poses.

We put her allegation to the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, but have not received a response.

She says she started to wonder if he belonged to a militant group. “I used to search his clothes when he came back home, when he was taking a shower or when he went to sleep.

“I’d even search his body for bruises or injuries… I was perplexed,” she says, but she didn’t find anything.

“I told him back then, ‘You’ve gone astray’… it drove him into a raging fit.”

She describes how they often moved house, had fake identities and her husband married a second wife. Umm Hudaifa says she asked for a divorce but she wouldn’t agree to his condition that she give up their children, so she stayed with him.

As Iraq fell into bloody sectarian war that lasted from 2006 to 2008, she no longer had any doubt that he was involved in Sunni jihadist groups. In 2010 he became the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 this was an umbrella group of Iraqi jihadi organisations.

“We moved to the Idlib countryside in Syria in January 2012, and there it became absolutely clear to me that he was the emir [leader],” Umm Hudaifa says.

The Islamic State of Iraq was one of the groups that later joined forces to form the wider Islamic State group that declared a caliphate – an Islamic state governed in accordance with Sharia by someone considered God’s deputy on Earth – two years later.

At that time, she says he started to wear Afghani dress, grew a beard, and carried a pistol.

As the security situation deteriorated in north-west Syria during the country’s civil war, they moved east to the city of Raqqa, which later came to be considered the de facto capital of the IS “caliphate”. This is where she was living when she saw her husband on television.

The brutality of the groups that came together to form IS was already well known but in 2014 and 2015, the atrocities became more widespread and more horrific.

A UN investigative team reported that it had found evidence that IS committed genocide against Iraq’s Yazidi minority and that the group had carried out crimes against humanity including murder, torture, kidnapping, and enslavement.

IS broadcast its atrocities, including the beheading of hostages and the burning of a Jordanian pilot, on social media.

In another notorious incident, it massacred about 1,700 predominantly Shia trainee Iraqi soldiers as they returned from the Speicher army base north of Baghdad to their home cities.

Some women who went to live with IS now say they didn’t understand what they were getting into so I pressed Umm Hudaifa on her views at the time – she says even then she couldn’t look at the pictures, describing the atrocities as a “huge shock, inhumane” and “to spill blood unjustly is a horrendous thing and in that regard they crossed the line of humanity”.

Umm Hudaifa says she challenged her husband about having “the blood of those innocent people” on his hands and told him that “according to Islamic law there are other things that could have been done, like guiding them towards repentance”.

She describes how her husband used to communicate with IS’s leaders on his laptop.

He kept the computer locked in a briefcase. “I tried to break into it to find out what was happening,” she says, “but I was technologically illiterate and it always asked me for a passcode.”

She says she tried to escape, but armed men at a checkpoint refused to let her pass and sent her back to the house.

As for fighting, she says of her husband that as far as she knew “he didn’t take part in any fight or battle”, adding that he was in Raqqa when IS took control of Mosul – he travelled to Mosul later to give his speech.

Soon after that sermon, al-Baghdadi married their 12-year-old daughter, Umaima, to a friend, Mansour, who was entrusted with taking care of the family’s affairs. Umm Hudaifa says she tried to prevent it, but she was ignored.

An Iraqi security source told us that Umaima had already been married once before, at the age of eight, to a Syrian IS spokesman. However, he said the first marriage was arranged so that the man could go into the house when al-Baghdadi was away, and that relationship was not sexual.

Then in August 2014, Umm Hudaifa gave birth to another daughter, Nasiba, who had a congenital heart defect. This coincided with Mansour bringing nine Yazidi girls and women to the house. Their ages ranged from nine to about 30.

They were just a handful of thousands of Yazidi women and children enslaved by IS – thousands more were killed.

Umm Hudaifa says she was shocked and “felt ashamed”.

There were two young girls in the group, Samar and Zena – not their real names. Umm Hudaifa claims they only stayed in her house in Raqqa for a few days before they were moved. But later the family moved to Mosul and Samar reappeared, staying with them for about two months.

I tracked down Samar’s father, Hamid, who tearfully recalled the moment she was taken.

He said he had two wives and that they, along with his 26 children, two brothers and their families were all kidnapped from the town of Khansour in Sinjar. He escaped into the nearby mountains.

Six of his children, including Samar are still missing. Some returned after ransoms were paid and others came home after the areas where they were held were liberated.

The other girl, Zena, is his niece and is thought to be stuck in northern Syria. Zena’s sister, Soad, did not meet Umm Hudaifa herself, but was enslaved, raped and sold seven times.

Hamid and Soad have filed a civil lawsuit against Umm Hudaifa for colluding in the kidnapping and enslavement of Yazidi girls. They do not believe she was a helpless victim and are calling for the death penalty.

“She was responsible for everything. She made the selections – this one to serve her, that one to serve her husband… and my sister was one of those girls,” says Soad. She has based this on the testimonies of other victims who have returned home.

“She is the wife of the criminal Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and she is a criminal just like him.”

We play Umm Hudaifa the recording of our interview with Soad and she says: “I don’t deny that my husband was a criminal,” but adds she is “very sorry for what happened to them”, and denies the accusations directed at her.

Umm Hudaifa says that a little later, in January 2015, she briefly met the kidnapped US aid worker, Kayla Mueller, who was held hostage for 18 months and died in captivity.

The circumstances around Kayla’s death are still not known – at the time IS claimed she was killed by a Jordanian air strike, but the US always disputed this and an Iraqi security source has now told us she was killed by IS.

In 2019, US forces raided the place where al-Baghdadi and was hiding in north-west Syria with some of his family. Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest when cornered in a tunnel, killing himself and two children, while two of his four wives were killed in a shootout.

Umm Hudaifa was not there however – she had been living in Turkey under a false name where she was arrested in 2018. She was sent back to Iraq in February this year, where she has since been kept in prison while authorities investigate her role in IS.

Her eldest daughter Umaima is in prison with her, while Fatima who is about 12 is in a youth detention centre. One of her sons was killed in a Russian air strike in Syria near Homs, another died with his father in the tunnel and the youngest boy is in an orphanage.

When we finish talking, she raises her head and I briefly catch a glimpse of her full face, but her expression gives nothing away. As the intelligence officer leads her away, she pleads for more information about her youngest children. And now, back in her cell, she must wait to find out if she will face criminal charges.

Ten Hindu pilgrims killed in bus attack in India’s Jammu

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai

At least 10 people have died and 33 injured after suspected militants fired on a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, police officials said.

The driver lost control, causing the bus to plunge into a gorge in Reasi district of Jammu, they added.

While rescue operations have concluded, a search operation by the Indian army and police is under way to track down the attackers.

Officials said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken “stock of the situation” and asked for the best medical care to be provided to the injured.

“All those behind this heinous act will be punished soon,” Manoj Sinha, the region’s top administrator, wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Officials say the bus was on its way to the base camp of the famous Hindu shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi when it was fired upon.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but Mohita Sharma, the district police chief, told Reuters that suspected militants had “ambushed the bus”.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for over six decades.

Since 1947, the nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority territory, which both claim in full but control in part. Since 1989, Indian-administered Kashmir has also seen an armed insurgency against Delhi’s rule, claiming thousands of lives.

Delhi accuses Islamabad of harbouring militants and disrupting peace in the region, a charge Pakistan denies.

The news of Sunday’s attack broke as Mr Modi took oath as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive term at a swearing-in ceremony in Delhi.

The passengers are yet to be identified but it is believed they are from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Ms Sharma told a newspaper.

Photos showed some injured people, including a woman, being taken to a hospital in Jammu for treatment.

Amit Shah, who was home minister in Mr Modi’s previous government, expressed grief over the incident.

“The culprits of this dastardly attack will not be spared and will face the wrath of the law,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of main opposition party Congress, questioned the security situation in the region.

“This shameful incident is the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” he wrote on X.

In 2017, seven Hindu pilgrims, six of them women, were killed after their bus, returning from the famed Amarnath pilgrimage site in Anantnag district, got caught in a gun battle between police and militants.

Read more stories from India:

Gaza health ministry says Israeli hostage rescue killed 274 Palestinians

By Thomas MackintoshBBC News

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says an Israeli raid on a refugee camp – which led to the rescue of four hostages – killed 274 people, including children and other civilians.

On Saturday Israel’s forces, backed by air strikes, fought intense gun battles with Hamas in and around the Nuseirat refugee camp, freeing the captives.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, who were abducted from the Nova music festival on 7 October have been returned to Israel.

The Israeli military has estimated that fewer than 100 people died in the operation.

But the latest figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza would, if confirmed, make it one of the deadliest days of the conflict so far.

People living in the densely-populated area have described the terror of coming under intense bombardment and heavy gunfire.

One man, Abdel Salam Darwish, told the BBC he was in a market buying vegetables when he heard fighter jets from above and the sound of gunfire.

“Afterwards, people’s bodies were in pieces, scattered in the streets, and blood stained the walls,” he said.

The return of the hostages to their families has sparked celebration in Israel and world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have welcomed the news of their release.

But there has been mounting criticism of the deadly cost of the operation inside Gaza, with European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell saying he condemned it “in the strongest terms”.

“Reports from Gaza of another massacre of civilians are appalling,” he wrote on X.

An Israeli minister said that instead of condemning Hamas for hiding behind civilians, the EU had condemned Israel for saving its citizens.

Images from the Nuseirat refugee camp area show intense bombardment and people mourning the dead.

Two hospitals in Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital and al-Awda hospital, said they had counted 70 bodies between them.

The Hamas-run health ministry released names of 86 people out of the 274 Palestinians it says were killed during the two-hour operation.

Previously, Israel’s military spokesman Daniel Hagari estimated there were fewer than 100 casualties in what was a “high-risk, complex mission” based on “precise intelligence”.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said special forces operated “under heavy fire” when rescuing the hostages. One special forces officer was wounded and later died in hospital.

Videos from Gaza taken in the aftermath of the raid show scenes of carnage.

Footage from the al-Aqsa hospital shows numerous people with severe injuries laying on the ground, leaving barely any space on the blood-stained floor for doctors to move between patients.

Other video shows a frequent stream of new cases being driven in by car and ambulance and carried into the building.

The director of the al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat told BBC Arabic the number of dead coming to the hospital increased throughout Saturday.

Dr Marwan Abu Nasser also spoke about the lack of a morgue in the hospital to accommodate the bodies of those killed who had been taken to the hospital.

Grief in Gaza as scores killed in IDF hostage raid

One man, who said more than 40 members of his family have been killed since the conflict began in October, described to the BBC being in a house which was hit by a strike.

“As soon as these children and women entered the house, the bombing attack took place, claiming the lives of all those inside it,” he said,

“This home, which used to house approximately 30 people who then became 50, was bombed… only me, my father, my wife, and a young man survived… we are the only survivors out of 50 people.”

The bloodshed on the ground prompted a rare venting of criticism at Hamas from people in Gaza.

Hassan Omar, 37, said he lamented the unnecessary loss of lives in Israeli strikes, telling the BBC: “For each Israeli hostage they could have freed 80 Palestinian prisoners and without any bloodshed – [that] is a million times better than losing 100 dead.

“My message to Hamas is stopping the loss is part of the gain, we should get rid of those who control us from Qatar hotels.”

The rescue of hostages came amid efforts for a ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been urged to reach an agreement but faces opposition from far-right allies who say military action is the only way to bring the hostages back.

Saturday’s operation is the most successful rescue of hostages by the Israeli military in this war – and analysts say it could change the calculation of a prime minister who is under increasing pressure.

In response to the military offensive in Nuseirat, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said Israel could not force its choices on the group.

He said the group would not agree to a ceasefire deal unless it achieved security for Palestinians.

During its 7 October attacks in southern Israel Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took some 251 people hostage.

Some 116 remain in the Palestinian territory, including 41 the army says are dead.

A deal agreed in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages in return for a week-long ceasefire and some 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry said the death toll in Gaza is now 37,084 people.

Father of Israeli hostage died day before son’s rescue, relative says

By Jake LaphamBBC News

The father of an Israeli hostage rescued during a military operation in Gaza died a day before he could be reunited with his son, a relative has said.

Almog Meir Jan, 22, was held in Gaza for eight months after being kidnapped from the Nova music festival on 7 October.

He was one of four hostages who were rescued from central Gaza on Saturday, in an air and ground raid that also killed scores of Palestinians.

In the months before Almog’s release, the health of his father Yossi deteriorated and he was “glued to the television”, his sister Dina told Israeli broadcaster Kan.

“He was worried that he (Almog) was in the hands of murderers and about what was happening to him and what he was going through,” Ms Jan said.

Yossi Jan is believed to have died of a heart attack.

“My brother died of grief and didn’t get to see his son return,” Dina Jan said.

The rescue of Almog Jan and three other hostages was met with jubilation and relief in Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netyanhu praised special forces for operating “creatively and bravely”.

But the humanitarian toll of the operation, which included a barrage of Israeli airstrikes, has sparked condemnation.

Grief in Gaza as scores killed in IDF hostage raid

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 274 people were killed in the operation. If confirmed, it would make it one of the deadliest days in Gaza since the beginning of the conflict.

A Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said the death toll was fewer than 100.

Qatar’s Prime Minister called for an intensification of global pressure on Israel to stop its “barbaric aggression” in Gaza, during a summit in Doha on Sunday.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the killings as “another massacre of civilians”.

An Israeli minister said that instead of condemning Hamas for hiding behind civilians, the EU had condemned Israel for saving its citizens.

Israeli forces, backed by air strikes, fought intense gun battles with Hamas in the Nuseirat area, in what the Israel Defense Forces called a “high-risk, complex mission” based on “precise” intelligence.

In addition to Almog Meir Jan, hostages Noa Argamani, 26, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, were rescued during the operation.

Some 116 people kidnapped in October remain in captivity. More than a third of them have already been confirmed dead, but that number is thought likely to be higher.

Benjamin Netanyahu visited the four returned hostages in hospital, telling one “we didn’t give up on you for one moment”.

“We expect Hamas to release them all. But if they don’t, we will do whatever it takes to get them all back home,” Mr Netanyahu said outside hospital.

On Sunday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 37,084 people had been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

Trump to sit for probation interview on Monday

By Max MatzaBBC News

Donald Trump will sit for a virtual interview with a probation officer from his home in Florida on Monday, part of the sentencing process for his felony conviction in the New York hush-money case.

The first former US president criminally convicted, Trump will appear from Mar-a-Lago and will be seated alongside his lawyer Todd Blanche, a source with knowledge of the matter told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner.

A New York City probation officer will use the interview in a pre-sentencing report for Justice Juan Merchan, who is currently deciding what punishment Trump must face.

Trump was convicted last month of 34 counts of falsifying business records and is expected to be sentenced on 11 July.

A former commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction and Probation told NBC News that it is not normal for a probation interview to take place virtually.

“It is highly unusual for a pre-sentence investigation interview to be done over Zoom,” said Martin Horn.

But he added that any visit by Trump to the courthouse in downtown Manhattan would be “very disruptive” to other court business, especially given the presence of the Secret Service and media, and could be unfair to other defendants who might not want to be identified.

“So in the end, this might be better for the probation officer,” he said.

Convicts in the New York Court system do not usually have their lawyers present for probation interviews, according to the Associated Press.

However, Judge Merchan has allowed Mr Blanche to appear alongside his client on Monday.

Pre-sentencing reports include information about a convict’s personal life, criminal history, financial means, health condition and overall living arrangement.

They are used by the judge to inform what punishment should be given.

The interview is often an opportunity for a convict to argue for leniency in the sentence.

Jurors found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments made to former porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Most legal commentators believe that Trump is unlikely to face any jail time, given his lack of criminal history and age.

Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the prosecution in New York is politically motivated and an attempt to prevent him from retaking the White House in November’s election.

He has also said he will appeal the conviction.

  • Published

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won a gripping wet-dry Canadian Grand Prix that developed into a five-car battle for the lead over the final 10 laps.

Verstappen expertly managed a restart after a safety-car period with 11 laps to go to bolt into a decisive lead while McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri fought with the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton behind him.

Verstappen pulled out nearly two seconds in one lap and controlled the race to the end from there.

Norris had twice led the race earlier on as conditions fluctuated between wet and dry but lost it each time by stopping later than Verstappen.

And in the closing laps he could not do anything about the world champion when it mattered and had to settle for second.

Russell, who had led the early laps before the race’s various dramas began to unfold, passed Hamilton with three laps to go to take the final podium place but was left ruing a couple of key errors during a race that he started from his first pole position for nearly two years.

Hamilton took fourth place ahead of Piastri with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso sixth.

Verstappen calm amid the storm

It was Verstappen’s sixth win in nine races this year, and extended his championship lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to 56 points after a terrible race and double retirement for the Italian team.

Although Verstappen won again, it was far from the foregone conclusion of grands prix at the start of the season.

The last 11 laps started finely poised, after Mercedes pitted Russell and Hamilton for fresh tyres under the safety car, giving both drivers a 10-lap advantage on their tyre wear over Verstappen and the McLarens in front.

