BBC 2024-06-11 00:07:09


Macron snap election leaves rivals stunned after EU vote

By Laura GozziBBC News, Rome • Paul KirbyBBC News, Brussels

France’s political leaders are scrambling to prepare for snap elections after President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament in response to a stinging European vote defeat by the far-right National Rally.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has warned the two-round vote, starting on 30 June could have “the most serious consequences” in modern French history.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats were also heavily beaten in Sunday’s European elections by the conservative opposition, but he has ruled out holding early elections.

The conservative CSU premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, said Mr Scholz’s government was essentially finished and needed to follow the French example.

Germany isn’t scheduled to hold fresh elections until 2025, but Mr Söder said the “country needs a new start”.

Macron ally Yaël Braun-Pivet, who’s president of the National Assembly said there had been an alternative to new elections, which involved a government pact , but “the president decided that path wasn’t open to him”. Without a majority in parliament, the government relies on support from other parties to pass legislation.

There was also frustration from the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, that the vote was taking place three weeks before the capital hosts the Olympics.

Mr Macron’s Renew party polled less than 15% of the vote on Sunday, while the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and young leader Jordan Bardella, secured more than 31%.

The decision to hold new elections came as a shock across the political spectrum, with reports of a hastily organised meeting involving top RN leaders and Marion Maréchal from rival far-right party Reconquête.

There were calls for France’s bitterly divided left to rally round Socialist Raphaël Glucksmann, who scored almost 14% in the European vote.

President Macron joined German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, to mark the 80th anniversary of one of the worst massacres by the Nazis in World War Two, when SS troops murdered 643 villagers in 1944.

President Steinmeier said it was fitting on the day after European elections that Europeans never forgot the damage done by nationalism and hate: “Let us never forget the miracle of reconciliation that the European Union has worked.”

Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second in Germany’s European vote on Sunday, ahead of all three parties in the Mr Scholz’s coalition government, despite a succession of scandals involving the AfD’s top two candidates.

Its newly elected MEPs voted to exclude top candidate Maximilian Krah from their delegation in the European Parliament, after he was investigated for alleged links to Russia and China.

Meanwhile, President Macron is due to meet both Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni at a G7 summit this week in the Italian region of Puglia.

The three leaders are likely not just to discuss the outcome of Sunday’s European vote, but also whether to support Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to win a second term as president of the European Commission.

The Italian leader told Italian radio on Monday that it was “too early to talk about a second mandate” for the current Commission chief.

Ms von der Leyen’s centre-right European People’s Party emerged as by far the biggest grouping in the next European Parliament.

Among the winners on the centre-right were Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who managed to lead his Civic Coalition party to a narrow victory over the right-wing-populist PiS party for the first time in a decade.

Mr Tusk is now one of Europe’s few leaders to have emerged from these elections with a stronger mandate.

The far-right Polish Confederation party won 12% of the vote, and one of its successful candidates is Grzegorz Braun – who provoked an international outcry in December when used a fire extinguisher to put out candles on a menorah in the Polish parliament placed there for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

Czech President Petr Pavel said Europe should examine why support for far-right, conservative, nationalist parties was increasing and “needs to take notice of these voices”.

The Czech vote was won by the opposition ANO party of former prime minister Andrej Babis, which clinched seven of the available 21 seats in the European Parliament.

But it was also a good night for three small anti-system parties, including a new party called Motorists, who are campaigning against the EU’s Green Deal on measures on climate change and sustainability. One of the MotoristS MEPs will be controversial former racing driver Filip Turek, who was recently exposed for old social media posts revealing his passion for Nazi gestures and memorabilia.

The far-right fared unexpectedly poorly in Finland and Sweden. The Finns Party had been polling in third place but ended up with just 7.6% of the vote, while the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats slipped to fourth place with 13.2% of the vote.

There was also a surprise result in Denmark, where the Social Democrats of Mette Frederiksen were defeated by Green-Left party SF which polled more than 17% of the vote.

Ms Frederiksen, who is recovering from a physical assault in Copenhagen on Friday night, called the result “really miserable”.

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.”

  • Published

Three Valencia fans have been sentenced to eight months in prison, the first conviction for racism at a football match in Spain as a direct result of a complaint filed by La Liga.

The racist chants were aimed at Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr during a La Liga game at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium on 21 May 2023.

The fans were found guilty of a “crime against moral integrity” with “aggravating circumstance of discrimination based on racist motives”.

An initial 12-month sentence was reduced by a third following an agreement reached at the preliminary investigation stage.

The fans were also banned from entering any football stadium in which La Liga and/or Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) matches are played for a period of three years, later reduced to two.

Brazil international Vinicius joined La Liga, Real Madrid and RFEF in bringing the case to court. The defendants read a letter of apology during the hearing.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said:, external “This ruling is great news for the fight against racism in Spain, as it goes some way to redressing the disgraceful wrong suffered by Vinicius Jr and sends a clear message to those individuals who go to a football stadium to hurl abuse.

“La Liga will identify them, report them, and there will be criminal consequences.

“I understand that there may be some frustration at the length of time it takes for these sentences to be handed down, but this shows that Spain is a country that guarantees judicial integrity.

“We at La Liga can only respect the pace of justice, but once again we demand that Spanish legislation evolve to give La Liga sanctioning powers that can speed up the fight against racism.”

Real Madrid said they “will continue to work to protect the values of our club and eradicate any racist behaviour in the world of football and sport”.

Billie Eilish: ‘I was ghosted. It was insane’

By Noor Nanji@NoorNanjiCulture reporter

She may be one of music’s biggest stars, but it turns out even Billie Eilish is not immune to being ghosted.

The American artist, 22, told the BBC podcast Miss Me? that she had “a crazy ghosting happen” last year, adding: “It was insane.”

Ghosting – for the uninitiated – is when a friend or romantic prospect suddenly cuts off all communication with you, without any explanation.

The What Was I Made For singer also said that she struggled to maintain friendships when she first found fame.

Eilish was just 14 when she unveiled her debut single Ocean Eyes. Since then, she has shot to worldwide stardom, scooping up multiple awards along the way.

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Speaking to Lily Allen and Miquita Oliver, Eilish said: “I’ve been ghosted for sure.”

She said the incident happened last December, adding it was “literally unbelievable. To this day, [he] never texted me again.”

“I was like, did you die? Did you literally die?,” she said.

“It was somebody that I’d also known for years and had a plan, the day of, on the phone, making a plan, this is my address, be there at 3pm – never heard from him again. Ever. I couldn’t believe it.”

Eilish said she later saw that he was dating someone else.

“And I was like ‘oh’. But I didn’t know people still did that. I genuinely didn’t know people did that.”

The singer and songwriter’s third studio album, Hit Me Hard and Soft, was released last month.

Earlier this year, she and her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell won the Oscar for Best Song with What Was I Made For?, which they penned for the Barbie soundtrack.

But Eilish said that stardom made it hard for her to have friends.

“Well I lost all of my friends when I got famous,” she said.

“I suddenly was famous and I couldn’t relate to anybody. It was tough. It was really hard.”

Eilish said that her best friend, Zoe, remained by her side. But her only other friends were her employees.

“And then it was my 20th birthday and I remember looking around the room and it was only people that I employ. And all 15 years or more older than me.”

She said one of those employees subsequently quit, out of the blue, and stopped talking to her.

“And it was the worst thing that happened to me. And that made me realise like ‘oh wait, this is a job’,” she said. “If they left me they would never see me again.”

Eilish said that since then, she finds it hard to be friendly to people she works with, “because I’m very freaked out by loss and I have a lot of abandonment problems,” she said.

But she added that she has worked hard on making new friends and rekindling old friendships.

“Exactly a year ago, I reconnected with a bunch of old friends and now, I have so many friends,” she said.

“I have a crew now! I could literally cry about it. It’s been the greatest thing that’s happened to me.”

She said that when she recently went with them to a party at Coachella, she burst into tears.

“I was like, “Guys, I have friends and I just love you guys so much, and it’s been so long since I’ve had friends. I cried… and it’s literally because I actually have friendship now again.”

The singer added that Allen’s track Smile had inspired her to make new friends.

In the 2006 song, Allen sings, “

“I used to want to cry hearing that line because I didn’t feel that way, because I didn’t have friends,” Eilish said.

“And I remember thinking I want to feel that way. And I want to listen to this song that I relate to in every way and hear that line about friends and be like, my friends got my through it.”

A night of drama in Europe as EU parliament moves to right

While much of the European election reaction has focussed on French President Emmanuel Macron’s bombshell snap election announcement after the far-right National Rally won there, parties in other countries across the EU have been considering their gains and losses.

Although far-right and nationalist parties have made gains, the centre-right also performed well, holding its position as the largest grouping and managing to gain seats.

Centre-right parties came out top in Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain, and made significant advances in Hungary.

Here are some key takeaways from our correspondents around Europe.

Germany coalition suffers losses but no snap election

Damien McGuinness in Berlin

It has been a sorry sight for Germany’s three-party coalition government, but unlike Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he will not call for an election.

The alliance between the Social Democrats, Greens and liberals was already tricky, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant breaking economic and energy ties with Russia and renouncing former pacifist feelings.

This alienated some core supporters, created party rifts, and overall rattled voters. A huge surge in migration has also put strain on the resources of local councils.

While the government has managed to boost military spending and pivot away from cheaper Russian energy, it means money is tight.

Step in the populist far-right and far-left, who promise a quick return to peace and prosperity: “Just negotiate with Putin, and buy Russian gas again,” says the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

AfD came second with 15.9% and Scholz’s social democratic SPD came third with 13.9%. Coming up top was the conservative CDU party with an impressive 30% of the vote.

“We want to end the war so just stop sending arms to Ukraine and stop migrants coming,” says the new populist far-left party BSW led by ex-communist firebrand Sahra Wagenknecht.

Most German voters and politicians believe dealing with Moscow and migration is not that straightforward, and a majority in Germany support Ukraine.

But in times of insecurity and uncertainty, simple messages are seductive.

Italy’s PM made the vote about her – and it paid off

Laura Gozzi in Rome

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has cemented her grip on Italian politics.

She used the European elections to boost her own popularity by putting her name at the top of her party’s ballot, and it proved a successful gamble: with 29%, she has increased the vote gained by her party in the 2022 general election.

But there is another success story in Italy. The opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) performed better than hoped, with 24% of the vote – its highest result since 2014.

The result will boost the PD and lend credibility to its leader, Elly Schlein, who has seemingly managed to find her footing after just over a year at the helm of the country’s biggest opposition party.

Smaller parties in the governing coalition will have some thinking to do. Forza Italia – the party founded by late media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi – won slightly more votes than the once-mighty and now floundering League party, headed by Matteo Salvini.

Even the League’s founder, Umberto Bossi, declared he would vote for Forza Italia to signal his discontent at the direction the League has taken. Two centrist parties – one led by former PM Matteo Renzi – failed to hit the threshold required to send MEPs to the European Parliament.

But despite these internal going-ons, Italy has, rather unusually, emerged from the European elections as a pretty stable country – much more so, in any case, than some of its neighbours.

Dutch gains for Green-left and far-right

Anna Holligan in The Hague

Last November, anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) leader – and long-time Marine Le Pen ally – Geert Wilders won a shock victory in the Netherlands’ national election.

The EU election predictions suggest the public sentiment hasn’t changed much since then.

The headlines: Green-Left parties secured the most seats, while the Freedom Party made the greatest gains.

The nuances: Centre-right parties had a strong showing.

Dutch and EU political veteran Frans Timmermans said: “This shows that a majority in the Netherlands wants to strengthen Europe and certainly not destroy it.”

While Geert Wilders – who until recently promised a referendum on Nexit (i.e. Netherlands’ exit from the EU) – posted five red love heart emojis on X. “Still the biggest winner with five more seats.”

Interestingly, the biggest celebrations I witnessed in the parliament bar last night were being held by two relative newcomers, at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Pro-EU Volt (from none to two MEPs) cheered and toasted beneath an archway of blue and yellow balloons.

While outside the revolving doors, the unmistakable Farmer Citizen Movement leader Caroline van der Plas was taking in some fresh air alongside the party’s new MEP Jessika van Leeuwen.

Both were initially predicted to gain two MEPs, although the latest prediction suggests BBB will win just one.

Hungary sees a new opposition appear

Nick Thorpe in Budapest

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party won both the European and municipal elections.

But the real victory of the night went to Peter Magyar, a 43-year-old lawyer whose centre-right Tisza party replaced the old opposition.

Fidesz got 44% and Tisza 30%. Tisza was created just three months ago. They will have 7 MEPs, to 11 for Fidesz, and will apply to join the European People’s Party grouping in the European Parliament.

“We defeated the old and the new opposition,” Viktor Orban consoled his supporters.

But in practice the political system he built, in which Fidesz acts as a “central force field” in which several other small, ineffective parties have to operate, is over.

Far-right party claims ‘new era’ in Austria

Bethany Bell in Vienna

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader, Herbert Kickl, has told a crowd of cheering supporters that his party’s victory in the European elections marked “a new era in politics”.

And the next step, he said, is the chancellery.

Austria will hold parliamentary elections in the autumn. Neither of the past two leaders of FPÖ, Hans Christian Strache or Jörg Haider, were able to deliver first-place for their party. But now the party is feeling confident.

Writing in the centre left-leaning Der Standard newspaper, editor-in-chief Gerold Riedmann said the FPÖ had become a melting pot of people who have “concerns about migration; who don’t think Putin is all that bad; who felt humiliated by vaccination and coronavirus; who think climate protection is unnecessary; and who simply want to teach everyone a lesson”.

With most of the votes counted, the FPÖ won 25.7% of the vote, just ahead of the conservative People’s Party at 24.7%. The Social Democrats got 23.3%, the Greens 10.9%, the liberal Neos 10.1%.

Aircraft carrying Malawi vice-president goes missing

An aircraft carrying Malawi’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima and nine others has gone missing, a statement from the president’s office has said.

The Malawi Defense Force aircraft “went off the radar” after it left the capital, Lilongwe, on Monday morning, it added.