But just as Russell was beginning to mount a challenge on the McLarens, with Norris and Piastri running nose to tail behind the escaping Verstappen, the Mercedes driver was a touch ambitious in trying to pass Piastri on the outside of the final chicane and was forced on to the run-off area.

That dropped him behind Hamilton, who soon passed Piastri and himself looked briefly set for a charge towards the front.

But Russell fought back to pass Piastri and then Hamilton, who was given hard tyres rather than the mediums on Russell’s car.

Bad timing for Norris

Norris also had cause to rue misfortune.

As the track dried through the first stint, he closed in on Verstappen in second place and passed him and then took the lead from Russell into the final chicane.

Russell was forced to cut the chicane as Norris passed, and Verstappen demoted him to third on the exit.

Five laps later, after Norris had built a substantial lead, Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams as more rain began to fall and the safety car was deployed.

But the call was too late for Norris to pit – he had passed the pit exit already – while everyone behind him could. The safety car then picked Norris up, slowing him down, and he came out in third place behind Verstappen and Russell.

At the restart, Verstappen began to slowly edge away from Russell, and the race seemed to have fallen under his control.

But the track dried, and Russell and Norris began to come back at the Red Bull, only for each to make mistakes.

First, Norris went off the track at Turns One and Two, also delaying Russell, who lost 1.5secs to Verstappen in one lap.

Three laps later, on lap 45, Verstappen and Russell stopped for slick tyres, while Norris stayed out for two more laps.

He was trying to build a sufficient advantage to come out in the lead, and it was close – he looked to be set to race wheel to wheel with Verstappen as the McLaren exited the pits.

But Norris lost grip on the damp area off-line on the pit-lane exit, and Verstappen was able not only to retain the lead but finish the lap nearly four seconds ahead.

The race for the win seemed all but over, only for a safety car, triggered when Carlos Sainz lost his Ferrari at Turn Six and collected Alex Albon’s Williams, to close up the field again, and Mercedes to take their chance with fresh tyres.

It was worth a gamble, but in the end the race was won by the driver and team who kept things under control best in tough conditions and made fewest mistakes – even if Verstappen himself had a couple of off-track moments.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez had a poor race, failing to make significant progress from his 16th grid position and then crashing late in the race.

Perez was given a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain for returning to the track with a damaged car after his accident, leaving carbon-fibre debris strewn around the circuit.

What’s next?

It’s back to Europe and the start of a triple-header with the next race the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona two weeks from now.

That is followed by a trip to Austria and then the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, from 5-7 July.

  • Drivers’ championship standings

  • Constructors’ championship standings

Far right makes gains in EU election but it could struggle to unite

By Katya AdlerBBC Europe Editor

In Brussels, at past EU leaders’ summits, Emmanuel Macron has at times been accused of trying to steal the limelight.

He certainly managed that on Sunday night. Although probably not in the way he’d have liked.

As votes for the European Parliament were still being counted, Mr Macron dominated the headlines.

His drubbing in the poll by French hard-right nationalists had been expected. His decision to dissolve France’s national parliament as a result, came as a shock.

He had played with the idea last year, after getting trounced in France’s last general election but few expected this move now.

It’s a huge gamble. From a position of weakness.

Emmanuel Macron describes himself as a centrist and a passionate European.

This snap general election, taking place in two rounds on 30 June and 7 July, could result in him having to work alongside a French prime minister from the Eurosceptic far right.

Marine Le Pen, regularly portrayed as his political nemesis, declared on Sunday that her party was ready to govern.

It’s happened before in France that the president, who is the country’s most powerful politician, and the prime minister, hail from different political parties.

But if the new prime minister were to come from the far right, that would be a first for France.

Marine Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to try to broaden the appeal of her political movement and to soften its extremist image.

She and her supporters hope this significant victory at EU level (her National Rally party garnered more than double the number of votes of President Macron’s Renaissance party) will translate into huge wins in the snap election back home.

Her dream would be that those successes would then bring her, or her hugely popular prodigee, the 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, a big stride closer to eventually becoming French president – something she’s attempted and failed to achieve a number of times before. The next presidential vote in France is scheduled for 2027.

Staying with this election for the European Parliament, the hard right and nationalist right made gains in many parts of the EU, with voters worried about migration, inflation and the cost of environmental reforms.

But whether they will be able to really influence future EU policy is unclear.

The majority of seats in the EU chamber where the bloc’s laws are debated, modified, passed or rejected, remain firmly in the hands of centrist parties.

To affect EU policy, hard-right parties from across the bloc will have to unite, to give them clout.

And that’s a challenge. They have differing national priorities and some deep-seated differences, like how far to support Ukraine against Russia.

One issue affecting the lives of all EU citizens, that the hard right has already influenced, is environmental reform. It’s a trillions-of-euros priority for the EU which has long been ambitious about wanting to be a world leader in climate action.

But green parties lost a whopping 20 seats in this EU Parliament vote.

EU taxpayers, faced with the cost-of-living crisis, are increasingly nervous, even resistant to new environmental rules, putting them under pressure to purchase a new heating system for their home or a less-polluting car.

Farmers across the EU have staged mass protests about environmental rules they label unfair and ruinous.

The hard right across Europe visibly used their grievances to portray themselves as the voice of the people, standing up to “remote elites” in Brussels and in national government.

The result: under pressure ahead of this EU Parliament vote, a number of EU environmental regulations were watered down or rescinded, including one governing pesticide rules. This weakening of green goals could well be an indication of things to come.

A final thought: When trying to make firm predictions about the kind of power the nationalist right will, or will not, exert in the EU going forward, labels are often not that helpful.

Some hard-right nationalists are becoming more mainstream to woo more voters and increasing numbers of centre-right politicians have been aping the language of the far right on hot button issues like migration and the environment, in an attempt to hold on to supporters.

Overall, the centre-right won the largest number of seats and made the biggest number of gains in the European Parliament.

You might not see that headline all that often though. It’s less eye-catching than a debate about far-right gains.

Nigerian star’s drowning forces Nollywood to look at safety

By Hannah GelbartBBC What in World, Lagos

The last video that Nigerian actor Junior Pope made for his more than two million Instagram followers eerily foreshadowed his death.

“You see the risks, people, we take to entertain you,” the 42-year-old shouts above the noise of a small motor boat as it speeds along the River Niger.

He laughs – it is not clear if it is out of joy or nervousness – and tells the driver to slow down.

“I am begging the captain, that I’m the only child and I have three boys,” the actor – whose real name was John Paul Odonwodo – booms as he notices with alarm some water coming into the boat.

The next day the Nollywood star was dead. He drowned in the same river, after a boat he was travelling in collided with a fishing canoe.

Four others, including film crew members, were also killed.

The death in April of one of the biggest names in Nigeria’s renowned movie business – he had more than 100 films under his belt – sent the industry into shock.

Actors have since been speaking out about Nollywood’s poor safety record and calling for change.

  • LISTEN: What in the World Nollywood episode

Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world – after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

It produces more than 2,500 films a year: some are by large, established production houses, but there are dozens of smaller companies riding on the coat-tails of one the country’s huge success stories.

After the fatal accident, the Actors Guild of Nigeria immediately responded, saying that all filming in and around rivers would be suspended indefinitely.

It then called for safety standards to be implemented and observed.

A preliminary report into the capsizing from the Nigerian Safety Investigations Bureau released last month found multiple failings:

  • the driver was not certified to operate the boat
  • the boat was not registered
  • only one person was wearing a life jacket
  • that passenger, one of eight survivors, had brought the life jacket on board themselves.

In a now-deleted Instagram video posted soon after the incident, the film’s producer, Adanma Luke, said she had been told there were life jackets and Junior Pope was offered one but did not take it.

“I have been so traumatised. I have been so cold. This whole thing still feels like a dream to me. I wish I could still wake up from this dream,” she said in the video.

She later wrote: “My heart is shattered in pieces as I write this… I find myself praying, how can we turn back the hands of time?”

Ruth Kadiri, a top actor, producer and screenwriter who knew Junior Pope well, says he tended to be happy and “extremely hyper”.

“He always brought in the positive energy… and I think he was really loved by all,” she told the BBC’s What in the World podcast about her friend.

BBC
So I got on the boat, they started to paddle, and the canoe just tumbled into the river”

She went on to say that incidents like the one that killed Junior Pope are far too common in Nollywood.

Kadiri remembers an incident when she almost drowned during filming – making her think about the fear the actor “must have felt at the last minute of his life”.

“I had to shoot a movie so we couldn’t use life jackets,” she says.

“I asked the team if everything was OK and they said the canoe was fine. So I got on the boat, they started to paddle, and the canoe just tumbled into the river.”

She was saved by a colleague who grabbed her in the water.

The star, who has more than six million Instagram followers, is now calling for change.

However, she says she understands the temptation for actors who want to get on to do something that is potentially unsafe.

“We all do crazy things for the love of this job. We do things we normally would not do.

“As you grow, you learn to put your needs first. Not because you don’t like the production, but because if something goes wrong, that’s the end of it.”

Kadiri says that safety is an industry-wide issue but whereas the bigger, well-funded productions can take measures, many smaller operations are unable to afford the extra costs.

In order to improve things, she suggests that a safety regulatory body should be established that can have people on film sets.

“The director is thinking about creating the content, the actor is thinking about getting in character, so let us create an extra body. It might save a lot of stress.”

Actor Chidi Dike says Junior Pope’s death was “an awakening to all”.

He agrees that “safety hasn’t been taken very seriously”, but notes that there have been some improvements.

He has noticed that directors and producers are now trying to make sure filming does not go late into the night, which in the past has meant dangerous night-time journeys home.

“Everything is risky… driving very fast. There was one time I was coming home really late and I almost got into an accident,” he told the BBC.

“But it is better now.”

It is an unexpected legacy for the effervescent actor with a huge catalogue of films, but Junior Pope’s final video may well turn Nollywood into a safer place to work.

More BBC stories on Nollywood:

  • Nigerian celebrities expose sexism in music and Nollywood
  • Genevieve Nnaji’s rise from Nollywood to Netflix
  • LISTEN: Nigeria’s billion dollar film industry

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‘Spy mania’: Why is Russia accusing its own physicists of treason?

By Sergei GoryashkoBBC Russian

Russian President Vladimir Putin frequently boasts that his country is leading the world in developing hypersonic weapons, which travel at more than five times the speed of sound.

But a string of Russian physicists working on the science underlying them have been charged with treason and imprisoned in recent years, in what rights groups see as an overzealous crackdown.

Most of those arrested are elderly, and three are now dead. One was taken from his hospital bed in the late stages of cancer and died soon afterwards.

Another is Vladislav Galkin, a 68-year-old academic, whose home in Tomsk in southern Russia was raided in April 2023.

Armed men in black masks arrived at 04:00, digging through cupboards and seizing papers with scientific formulae on them, a relative says.

Mr Galkin’s wife, Tatyana, says she has told their grandchildren – who liked to play chess with him – that he’s on a business trip. She says Russia’s security service, the FSB, has forbidden her from speaking about his case.

Since 2015, 12 physicists have been arrested who are all associated in some way with hypersonic technology or with institutions that work on it.

They are all charged with high treason, which can include passing state secrets to foreign countries.

Russian treason trials are held behind closed doors, so it’s not clear exactly what they are accused of.

The Kremlin has said only that “the accusations are serious” and it can’t comment further because special services are involved.

But colleagues and defence lawyers say the scientists weren’t involved in weapons development and that some of the cases are based on them openly collaborating with foreign researchers.

And critics suggest the FSB wants to create the impression foreign spies are chasing weapons secrets.

Hypersonic refers to missiles that can travel at extremely high speeds and also change direction during flight, evading air defences.

Russia says it has used two types in its war on Ukraine – the Kinzhal, launched from an aircraft, and the Zircon cruise missile.

However, Kyiv says its forces have shot down some Kinzhal missiles, raising questions about their capabilities.

As the technology has been developed and deployed, the arrests have continued.

Shortly after Mr Galkin’s arrest in April 2023, he was remanded in court on the same day as another scientist, Valery Zvegintsev, with whom he had co-authored several papers.

The state-owned news agency Tass has cited a source saying Mr Zvegintsev’s arrest may have been prompted by an article published in an Iranian journal in 2021.

Mr Galkin and Mr Zvegintsev are both named on an article about air intake mechanisms for high-speed aircraft published by the journal.

In summer 2022, the FSB arrested two colleagues from the same institute as Mr Zvegintsev – its director and the former head of a laboratory for work on aerodynamics at high-speeds.

Employees from the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITAM) penned an open letter in support of their three arrested colleagues.

Now removed from the institute’s website, it said they were known for “brilliant scientific results” and had “always remained faithful” to their country’s interests.

It said the work they had shared publicly had been repeatedly checked for restricted information by ITAM’s expert commission – and none had been found.

“Hypersonic is a topic you are now obliged to put people in jail for,” says Yevgeny Smirnov, a lawyer with First Division, a Russian human rights and legal organisation.

Mr Smirnov defended scientists and others accused of treason in court before he moved from Russia to Prague in 2021, fearing repercussions from his work.

He says none of the dozen scientists had anything to do with the defence sector, but were studying scientific questions such as how metals deform at hypersonic speeds or the effects of turbulence.

“This is not about making a rocket, but about the study of physical processes,” he says, and points out that findings may be used later by weapons developers.

The arrests had started a few years earlier with Vladimir Lapygin. Now 83, he was jailed in 2016 but released on parole four years later.

He had worked for 46 years for the Russian space agency’s main research institute, TsNIIMash.

Lapygin was convicted over a software package for aerodynamic calculations that he sent to a Chinese contact. He says he sent a demo version as part of discussions about potentially selling the full package on behalf of the institute.

But he maintains the version he shared did not contain any secret information, just an example that had been “repeatedly described in open publications”.

Lapygin told the BBC all those arrested apparently in connection with hypersonics “had nothing to do with” developing weapons.

Another scientist detained was Dmitry Kolker, a specialist at the Institute of Laser Physics, also in Siberia, who was arrested in 2022 while he was in hospital with advanced pancreatic cancer.

His family said the charges against him were based on lectures he had delivered in China, but that the content had been approved by the FSB and that an agent travelled with him.

Kolker died two days after his arrest, aged 54.

“There’s a conflict within the system,” says a colleague of one of the arrested scientists, who wished to remain anonymous.

Scientists are still expected to publish internationally and collaborate with foreign colleagues, “meanwhile, the FSB thinks contact with foreign scientists and writing for foreign journals is a betrayal of the Motherland”, they say.

The ITAM scientists feel the same. “We just don’t understand how to continue doing our job,” their open letter said.

“What we are rewarded for today… tomorrow becomes the reason for criminal prosecution.”

They warn that scientists are afraid to engage in some areas of research, while talented young employees are leaving science.

The letter was a rare example of public support. The other institutes where arrested scientists worked have not commented.

Other cases are also understood to relate to international collaboration.

An investigation into two other scientists was related to Hexafly, a European project to develop a hypersonic civilian aircraft, according to the lawyer Mr Smirnov, who worked on the case.

That project, now finished, was led by the European Space Agency and began in 2012.

The agency told the BBC “all technical contributions and exchanges were agreed and foreseen” in a co-operation agreement between the Russian and European parties involved.

Both scientists were sentenced to 12 years in prison last year, though Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered a retrial of one of them.

Other arrests related to a study into the aerodynamics as a space vehicle re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

It was funded by a European Union scheme and run by the von Karman Institute of Fluid Dynamics in Belgium.

FSB investigators were concerned about a rounded cone shape that looked like a warhead in research that one of the scientists, Viktor Kudryavtsev, sent to the von Karman Institute, according to his widow, Olga.

The institute says the programme, which ran from 2011 to 2013, “very clearly excluded military research”. It says it “could not find any trace of disclosing secret information” by Kudryavtsev’s team.

Human rights groups see a pattern.

Mr Smirnov says that, in private conversations, FSB officers have admitted to him that cases about sharing hypersonic secrets were being opened “to satisfy the wishes of those higher up”.

He believes the FSB wants to give the impression that spies are hunting Russian missile secrets “to flatter the ego” of Mr Putin.

The cases come amid a wider rise in treason cases.

Sergei Davidis, who leads work supporting Russian political prisoners at the Memorial human rights centre, speaks of an “atmosphere of spy mania and isolationism”, especially since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking from Lithuania, where his organisation moved after it was banned in Russia, Mr Davidis says he believes the FSB, keen to show it is delivering, “builds up its reporting statistics through the fabrication of cases”.

But he believes there may be other factors in the arrests of scientists, such as competition for state contracts, or even a Kremlin message of dissatisfaction aimed at all scientists involved in hypersonics.

Mr Smirnov says the FSB sometimes offers more lenient sentences if suspects confess and implicate others.

Kudryavtsev was offered a plea bargain under which he would admit guilt and point the finger at someone else, according to his widow, Olga.