The president ordered a search and rescue operation after aviation officials were unable to contact the aircraft.

It was supposed to land at Mzuzu International Airport, in the country’s north, just after 10:00 local time (11:00 BST)

After being informed of the incident, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera cancelled his scheduled flight to the Bahamas.

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Michael Mosley died of natural causes, police say

By Nikos PapanikolaouKathryn ArmstrongBBC News

An initial post-mortem examination on the body of Dr Michael Mosley has concluded he died of natural causes, the BBC has been told.

The TV presenter’s remains were found in a rocky area on the Greek island of Symi on Sunday – four days after he went missing.

Greek police spokeswoman Konstantia Dimoglidou told the BBC that the initial post-mortem found no injuries on his body that could have caused his death.

Dr Mosley’s time of death was around 16:00 (14:00BST) on Wednesday, the day he went missing.

Ms Dimoglidou said the initial conclusion that Dr Mosley died of natural causes was based on the position his body was found in, as well as a lack of injuries.

A toxicology report and a histology report have now been ordered.

The BBC has seen CCTV footage that appears to show Dr Mosley disappear from view as he slowly makes his way down a hillside close to where his body was later found.

The footage, taken near to the Agia Marina beach bar, is the last known footage of Dr Mosley.

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.

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

A police source told BBC News he 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”.

“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.

Calypso Haggett, Dr Mosley’s business partner and chief executive of The Fast 800 weight-loss programme, said in a statement that he was a “shining light for the whole team”.

“I had the great privilege of knowing Michael both professionally and personally. He really, truly was one of a kind and will be terribly missed by everyone,” said Ms Haggett.

“Michael has left an incredible legacy, which I know will live on and energise a continuous movement for better health.”

Downing Street said that Dr Mosley would be known “as an extraordinary broadcaster who used his platform to influence and change the way we think about many public health issues”.

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

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

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai

Nine 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.

Officials had initially said after the incident on Sunday that the death toll was 10, but revised the figure later.

They said that the driver lost control after the attack, causing the bus to plunge into a gorge in Reasi district of Jammu.

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).

Mr Sinha has announced a compensation of 1m rupees ($12000; £9400) to the next of kin of the deceased and 50,000 rupees to the injured.

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

On Monday, the Jammu police released the names of the victims, including the driver of the bus. They are from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Two of the victims are children, aged two years and 14.

Some survivors spoke to ANI news agency about their ordeal.

One of them said the driver had been shot and that the firing didn’t stop even after the bus fell into the gorge.

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:

Blinken in Middle East to sell Gaza ceasefire deal

By Tom BatemanState department correspondent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has visited Egypt as he attempts to build regional support for a draft Gaza peace deal recently unveiled by President Joe Biden.

The top American diplomat is on his eighth visit to the Middle East since the start of the war in Gaza.

Following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Mr Blinken said his message was: “If you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes”.

He will hold talks later on Monday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mediators in the region – which also include Qatar – have been attempting to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas for months.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to resist any such deal until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed and all hostages are released.

On Saturday, Israel’s forces, backed by air strikes, freed four more captives after fighting intense gun battles with Hamas in and around the Nuseirat refugee camp.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said the raid killed 274 people, including children and other civilians. Israel says fewer than 100 people died in the operation.

After the offensive, Hamas’s political leader said the group would not agree to a ceasefire deal unless it achieved security for Palestinians.

Mr Blinken is using his trip to argue that Hamas is the sole obstacle to the agreement of the ceasefire-for-hostage release deal that the US desperately seeks.

“Does Hamas want to end this conflict, end this war that it started, or not? We’ll find out,” he said.

“But it’s clear that virtually the entire world has come together in support of the proposal.”

The three-phase plan set out 10 days ago by Mr Biden would involve a six-week ceasefire that would become permanent, and the rebuilding of Gaza with international assistance.

The president called it Israel’s proposal, in an attempt to effectively bounce the two sides into progress.

The Biden administration claims the text is “nearly identical” to one endorsed by Hamas last month.

Hamas is likely to demand guarantees the plan would lead to a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Its political leadership in Doha has yet to formally respond to the proposal, according to US and Israeli officials, so it remains to be seen whether indirect negotiations can resume.

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.

The Hamas-run health ministry says the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 37,000.

Grief in Gaza as scores killed in IDF hostage raid

While Mr Biden presented the peace initiative as an Israeli one, the US also knows Israel’s own fractious ruling coalition is approaching the plan with much reluctance.

This extends to outright opposition by some far-right ministers who are threatening to trigger a collapse of the government if the deal progresses.

America’s chief diplomat is therefore flying into the thick of a political storm in Israel with few signs of a breakthrough on the truce proposal. The resignation of former general Benny Gantz from the war cabinet on Sunday has deepened the sense of instability around Prime Minister Netanyahu, with whom the White House has become exasperated over the course of the war.

For officials in Washington, Mr Gantz had become a preferred point of contact. He quit after giving Mr Netanyahu an 8 June deadline to meet his demands. Many of his objections to Mr Netanyahu’s handling of the war – including over a lack of any meaningful governance plan for a post-Hamas Gaza – closely mirrored those of the Biden administration.

On Sunday, Mr Gantz accused the prime minister of putting his political survival ahead of the national interest, keeping Israel “from achieving real victory”. Mr Netanyahu fired back that this was not a time for colleagues to quit but to “join forces”.

Mr Gantz’s resignation pulls the Israeli government’s centre of gravity back towards the far-right, although it remains unclear how his move will affect the pressure Washington can bring to bear on Mr Netanyahu, with its chief goal still being to build backing for the truce agreement.

In Cairo, Mr Blinken met President Sisi, whose mediators he said had been in touch with Hamas only hours before their conversation.

A statement from the president’s office stressed the need to lift obstacles to humanitarian aid for Gazans.

“Deal or no deal, it remains absolutely essential that we get more aid to Palestinians who need it,” Mr Blinken told reporters following the meeting.

Mr Sisi has also been pressing for progress on the issue of the Rafah border crossing.

The gate from Egypt is a lifeline for humanitarian aid entering Gaza and is also the only international exit route for wounded Palestinians, small numbers of whom have been able to leave over the course of the war for hospital treatment in Egypt. It has also been the primary route by which international aid teams have travelled in and out of Gaza.

The Rafah crossing has remained closed since Israel captured and occupied the crossing from Hamas forces last month, in a move which has outraged the Egyptian leadership.

Egypt has been demanding officials from the internationally-recognised Palestinian Authority are put in control of the Rafah crossing, a move so far rejected by Israel. The longer the standoff remains unresolved, the worse the risks become of a crisis between Israel and Egypt, who made peace five decades ago and whose longstanding treaty agreements are critical in trying to maintain regional stability.

SA rapper mourns daughter, 9, killed in car crash

By Danai Nesta KupembaBBC News

South African rapper Shebeshxt is mourning the death of his nine-year-old daughter after she died in a car crash.

“My life will never be the same without your presence,” the rapper said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

The musician was travelling with three passengers to perform at the African National Congress (ANC) Siyanqoba Rally celebration concert in the northern Limpopo province on Saturday when the car collided with a heavy motor vehicle and overturned.