He refused. He died of lung cancer in 2021, aged 77, before his case came to trial.

Retired FSB General Alexander Mikhailov says the FSB “must ensure the confidentiality” of military technology.

He says “undoubtedly” that there must be “substantial grounds” for severe sentences such as the 14-year prison term handed down in May to one of the three ITAM scientists, Anatoly Maslov.

Gen Mikhailov says the current spike in treason cases is the product of the expansion of freedoms and democracy in the 1990s.

He says this led to a change in attitude from Soviet times, when he says those with access to state secrets were “thoroughly vetted” and “understood the responsibility” of disclosing them.

“Some people were talking too much and leaks appeared,” he adds.

As for Mr Galkin, it is now over a year since the masked agents arrived. His relative says he spent the first three months in solitary confinement.

Tatyana, his wife, says she is able to speak to him by phone through a glass partition and recently even considered asking to be arrested too “because he just sits there, day after day”.

“I could ask them to put me in the same pre-trial detention centre. It would be easy enough – you just have to suspect someone of something.”

Other scientists arrested in Russia:

  • Alexander Shiplyuk, 57, director of ITAM, arrested 2022, awaiting trial
  • Alexander Kuranov, former director of St Petersburg Scientific Research Enterprise for Hypersonic Systems, arrested 2021, jailed for seven years in April 2024
  • Roman Kovalyov, colleague of Vladimir Kudryavtsev at TsNIIMash, sentenced in 2020 to seven years in prison, died 2022

The temple storming still affecting Sikhs today

By Minreet KaurBBC News, Bedfordshire

Members of the Sikh community have been recalling what their families endured during one of the most brutal periods in the history of their faith.

It is 40 years since Indian armed forces stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab, to remove Sikh separatists who were demanding an independent homeland, called Khalistan.

About 400 people, including 87 soldiers, were killed during Operation Blue Star, which was ordered by then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. But Sikh groups dispute this figure, claiming thousands died.

Sikhs across the world accused troops of desecrating the faith’s holiest shrine, and tensions led to an armed insurgency lasting more than a decade.

Here, Sikhs in Bedfordshire recount how the events of June 1984 have left lasting scars.

Rasal Singh is a volunteer in the Sikh temple in Luton, and runs a business in Bedfordshire.

His father, Nirmal Singh Chola Sahib, was killed in November 1990.

He said: “My father was arrested and taken to the local police station where he was tortured severely… It was tragic, he was brutally tortured.”

The father of three said his family “still suffer today”.

“The pain is still so raw, the absence of my father has left a void that never truly heals he was tortured and killed, it’s left a huge hole in my heart,” he said.

“After my dad was killed, my family became homeless, moving from place to place. Even after 40 years, my family is still hurting, and no justice has been served.

“I channel my pain into being a better parent, hoping to give them the sense of completeness that I missed.

“Every hug, every word of encouragement, every moment spent with them is a step towards healing.”

Gurjit Singh, from Luton, said his uncle, Paramjit Singh, was a police officer in Punjab before he was killed in the 1990s.

He said: “Innocent people were often tortured and targeted simply for wearing turbans or having beards.

“The police frequently harassed women under false pretences.”

He said his uncle became a target for harassment himself while trying to protect a group of women from his colleagues.

“They even targeted his family, including my father, who was also a police officer,” he said.

“My uncle had to flee the village, but eventually, they found him, tortured him in jail for 10 days, and then killed him in the fields, staging his death as an escape attempt.”

He said that his uncle fled, the whole family was arrested, including children and grandparents.

One family member was nine months’ pregnant and was denied medical care, suffering a stillbirth.

“Today after 40 years of fighting for justice, we still don’t have it,” Mr Singh said.

“Even political parties did not intervene.

“Punjab was in a state of lawlessness and danger. Our family has been shattered, and three generations have been unable to live a normal life.”

Harjinder Singh, from Bedford is a Sikh Activist for Sovereign Roots.

The campaign group provides education toolkits on the Sikh religion and political history of Punjab from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

He said: “As we mark 40 years since the tragic attack on Sri Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, we remember the thousands of lives lost, including men, women, and children.

“An entire generation has been killed, leaving families and the global Sikh community in enduring pain.

“Today, we find ourselves with no refuge or voice to hear our pleas for justice. The memories of our lost loved ones demand that we seek an independent country, free from the oppression we have faced in India.”

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Have Milei’s first six months improved the Argentine economy?

By Robert PlummerBBC News

When Javier Milei was campaigning last year to become the president of Argentina, he brandished a chainsaw to symbolise his determination to substantially cut public spending.

Now six months into his right-wing presidency, how is his shock therapy for both the country’s government and economy working?

“The changes our country needs are drastic,” Mr Milei said shortly after being elected. “There is no room for gradualism.”

And he certainly took swift action. In his initial package of measures, he devalued Argentina’s currency, the peso, by 50%, slashed state subsidies for fuel, and cut the number of government ministries by half.

The quick reduction in public spending has helped Argentina swing from a fiscal deficit – the difference between the government’s spending and income – of 2tn pesos ($120bn; £93bn) in December of last year to a surplus of 264.9bn pesos in April.

Argentina also reported a surplus in January, February and March, marking the first time it had achieved this monthly target since 2012.

However, Mr Milei, who describes himself as a libertarian, has made cutting inflation his main priority, telling the BBC last year that it was “the most regressive tax that most afflicts people”.

Inflation has slowed – in April the month-on-month rate fell to 8.8%, the first time since October that it was not in double figures. This inflation measure is closely followed in countries like Argentina that have long had high inflation.

Yet when it comes to the more globally recognised annual inflation rate, this hit 289.4% in April. To put that into perspective, in the UK the annual rate is currently just 2.3%.

And although official growth figures are not yet available for the period since Mr Milei took office on 10 December, there is evidence that Argentina’s economy has contracted sharply, with consumer spending dropping off in the first three months of this year.

Meanwhile, other pledges that Mr Milei made while campaigning, such as replacing the peso with the US dollar and abolishing the central bank, have taken a back seat recently.

The problem for President Milei is that his La Libertad Avanza coalition (in English – Freedom Advances) does not command a majority in the Argentine Congress. And it has found it hard to strike cross-party deals.

Mr Milei wants Congress to grant him the power to privatise more than two dozen state-owned companies, including the state airline, the railways, the postal service, and the national water supplier.

His initial “omnibus” bill, containing the privatisation plans and hundreds of other economic measures, failed to pass a second reading in February. A streamlined version, resubmitted to Congress in April, cleared the lower house but has yet to be approved by the Senate.

The president also faces strong opposition from trade unions, who have taken to the streets in protest, saying that workers’ rights will suffer from the wholesale deregulation of the economy.

Juan Cruz Díaz, managing director of Argentina-based geopolitical risk consultancy Cefeidas Group, says Mr Milei’s economic policies in office are as radical as those promised during the campaign, just somewhat delayed.

“His administration has been forced to slow down these reforms, given the political and social roadblocks it has faced,” says Mr Díaz.

He adds that specific factors causing the president to tread cautiously are “the deterioration of people’s purchasing power and the fear of increased social unrest”.

This comes as there has been no let-up in the number of people living in poverty, which has risen from about a quarter of the population in 2017 to more than half now.

However, the International Monetary Fund, which over the decades has lent more money to Argentina than to any other country, gave the government high marks in May, saying that its performance was “better than expected” and that its economic programme was “firmly back on track”.

As to whether President Milei can get more policies agreed by parliament, Mr Díaz says that while some sectors of the opposition are open to dialogue with the government, left-leaning parties are completely opposed to his agenda. These include the Peronist faction controlled by ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

“In this context, the government’s ability to negotiate and build consensus is being tested on a daily basis, a test that Milei himself often hinders with certain outbursts and unnecessary confrontational statements,” says Mr Díaz.

In fact, many Argentines are seeing Mr Milei’s ebullient personality as more of a hindrance than a help.

In its latest survey, the Zuban Córdoba political consultancy firm found that 54% of respondents thought the president was paying more attention to his international political image than to solving Argentina’s problems.

That perception has no doubt been bolstered by Argentina’s current diplomatic row with Spain, which has led Madrid to recall its ambassador to Buenos Aires.

Kimberley Sperrfechter, emerging markets economist at research group Capital Economics, says the central problem for President Milei is that he has to overcome “years and years of economic mismanagement” in Argentina.

“One key factor is that the government has been spending way beyond its means [for decades],” she says. “And that deficit has been financed by the central bank printing money to finance the government spending.”

This printing helped cause the country’s soaring inflation.

Argentina, the world’s eighth-largest country, has in fact been in decline for more than a century. Its downfall serving as a cautionary tale of how the wealth of a nation can be frittered away.

Before World War One, it ranked as one of the world’s 10 richest countries.

But a subsequent slow economic contraction was substantially accelerated by the populist policies – and overspending – of President Juan Perón, who was in power from 1946 to 1955.

There were some short-lived free-market reforms in the 1990s under President Carlos Menem, who privatised many of the firms that Perón had nationalised, and made serious attempts to restore faith in the Argentine currency.

But things took a sharp turn for the worse at the end of 2001, when the country suffered a catastrophic economic meltdown and a massive $102bn (£80bn) debt default.

Argentina had essentially locked itself into a currency regime that gave it no flexibility, by fixing the peso at parity with the dollar. That, coupled with the government’s habitual overspending, had exposed it to the ups and downs of the US economy, and left it powerless when a run on Argentina’s banks ensued in 2001.

In the two decades following that crisis, the country has mostly been governed by left-wing protectionists, who basically muddled through without tackling Argentina’s deep-rooted problems.

Now, with a right-wing libertarian administration in power, the country is attempting to chart a new course – and that means getting the government’s finances on a sound footing.

To help President Milei’s government achieve this, research firm Consensus Economics says the administration is focusing on Argentina’s vast agricultural exports of grain, soya, meat and wine.

“Policymakers are pinning their hopes on agricultural exports bringing in badly needed foreign currency as they hope to build up the central bank’s depleted [foreign exchange] reserves and, in turn, boost the state’s financial credibility,” says Consensus.

Yet Ms Sperrfechter thinks the Argentine economy is at a “tipping point” at the moment, and Mr Milei cannot rely on public support, despite his election victory.

“It’s not that people were convinced by his policies, it was more of a protest vote,” she says. “Things could not continue the way they had been.”

Ms Sperrfechter feels that despite the devaluation of the peso, the currency continues to be overvalued, possibly by as much as 30%. The exchange rate is still being managed, instead of being fully free to rise or fall, she says, and this is holding back growth and harming competitiveness.

“With Argentina, you never really know, but I think the shine is coming off,” Ms Sperrfechter says. “The optimism is going to fade, and the economy is going to struggle.”

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  • Published

New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made. There really is you can’t do.

After a dazzling, dramatic and pulsating match between India and Pakistan that even includes, it seems, co-hosting a T20 World Cup.

This was the match. Not just any match, but THE match on which the success of the US leg of this jamboree effectively hung.

The International Cricket Council will be happy their American dream has become a reality even if the rain, at one point, threatened to make it a damp squib.

Fans got drenched before play started but most were not in the slightest bit bothered by the lack of cover in the open stands.

“Who cares about the weather? I’m going to see Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah!” Arjun, who lives in New Jersey, excitedly said after the showers relented.

He was one of 34,028 who packed into a pop-up stadium, built at a cost of $32m. Regardless of whether this event turns a profit cricket’s reawakening in the US looks set to gather pace.

The desire to be at a India v Pakistan match was such that it could have been sold out several times over.

Citi Field, the home of New York Mets baseball team, was opened for fans unable to get in Nassau County International Cricket Stadium to watch a game on the big screen.

No charge, but the MLB marketing men are not soft. Just as the ICC want its piece of the American pie, cricket’s cousin is desperate to grab its slice of the South Asian market.

“The ticket prices were a little steep for this game but I guess it’s supply versus demand,” said Irfan, a Pakistan fan, who had done an overnight drive from Toronto to make the fixture.

He was one of the few who got lucky in the ballot. Others paid up to $2,000 (approx £1,571) on resale platforms, although prices dropped considerably as the game edged closer.

The devotion of the South Asian diaspora in the United States to playing, attending and watching cricket matches in the US is what can sustain it.

Hafeez, a Pakistan fan from Coventry, sat with his five-month baby in a pram on the steps of the stand as he watched the action unfold in the middle having won tickets in a competition.

“You can see from the passion of the fans what cricket means,” he said.

For the first time at this pop-up stadium in Eisenhower Park the plastic wrapping was also taken off the comfy seats in the corporate sections which were barely used for earlier games.

Cricket royalty was bussed in for the day. Sachin Tendulkar was mobbed, Bollywood stars hob-nobbed. Noble-prize winning activist Malala Yousafzai cheered on Pakistan.

Chris Gayle, who wore a dazzling all-white suit with one sleeve orange and green for India and the other green for Pakistan, strolled about the outfield with a huge grin on his face. He was even asking the players to sign it.

It was brash, over-bearing and full of razzamatazz. Even ringmaster Ravi Shastri’s act at the toss was cranked up a few more notches.

There is an appeal for the players of India and Pakistan being here, too. Not just in terms of growing their own brands stateside.

Kohli and his Bollywood superstar wife Anushka Sharma were able to slip out for coffee in New York the past few days – almost unthinkable back home.

Security was extremely tight. Sniffer dogs, bomb disposal experts, military-style armoured vehicles, helicopters circling the ground, surveillance teams and members from every branch of police imaginable. Even covert snipers in place.

“The Super Bowl on steroids” was how Nassau County executive Bruce Blakeman, one of the key men in bringing this even to New York, described the security preparations for the event.

Everything’s bigger in the US, after all.

So where from here? Major League Cricket will fill the breach given the cast of stellar names on their books, with this year’s edition set to start a matter of days after the World Cup ends.

A delegation from the International Olympic Committee have been in town in recent days checking out the pop-up stadium in New York and meeting various stakeholders.

You can bet your bottom dollar India v Pakistan at Los Angeles 2028 is firmly in their sights.

It will be a case of watch this space to see what happens on US soil between now and then.

Glastonbury festival ‘was due to close’ in the 90s

By Mark SavageMusic correspondent

Glastonbury founder Sir Michael Eavis wanted to pull the plug on the festival in the 1990s, his daughter Emily has told the BBC.

Sir Michael founded the festival on his Somerset farm in 1970, and saw it grow into one of the world’s most prestigious music events.

By the 1990s, it was attracting world-class headliners like Oasis, Bob Dylan and Radiohead – but the plan was to call it a day when he reached retirement age.

“My parents were always like, ‘This is the last one’,” Emily Eavis told the BBC’s Sidetracked podcast.

“Everyone thought it was some sort of stunt to sell tickets but it wasn’t. They were genuinely like, ‘Well, we probably won’t do another.’”

  • Hear the full interview on BBC Sounds.

In those days, the decision to extend the festival was taken on a year-by-year basis, she said.

It was only when Sir Michael’s wife, Jean, died in 1999 that the event became a permanent fixture.

“My dad was like, ‘Oh, I think I might need the festival now’,” Eavis told Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw. “Because they were going to retire and go on long cruises and things like that.

“My dad was like, ‘Listen, let’s keep it going.’

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll help you’. Never did I think I’d still be here a few decades on.”

Sir Michael, who is now 88, is still involved with the festival, but the bulk of the organisation – including booking the main stages – is handled by Eavis and her husband Nick Dewey.

They open the gates for this year’s event on Wednesday, 26 June. Headliners include Dua Lipa, SZA and Coldplay – who top the bill for a record-breaking fifth time.

Eavis told the BBC that there would also be a call for peace, led by performance artist Marina Abramović, on the festival’s main stage.

“It’s just a few minutes of silence, with her on the stage, and that’s going to be a beautiful moment.”

Fallow year incoming

After criticism of last year’s all-male, all-white headliners, this year’s Pyramid Stage line-up has a 50:50 split between male and female acts, with two women topping the bill for the first time in the festival’s history.

Eavis is particularly excited about giving Dua Lipa her first headline slot in the UK.

“We’re creating this moment for her, and that’s really as exciting as anything,” she told Sidetracked.

Asked about her favourite ever Glastonbury, Eavis picked 1995 – when Oasis and Pulp headlined – “because I just finished my GCSEs [and] it was the first year that I was allowed to camp”.

She also recalled her dad joining her at the side of the stage to watch Stormzy’s historic performance in 2019, and abandoning the backstage area during Sir Elton John’s set last year.

“I was so pleased to see him here and I just had to walk into the crowd,” she explained. “It’s much better to watch from the field.”

Eavis said her dream headliner would be Kate Bush, even though she hasn’t performed live since 2014.

“I hope it will happen one day. I mean, Elton was a pipe dream and it happened, so you never know.”

With this year’s festival almost upon us, Eavis is already thinking about 2025. No headliners have been confirmed, she said, but she has “a vague idea” of who they might be.

Meanwhile, she said the festival would probably take one of its periodic fallow years in 2026.

“The fallow year is important because it gives the land a rest, and it gives the cows a chance to stay out for longer and reclaim their land,” she said.

“And I think it’s quite good not to be seen to be cashing in.”

.

Three swimmers hurt in shark attacks in Florida

By Francesca GillettBBC News

Beachgoers in the Gulf Coast of Florida have been told to be vigilant, after three swimmers were attacked by sharks in two separate attacks.

One woman was said to have had part of her arm amputated after being bitten on Friday in Walton County in north-west Florida.

Less than two hours later, at another beach four miles further east, two teenage girls were in waist-deep water with friends when they were attacked.

One of the girls suffered “significant injuries to the upper leg and one hand” while the other had minor injuries on one of her feet, fire officials said.

Authorities have been patrolling the shoreline in boats and some beaches were closed, although they reopened on Saturday with purple flags warning of dangerous marine life.

The first incident happened at around 13:20 local time on Friday when a woman, about 45-years-old, was attacked near WaterSound Beach, South Walton Fire District said.

She suffered “critical injuries” to her hip and lower left arm and was airlifted to hospital, fire officials said.

Part of her arm had to be amputated, fire chief Ryan Crawford later told a news briefing, according to the BBC’s US partner CBS News.

The second attack – on two girls about 15 years old – happened at about 14:55 local time near Seacrest Beach, the fire department added.

“Please swim carefully, respect the Gulf, stay hydrated, and look out for your loved ones,” South Walton Fire District said on X.

Walton County Sheriff’s office said on X on Saturday that during patrols, deputies spotted a 14 ft (4.2m) hammerhead shark in Santa Rosa Beach – but stressed they were “not uncommon”.

“We want to reiterate that sharks are always present in the Gulf,” they said.

“Swimmers and beachgoers should be cautious when swimming and stay aware of their surroundings.”

According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, there are around 70 to 100 shark attacks every year worldwide, resulting in about five deaths.

The ISAF said last year, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites on humans and 22 provoked bites globally.

In Florida, the majority of shark attacks are by requiem sharks – a family of sharks that like warm seas and include species such as bull sharks or blacktip sharks.

Most attacks occur in nearshore waters, typically near a sandbar where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide.

Small fish are traveling in schools near the shore this time of year, which might have been a contributing factor in Friday’s attacks, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office suggested.

The time of the attacks – in the middle of the afternoon – was also an anomaly, Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said, according to CBS News.

Dozens killed by suspected DR Congo rebels in spate of attacks

By Natasha BootyBBC News

At least 45 civilians have been killed in a spate of attacks over the past week across the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled North Kivu province.

Decades of fighting between armed groups over lucrative gold and mineral deposits has devastated the region, forcing millions from their homes.

The Congolese government has not confirmed who was responsible for this week’s killings, but multiple local sources say Islamic State-linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) were to blame.

The attackers targeted several villages in the region surrounding the city of Beni, to which many people have since fled.

Reports suggest that the worst-hit district was Mamove, where a number of homes were also torched and motorbikes were stolen.

“The [death] toll could rise as the search continues, the population is fleeing and heading towards supposedly secure areas,” Leon Siviwe, an administrative leader in Beni, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The ADF was created across the border in eastern Uganda in the 1990s, and took up arms against the country’s long-serving president, Yoweri Museveni, alleging government persecution of Muslims.

Its alliance with Islamic State is thought to have begun about six years ago, but analysts say those links are tenuous.

An online post by Islamic State says one of this week’s attacks in North Kivu targeted Christians.

Joint military operations by Ugandan and Congolese forces against ADF rebels began in 2021 but they have failed to stop attacks on civilians.

Another rebel group, the M23, has recently revived its deadly campaign in eastern Democratic Republic and has been seizing territory from government forces.

Rwanda is widely understood to be backing the M23 rebels, but Kigali vehemently denies this.

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Giorgia Meloni gets personal as Italy votes in EU poll

By Laura GozziBBC News, Rome

Italians have started voting on the third of four days of European elections held across 27 EU countries.

Although the vote is for the next European Parliament, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is hoping the result will tighten her grip on Italian politics. She has even urged voters to “just write Giorgia” on their ballots.

Most EU countries are voting on Sunday, after a turbulent few weeks in which two European leaders and several other politicians come under physical attack.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was assaulted in the street in Copenhagen on Friday evening, ahead of Sunday’s Danish vote.

She has suffered minor whiplash, her office says, and a suspect has been remanded in custody.

Leaders across Europe have united in shock at the latest attack, in the middle of elections involving a potential 373 million European voters.

Last month Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico survived an attempt on his life and only recently was allowed out of hospital. Several German political figures have also been targeted.

These elections are not supposed to have a bearing on national politics, but the reality is very different, especially in Italy.

Ms Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI), was appointed prime minister in 2022 and has taken the rare step of putting her name at the top of her party’s ballot, even though she has no intention of taking up a seat in the European Parliament.

Giorgia Meloni has enjoyed steady poll-ratings since becoming prime minister in 2022, buoyed by a fragmentated centrist and left-wing opposition and the gradual decline of her junior coalition partner, Matteo Salvini’s once-powerful populist League party, whose voters are being lured by the pull of FdI.

In a bid to reverse the trend, Mr Salvini has been pushing his party’s rhetoric further to the right.

The League’s electoral posters – denouncing all manner of EU-backed initiatives, from electric cars to tethered caps on plastic bottles – have attracted some ridicule, but also considerable attention.

Mr Salvini’s lead candidate, Roberto Vannacci, has had the same effect. The army general was dismissed following self-publication of a book in which he expressed homophobic and racist views. Since becoming a League candidate, he has doubled down on them.

Hardly a day goes by when Roberto Vannacci’s messages are not amplified by the media. That could translate into votes for the League, but if it doesn’t then trouble might be in store for Mr Salvini, whose leadership is beginning to be questioned.

The same scrutiny will be applied to the results of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD), whose leader Elly Schlein will hope to match the 19% of the vote it won in the 2019 elections if she is to stay in her post.

Further to the left, all eyes will be on Ilaria Salis – a self-described antifascist activist who has been detained in Hungary since 2023 on charges of participating in the beating of three far-right militants and being part of a criminal association. She is now running on the Left/Greens platform.

Italians will be able to cast their votes until late on Sunday evening when elsewhere in Europe the elections have already wrapped up.

The Netherlands voted on Thursday, and a Dutch exit poll suggested a tight race between a left-green alliance, narrowly ahead of anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. An estimated turnout of 47% was the highest since 1989, rebutting any suggestion that voters had tired of politics.

Irish and Czech voters went to the polls on Friday.

Slovakia, Latvia and Malta also vote on Saturday, while Czechs vote for a second day.

Several Czech parties from different political groups in the European Parliament have formed a joint candidate list as a “cordon sanitaire” to counter populists from the ANO party of former Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Germany is among the EU countries voting on Sunday, and latest polls indicate that the centre-right CDU/CSU may leapfrog Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party.

His party is fighting for second place with coalition partners the Greens and far-right opposition party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD has been involved in a series of recent scandals over foreign interference, espionage and accusations of Nazism.

In France, which has the second largest number of MEPs in the parliament after Germany, President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party is also vying for second place with a resurgent Socialist party under top candidate Raphaël Glucksmann.

Both parties are trailing Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), which is consistently polling above 30%.

Calling for a high turnout in a TV interview on the penultimate day of the campaign, Mr Macron warned that “Europe has never been so threatened” by the surge of the right.

Other leaders have adopted a similarly urgent tone before the EU vote.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is recovering from surgery at home after last month’s assassination attempt, returned to the political scene this week with a well-timed attack on Slovakia’s liberal opposition, the “anti-government media” and foreign-funded NGOs which he said had created a climate of hatred and intolerance that made the shooting possible.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban – who has been the most vocal opponent of EU support for Ukraine – warned that Europe was reaching a point of no return in terms of preventing conflict from spilling beyond the borders of Ukraine, and hit out at what he called the EU’s “war psychosis”.

Polls in Italy will be the last to close at 23:00 (21:00 GMT) on Sunday.

A projection, combining the first provisional results from some EU member states with estimates for the rest, will come out soon after.

Adults and teens turn to ‘dumbphones’ to cut screen time

By Emma VardyLA Correspondent, BBC News

Adults and teens concerned about their screen time are turning in their smartphones for “dumber” models.

Buried in the settings of many smartphones is the option to look up how much on average you are staring at your phone per day.

It can bring an uncomfortable realisation, that what was supposed to be a useful piece of technology has become an obsession.

“Social media is built around FOMO (fear of missing out), so I felt like I couldn’t get off it,” 16-year-old Luke Martin, from Canada, told the BBC.

“Instantly I got Instagram and it was a downward spiral.”

Luke is not alone.

According to a study by Harvard University, using social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that is also triggered when taking an addictive substance. This has raised concerns about phone habits among youth.

In the UK, research by Ofcom estimates that around a quarter of children aged five to seven years old now have their own smartphone.

Links have been shown in some studies between use of social media and a negative effect on mental health – especially in children.

Some campaigners want age limits to be introduced for smartphone use. Others, like Luke, are choosing to swap their smartphones for much simpler devices, so-called “dumbphones”.

His new phone only has texts, calls, maps, and a few other limited tools.

“My friends’ usage is like four to five hours I think, and that’s how much mine used to be before I got this,” he said.

“Now mine’s like 20 minutes a day which is really good because I only use it for what I need it for.”

Parents are also turning to dumbphones, not only for their children, but to help themselves be more present for their families.

Lizzy Broughton, who has a five-year-old son, recently bought an old-school style Nokia “flip” phone.

“It helped me recalibrate my own habits, I have way more quality time with my son,” she explained.

She says that when it’s time for him to get his own phone, she’ll choose a similarly pared-down model.

“It doesn’t feel like the best idea to just start with a smartphone,” she said. “It’s like we’re handing over the world, like try to figure out how to navigate that.”

These are dumbphones, the low-tech devices on trend

Sales of dumbphones have been increasing in North America. At Dumbwireless in Los Angeles, store-owners Daisy Krigbaum and Will Stults cater to customers looking for low-tech devices.

“We have a lot of parents looking to get their kid that first phone, and they don’t want them drifting off on the internet,” he said.

But giving up the smartphone is easier said than done. Mr Stults said some schools require pupils to have certain apps. And it is difficult to hold the line when children see their friends being given expensive smartphones, said Ms Broughton.

“It’s going to require a community of parents to actually be like, can we do this differently?” she said.

One workaround is a device called “unpluq”, which you tap against the phone to wirelessly block certain apps, like social media.

“Parents can control the smartphone with this tag, and also monitor the usage,” Mr Stults said.

There are several phones that have now been developed particularly for users who want to avoid an addiction to mindless scrolling.

Chris Kaspar founded the company Techless to develop an “intentionally boring” but sleek device that looks much like an iPhone. The latest version is dubbed the “Wisephone II”.

“It has no icons, just words, two colours, and two fonts.” He describes it as “very peaceful, very tranquil”.

It will have some limited third-party tools, such as the taxi application Uber, but no social media.

“We’re asking this question—what’s actually good for us?” Mr Kaspar said.

He first developed the phone with his teenage foster daughters in mind and says 25% of their sales are to children, but that it is marketed to adults.

“If you have a phone that’s branded as a kids’ device there’s some shame associated with that. So we made a very adult, sophisticated, Apple-esque, really nice device,” he said.

With revenue from apps and social-media advertisement in the billions of dollars, the big companies have little motivation to encourage different habits, he said.

Meanwhile, Canadian teen Luke says he is planning to stick with his new device, much to the amusement of friends.

“They think it’s pretty weird but at this point I’m like it doesn’t really matter because it’s helped me so much,” he said.

“It’s definitely taken me into a better spot right now.”

  • Published

Former Liverpool and Scotland centre-back Alan Hansen, 68, is “seriously ill”.

The Anfield club announced on Sunday their “legendary” former captain is in hospital.

“The thoughts and support of everyone at Liverpool FC are with our legendary former captain Alan Hansen, who is currently seriously ill in hospital,” a statement read.

Hansen won promotion to the Scottish Premier Division with Partick Thistle before joining Liverpool in 1977 for the start of a successful 14-year spell.

He was a key part of the great Reds teams of the 1970s and 1980s, winning eight First Division titles, three European Cups and two FA Cups.

Liverpool added they are “currently in contact with Alan’s family to provide our support at this difficult time, and our thoughts, wishes and hopes are with Alan and all of the Hansen family”.

Hansen, who also won four League Cups with Liverpool, appeared 26 times for his country and was a member of Scotland’s 1982 World Cup side.

Former team-mate John Aldridge, chairman of the former players’ association Forever Reds, said on X: “All our thoughts as ex-LFC players are with Alan (Jocky) Hansen and his family. Let’s hope he can pull through his illness. YNWA.”

After retiring in 1991, he appeared as a pundit on Match of the Day from 1992 until 2014.

Hansen’s former Match of the Day colleague Gary Lineker wrote on X: “Horrendous news. Thoughts are with Alan, Janet and all the family.”

Hansen earned a reputation as one of the most insightful and influential pundits in the country while working alongside figures such as Des Lynam, Lineker, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer and Sir Trevor Brooking.

His most memorable moment on the Premier League highlights programme came in 1995 when he famously responded to a Manchester United defeat at Aston Villa by insisting: “You can’t win anything with kids.”

That team – which included Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and David Beckham – won the FA Cup and Premier League Double that season.

Hansen was also part of BBC Sport’s coverage of major football tournaments. In all he covered 16 FA Cup finals, six World Cups, five European Championships and one Olympics with the BBC.

CCTV shows Mosley near where his body was found

By Nikos PapanikolaouKathryn ArmstrongBBC News

CCTV footage appears to show TV presenter Dr Michael Mosley disappear from view as he makes his way down a hillside close to where his body was found, the BBC has been told.

A post-mortem examination is due to take place on Monday after the body of Dr Mosley was found four days after he went missing on the Greek island of Symi.

It is understood the coroner could not determine from the outset whether Dr Mosley had fallen because of the condition of the body.

The coroner – who has arrived on the neighbouring island of Rhodes where the post-mortem will take place – is believed to have ruled out the possibility of foul play.

Dr Mosley’s body was found on a hillside near the Agia Marina beach bar on Sunday.

Footage taken nearby, which the BBC has been told about but not seen, is said to show what appear to be Dr Mosley’s final moments, as he makes his way down a slope before disappearing behind a wall.

The 67-year-old father-of-four was reported missing after he left Agios Nikolaos beach to set off on a walk at about 13:30 local time (11:30 BST) on Wednesday.

Greek authorities conducted an extensive search for Dr Mosley amid high temperatures.

His body was found on Sunday as teams were searching the coastline.

A bar manager found his body, PA news agency reported, after the island’s mayor “saw something” by the fence of the bar and alerted staff.

A police source told BBC News the deceased had been dead “for a number of days”.

BBC reporter indicates area where a body was found

Dr Mosley’s wife, Dr Clare Bailey Mosley, on Sunday said her family was “taking comfort in the fact that he so very nearly made it”.

CCTV footage showed Dr Mosley had walked to the other side of the bay in intense heat and across rocky terrain.

“He did an incredible climb, took the wrong route and collapsed where he couldn’t be easily seen by the extensive search team,” Dr Bailey Mosley said in a statement.

She also paid tribute to her “wonderful, funny, kind and brilliant” husband after the “devastating” news his body had been found.

“We had an incredibly lucky life together,” Dr Bailey Mosley said.

“We loved each other very much and were so happy together.”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Lord Tom Watson, was among those to pay fresh tributes to Dr Mosley on Monday.

“He certainly changed my life. He gave me the idea that I wasn’t broken,” Mr Watson, who said in 2018 that he had “reversed” his type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Dr Mosley studied medicine in London and qualified as a doctor, and for the last two decades was working as a presenter, documentary maker, journalist and author.

He was known for his TV programmes including Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and BBC Radio 4’s Just One Thing podcast. He also wrote a column for the Daily Mail.

Mr Mosley had been an advocate for intermittent fasting diets, including through the 5:2 diet and The Fast 800 diet.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan, who co-presented Trust Me, I’m a Doctor with Dr Mosley, told the BBC’s Breakfast programme she was initially “terrified” to take on the role but that he “put me at ease almost immediately”.

She added: “That really personable, accessible character [that] comes across on television, that’s exactly how he was in real life.

“He did incredible things for medicine and for public health in a way that I think few others have.”

Lord Watson recalled the moment he first read a book by Dr Mosley, saying it was “like a light came on in my life”.

“I just became a real fan of his work and, over the years, he’s helped me maintain that and help millions of others,” he said.

“And that’s what great journalism is: he explained very complex ideas of science in a very simple way.”

Science broadcaster Dr Chris van Tulleken, who also worked with Dr Mosley, said his former colleague had invented “an entire genre of broadcasting” over the course of his career.

He added that Dr Mosley’s work “quietly changed my daily practices”, from brushing his teeth while standing on one leg to sometimes fasting.