In addition to losing his daughter, the rapper, whose real name is Lehlogonolo Katlego Chauke, also shared that he had lost his foot in the crash.

“My heart is so so broken.. I’m trying to adjust the accident that left me in trauma and so many tears. Loosing [sic] my f##t was enough, not too loose [sic] my daughter,” he wrote on X.

Condolences and prayers from fans and the music community have been pouring in.

Limpopo Artists Movement (LAM) said in a statement on Monday: “We cannot imagine the pain and grief they must be experiencing, but we want them to know that they are not alone.

“The entire artistic community stands in solidarity with them, offering comfort and support. Shebe is not only a talented artist but also a valued member of our creative fraternity.”

Videos of the crash have been circulating online. In one clip, Shebeshxt is seen lying on the ground while paramedics attend to him.

Tidimalo Chuene, the spokesperson for the transport department in Limpopo, told local media the cause of the crash was under investigation.

This is Shebeshxt’s second car accident this year.

In January he was involved in a crash which left him unharmed but his car was written off.

Shebeshxt’s popularity grew after his song Ke Di Shxt Malume became hugely popular on TikTok and has been on a steady rise in the music industry in South Africa, but he has become a controversial figure.

Earlier this year a video of the rapper pulling out a gun while performing was widely shared on social media.

You may also be interested in:

  • Singer Libianca on ‘horrific threats’ over Cameroon war
  • Tiwa Savage: I always wanted to be an actor
  • South African singer Tyla’s racial identity sparks culture war
  • Cameroonian singer Mr Leo on finding the ‘power of our voice’

BBC Africa podcasts

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.

Two-in-one flu and Covid jab passes advanced trial

By Michelle RobertsDigital health editor, BBC News

Drug company Moderna says its combined flu and Covid vaccine, which targets the two diseases in a single shot, has passed a vital part of final-stage scientific checks.

The phase-three trial shows the vaccine arms the body with protective antibodies.

And it does so as effectively as separate flu and Covid shots, results suggest.

Fewer injections would be more convenient and simpler, Moderna says.

Chief executive Stephane Bancel told BBC News he hoped the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine could be made widely available in 2026 – or perhaps, 2025.

“We are very delighted about the results, because it’s the first time in the world that a company is able to show positive phase-three results combining in a single dose flu and Covid vaccine,” he said.

“You get one dose, one needle,” which meant “ease and peace of mind for the consumer”.

Competitors Pfizer and BioNTech are testing a similar two-in-one mRNA vaccine against flu and Covid.

Scientists hope mRNA vaccines will be faster to make and update than the current ones used against flu, and be a better match for ever-changing strains.

In the continuing Moderna trial, the mRNA-1083 jab produced a higher immune response than the licensed comparator vaccines.

It matched or bettered currently approved flu jabs, including high-dose ones designed for older people.

And it was better than Moderna’s existing Covid booster, Spikevax, at making the body produce disease-fighting antibodies – probably because it had been designed to fight more recent variants circulating around the world, Mr Bancel told BBC News in an interview.

Older people

The results are from 8,000 volunteers – all aged over 50 and half over 64.

Moderna said it had focused on older people because they were most likely to continue to be offered Covid vaccines.

But it plans ultimately to offer the new jab to younger people also.

Any side effects were generally mild – a bit of soreness where the needle went into the skin and some tiredness – as with regular vaccines.

The company plans to present the findings at a medical conference, as well as submit them for publication.

Prof John Tregoning, an immunologist at Imperial College London, said work on a dual vaccine was “a promising direction of travel”, but that the science world awaited the full data for scrutiny.

Moderna is also developing an mRNA vaccine against a disease called cytomegalovirus, for which it hopes to have late-stage trial results this autumn.

Currently, there is nothing to protect pregnant women and their unborn babies against CMV.

Last civilian hospital in besieged Sudan city closed

By Natasha Booty, Anne Soy & Will RossBBC News

Doctors at one of the last functioning hospitals in the besieged Sudanese city of el-Fasher say they’ve been forced to close down the facility after it was attacked.

The country is in the midst of a devastating civil war that began 14 months ago.

El-Fasher is the only city still under army control in the entire Darfur region.

The hospital has been supported by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which had described it as the only one left in el-Fasher where injured civilians could receive treatment.

For several days there had been reports of shells hitting the city’s South Hospital, causing injuries and deaths.

But eyewitnesses say the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered the facility on Saturday, causing chaos.

According to accounts, gunmen drove up to the hospital and opened fire – looting drugs and medical equipment, stealing an ambulance and assaulting staff.

“Due to the chaos, our team was unable to verify if there were any dead or wounded,” the medical charity’s interim head of mission in Sudan, Maximilien Kowalski, told BBC Newsday.

Medics at the hospital had told the BBC days earlier that they were planning to relocate it because of security concerns.

When it was attacked on Saturday, thankfully only 10 patients and a reduced medical team were at the facility, MSF says.

“The hospital is really close to the frontline, so it will remain closed for now,” the medical charity’s Sudan chief tells the BBC.

Fuel, electricity and water supplies do not yet work at the nearby dilapidated Saudi Hospital where MSF is having to move their el-Fasher operations, says Mr Kowalski, leaving injured civilians with nowhere to go for at least a week.

Saturday’s attack is yet another sign that there are no rules in the Sudanese civil war.

“Opening fire inside a hospital crosses a line,” says MSF Head of Emergencies Michel Lacharite. He calls the attack “outrageous” and says “the responsibility lies with warring parties to spare medical facilities”.

The Sudanese national army, which has been fighting the RSF over the past year, has also been accused of widespread abuses.

But in this case the RSF has forced a hospital where civilians were being treated to shut down.

The suspension of activities at the hospital is a major setback for the people of el-Fasher as it was the main referral facility for treating the war-wounded.

It was “the only one equipped to manage mass casualties and one of two hospitals with surgical capacity,” according to the MSF, which says more than 1,300 injured people have sought treatment there in the past month alone.

Sudan’s paramilitary RSF force is widely reported to be backed by the United Arab Emirates – officials there deny it.

Across the country, more than 15,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the conflict started in April 2023, while almost nine million have been forced to flee their homes – more than in any other conflict in the world.

The RSF took control of Gezira state, to the south of the capital, Khartoum, in December and has been accused of carrying out numerous abuses against civilians there – which it denies.

Last week, at least 150 people, including 35 children, were massacred by suspected RSF forces in the village of Wad al-Nourah in Gezira state.

In Darfur, rights groups have said the RSF is using rape as a weapon of war, and is targeting darker-skinned Masalit people and other non-Arab groups in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Several rounds of peace talks have failed to end the war, which began when the two generals leading the army and RSF respectively fell out.

UN agencies say the fighting has sparked the world’s largest displacement crisis and that millions are facing a hunger catastrophe as a result.

More BBC stories on Sudan’s civil war:

  • I couldn’t bury my brother because of el-Fasher bombing
  • The children living between starvation and death in Darfur
  • Famine looms as civil war survivors tell of killings and rapes
  • The two generals at the heart of the conflict
  • A front-row seat to my country falling apart

BBC Africa podcasts

Israel buoyed by hostage rescue – but way ahead still fraught

By Hugo BachegaMiddle East correspondent

The dramatic rescue of four Israeli hostages in Gaza amid efforts to try to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire has raised questions over the impact it could have on reaching a deal, as mediated talks show no sign of a breakthrough.