“He was giving people tools they could use that everyone could afford,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Timeline

Wednesday 1330 local time (11:30 BST) – Dr Michael Mosley leaves his wife Clare on Agios Nikolaos beach and sets off on a walk

1350 – Man carrying umbrella is seen on CCTV in Pedi

1357 – Same man is seen again at Pedi’s marina heading north-east

Thursday 1115 – Police are unable to find the presenter, so they inform Athens and request assistance from the Greek fire department

1400 – Greek fire services, with six firefighters and a drone team, arrive in Symi

1900 – Helicopter deployed to assist search

Friday – Divers join the search in the water around Symi

Saturday 0600 – Firefighters resume search for Dr Mosley

Sunday – Authorities looking for Dr Mosley find a body

Ten Hindu pilgrims killed in bus attack in India’s Jammu

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai

At least 10 people have died and 33 injured after suspected militants fired on a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, police officials said.

The driver lost control, causing the bus to plunge into a gorge in Reasi district of Jammu, they added.

While rescue operations have concluded, a search operation by the Indian army and police is under way to track down the attackers.

Officials said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken “stock of the situation” and asked for the best medical care to be provided to the injured.

“All those behind this heinous act will be punished soon,” Manoj Sinha, the region’s top administrator, wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Officials say the bus was on its way to the base camp of the famous Hindu shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi when it was fired upon.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but Mohita Sharma, the district police chief, told Reuters that suspected militants had “ambushed the bus”.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for over six decades.

Since 1947, the nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority territory, which both claim in full but control in part. Since 1989, Indian-administered Kashmir has also seen an armed insurgency against Delhi’s rule, claiming thousands of lives.

Delhi accuses Islamabad of harbouring militants and disrupting peace in the region, a charge Pakistan denies.

The news of Sunday’s attack broke as Mr Modi took oath as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive term at a swearing-in ceremony in Delhi.

The passengers are yet to be identified but it is believed they are from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Ms Sharma told a newspaper.

Photos showed some injured people, including a woman, being taken to a hospital in Jammu for treatment.

Amit Shah, who was home minister in Mr Modi’s previous government, expressed grief over the incident.

“The culprits of this dastardly attack will not be spared and will face the wrath of the law,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of main opposition party Congress, questioned the security situation in the region.

“This shameful incident is the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” he wrote on X.

In 2017, seven Hindu pilgrims, six of them women, were killed after their bus, returning from the famed Amarnath pilgrimage site in Anantnag district, got caught in a gun battle between police and militants.

Read more stories from India:

Widow of IS leader reveals details of their life together

By Feras KilaniBBC Arabic

In a rare interview from prison, a widow of the Islamic State group’s leader has shared her account of their life. Umm Hudaifa was the first wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was married to him while he oversaw IS’s brutal rule over large parts of Syria and Iraq. She is now being held in an Iraqi jail while she is investigated for terrorism-related crimes.

In the summer of 2014, Umm Hudaifa was living in Raqqa, IS’s then-stronghold in Syria, with her husband.

As the wanted leader of the extremist jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi often spent time in other locations, and on one of those occasions he sent a guard to the house to pick up two of their young sons. “He told me they were going on a trip to teach the boys how to swim,” says Umm Hudaifa.

There was a television in the house that she used to watch in secret. “I used to turn it on when he wasn’t at home,” she says, explaining he thought it didn’t work. She says she was cut off from the world and he hadn’t let her watch television or use any other technology, such as mobile phones, since 2007.

A few days after the guard took the children, she says she switched on the television and got “a huge surprise”. She saw her husband addressing the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, showing himself for the first time as the head of the self-declared Islamic caliphate. It was only weeks after his fighters had seized control of the area.

The footage of al-Baghdadi making his first public appearance in years, with his long beard, dressed in black robes and demanding allegiance from Muslims, was seen across the world and marked a key moment for IS as it swept across Iraq and Syria.

Umm Hudaifa says she was shocked to find out her sons were in Mosul with him rather than learning to swim in the Euphrates.

She describes the scene from the crowded prison in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where she is being held while Iraqi authorities investigate her role in IS and the group’s crimes. It’s noisy as inmates accused of various crimes, including drug use and sex work, are moved around the prison and food deliveries arrive from outside.

We find a quiet spot in the library and speak for nearly two hours. During our conversation she paints herself as a victim who tried to escape from her husband and denies she was involved in any of IS’s brutal activities.

This is a stark contrast to the way she is described in a court case brought by Yazidis who were abducted and raped by members of IS – they accuse her of colluding in the sexual enslavement of kidnapped girls and women.

During the interview, she doesn’t raise her head, not even once. She’s wearing black and only reveals part of her face, down to the bottom of her nose.

Umm Hudaifa was born in 1976 into a conservative Iraqi family and married Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, later known by the pseudonym Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 1999.

He had finished studying Sharia, or Islamic law, at the University of Baghdad and she says at the time he was “religious but not extremist… conservative but open minded”.

Then in 2004, a year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, American forces detained al-Baghdadi and held him at the detention centre at Camp Bucca in the south for about a year, along with many other men who would become senior figures in IS and other jihadist groups.

In the years after his release, she claims he changed: “He became short tempered and given to outbursts of anger.”

Others who knew al-Baghdadi say he was involved with al-Qaeda before his time in Bucca, but for her, that marked the turning point after which he became increasingly extreme.

“He began to suffer from psychological problems,” she says. When she asked why, he told her that “he was exposed to something that ‘you cannot understand’”.

She believes that although he did not explicitly say so, “during his detention he was subjected to sexual torture”. Pictures from another US-run prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, that came to light that year showed prisoners forced to simulate sexual acts and adopt humiliating poses.

We put her allegation to the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, but have not received a response.

She says she started to wonder if he belonged to a militant group. “I used to search his clothes when he came back home, when he was taking a shower or when he went to sleep.

“I’d even search his body for bruises or injuries… I was perplexed,” she says, but she didn’t find anything.

“I told him back then, ‘You’ve gone astray’… it drove him into a raging fit.”

She describes how they often moved house, had fake identities and her husband married a second wife. Umm Hudaifa says she asked for a divorce but she wouldn’t agree to his condition that she give up their children, so she stayed with him.

As Iraq fell into bloody sectarian war that lasted from 2006 to 2008, she no longer had any doubt that he was involved in Sunni jihadist groups. In 2010 he became the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 this was an umbrella group of Iraqi jihadi organisations.

“We moved to the Idlib countryside in Syria in January 2012, and there it became absolutely clear to me that he was the emir [leader],” Umm Hudaifa says.

The Islamic State of Iraq was one of the groups that later joined forces to form the wider Islamic State group that declared a caliphate – an Islamic state governed in accordance with Sharia by someone considered God’s deputy on Earth – two years later.

At that time, she says he started to wear Afghani dress, grew a beard, and carried a pistol.

As the security situation deteriorated in north-west Syria during the country’s civil war, they moved east to the city of Raqqa, which later came to be considered the de facto capital of the IS “caliphate”. This is where she was living when she saw her husband on television.

The brutality of the groups that came together to form IS was already well known but in 2014 and 2015, the atrocities became more widespread and more horrific.

A UN investigative team reported that it had found evidence that IS committed genocide against Iraq’s Yazidi minority and that the group had carried out crimes against humanity including murder, torture, kidnapping, and enslavement.

IS broadcast its atrocities, including the beheading of hostages and the burning of a Jordanian pilot, on social media.

In another notorious incident, it massacred about 1,700 predominantly Shia trainee Iraqi soldiers as they returned from the Speicher army base north of Baghdad to their home cities.

Some women who went to live with IS now say they didn’t understand what they were getting into so I pressed Umm Hudaifa on her views at the time – she says even then she couldn’t look at the pictures, describing the atrocities as a “huge shock, inhumane” and “to spill blood unjustly is a horrendous thing and in that regard they crossed the line of humanity”.

Umm Hudaifa says she challenged her husband about having “the blood of those innocent people” on his hands and told him that “according to Islamic law there are other things that could have been done, like guiding them towards repentance”.

She describes how her husband used to communicate with IS’s leaders on his laptop.

He kept the computer locked in a briefcase. “I tried to break into it to find out what was happening,” she says, “but I was technologically illiterate and it always asked me for a passcode.”

She says she tried to escape, but armed men at a checkpoint refused to let her pass and sent her back to the house.

As for fighting, she says of her husband that as far as she knew “he didn’t take part in any fight or battle”, adding that he was in Raqqa when IS took control of Mosul – he travelled to Mosul later to give his speech.

Soon after that sermon, al-Baghdadi married their 12-year-old daughter, Umaima, to a friend, Mansour, who was entrusted with taking care of the family’s affairs. Umm Hudaifa says she tried to prevent it, but she was ignored.

An Iraqi security source told us that Umaima had already been married once before, at the age of eight, to a Syrian IS spokesman. However, he said the first marriage was arranged so that the man could go into the house when al-Baghdadi was away, and that relationship was not sexual.

Then in August 2014, Umm Hudaifa gave birth to another daughter, Nasiba, who had a congenital heart defect. This coincided with Mansour bringing nine Yazidi girls and women to the house. Their ages ranged from nine to about 30.

They were just a handful of thousands of Yazidi women and children enslaved by IS – thousands more were killed.

Umm Hudaifa says she was shocked and “felt ashamed”.

There were two young girls in the group, Samar and Zena – not their real names. Umm Hudaifa claims they only stayed in her house in Raqqa for a few days before they were moved. But later the family moved to Mosul and Samar reappeared, staying with them for about two months.

I tracked down Samar’s father, Hamid, who tearfully recalled the moment she was taken.

He said he had two wives and that they, along with his 26 children, two brothers and their families were all kidnapped from the town of Khansour in Sinjar. He escaped into the nearby mountains.

Six of his children, including Samar are still missing. Some returned after ransoms were paid and others came home after the areas where they were held were liberated.

The other girl, Zena, is his niece and is thought to be stuck in northern Syria. Zena’s sister, Soad, did not meet Umm Hudaifa herself, but was enslaved, raped and sold seven times.

Hamid and Soad have filed a civil lawsuit against Umm Hudaifa for colluding in the kidnapping and enslavement of Yazidi girls. They do not believe she was a helpless victim and are calling for the death penalty.

“She was responsible for everything. She made the selections – this one to serve her, that one to serve her husband… and my sister was one of those girls,” says Soad. She has based this on the testimonies of other victims who have returned home.

“She is the wife of the criminal Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and she is a criminal just like him.”

We play Umm Hudaifa the recording of our interview with Soad and she says: “I don’t deny that my husband was a criminal,” but adds she is “very sorry for what happened to them”, and denies the accusations directed at her.

Umm Hudaifa says that a little later, in January 2015, she briefly met the kidnapped US aid worker, Kayla Mueller, who was held hostage for 18 months and died in captivity.

The circumstances around Kayla’s death are still not known – at the time IS claimed she was killed by a Jordanian air strike, but the US always disputed this and an Iraqi security source has now told us she was killed by IS.

In 2019, US forces raided the place where al-Baghdadi and was hiding in north-west Syria with some of his family. Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest when cornered in a tunnel, killing himself and two children, while two of his four wives were killed in a shootout.

Umm Hudaifa was not there however – she had been living in Turkey under a false name where she was arrested in 2018. She was sent back to Iraq in February this year, where she has since been kept in prison while authorities investigate her role in IS.

Her eldest daughter Umaima is in prison with her, while Fatima who is about 12 is in a youth detention centre. One of her sons was killed in a Russian air strike in Syria near Homs, another died with his father in the tunnel and the youngest boy is in an orphanage.

When we finish talking, she raises her head and I briefly catch a glimpse of her full face, but her expression gives nothing away. As the intelligence officer leads her away, she pleads for more information about her youngest children. And now, back in her cell, she must wait to find out if she will face criminal charges.

Michael Mosley’s wife pays tribute to ‘kind’ husband

By Joe Inwood in Symi and André Rhoden-Paul in LondonBBC News

The wife of TV and radio presenter Dr Michael Mosley has paid tribute to her “wonderful, funny, kind and brilliant” husband, whose body was found, four days after he went missing on the Greek island of Symi.

Dr Clare Bailey Mosley said it was “devastating” in a statement confirming his death.

The 67-year-old father-of-four went missing on Wednesday after setting off on a walk from Agios Nikolaos beach.

His body was found on a hillside near Agia Marina beach bar on Sunday.

Dr Bailey Mosley said: “We had an incredibly lucky life together.

“We loved each other very much and were so happy together.”

She said she was incredibly proud of her children and had been “hugely comforted by the outpouring of love from people around the world”.

Tributes have been pouring in to the broadcaster and author.

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s chief content officer, said: “He was a brilliant science broadcaster and programme maker, able to make the most complex subjects simple, but he was also passionate about engaging and entertaining audiences, inspiring us all to live a healthier, fuller life.”

And Dr Saleyha Ahsan, co-presenter on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor, told BBC News he was a “national treasure” and a “hugely talented” man.

She also praised his “passion for explaining science to a wider audience”, adding he made it “accessible to anyone and everyone, not just a niche scientific crowd”.

Professor Brian Cox said Dr Mosley was a “mentor” to other science presenters.

Sophie Laurimore, director of The Soho Agency which represented Dr Mosley, said he was a “wise, wonderful and lovely man”.

“He was immensely grateful for how receptive the public were to the ideas he had the privilege to share and to the many scientists whose work he had the honour to help popularise”, she added. “Michael was unique.”

Some BBC News readers have also been sending tributes praising his impact.

Glenis Shaw, from New Zealand, told the BBC Dr Mosley was “my absolute hero”.

“He taught me how to be healthy. I owe him so very much.

“We have all lost someone very special and I feel devastated for his wife and family.”

Judith, a teacher from Salisbury, said she has used some of Dr Mosley’s documentaries to teach GCSE History for the last 16 years.

“He is a History teacher’s best friend, and I am not sure if he ever knew it,” she said.

Sue said Dr Mosley helped her “get through Covid – just listening to his broadcasts”.

“I wish I could have thanked him personally,” she added.

“We are all the richer for having him in our lives.”

BBC reporter indicates the area where Dr Mosley’s body was found

Dr Mosley was reported missing after he left Agios Nikolaos beach to set off on a walk at about 13:30 local time (11:30 BST) on Wednesday.

CCTV footage showed he had walked to the other side of the bay in intense heat and across rocky terrain.

“We’re taking comfort in the fact that he so very nearly made it,” his wife said in her statement.

“He did an incredible climb, took the wrong route and collapsed where he couldn’t be easily seen by the extensive search team.”

“Michael was an adventurous man, it’s part of what made him so special,” she continued.

She also thanked the “extraordinary” people on Symi who worked “tirelessly” to find her husband.

Symi’s mayor Eleftherios Papakalodouka said the body was found as teams were searching the coastline.

A bar manager found the body, PA news agency reported, after the island’s mayor “saw something” by the fence of the bar and alerted staff.

A police source told BBC News the deceased had been dead “for a number of days”.

Dr Mosley was found next to a fence around 30 minutes walk from the village of Pedi where he was last seen. A coroner has examined the body.

Greek authorities had been conducting an extensive search for Dr Mosley amid high temperatures.

A police officer apparently broke his leg as the body was being recovered.

Dr Mosley studied medicine in London and qualified as a doctor, and for the last two decades was working as a presenter, documentary maker, journalist and author.

He was known for his TV programmes including Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and BBC Radio 4’s Just One Thing podcast.

Chris van Tulleken, one of Dr Mosley’s co-presenters on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor, said he was “one of the most important broadcasters of the last few decades” as he paid tribute.

“He basically invented a genre of science broadcasting”, he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Prof Tim Spector, who appeared on Dr Mosley’s Just One Thing podcast, said his friend of 20 years was “humble, calm and self-deprecating” in a tribute published in the Telegraph.

“What I will miss most about Michael is not just his friendship and generosity but his amazing positivity”, he wrote.

“He was immensely proud of his four children and they were a close family that kept him grounded and will be devastated that he left them so soon.”

Abramo Teodoro Balsamo told the BBC the Just One Thing podcast “inspired me so much”, adding: “It’s a terrible loss, I cannot still believe it.

“The void he is leaving is more than a mute signal on air.”

Tara Moore said she was sending love to Dr Mosley’s family, and the country was mourning his “untimely” death.

“Michael Mosley was a household name, if you had an ailment, chances are he’d covered it on one of his programs,” she said.

“He demonstrated cause and effect in a way that everyone could understand, and many people have improved their health as a direct result of Dr Mosley.”

Dr Mosley was also known for popularising the 5:2 and the Fast 800 diets, which advocate intermittent fasting and low-carbohydrate meals.

His diets attracted a lot of attention in the past, both for their methods and scientific accuracy.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said it was supporting the family of a British man who died in Greece, adding it was in contact with the local authorities.

New CCTV appears to show Michael Mosley walking towards rocky hills

Timeline

Wednesday 1330 local time (11:30 BST) – Dr Michael Mosley leaves Agios Nikolaos beach and sets off on a walk

1350 – He is seen on CCTV in Pedi

1357 – He is seen again at Pedi’s marina heading north-east

Thursday 1115 – Police inform request assistance from the Greek fire department

1400 – Greek fire services, with firefighters and a drone team, arrive in Symi

1900 – Helicopter deployed to assist search

Friday – Divers join the search in the water around Symi

Saturday 0600 – Firefighters continue search

Sunday – Authorities looking for Dr Mosley find a body

A look back at Michael Mosley’s career

A cartoon cat has been vexing China’s censors – now he says they are on his tail

By Tessa WongAsia Digital Reporter

As anti-lockdown protests flared across China’s cities in November 2022, hundreds of thousands around the world were glued to an unlikely source: a mysterious X account, fronted by a cartoon cat.

Protest footage, details about police movements, news of arrests – Teacher Li Is Not Your Teacher posted a torrent of real-time updates sourced from ordinary citizens.

Little of it could be found on China’s tightly-controlled state media or internet. All of it was curated by one person, sitting in a bedroom in Italy – an art school student named Li Ying.

Mr Li has since become a vital chronicler of information deemed politically sensitive by Beijing. His X account is a window into Xi Jinping’s China where authorities’ vice-like grip on information keeps tightening. From major protests to small acts of dissent, corruption to crime, it is zealously scrubbed off the Chinese internet, only to turn up on Mr Li’s account.

He says this has earned him the wrath of the authorities and, in an interview with the BBC, he painted a clear picture of how Beijing pressures dissidents overseas. He alleged the Chinese government is not only harassing him but also his friends, family and X followers in a coordinated campaign of intimidation.

The Chinese government has not responded to our questions and we are unable to independently verify all of Mr Li’s claims. But the tactics he detailed have been documented by activists, rights groups and other governments.

His activism was an accident, he told the BBC over the phone.

“It is the Chinese authorities’ unrelenting constriction of freedom of speech and media freedoms that has led me to slowly change from an ordinary person to who I am today.”

Li’s online existence began with writing and posting love stories on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform. “I was someone who had made love my main creative theme, I had nothing to do with politics,” the son of two art teachers explained. Even the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which Beijing stamped out, hardly made an impact on him: “I was just like many ordinary people, I didn’t think that the protests had anything to do with me.”

Then the pandemic struck. As China sealed itself off, Mr Li – by now studying at a prestigious art school in Italy – became desperate to find out what was going on back home. Scouring social media, he was shocked to read about the crushing lockdowns: “There were people starving, even jumping off buildings… the feeling at the time was of a lot of suffering and pressure.”

He started discussing these stories on Weibo. Some followers privately sent him their stories asking him to publish on their behalf, which he did. Censors took notice, and blocked his account.

Undeterred, he began a cat-and-mouse game, setting up a new Weibo account each time they shut one down. Fifty-three accounts later, he had enough: “I said okay, I’m going on Twitter.”

On X, unfettered by China’s censors, yet accessible through virtual private networks, Mr Li’s following grew. But it only really exploded, to more than a million, in late 2022 during the White Paper protests against China’s punishing zero-Covid measures.

His account became an important clearing house for protest information; at one point, he was deluged with messages every second. Mr Li hardly slept, fact-checking and posting submissions that racked up hundreds of millions of views.

Online death threats from anonymous accounts soon followed. He said the authorities arrived at his parents’ home in China to question them. Even then, he was sure life would return to normal once the protests died down.

“After I finished reporting on the White Paper movement, I thought that the most important thing I could ever do in this life was finished,” he said. “I didn’t think about continuing to operate this account. But just as I was thinking about what I should do next, suddenly all my bank accounts in China were frozen.

“That’s when I realised – I couldn’t go back anymore.”

Fears about Chinese espionage have been steadily growing in the West as ties with China sour. What worries them are reports that Beijing is surveilling and pressuring its citizens who live in foreign jurisdictions. China has dismissed these allegations as “groundless and malicious defamation”, and said it is committed to protecting the rights and safety of its people abroad.

But the accusations are mounting. Last year US authorities alleged that a Chinese police taskforce was using social media including X to harass Chinese targets online, and charged dozens for “interstate threats”.

Australia is reportedly investigating a Chinese espionage operation targeting residents and a former spy has told Australian media how he targeted a political cartoonist in Cambodia and an activist in Thailand. Rights group Amnesty International found that Chinese studying overseas who took part in anti-government protests were being surveilled.

Analysts trace China’s so-called transnational repression back to the decade-old Operation Foxhunt to catch fugitive criminals. They believe those tactics are now used to target anyone overseas that Beijing deems a threat.

Mr Li believes there are enough signs suggesting he is now one of these people. He said the police showed up at a company in China from which he had ordered art supplies in the past, demanding his Italian shipping information. He received calls from someone claiming to represent an European delivery service and asking for his current address, though he had never placed the order.

Details of his former address and phone number were published on the messaging platform WeChat. A stranger turned up at his former home, asking to meet him as he wanted to discuss a “business proposal”.

It is not clear whether Chinese authorities were directly behind these incidents. But this kind of ambiguity can be intentional as it stokes “an ever-present fear of persecution and distrust” in targets, said Laura Harth, campaign director for rights group Safeguard Defenders which recently highlighted Mr Li’s situation.

Beijing is accused of working with middlemen, such as Chinese businessmen based abroad, so the government can later deny direct involvement. Safeguard Defenders alleges the person who showed up at Mr Li’s former home is a businessman linked to one of China’s controversial overseas police stations.

“Often there are nationalists and patriotic people who work with the government in a tandem, symbiotic relationship,” said Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House. The thinking, she said, is “if I do this for the authorities then it’s good for my business”.

The pressure has ramped up in recent months, Mr Li said.

Authorities began surveilling and questioning his parents more – at one point the visits happened every day, he said. Even officials from the school they used to work for asked them to persuade Mr Li to stop.

“They are interrogating everyone in China who is linked to me, even WeChat contacts, trying to understand my life habits, understand what kind of restaurants I like to go to,” he said. One person was allegedly even pressured to confess he was Mr Li.

Followers on X have been telling Mr Li they have been asked to “drink tea” – a euphemism for police interrogations – since the end of last year.

He estimated a few hundred people have been questioned and told to unfollow him. Some people have been shown long lists of names purportedly of his followers, with one list running up to 10,000 names, according to Mr Li. He believes authorities did this to show the scale of their interrogations and intimidate him and his followers.

“Of course I feel very guilty. They only wanted to understand what is going on in China, and then they ended up being asked to ‘drink tea’,” he said. In February, he made these reports public with a warning on X – overnight, more than 200,000 people unfollowed him.

It’s unclear how the authorities tracked down X users in China, where the app is blocked. While some could have been identified through their tweets, many would have tried to conceal their identities.

It is plausible the Chinese government asked for user details, said Ms Wang. If so, X “should be transparent” about whether it agreed to any such requests. X has yet to respond to the BBC’s queries.

Shortly after Mr Li posted about the interrogations, anonymous accounts began flooding his inbox and X comment threads with spam. They sent crude cartoons of his parents and pornographic content; in recent weeks, he has received gruesome images from horror films, and photos and videos of cats being tortured – he said it’s because they know he loves cats. The BBC has seen screenshots of this.

These messages have hit a fever pitch in recent days, with one showing up in his inbox every few minutes. This coincided with Mr Li’s posts related to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 ahead of its anniversary on 4 June, a taboo topic for the Chinese Communist Party.

Personal information about him and his parents, including their pictures, have been posted on a website promoted by anonymous X accounts. The website also alleges he is working for the Chinese government, in a seeming attempt to sow distrust among his followers.

A check on the website’s domain found it was set up in April and its registrant listed their location as China and Tasmania. Its IP address is hosted by a Hong Kong company.

It is not clear who is behind all of this, but Mr Li said it is a “psychological attack” aimed at wearing down his nerves.

China is not alone in going after overseas dissidents, said political scientist Ho-fung Hung of Johns Hopkins University, pointing to similar allegations against India and Turkey. “As more overseas communities become more active and social media connects them to people back home, authoritarian governments increasingly feel diaspora communities can pose a threat to them,” he said.

But in China’s case, he added, they are stepping up their tactics because of “the growing paranoia of the Chinese government” besieged by an economic slowdown and outward flows of money and talent.

Observers say this paranoia appears to be fuelling a uniquely intense repression of Mr Li. Ms Wang said what was happening to him had the signs of a “national, really high-level plan”.

“He has become the aggregator which people send information to, and that is very scary to the authorities… he has a kind of power that nobody else has had in the past.”

Wryly, Mr Li said he could be dubbed China’s “most dangerous cat” – a reference to his X profile picture, which he drew.

His government targets him because he stymies their vast efforts to censor negative news, and also because he represents a new generation of internet savvy, politically conscious Chinese youth, he said. “What this White Paper protest generation represents is exactly the kind of ideology they do not want everyone to see.”

His work has come at an enormous personal cost. He moves frequently within Italy, staying only a few months in each location, and hardly leaves the house. He hasn’t found steady work, and survives on online donations and earnings from YouTube and X.

He lives alone with his two cats, Guolai and Diandian. In previous interviews he had mentioned a girlfriend, but they have since parted ways. “I’m all by myself now,” he said matter-of-factly. “There was too much pressure. But I don’t feel lonely because I interact with a lot of people on social media.”

He admitted, though, that he is feeling the mental strain of his situation and the long hours he spends online. “I feel lately my ability to express myself has dropped, and I’m very unfocused.”

Though he recently renewed his passport, he believes Chinese authorities allowed this to keep tabs on him. It is a bitter gift from his government – once an avid traveller, he now feels trapped.

“I often mourn [the life I could have],” he added. “On the other hand, I don’t regret this.”

“I don’t see myself as a hero, I was only doing what I thought was the right thing at the time. What I’ve demonstrated is that an ordinary person can also do these things.” He believes that if his account shuts down, “naturally a new Teacher Li will appear”.

The thought of getting arrested scares him, but giving up is not an option. “I feel I am a person with no future… until they find me and pull me back to China, or even kidnap me, I will continue doing what I’m doing.”

By going public with his allegations, he hopes to expose the Chinese government’s tactics. But it’s also because he believes they crossed a line by escalating their repression, and wants to fight back. “I post something you don’t like, so you crush me, that is the process of a mutual fight. But doing all these things to my parents, I really don’t understand it.”

Now, he is making defiant plans to expand his operations, perhaps recruiting others to join his mission, or posting in English to widen his influence. The Chinese government “is really afraid of outsiders knowing what China is really like… [Posting in English] is something they are even more afraid of.

“They may feel they have a lot of tactics, but I actually have a lot of cards I can play.”

Macron takes huge risk with surprise election

By Hugh SchofieldBBC News, Paris

President Emmanuel Macron has called snap parliamentary elections later this month in the wake of a big victory for his rival Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in the European Parliament vote.

The far-right party is on course to win 32% of the vote, exit polls say, more than twice that of the president’s Renaissance party.

Announcing the dissolution of parliament, he said the two rounds of voting would take place on 30 June and 7 July, a few weeks before the Paris Olympics.

Mr Macron made the dramatic and surprise decision in a televised address from the Élysée Palace an hour after voting closed and exit polls had been declared in France’s EU elections.

His decision came not long after National Rally’s 28-year-old leader, Jordan Bardella, had openly called on the president to call parliamentary elections.

“I have heard your message,” the president told French voters, “and I will not let it go without a response.”

“France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony,” he said, adding that he could not resign himself to the far-right’s progress “everywhere in the continent”.

Now barely two years into his second term as president, Mr Macron already lacks a majority in the French parliament, and though this European vote in theory has no bearing on national politics, he clearly decided that continuing his mandate without a new popular consultation would place too much of a strain on the system.

The upcoming parliamentary elections also won’t affect Mr Macron’s own job, as they are separate from the presidential elections and his term as president still runs for three more years.

Ms Le Pen, who has twice been defeated by Mr Macron in presidential elections, immediately reacted, saying her party was “ready to exercise power, ready to put an end to mass immigration”.

Emmanuel Macron calls snap elections in wake of EU election results

Calling a snap election is a huge surprise for the country, and a huge risk for President Macron.

He could have reacted differently. He could have just kept going, explaining the far right’s massive victory as a European aberration which would be corrected at more important elections.

He could have trusted to the impending European football championship in Germany and above all the Paris Olympics to keep people’s minds off politics for a couple of months.

That was certainly how the Paris commentariat thought he would take his party’s rout.

But one can only assume the president had seen this coming, and planned his response in advance.

Certainly the result was an almost exact replica of the polls, so he would have had plenty of time to consider his options.

The fact is that he is stuck.

Without a majority, getting any bill through the National Assembly is already a struggle. With most of the country now so clearly against him, any new legislation – for example the upcoming budget – could have proved explosive.

So he has plumped for “clarity”. If National Rally has the votes then, he says, they should be given the chance to govern.

Obviously the president will hope his own Renaissance party can mount a fight-back at the elections on 30 June and 7 July – or that other parties will do better too.

But he must appreciate that the odds favour another victory for National Rally. Maybe not one so sweeping as Sunday’s result, but enough for it to become the biggest party in parliament.

At which point we might well have a Prime Minister Marine Le Pen, or indeed Jordan Bardella.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz quits emergency government

By Jake LaphamBBC News

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz has quit the emergency government in a sign of deepening divisions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s post-conflict plans for Gaza.

Speaking during a news conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday where he announced his resignation, Mr Gantz said the decision was made with a “heavy heart”.

“Unfortunately, Mr Netanyahu is preventing us from approaching true victory, which is the justification for the painful ongoing crisis,” he said.

Considered by some to be a potential challenger for power in Israel, Mr Gantz called on Mr Netanyahu to set a date for elections.

Mr Netanyahu responded with a post on X: “Benny, this is not the time to quit the campaign, this is the time to join forces.”

Mr Gantz is a political rival of Mr Netanyahu and a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

His centrist National Unity party was in opposition until 11 October 2023 when, after the start of the war following Hamas’s 7 October attacks, he agreed to form an emergency government with Mr Netanyahu.

National Unity holds five posts in the emergency government.

Current opposition leader Yair Lapid backed Mr Gantz’s decision as “important and right” on social media.

Immediately after the announcement, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded a place in the war cabinet.

Mr Ben-Gvir is part of a right-wing coalition that has threatened to quit and collapse the government if Israel accepts a ceasefire proposal put forward by US President Joe Biden.

Mr Gantz’s influence in the government was widely seen as a counterbalance to that of far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.

Last month, Mr Gantz set a deadline of 8 June for Mr Netanyahu to lay out how Israel would achieve its six “strategic goals”, including the end of Hamas rule in Gaza and the establishment of a multinational civilian administration for the territory.

The prime minister dismissed the comments at the time as “washed-up words” that would mean “defeat for Israel”.

A retired army general and frequent critic of Mr Netayanhu, Mr Gantz had been a member of Israel’s key decision-making “war cabinet”, along with the prime minister and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

During the news conference, Mr Gantz said he was not only personally resigning from the government, but also withdrawing from the National Unity party that he chairs.

The move will not topple the Israeli government, since Mr Netanyahu will still hold a comfortable majority of 64 in the 120-seat Knesset.

It does, however, further isolate the prime minister and lay bare the deep political divisions over how he is running the war.

The resignation also comes one day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes a three-day trip to the region, where he plans to visit Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar to press for a ceasefire agreement.

In a separate development on Sunday, Israel’s army announced the resignation of a senior commander who headed the IDF’s Gaza division over what he called his failure to prevent the 7 October attacks.

Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld is the first IDF combat commander to step down since the attacks.

Trump to sit for probation interview on Monday

By Max MatzaBBC News

Donald Trump will sit for a virtual interview with a probation officer from his home in Florida on Monday, part of the sentencing process for his felony conviction in the New York hush-money case.

The first former US president criminally convicted, Trump will appear from Mar-a-Lago and will be seated alongside his lawyer Todd Blanche, a source with knowledge of the matter told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner.

A New York City probation officer will use the interview in a pre-sentencing report for Justice Juan Merchan, who is currently deciding what punishment Trump must face.

Trump was convicted last month of 34 counts of falsifying business records and is expected to be sentenced on 11 July.

A former commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction and Probation told NBC News that it is not normal for a probation interview to take place virtually.

“It is highly unusual for a pre-sentence investigation interview to be done over Zoom,” said Martin Horn.

But he added that any visit by Trump to the courthouse in downtown Manhattan would be “very disruptive” to other court business, especially given the presence of the Secret Service and media, and could be unfair to other defendants who might not want to be identified.

“So in the end, this might be better for the probation officer,” he said.

Convicts in the New York Court system do not usually have their lawyers present for probation interviews, according to the Associated Press.

However, Judge Merchan has allowed Mr Blanche to appear alongside his client on Monday.

Pre-sentencing reports include information about a convict’s personal life, criminal history, financial means, health condition and overall living arrangement.

They are used by the judge to inform what punishment should be given.