As images of the freed and smiling three men and one woman dominated TV bulletins and news websites, tens of thousands of people joined protests across Israel on Saturday, urging the government to strike an agreement with Hamas for the release of those who are still being held. “All of them, now!” the crowd chanted in Tel Aviv.

Hamas meanwhile has called the operation, which its health ministry said killed more than 270 Palestinians, a “massacre”.

Being discussed is a three-stage plan announced by US President Joe Biden earlier this month, which he described as an Israeli proposal. It would secure the release of the hostages and, crucially, pave the way for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Notably, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not openly endorsed the plan. It is not surprising, as he is facing pressure from multiple fronts and seems to be caught between two options: ceasefire or coalition.

The families of the hostages, whose ordeal has gripped the nation, and Israel’s international allies are calling for a deal. From the people captured in October, 116 remain in captivity; more than a third of them have already been officially declared dead, a number that is probably higher.

Among those against the proposal, full details of which have not been made public, are two of Mr Netanyahu’s far-right ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. They have threatened to quit the government if the deal goes ahead, which could lead to the collapse of the Netanyahu coalition.

“Temporarily in Israel there will be more pressure from certain quarters on Netanyahu to not do any deal, that we should continue to do rescue operations,” Gershon Baskin, who helped negotiated a deal with Hamas for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, said. “Anyone who thinks logically and rationally knows that the only way to get [the] hostages home is through a negotiated deal.”

The resignation of Benny Gantz from the emergency government on Sunday is likely to result in more power to both Mr Ben-Gvir and Mr Smotrich – and, possibly, in more pressure from them on Mr Netanyahu. Described as a moderate, Mr Gantz is considered a possible candidate to be the next prime minister.

In Israel, much of the dispute over the current proposal is around the commitment to a permanent cessation of hostilities – in other words, the end of the war. Mr Netanyahu has insisted Israel will not accept any plan before the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, a choice of words that is vague enough to leave his options open.

“I believe that Netanyahu prefers his coalition over bringing our boys and girls home,” said Michael Hauser Tov, chief political correspondent at the Haaretz newspaper, which is critical of the prime minister.

This is a common suspicion in Israel and elsewhere: that Mr Netanyahu is interested in prolonging the war for his own political survival. “I think Netanyahu will try to continue with the negotiations only for his international needs and the relationship with President Biden. And, on the other hand, he’ll try to sabotage the negotiations because he wants to keep his coalition stable.”

Hamas has not yet given a formal response to the plan outlined by President Biden. One of its key demands is a guarantee that the Israeli military will not resume its offensive against the group once the hostages are released.

“Hamas, from my experience with them, puts up a position and they stay firm to it. How long can they last? I don’t know,” Mr Baskin said. “My perception is that the longer Israel continues this war, the easier for [Hamas] to recruit new recruits from bereaved families and people who’ve lost their homes, and an armed insurgency against the Israelis will continue as long as Israel is in Gaza.”

The Israeli rescue in Gaza, which resulted in the death of one Israeli special forces officer, was considered a successful operation by Israel’s top authorities, despite the carnage in Nuseirat that has been largely ignored in Israel.

“If anyone believes that [Saturday’s] operation absolves the government to strike a deal, they are living a fantasy,” Nahum Barnea, an Israeli political commentator, wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “The opposite is true. The joy over the successful rescue of the four only evinced the need for a deal.”

Hours after the four freed hostages arrived in a hospital near Tel Aviv, Mr Netanyahu visited them and their families. It did not go unnoticed that this happened before the end of the Jewish Sabbath, when official activities are often muted, and was accompanied by a torrent of videos and photos released by his team.

“When the ending is bad, the prime minister doesn’t show up. He doesn’t call, either,” Avi Marciano, whose daughter Noa was killed in captivity, wrote on Facebook.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in the Middle East, his eighth trip to the region since the Hamas attacks, in another effort to push for a deal. There are also growing concerns that, without a ceasefire in Gaza, violence might escalate along Israel’s border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement has carried out near-daily attacks.

With a wide gap remaining between Israel and Hamas, US pressure is not a guarantee of progress. “There’s no quick end to this war… This could theoretically go on for years,” Mr Baskin said. “I really want to be optimistic, but it’s very difficult to be.”

Reunions after four Israeli hostages freed in IDF raid

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.

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.

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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Nigerian star’s drowning forces Nollywood to look at safety

By Hannah GelbartBBC What in the 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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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

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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.

YouTube prankster voted in as Cyprus MEP

By Vicky WongBBC News

A popular YouTuber from Cyprus has been elected as an independent MEP to the European Parliament.

Fidias Panayiotou has previously described himself as a “professional mistake maker” and some of his online hijinks include trying to hug 100 celebrities – including Elon Musk – and spending a week in a coffin.

The 24-year-old has more than 2.6 million subscribers and – despite having no political experience – garnered the third-largest number of votes with 19.4%.

“It was a shock what happened, a miracle,” said Mr Panayiotou.

He told state broadcaster CyBC: “The parties should take it as a warning that they must modernise and listen to the people.”

Last year Mr Panayiotou was forced to apologise after he caused outrage in Japan for a YouTube video in which he dodged train fares and a five-star hotel breakfast bill.

The clip, which racked up millions of views, saw him travel across Japan on its famed bullet train, while dodging fares by hiding in toilets and feigning illness.

But on Sunday, he celebrated his win with a gathering at Eleftheria Square in the island’s capital Nicosia, where he said: “We are writing history. Not just in Cyprus, but internationally.”

According to Politico, Mr Panayiotou declared in January he would run in the polls.

Appearing on Cypriot TV, Alpha Cyprus – where he wore trainers, shorts, a suit jacket and three neck ties – he admitted that he had never voted, knew little about politics and the EU, but that he could no longer stand the continued rule of “nerds” in Brussels.

When Mr Panayiotou submitted his candidacy in April, he admitted that his goal was not to get elected but to motivate young people to get involved in politics.

The Mediterranean island nation has a population of about 900,000, of whom more than 683,000 were registered to vote in the weekend’s polls.

Turnout in Cyprus was at just under 59% – up from 45% in the 2019 elections, with analysts attributing the rise in part to the “Fidias factor”.

According analysis of exit poll data by news site Philenews, Mr Panayiotou won 40% of the votes from the 18-24 age group and 28% of votes from the 25-34 group.

Six Cypriot MEPs were elected.

Mr Panayiotou came third behind the conservative DISY (25%) which retained its two MEPs, and the communist party AKEL (22%) which lost one of its two MEPs.

Cypriot voters also elected an MEP from the ultranationalist party ELAM (11%) and the centrist party Diko (10%).

Graduation ceremony finally happens, 50 years later

By Max MatzaBBC News

Fifty years after a tornado warning led to the abrupt cancellation of a high school graduation for students in Moore, Oklahoma, the class of 1974 has finally walked across stage to receive diplomas.