The interview is often an opportunity for a convict to argue for leniency in the sentence.

Jurors found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments made to former porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Most legal commentators believe that Trump is unlikely to face any jail time, given his lack of criminal history and age.

Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the prosecution in New York is politically motivated and an attempt to prevent him from retaking the White House in November’s election.

He has also said he will appeal the conviction.

Adults and teens turn to ‘dumbphones’ to cut screen time

By Emma VardyLA Correspondent, BBC News

Adults and teens concerned about their screen time are turning in their smartphones for “dumber” models.

Buried in the settings of many smartphones is the option to look up how much on average you are staring at your phone per day.

It can bring an uncomfortable realisation, that what was supposed to be a useful piece of technology has become an obsession.

“Social media is built around FOMO (fear of missing out), so I felt like I couldn’t get off it,” 16-year-old Luke Martin, from Canada, told the BBC.

“Instantly I got Instagram and it was a downward spiral.”

Luke is not alone.

According to a study by Harvard University, using social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that is also triggered when taking an addictive substance. This has raised concerns about phone habits among youth.

In the UK, research by Ofcom estimates that around a quarter of children aged five to seven years old now have their own smartphone.

Links have been shown in some studies between use of social media and a negative effect on mental health – especially in children.

Some campaigners want age limits to be introduced for smartphone use. Others, like Luke, are choosing to swap their smartphones for much simpler devices, so-called “dumbphones”.

His new phone only has texts, calls, maps, and a few other limited tools.

“My friends’ usage is like four to five hours I think, and that’s how much mine used to be before I got this,” he said.

“Now mine’s like 20 minutes a day which is really good because I only use it for what I need it for.”

Parents are also turning to dumbphones, not only for their children, but to help themselves be more present for their families.

Lizzy Broughton, who has a five-year-old son, recently bought an old-school style Nokia “flip” phone.

“It helped me recalibrate my own habits, I have way more quality time with my son,” she explained.

She says that when it’s time for him to get his own phone, she’ll choose a similarly pared-down model.

“It doesn’t feel like the best idea to just start with a smartphone,” she said. “It’s like we’re handing over the world, like try to figure out how to navigate that.”

These are dumbphones, the low-tech devices on trend

Sales of dumbphones have been increasing in North America. At Dumbwireless in Los Angeles, store-owners Daisy Krigbaum and Will Stults cater to customers looking for low-tech devices.

“We have a lot of parents looking to get their kid that first phone, and they don’t want them drifting off on the internet,” he said.

But giving up the smartphone is easier said than done. Mr Stults said some schools require pupils to have certain apps. And it is difficult to hold the line when children see their friends being given expensive smartphones, said Ms Broughton.

“It’s going to require a community of parents to actually be like, can we do this differently?” she said.

One workaround is a device called “unpluq”, which you tap against the phone to wirelessly block certain apps, like social media.

“Parents can control the smartphone with this tag, and also monitor the usage,” Mr Stults said.

There are several phones that have now been developed particularly for users who want to avoid an addiction to mindless scrolling.

Chris Kaspar founded the company Techless to develop an “intentionally boring” but sleek device that looks much like an iPhone. The latest version is dubbed the “Wisephone II”.

“It has no icons, just words, two colours, and two fonts.” He describes it as “very peaceful, very tranquil”.

It will have some limited third-party tools, such as the taxi application Uber, but no social media.

“We’re asking this question—what’s actually good for us?” Mr Kaspar said.

He first developed the phone with his teenage foster daughters in mind and says 25% of their sales are to children, but that it is marketed to adults.

“If you have a phone that’s branded as a kids’ device there’s some shame associated with that. So we made a very adult, sophisticated, Apple-esque, really nice device,” he said.

With revenue from apps and social-media advertisement in the billions of dollars, the big companies have little motivation to encourage different habits, he said.

Meanwhile, Canadian teen Luke says he is planning to stick with his new device, much to the amusement of friends.

“They think it’s pretty weird but at this point I’m like it doesn’t really matter because it’s helped me so much,” he said.

“It’s definitely taken me into a better spot right now.”

Have Milei’s first six months improved the Argentine economy?

By Robert PlummerBBC News

When Javier Milei was campaigning last year to become the president of Argentina, he brandished a chainsaw to symbolise his determination to substantially cut public spending.

Now six months into his right-wing presidency, how is his shock therapy for both the country’s government and economy working?

“The changes our country needs are drastic,” Mr Milei said shortly after being elected. “There is no room for gradualism.”

And he certainly took swift action. In his initial package of measures, he devalued Argentina’s currency, the peso, by 50%, slashed state subsidies for fuel, and cut the number of government ministries by half.

The quick reduction in public spending has helped Argentina swing from a fiscal deficit – the difference between the government’s spending and income – of 2tn pesos ($120bn; £93bn) in December of last year to a surplus of 264.9bn pesos in April.

Argentina also reported a surplus in January, February and March, marking the first time it had achieved this monthly target since 2012.

However, Mr Milei, who describes himself as a libertarian, has made cutting inflation his main priority, telling the BBC last year that it was “the most regressive tax that most afflicts people”.

Inflation has slowed – in April the month-on-month rate fell to 8.8%, the first time since October that it was not in double figures. This inflation measure is closely followed in countries like Argentina that have long had high inflation.

Yet when it comes to the more globally recognised annual inflation rate, this hit 289.4% in April. To put that into perspective, in the UK the annual rate is currently just 2.3%.

And although official growth figures are not yet available for the period since Mr Milei took office on 10 December, there is evidence that Argentina’s economy has contracted sharply, with consumer spending dropping off in the first three months of this year.

Meanwhile, other pledges that Mr Milei made while campaigning, such as replacing the peso with the US dollar and abolishing the central bank, have taken a back seat recently.

The problem for President Milei is that his La Libertad Avanza coalition (in English – Freedom Advances) does not command a majority in the Argentine Congress. And it has found it hard to strike cross-party deals.

Mr Milei wants Congress to grant him the power to privatise more than two dozen state-owned companies, including the state airline, the railways, the postal service, and the national water supplier.

His initial “omnibus” bill, containing the privatisation plans and hundreds of other economic measures, failed to pass a second reading in February. A streamlined version, resubmitted to Congress in April, cleared the lower house but has yet to be approved by the Senate.

The president also faces strong opposition from trade unions, who have taken to the streets in protest, saying that workers’ rights will suffer from the wholesale deregulation of the economy.

Juan Cruz Díaz, managing director of Argentina-based geopolitical risk consultancy Cefeidas Group, says Mr Milei’s economic policies in office are as radical as those promised during the campaign, just somewhat delayed.

“His administration has been forced to slow down these reforms, given the political and social roadblocks it has faced,” says Mr Díaz.

He adds that specific factors causing the president to tread cautiously are “the deterioration of people’s purchasing power and the fear of increased social unrest”.

This comes as there has been no let-up in the number of people living in poverty, which has risen from about a quarter of the population in 2017 to more than half now.

However, the International Monetary Fund, which over the decades has lent more money to Argentina than to any other country, gave the government high marks in May, saying that its performance was “better than expected” and that its economic programme was “firmly back on track”.

As to whether President Milei can get more policies agreed by parliament, Mr Díaz says that while some sectors of the opposition are open to dialogue with the government, left-leaning parties are completely opposed to his agenda. These include the Peronist faction controlled by ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

“In this context, the government’s ability to negotiate and build consensus is being tested on a daily basis, a test that Milei himself often hinders with certain outbursts and unnecessary confrontational statements,” says Mr Díaz.

In fact, many Argentines are seeing Mr Milei’s ebullient personality as more of a hindrance than a help.

In its latest survey, the Zuban Córdoba political consultancy firm found that 54% of respondents thought the president was paying more attention to his international political image than to solving Argentina’s problems.

That perception has no doubt been bolstered by Argentina’s current diplomatic row with Spain, which has led Madrid to recall its ambassador to Buenos Aires.

Kimberley Sperrfechter, emerging markets economist at research group Capital Economics, says the central problem for President Milei is that he has to overcome “years and years of economic mismanagement” in Argentina.

“One key factor is that the government has been spending way beyond its means [for decades],” she says. “And that deficit has been financed by the central bank printing money to finance the government spending.”

This printing helped cause the country’s soaring inflation.

Argentina, the world’s eighth-largest country, has in fact been in decline for more than a century. Its downfall serving as a cautionary tale of how the wealth of a nation can be frittered away.

Before World War One, it ranked as one of the world’s 10 richest countries.

But a subsequent slow economic contraction was substantially accelerated by the populist policies – and overspending – of President Juan Perón, who was in power from 1946 to 1955.

There were some short-lived free-market reforms in the 1990s under President Carlos Menem, who privatised many of the firms that Perón had nationalised, and made serious attempts to restore faith in the Argentine currency.

But things took a sharp turn for the worse at the end of 2001, when the country suffered a catastrophic economic meltdown and a massive $102bn (£80bn) debt default.

Argentina had essentially locked itself into a currency regime that gave it no flexibility, by fixing the peso at parity with the dollar. That, coupled with the government’s habitual overspending, had exposed it to the ups and downs of the US economy, and left it powerless when a run on Argentina’s banks ensued in 2001.

In the two decades following that crisis, the country has mostly been governed by left-wing protectionists, who basically muddled through without tackling Argentina’s deep-rooted problems.

Now, with a right-wing libertarian administration in power, the country is attempting to chart a new course – and that means getting the government’s finances on a sound footing.

To help President Milei’s government achieve this, research firm Consensus Economics says the administration is focusing on Argentina’s vast agricultural exports of grain, soya, meat and wine.

“Policymakers are pinning their hopes on agricultural exports bringing in badly needed foreign currency as they hope to build up the central bank’s depleted [foreign exchange] reserves and, in turn, boost the state’s financial credibility,” says Consensus.

Yet Ms Sperrfechter thinks the Argentine economy is at a “tipping point” at the moment, and Mr Milei cannot rely on public support, despite his election victory.

“It’s not that people were convinced by his policies, it was more of a protest vote,” she says. “Things could not continue the way they had been.”

Ms Sperrfechter feels that despite the devaluation of the peso, the currency continues to be overvalued, possibly by as much as 30%. The exchange rate is still being managed, instead of being fully free to rise or fall, she says, and this is holding back growth and harming competitiveness.

“With Argentina, you never really know, but I think the shine is coming off,” Ms Sperrfechter says. “The optimism is going to fade, and the economy is going to struggle.”

More articles on Argentina

  • Published

George Russell scored Mercedes’ first podium position of what has so far been a difficult year at the Canadian Grand Prix but still left Montreal on Sunday night saying the race “felt like a missed opportunity”.

The 26-year-old Briton was ruing what he said were two mistakes, but in fact were three, that prevented him from fighting for what could have been Mercedes’ first win since the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Russell had a point. He had cost himself significant time with some errors that were potentially decisive. The big picture for Mercedes in Montreal, though, was very much a positive one.

Russell took the team’s first pole position since Hungary last year, and his own since the same race a year before that. He led the first 20 laps under intense pressure from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, was in the fight at the front throughout, and both Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris, who finished second, felt the Mercedes was the quickest car in Canada.

“I am a bit disappointed in myself,” Russell, who finished third, said. “Two errors cost me. Maybe the end result might not have been that much different. But it feels great to be disappointed with third.

“We truly had a really fast car this weekend, and to be back in the mix fighting for victory was really fun.

“If you told us ahead of this weekend, [that we would take] pole position and [finish] P3, we may not have believed you.”

Hard work pays off for Mercedes

The Mercedes was indeed truly rapid in Montreal. Russell’s pole time may have been exactly matched to the thousandth of a second by Verstappen, who started second because Russell set it first, but even the Dutchman admitted he could not have matched the times both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton had managed in the second part of qualifying.

The claim by Verstappen and Norris that the Mercedes was the quickest car in the race was more questionable.

Norris said he “should have won” – and a first safety car period scuppered what was looking like becoming a race-winning advantage for the McLaren. And whenever Verstappen got into the lead, he never truly looked like losing it, and usually pulled away.

But to even be in the mix was a massive step forward for Mercedes, and a justification of the work they have done in recent weeks.

Where did this form come from? Mercedes had a bit of a rude awakening in the early races of this season when a car they believed would be a platform for them to build back towards the front actually left them in worse shape than they were last year.

But, since the Miami event early last month, Mercedes have been saying that they believed they had made a crucial breakthrough. Unlike in 2022 and 2023, they felt they now understood how to get the performance from the car, whereas in the previous two years any development to the car simply unlocked further problems.

They have been piling upgrades on to it since Miami – first new bodywork, then a new floor, and now a new front wing. And in Canada it all came together to create their best performance of the year by far.

Norris said: “They’ve clearly improved a lot. Like, the last two weekends, they’ve been pretty close to probably being the quickest car.”

Hence Russell’s disappointment. Could he have won? “Maybe for a few minutes we dreamt about it,” team boss Toto Wolff, said, “but in reality probably not.”

Wolff’s realism rings true. Yes, Russell led the first 20 laps, but Verstappen and then Norris put him under increasing pressure as the track dried out.

By lap 21, Norris was past using the DRS on the back straight. And that led to the first of Russell’s errors. As the McLaren passed him, he missed the final chicane, and Verstappen was able to slip past, too, on the exit. First had become third in one corner.

Into the second phase of a dramatic race, after the track had been doused for a second time by another bout of rain, now it was Russell’s turn briefly to pressure Verstappen.

Once the race settled down after the first safety car period, though, the Red Bull began to ease away. Russell was beginning to come back at him as the track dried again, but then he was delayed after Norris made an error at the first corner and rejoined in front of him. Verstappen’s lead, which had been down to 2.4secs, was now back up to four.

The leaders pitted for dry-weather tyres and briefly Russell again looked to be inching close to Verstappen, only to cut the chicane at Turns Eight and Nine and drop behind Norris.

A second safety car gave Mercedes another shot – they pitted Russell and Hamilton for fresh tyres while Verstappen and Norris stayed out. So now the Mercedes drivers had a 10-lap tyre advantage with 11 laps to go, albeit they were now lying fourth and fifth, also behind the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri.

But then came the third error from Russell. Racing Piastri for third place and with the laps running out, he tried an overambitious move at the chicane on the outside and again took to the run-off, costing him more time, and a position to Hamilton. He fought back to pass both his team-mate and Piastri before the end. But any hope of catching Verstappen was gone.

“I am disappointed with my own performance but there is a lot to take away,” Russell said.

“That mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe going to fight with Max later in the race.

“For me, it was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us a shot of fighting with these two (Verstappen and Norris) towards the end of the race.

“But, you know, we’ll take all the positives from this weekend. First podium, first pole position of the year and excited moving forward.”

Russell was not the only Mercedes driver feeling he could have done a better job.

“It was a pretty bad weekend for me,” said Hamilton, despite converting a seventh on the grid into fourth at the finish.

“Lots of mistakes and just overall really poor, fighting for fourth place when I should have been further up. It’s great we are looking like we are closer to the front, but I have some work to do to improve. Once I start driving with my head I should be able to get some better results.”

Genuine progress or a one-off?

Will this be a flash in the pan, a one-off, or are Mercedes about to make what had become a three-team fight at the front between Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, a four-way one?

Russell and Wolff were circumspect.

“It’s no secret (Red Bull have) struggled a bit with their car these last three races,” Russell said. “So I think we need to see how their performance turns out (at the next race) in Barcelona, which is a little bit more of a conventional circuit.

“But this pace increase that we’ve seen from us this weekend, it hasn’t been a surprise to us because all the numbers back at the factory told us we’re going to be finding a big chunk of performance with these upgrades.

“So Barcelona is going to be interesting for everybody, but I’m confident we can be in the fight.”

Wolff said: “Definitely since Imola we have taken the right steps and put parts on the car that was something we were struggling with and now directionally we seem to be adding performance every weekend.

“We have new parts coming in Barcelona that should help us and I would very much hope we can continue this positive trajectory.”

But he added a note of caution: “Yeah, the car was very quick, but this track is very different from everything else; it is an outlier.”

Regret, too, at McLaren

Norris was another to feel a win might have slipped away. In his case, it was perhaps even more justified.

He had a six-second lead wiped out when the first safety car was deployed for Logan Sargeant’s crashed Williams, and he said McLaren had missed a trick in not pitting him until a lap too late.

And the team left it a lap too late again at the second safety car, which might also have cost Norris track position to Verstappen.

“We should have won the race today and we didn’t, so, frustrating,” Norris said. “We had the pace. Probably not in the dry at the end. It turned out it didn’t really matter too much.

“We didn’t do a good enough job as a team to box when we should have done and not get stuck behind the safety car. So I don’t think it was a luck or unlucky kind of thing. I don’t think it was the same as Miami (when a safety car gifted him the lead over Verstappen). This was just making a wrong call.

“So, it’s on me and it’s on the team and it’s something we’ll discuss after. We’re at a level now where we’re not satisfied with a second, like the target is to win. And we didn’t do that. So, frustrating, but a tough race and still to end up in second when it could always finish and could be worse is still a good result.”