On Saturday, the graduates got their moment to wear blue caps and gowns and celebrate the academic achievements of their youth.

The event 50 years ago was never rescheduled, and for years the class of 500 pupils had discussed the idea of holding a formal graduation ceremony for themselves.

“Our grandchildren are gonna see us graduate,” one man eagerly told The Oklahoman newspaper ahead of the event.

On 23 May, 1974, the high school seniors had just taken their seats in a football stadium under darkening skies when a school administrator came to the microphone to advise people to urgently seek shelter.

“Maybe one song, maybe one speech, and then the superintendent gets up and says you graduated, you’re done,” Mike Wilson, a local sports announcer who helped lead the effort to reschedule the event, told TV station KOCO-TV.

Rains soaked the students in their formal attire as they hid under bleachers and drove away from the school to find safety.

A school trip planned for the following day meant that the event couldn’t be moved, and graduates were instead told to unceremoniously pick up their diplomas from the gymnasium before the school year ended.

Moore High School Principal Rachel Stark, a 1988 graduate, told The Oklahoman that she was glad to have helped arrange for the belated ceremony.

“It’s very unique,” Ms Stark said. “I’ve never heard of it before. They’re still a part of our community… so we’re gonna do it for them.”

On Saturday, around 200 graduates formally recieved their diplomas. The weather was sunny and warm, with only a slight chance of storms.

Family members of 1974 class members who had died were encouraged to walk across the stage on behalf of the late graduates.

Class President Bob Baker gave a modified version of the speech he had planned for a half-century ago, and the two valedictorians, Phyllis Clark and Lloyd White, also spoke, graduate Sterling Crim told the BBC.

The event took place after the school hosted a belated ceremony for another students whose own commencement events were delayed, those who graduated at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the New York Times.

“The older you get, you just look back and think you’ve missed out on something,” Mr Wilson told the newspaper.

No tornado ever touched down in Moore that day, but the city has been hit by other deadly storms.

In 1999, a tornado with winds over 300mph struck Moore, killing 36 people.

Another tornado outside Moore in 2013 left 91 people dead.

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.

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.

Michael Mosley died of natural causes, police say

By Nikos PapanikolaouKathryn ArmstrongBBC News

An initial post-mortem examination on the body of Dr Michael Mosley has concluded he died of natural causes, the BBC has been told.

The TV presenter’s remains were found in a rocky area on the Greek island of Symi on Sunday – four days after he went missing.

Greek police spokeswoman Konstantia Dimoglidou told the BBC that the initial post-mortem found no injuries on his body that could have caused his death.

Dr Mosley’s time of death was around 16:00 (14:00BST) on Wednesday, the day he went missing.

Ms Dimoglidou said the initial conclusion that Dr Mosley died of natural causes was based on the position his body was found in, as well as a lack of injuries.

A toxicology report and a histology report have now been ordered.

The BBC has seen CCTV footage that appears to show Dr Mosley disappear from view as he slowly makes his way down a hillside close to where his body was later found.

The footage, taken near to the Agia Marina beach bar, is the last known footage of Dr Mosley.

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.

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

A police source told BBC News he 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”.

“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.

Calypso Haggett, Dr Mosley’s business partner and chief executive of The Fast 800 weight-loss programme, said in a statement that he was a “shining light for the whole team”.

“I had the great privilege of knowing Michael both professionally and personally. He really, truly was one of a kind and will be terribly missed by everyone,” said Ms Haggett.

“Michael has left an incredible legacy, which I know will live on and energise a continuous movement for better health.”

Downing Street said that Dr Mosley would be known “as an extraordinary broadcaster who used his platform to influence and change the way we think about many public health issues”.

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

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

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai

Nine 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.

Officials had initially said after the incident on Sunday that the death toll was 10, but revised the figure later.

They said that the driver lost control after the attack, causing the bus to plunge into a gorge in Reasi district of Jammu.

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).

Mr Sinha has announced a compensation of 1m rupees ($12000; £9400) to the next of kin of the deceased and 50,000 rupees to the injured.

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

On Monday, the Jammu police released the names of the victims, including the driver of the bus. They are from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Two of the victims are children, aged two years and 14.

Some survivors spoke to ANI news agency about their ordeal.

One of them said the driver had been shot and that the firing didn’t stop even after the bus fell into the gorge.

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:

Macron snap election leaves rivals stunned after EU vote

By Laura GozziBBC News, Rome • Paul KirbyBBC News, Brussels

France’s political leaders are scrambling to prepare for snap elections after President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament in response to a stinging European vote defeat by the far-right National Rally.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has warned the two-round vote, starting on 30 June could have “the most serious consequences” in modern French history.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats were also heavily beaten in Sunday’s European elections by the conservative opposition, but he has ruled out holding early elections.

The conservative CSU premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, said Mr Scholz’s government was essentially finished and needed to follow the French example.

Germany isn’t scheduled to hold fresh elections until 2025, but Mr Söder said the “country needs a new start”.

Macron ally Yaël Braun-Pivet, who’s president of the National Assembly said there had been an alternative to new elections, which involved a government pact , but “the president decided that path wasn’t open to him”. Without a majority in parliament, the government relies on support from other parties to pass legislation.

There was also frustration from the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, that the vote was taking place three weeks before the capital hosts the Olympics.

Mr Macron’s Renew party polled less than 15% of the vote on Sunday, while the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and young leader Jordan Bardella, secured more than 31%.

The decision to hold new elections came as a shock across the political spectrum, with reports of a hastily organised meeting involving top RN leaders and Marion Maréchal from rival far-right party Reconquête.

There were calls for France’s bitterly divided left to rally round Socialist Raphaël Glucksmann, who scored almost 14% in the European vote.

President Macron joined German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, to mark the 80th anniversary of one of the worst massacres by the Nazis in World War Two, when SS troops murdered 643 villagers in 1944.

President Steinmeier said it was fitting on the day after European elections that Europeans never forgot the damage done by nationalism and hate: “Let us never forget the miracle of reconciliation that the European Union has worked.”

Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second in Germany’s European vote on Sunday, ahead of all three parties in the Mr Scholz’s coalition government, despite a succession of scandals involving the AfD’s top two candidates.

Its newly elected MEPs voted to exclude top candidate Maximilian Krah from their delegation in the European Parliament, after he was investigated for alleged links to Russia and China.

Meanwhile, President Macron is due to meet both Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni at a G7 summit this week in the Italian region of Puglia.

The three leaders are likely not just to discuss the outcome of Sunday’s European vote, but also whether to support Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to win a second term as president of the European Commission.

The Italian leader told Italian radio on Monday that it was “too early to talk about a second mandate” for the current Commission chief.

Ms von der Leyen’s centre-right European People’s Party emerged as by far the biggest grouping in the next European Parliament.

Among the winners on the centre-right were Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who managed to lead his Civic Coalition party to a narrow victory over the right-wing-populist PiS party for the first time in a decade.

Mr Tusk is now one of Europe’s few leaders to have emerged from these elections with a stronger mandate.

The far-right Polish Confederation party won 12% of the vote, and one of its successful candidates is Grzegorz Braun – who provoked an international outcry in December when used a fire extinguisher to put out candles on a menorah in the Polish parliament placed there for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

Czech President Petr Pavel said Europe should examine why support for far-right, conservative, nationalist parties was increasing and “needs to take notice of these voices”.

The Czech vote was won by the opposition ANO party of former prime minister Andrej Babis, which clinched seven of the available 21 seats in the European Parliament.

But it was also a good night for three small anti-system parties, including a new party called Motorists, who are campaigning against the EU’s Green Deal on measures on climate change and sustainability. One of the MotoristS MEPs will be controversial former racing driver Filip Turek, who was recently exposed for old social media posts revealing his passion for Nazi gestures and memorabilia.

The far-right fared unexpectedly poorly in Finland and Sweden. The Finns Party had been polling in third place but ended up with just 7.6% of the vote, while the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats slipped to fourth place with 13.2% of the vote.

There was also a surprise result in Denmark, where the Social Democrats of Mette Frederiksen were defeated by Green-Left party SF which polled more than 17% of the vote.

Ms Frederiksen, who is recovering from a physical assault in Copenhagen on Friday night, called the result “really miserable”.

Billie Eilish: ‘I was ghosted. It was insane’

By Noor Nanji@NoorNanjiCulture reporter

She may be one of music’s biggest stars, but it turns out even Billie Eilish is not immune to being ghosted.

The American artist, 22, told the BBC podcast Miss Me? that she had “a crazy ghosting happen” last year, adding: “It was insane.”

Ghosting – for the uninitiated – is when a friend or romantic prospect suddenly cuts off all communication with you, without any explanation.

The What Was I Made For singer also said that she struggled to maintain friendships when she first found fame.

Eilish was just 14 when she unveiled her debut single Ocean Eyes. Since then, she has shot to worldwide stardom, scooping up multiple awards along the way.

  • Billie Eilish cried after first new album show
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Speaking to Lily Allen and Miquita Oliver, Eilish said: “I’ve been ghosted for sure.”

She said the incident happened last December, adding it was “literally unbelievable. To this day, [he] never texted me again.”

“I was like, did you die? Did you literally die?,” she said.

“It was somebody that I’d also known for years and had a plan, the day of, on the phone, making a plan, this is my address, be there at 3pm – never heard from him again. Ever. I couldn’t believe it.”

Eilish said she later saw that he was dating someone else.

“And I was like ‘oh’. But I didn’t know people still did that. I genuinely didn’t know people did that.”

The singer and songwriter’s third studio album, Hit Me Hard and Soft, was released last month.

Earlier this year, she and her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell won the Oscar for Best Song with What Was I Made For?, which they penned for the Barbie soundtrack.

But Eilish said that stardom made it hard for her to have friends.

“Well I lost all of my friends when I got famous,” she said.

“I suddenly was famous and I couldn’t relate to anybody. It was tough. It was really hard.”

Eilish said that her best friend, Zoe, remained by her side. But her only other friends were her employees.

“And then it was my 20th birthday and I remember looking around the room and it was only people that I employ. And all 15 years or more older than me.”

She said one of those employees subsequently quit, out of the blue, and stopped talking to her.

“And it was the worst thing that happened to me. And that made me realise like ‘oh wait, this is a job’,” she said. “If they left me they would never see me again.”

Eilish said that since then, she finds it hard to be friendly to people she works with, “because I’m very freaked out by loss and I have a lot of abandonment problems,” she said.

But she added that she has worked hard on making new friends and rekindling old friendships.

“Exactly a year ago, I reconnected with a bunch of old friends and now, I have so many friends,” she said.

“I have a crew now! I could literally cry about it. It’s been the greatest thing that’s happened to me.”

She said that when she recently went with them to a party at Coachella, she burst into tears.

“I was like, “Guys, I have friends and I just love you guys so much, and it’s been so long since I’ve had friends. I cried… and it’s literally because I actually have friendship now again.”

The singer added that Allen’s track Smile had inspired her to make new friends.

In the 2006 song, Allen sings, “

“I used to want to cry hearing that line because I didn’t feel that way, because I didn’t have friends,” Eilish said.

“And I remember thinking I want to feel that way. And I want to listen to this song that I relate to in every way and hear that line about friends and be like, my friends got my through it.”

Farmers to drive length of British coastline in JCB

By Emma PetrieBBC News

A team of 14 farmers will drive a tractor around Britain’s coastline to raise awareness of mental health in the UK farming industry.

The farmers will set off in a JCB Fastrac, one of the fastest tractors on the market, from Cleethorpes seafront at 09:00 BST on Monday 10 June.

The tractor will head north to Inverness in an anticlockwise direction before returning to Lincolnshire.

The trip is expected to take nine days, and will finish at the Lincolnshire Show.

Taron Lee, the owner of the tractor, has organised the event with his friend, James Caswell.

Mr Lee lost his father in 2022. Mr Caswell suggested doing the drive around the coast as a way of shifting his focus on to something positive.

Mr Lee said: “We’re going to raise a lot of money for mental health charities and pass some positive vibes around. I think we all need that in this day and age.”

He said the JCB Fastrac could travel at a speed of 40mph (65kmh) and was more suited to driving on roads. Mr Lee added: “They are a really comfy tractor on the road, so that’s why we chose that vehicle.”

The team will be sharing the driving on the 4,690-mile (7,547km) trip, and will be at the county show on 19 June.

Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagramastyorkslincs.news@bbc.co.uk

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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.”

Israel buoyed by hostage rescue – but way ahead still fraught

By Hugo BachegaMiddle East correspondent

The dramatic rescue of four Israeli hostages in Gaza amid efforts to try to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire has raised questions over the impact it could have on reaching a deal, as mediated talks show no sign of a breakthrough.

As images of the freed and smiling three men and one woman dominated TV bulletins and news websites, tens of thousands of people joined protests across Israel on Saturday, urging the government to strike an agreement with Hamas for the release of those who are still being held. “All of them, now!” the crowd chanted in Tel Aviv.

Hamas meanwhile has called the operation, which its health ministry said killed more than 270 Palestinians, a “massacre”.

Being discussed is a three-stage plan announced by US President Joe Biden earlier this month, which he described as an Israeli proposal. It would secure the release of the hostages and, crucially, pave the way for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Notably, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not openly endorsed the plan. It is not surprising, as he is facing pressure from multiple fronts and seems to be caught between two options: ceasefire or coalition.

The families of the hostages, whose ordeal has gripped the nation, and Israel’s international allies are calling for a deal. From the people captured in October, 116 remain in captivity; more than a third of them have already been officially declared dead, a number that is probably higher.

Among those against the proposal, full details of which have not been made public, are two of Mr Netanyahu’s far-right ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. They have threatened to quit the government if the deal goes ahead, which could lead to the collapse of the Netanyahu coalition.

“Temporarily in Israel there will be more pressure from certain quarters on Netanyahu to not do any deal, that we should continue to do rescue operations,” Gershon Baskin, who helped negotiated a deal with Hamas for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, said. “Anyone who thinks logically and rationally knows that the only way to get [the] hostages home is through a negotiated deal.”