As for Mercedes’ new-found pace, Norris added: “If they’re quicker in the next few races, too, and they’ve kind of joined the fight of Ferrari, Red Bull, and us, then it’s only going to make our life, I think, more exciting.

“More tricky and more stressful because now there will probably be eight cars which are fighting up there and challenging us all together. So exciting for us, exciting for probably everyone watching.”

Through all this, it was somewhat ominous that Verstappen was the one to win again, taking his sixth victory in nine races to underline that the championship remains very much his to lose.

Russell said: “Red Bull have struggled a little bit the last couple of races, yet they’ve still won two of the last three. So I expect them to probably take a small step when we go back to the European races on more conventional circuits.

“But I really think our performance step is true and it’s real. And I think we can be in this fight with McLaren. Let’s hope we can continue being in the fight with Max.”

  • Published

Memorial Tournament final leaderboard

-8 S Scheffler (US); -7 C Morikawa (US); -4 A Hadwin (Can); -3 C Bezuidenhout (SA); -2 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), S Straka (Aut), L Aberg (Swe)

Selected others: +2 R McIlroy (NI); +3 T Fleetwood (Eng); +12 S Lowry (Ire)

Full leaderboard

Scottie Scheffler holed a five-foot putt on the last to hold off Collin Morikawa and win the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament by one stroke to claim his fifth title of the year.

In doing so, the world number one became just the second player after Tiger Woods to win the Players Championship, Masters and Memorial in the same year.

The American led on 10 under overnight, four clear of Morikawa, Adam Hadwin and Sepp Straka but, rather than the expected procession, he was pushed all the way.

“I didn’t do a whole lot well but I did enough to get it done,” said Scheffler, who carded a two-over 74 to win his 11th PGA Tour title on eight under.

“I feel like I’ve had some close calls in this tournament. The golf course was playing so tough, firm and fast – 16, 17 and 18 were brutal.

“But it was a fun test of golf, I like it when it gets hard.”

On a tough day for scoring at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, Ohio, Scheffler’s advantage was down to two after nine holes.

But while Hadwin, who had started the strongest with three birdies in his opening seven holes, fell away with five bogeys in his final 11 holes to finish third on four under, Morikawa continued to press.

The lead was down to one when two-time major winner Morikawa rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-three 12th, while Scheffler missed his attempt from a third of that distance.

The advantage was back to two when Morikawa bogeyed the 16th, but Scheffler dropped a shot on the 17th to leave him with a one-shot lead with one to play.

Both players overhit their approaches to the final green but both then chipped out to around five feet. Scheffler was up first and rolled his effort into the middle of the cup to seal the win and $4m (£3.14m) first prize.

Amid the celebrations Morikawa knocked in his par putt to close with a one-under 71 and seven under total.

Straka, who had been level with Morikawa on six under at the start of the day, fell away with a run of four bogeys in five holes from the 10th, but a chip-in birdie at the last saw him finish with a 76 to end joint fifth on two under.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the 2022 US Open, holed six birdies as he shot the joint lowest final round – a three-under 69 – to also finish on two under, alongside Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg (74).

Rory McIlroy closed with a 76 to end two over, one ahead of England’s Tommy Fleetwood who also shot a 76.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who was playing with Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, had a disastrous round which included seven bogeys, two doubles and a triple-bogey seven on the 17th as he shot a 13-over-par 85 to finish 12 over.

Ortiz wins maiden LIV title

Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz won LIV Golf Houston to claim his first title on the tour.

Ortiz shot a five-under-par 67 to finish the 54-hole event on 15 under, one stroke ahead of Poland’s Adrian Meronk.

They were part of a four-way tie for the lead heading into the final round along with England’s Paul Casey and Spain’s David Puig.

But Ortiz, whose only PGA Tour title came in Houston in 2020, took control with a birdie at the par-five 15th, where Meronk carded a bogey.

Puig, who went round in 69, tied for third with American Patrick Reed, while Casey finished six shots behind Ortiz thanks to a 73.

Spain’s Jon Rahm withdrew during Saturday’s second round because of an infection in his left foot.

  • Published

A penalty shootout was all that stood between England and European Championship glory in 2021.

Having endured a painful defeat by Italy in the final at Wembley Stadium, it was hard not to wonder if the Three Lions had just thrown away their best opportunity of major tournament success.

Perhaps not though.

According to Opta’s pre-tournament projections for Euro 2024, the window of victory remains very much open for Gareth Southgate’s side this summer…

It’s rare for England to head to a major international tournament as outright favourites, but that is precisely the situation this time according to Opta’s prediction model.

Southgate’s side sit top of the pack of projected winners, with a 19.9% chance of going on to lift the trophy in Germany.

While the news will no doubt be warmly welcomed by many, you’re probably now wondering how exactly we’ve arrived at that outcome… and it’s a fair question.

To achieve a more well-rounded picture of who will go on to win the tournament, Opta’s prediction model estimates the probability of each match outcome – win, draw or loss – by using betting market odds and our own team rankings.

The odds and rankings are based on historical and recent team performances, while the model then considers opponent strength and the difficulty of their path to the final by using match outcome probabilities, taking into account the composition of the groups and seedings into the knockout stages.

While the Opta predictor puts England in first position, it is France – the team who knocked them out of the 2022 World Cup – who are hot on their heels at the top end of the charts.

With a 19.1% chance for Didier Deschamps’ side to win Euro 2024, there’s a legitimate feel of a ‘big two’ meeting in the final.

In fact, the model estimates that both teams have almost a one-in-two chance of making the semi-finals, with England at 48.2% and France at 48.1% respectively, to be among the final four.

Beyond them, hosts Germany are the team who round out the top three in terms of projected champions.

Julian Nagelsmann’s side have a 12.4% chance of being victorious on home soil, and are the last of the three sides with a better than 10% likelihood of lifting the trophy.

As for those who look the surest bets to make some noise in the knockout stages, England, France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal are the five teams given a 50% or better chance of reaching at least the quarter-finals.

Elsewhere from a British perspective, the outlook for Scotland isn’t quite as optimistic.

Steve Clarke’s men will have it all to do to secure qualification in Group A, which looks primed to be one of most evenly-matched groups in the tournament overall.

According to the predictor, Scotland have a 58.9% chance of reaching the last 16, whether that’s finishing in the top two or as one of the best third-placed sides.

The big problem for them is that, along with Group A favourites Germany, both Switzerland (61%) and Hungary (59.3%) are very similarly placed to make it to the knockout stages too.

The competition will be fierce for the Tartan Army, and things will be tricky from the off as their tie with hosts Germany gets the competition under way on 14 June.

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  • Published

New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made. There really is you can’t do.

After a dazzling, dramatic and pulsating match between India and Pakistan that even includes, it seems, co-hosting a T20 World Cup.

This was the match. Not just any match, but THE match on which the success of the US leg of this jamboree effectively hung.

The International Cricket Council will be happy their American dream has become a reality even if the rain, at one point, threatened to make it a damp squib.

Fans got drenched before play started but most were not in the slightest bit bothered by the lack of cover in the open stands.

“Who cares about the weather? I’m going to see Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah!” Arjun, who lives in New Jersey, excitedly said after the showers relented.

He was one of 34,028 who packed into a pop-up stadium, built at a cost of $32m. Regardless of whether this event turns a profit cricket’s reawakening in the US looks set to gather pace.

The desire to be at a India v Pakistan match was such that it could have been sold out several times over.

Citi Field, the home of New York Mets baseball team, was opened for fans unable to get in Nassau County International Cricket Stadium to watch a game on the big screen.

No charge, but the MLB marketing men are not soft. Just as the ICC want its piece of the American pie, cricket’s cousin is desperate to grab its slice of the South Asian market.

“The ticket prices were a little steep for this game but I guess it’s supply versus demand,” said Irfan, a Pakistan fan, who had done an overnight drive from Toronto to make the fixture.

He was one of the few who got lucky in the ballot. Others paid up to $2,000 (approx £1,571) on resale platforms, although prices dropped considerably as the game edged closer.

The devotion of the South Asian diaspora in the United States to playing, attending and watching cricket matches in the US is what can sustain it.

Hafeez, a Pakistan fan from Coventry, sat with his five-month baby in a pram on the steps of the stand as he watched the action unfold in the middle having won tickets in a competition.

“You can see from the passion of the fans what cricket means,” he said.

For the first time at this pop-up stadium in Eisenhower Park the plastic wrapping was also taken off the comfy seats in the corporate sections which were barely used for earlier games.

Cricket royalty was bussed in for the day. Sachin Tendulkar was mobbed, Bollywood stars hob-nobbed. Noble-prize winning activist Malala Yousafzai cheered on Pakistan.

Chris Gayle, who wore a dazzling all-white suit with one sleeve orange and green for India and the other green for Pakistan, strolled about the outfield with a huge grin on his face. He was even asking the players to sign it.

It was brash, over-bearing and full of razzamatazz. Even ringmaster Ravi Shastri’s act at the toss was cranked up a few more notches.

There is an appeal for the players of India and Pakistan being here, too. Not just in terms of growing their own brands stateside.

Kohli and his Bollywood superstar wife Anushka Sharma were able to slip out for coffee in New York the past few days – almost unthinkable back home.

Security was extremely tight. Sniffer dogs, bomb disposal experts, military-style armoured vehicles, helicopters circling the ground, surveillance teams and members from every branch of police imaginable. Even covert snipers in place.

“The Super Bowl on steroids” was how Nassau County executive Bruce Blakeman, one of the key men in bringing this even to New York, described the security preparations for the event.

Everything’s bigger in the US, after all.

So where from here? Major League Cricket will fill the breach given the cast of stellar names on their books, with this year’s edition set to start a matter of days after the World Cup ends.

A delegation from the International Olympic Committee have been in town in recent days checking out the pop-up stadium in New York and meeting various stakeholders.

You can bet your bottom dollar India v Pakistan at Los Angeles 2028 is firmly in their sights.

It will be a case of watch this space to see what happens on US soil between now and then.

  • Published

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won a gripping wet-dry Canadian Grand Prix that developed into a five-car battle for the lead over the final 10 laps.

Verstappen expertly managed a restart after a safety-car period with 11 laps to go to bolt into a decisive lead while McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri fought with the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton behind him.

Verstappen pulled out nearly two seconds in one lap and controlled the race to the end from there.

Norris had twice led the race earlier on as conditions fluctuated between wet and dry but lost it each time by stopping later than Verstappen.

And in the closing laps he could not do anything about the world champion when it mattered and had to settle for second.

Russell, who had led the early laps before the race’s various dramas began to unfold, passed Hamilton with three laps to go to take the final podium place but was left ruing a couple of key errors during a race that he started from his first pole position for nearly two years.

Hamilton took fourth place ahead of Piastri with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso sixth.

Verstappen calm amid the storm

It was Verstappen’s sixth win in nine races this year, and extended his championship lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to 56 points after a terrible race and double retirement for the Italian team.

Although Verstappen won again, it was far from the foregone conclusion of grands prix at the start of the season.

The last 11 laps started finely poised, after Mercedes pitted Russell and Hamilton for fresh tyres under the safety car, giving both drivers a 10-lap advantage on their tyre wear over Verstappen and the McLarens in front.

But just as Russell was beginning to mount a challenge on the McLarens, with Norris and Piastri running nose to tail behind the escaping Verstappen, the Mercedes driver was a touch ambitious in trying to pass Piastri on the outside of the final chicane and was forced on to the run-off area.

That dropped him behind Hamilton, who soon passed Piastri and himself looked briefly set for a charge towards the front.

But Russell fought back to pass Piastri and then Hamilton, who was given hard tyres rather than the mediums on Russell’s car.

Bad timing for Norris

Norris also had cause to rue misfortune.

As the track dried through the first stint, he closed in on Verstappen in second place and passed him and then took the lead from Russell into the final chicane.

Russell was forced to cut the chicane as Norris passed, and Verstappen demoted him to third on the exit.

Five laps later, after Norris had built a substantial lead, Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams as more rain began to fall and the safety car was deployed.

But the call was too late for Norris to pit – he had passed the pit exit already – while everyone behind him could. The safety car then picked Norris up, slowing him down, and he came out in third place behind Verstappen and Russell.

At the restart, Verstappen began to slowly edge away from Russell, and the race seemed to have fallen under his control.

But the track dried, and Russell and Norris began to come back at the Red Bull, only for each to make mistakes.

First, Norris went off the track at Turns One and Two, also delaying Russell, who lost 1.5secs to Verstappen in one lap.

Three laps later, on lap 45, Verstappen and Russell stopped for slick tyres, while Norris stayed out for two more laps.

He was trying to build a sufficient advantage to come out in the lead, and it was close – he looked to be set to race wheel to wheel with Verstappen as the McLaren exited the pits.

But Norris lost grip on the damp area off-line on the pit-lane exit, and Verstappen was able not only to retain the lead but finish the lap nearly four seconds ahead.

The race for the win seemed all but over, only for a safety car, triggered when Carlos Sainz lost his Ferrari at Turn Six and collected Alex Albon’s Williams, to close up the field again, and Mercedes to take their chance with fresh tyres.

It was worth a gamble, but in the end the race was won by the driver and team who kept things under control best in tough conditions and made fewest mistakes – even if Verstappen himself had a couple of off-track moments.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez had a poor race, failing to make significant progress from his 16th grid position and then crashing late in the race.

Perez was given a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain for returning to the track with a damaged car after his accident, leaving carbon-fibre debris strewn around the circuit.

What’s next?

It’s back to Europe and the start of a triple-header with the next race the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona two weeks from now.

That is followed by a trip to Austria and then the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, from 5-7 July.

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In the lead-up to his first French Open final, a photo reappeared of a 12-year-old Carlos Alcaraz sat in front of the Eiffel Tower watching the tournament on a big screen.

Now Alcaraz plans to have a tattoo of the iconic landmark as a permanent reminder of winning the tournament he loved as a child.

The 21-year-old Spaniard claimed the Grand Slam title many thought he was destined to lift with a five-set victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Sunday.

“It will be on the left ankle – the Eiffel Tower and today’s date,” Alcaraz said.

“I have to find time but I will do it for sure.”

The excitement in the young Alcaraz’s smile as he sat on the Champ-de-Mars grass with childhood coach Carlos Santos showed what it meant to be there.

There is another snap of the starry-eyed pair on Court Philippe Chatrier during the same 2015 trip.

Alcaraz grew up playing on clay courts and used to run home from school to watch Roland Garros.

“Winning a Grand Slam is always special, but here in Roland Garros, knowing all the Spanish players who have won here, to put my name on that list is unbelievable,” Alcaraz said.

“I dreamt to be in this position since I started playing tennis and I was five or six years old.”

Last year, Alcaraz was hampered by nerves in the semi-finals because he was overawed by his opponent – the incomparable Novak Djokovic.

He had to overcome them again this year against incoming world number one Jannik Sinner in the last four.

In the title match with Zverev, he looked edgy and unconvincing.

But Alcaraz demonstrated – the advice famously given by his grandad to show head, heart and courage in difficult moments and the inspiration for a tattoo on his wrist – to come through.

“The interesting thing is we all thought he would win the French Open as his first major,” former British number one Greg Rusedski told BBC Sport.

“Last year against Djokovic he got super tight, cramping and got nervous. It happened against Sinner as well.

“It felt like his destiny to win this event and now he’s found a way to win it, the sky is the limit.”

‘Breaking Nadal’s records – but there is one Alcaraz won’t beat’

Alcaraz was playing in his third Grand Slam final, having shown few nerves in winning the 2022 US Open and last year’s Wimbledon.

Getting over the line at Roland Garros means he is the youngest man to capture Grand Slam titles on all three surfaces – hard, grass and clay – and just the seventh overall.

Clay is the natural surface for Spanish players, with about 60% of courts made up of the red dirt – most small villages have them.

“The youngest before him to do that was Rafael Nadal. The youngest before him to win a first major was Nadal,” added Rusedski, who watched the final as a summariser for BBC Radio 5 Live.

“So every record he seems to be beating is one set by Nadal.”

Nadal emerged as the latest in a long line of Spanish success – albeit far more sustained than his predecessors – at Roland Garros.

He won an incredible 14 titles between 2005 and 2022, as well as setting a host of staggering records which have not been matched at any other Grand Slam tournament.

Since 1993, Spain has also enjoyed French Open triumphs for Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero, meaning the nation has accounted for 20 of the past 32 men’s champions.

Alcaraz has been seen as the Spanish heir apparent to Nadal since bursting on to the scene as a teenager.

Overcoming Zverev means he has continued the nation’s success and he is expected to add further to the tally in the coming years.

“The one thing he will not beat is winning 14 titles here at Roland Garros,” said Rusedski.

“That will never be beaten in my lifetime nor in generations to come. It’s superhuman.

“But I’m sure he will win all four majors if he stays healthy. And I’m sure he will get to 10 majors.”