The resignation of Benny Gantz from the emergency government on Sunday is likely to result in more power to both Mr Ben-Gvir and Mr Smotrich – and, possibly, in more pressure from them on Mr Netanyahu. Described as a moderate, Mr Gantz is considered a possible candidate to be the next prime minister.

In Israel, much of the dispute over the current proposal is around the commitment to a permanent cessation of hostilities – in other words, the end of the war. Mr Netanyahu has insisted Israel will not accept any plan before the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, a choice of words that is vague enough to leave his options open.

“I believe that Netanyahu prefers his coalition over bringing our boys and girls home,” said Michael Hauser Tov, chief political correspondent at the Haaretz newspaper, which is critical of the prime minister.

This is a common suspicion in Israel and elsewhere: that Mr Netanyahu is interested in prolonging the war for his own political survival. “I think Netanyahu will try to continue with the negotiations only for his international needs and the relationship with President Biden. And, on the other hand, he’ll try to sabotage the negotiations because he wants to keep his coalition stable.”

Hamas has not yet given a formal response to the plan outlined by President Biden. One of its key demands is a guarantee that the Israeli military will not resume its offensive against the group once the hostages are released.

“Hamas, from my experience with them, puts up a position and they stay firm to it. How long can they last? I don’t know,” Mr Baskin said. “My perception is that the longer Israel continues this war, the easier for [Hamas] to recruit new recruits from bereaved families and people who’ve lost their homes, and an armed insurgency against the Israelis will continue as long as Israel is in Gaza.”

The Israeli rescue in Gaza, which resulted in the death of one Israeli special forces officer, was considered a successful operation by Israel’s top authorities, despite the carnage in Nuseirat that has been largely ignored in Israel.

“If anyone believes that [Saturday’s] operation absolves the government to strike a deal, they are living a fantasy,” Nahum Barnea, an Israeli political commentator, wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “The opposite is true. The joy over the successful rescue of the four only evinced the need for a deal.”

Hours after the four freed hostages arrived in a hospital near Tel Aviv, Mr Netanyahu visited them and their families. It did not go unnoticed that this happened before the end of the Jewish Sabbath, when official activities are often muted, and was accompanied by a torrent of videos and photos released by his team.

“When the ending is bad, the prime minister doesn’t show up. He doesn’t call, either,” Avi Marciano, whose daughter Noa was killed in captivity, wrote on Facebook.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in the Middle East, his eighth trip to the region since the Hamas attacks, in another effort to push for a deal. There are also growing concerns that, without a ceasefire in Gaza, violence might escalate along Israel’s border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement has carried out near-daily attacks.

With a wide gap remaining between Israel and Hamas, US pressure is not a guarantee of progress. “There’s no quick end to this war… This could theoretically go on for years,” Mr Baskin said. “I really want to be optimistic, but it’s very difficult to be.”

Reunions after four Israeli hostages freed in IDF raid

A night of drama in Europe as EU parliament moves to right

While much of the European election reaction has focussed on French President Emmanuel Macron’s bombshell snap election announcement after the far-right National Rally won there, parties in other countries across the EU have been considering their gains and losses.

Although far-right and nationalist parties have made gains, the centre-right also performed well, holding its position as the largest grouping and managing to gain seats.

Centre-right parties came out top in Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain, and made significant advances in Hungary.

Here are some key takeaways from our correspondents around Europe.

Germany coalition suffers losses but no snap election

Damien McGuinness in Berlin

It has been a sorry sight for Germany’s three-party coalition government, but unlike Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he will not call for an election.

The alliance between the Social Democrats, Greens and liberals was already tricky, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant breaking economic and energy ties with Russia and renouncing former pacifist feelings.

This alienated some core supporters, created party rifts, and overall rattled voters. A huge surge in migration has also put strain on the resources of local councils.

While the government has managed to boost military spending and pivot away from cheaper Russian energy, it means money is tight.

Step in the populist far-right and far-left, who promise a quick return to peace and prosperity: “Just negotiate with Putin, and buy Russian gas again,” says the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

AfD came second with 15.9% and Scholz’s social democratic SPD came third with 13.9%. Coming up top was the conservative CDU party with an impressive 30% of the vote.

“We want to end the war so just stop sending arms to Ukraine and stop migrants coming,” says the new populist far-left party BSW led by ex-communist firebrand Sahra Wagenknecht.

Most German voters and politicians believe dealing with Moscow and migration is not that straightforward, and a majority in Germany support Ukraine.

But in times of insecurity and uncertainty, simple messages are seductive.

Italy’s PM made the vote about her – and it paid off

Laura Gozzi in Rome

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has cemented her grip on Italian politics.

She used the European elections to boost her own popularity by putting her name at the top of her party’s ballot, and it proved a successful gamble: with 29%, she has increased the vote gained by her party in the 2022 general election.

But there is another success story in Italy. The opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) performed better than hoped, with 24% of the vote – its highest result since 2014.

The result will boost the PD and lend credibility to its leader, Elly Schlein, who has seemingly managed to find her footing after just over a year at the helm of the country’s biggest opposition party.

Smaller parties in the governing coalition will have some thinking to do. Forza Italia – the party founded by late media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi – won slightly more votes than the once-mighty and now floundering League party, headed by Matteo Salvini.

Even the League’s founder, Umberto Bossi, declared he would vote for Forza Italia to signal his discontent at the direction the League has taken. Two centrist parties – one led by former PM Matteo Renzi – failed to hit the threshold required to send MEPs to the European Parliament.

But despite these internal going-ons, Italy has, rather unusually, emerged from the European elections as a pretty stable country – much more so, in any case, than some of its neighbours.

Dutch gains for Green-left and far-right

Anna Holligan in The Hague

Last November, anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) leader – and long-time Marine Le Pen ally – Geert Wilders won a shock victory in the Netherlands’ national election.

The EU election predictions suggest the public sentiment hasn’t changed much since then.

The headlines: Green-Left parties secured the most seats, while the Freedom Party made the greatest gains.

The nuances: Centre-right parties had a strong showing.

Dutch and EU political veteran Frans Timmermans said: “This shows that a majority in the Netherlands wants to strengthen Europe and certainly not destroy it.”

While Geert Wilders – who until recently promised a referendum on Nexit (i.e. Netherlands’ exit from the EU) – posted five red love heart emojis on X. “Still the biggest winner with five more seats.”

Interestingly, the biggest celebrations I witnessed in the parliament bar last night were being held by two relative newcomers, at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Pro-EU Volt (from none to two MEPs) cheered and toasted beneath an archway of blue and yellow balloons.

While outside the revolving doors, the unmistakable Farmer Citizen Movement leader Caroline van der Plas was taking in some fresh air alongside the party’s new MEP Jessika van Leeuwen.

Both were initially predicted to gain two MEPs, although the latest prediction suggests BBB will win just one.

Hungary sees a new opposition appear

Nick Thorpe in Budapest

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party won both the European and municipal elections.

But the real victory of the night went to Peter Magyar, a 43-year-old lawyer whose centre-right Tisza party replaced the old opposition.

Fidesz got 44% and Tisza 30%. Tisza was created just three months ago. They will have 7 MEPs, to 11 for Fidesz, and will apply to join the European People’s Party grouping in the European Parliament.

“We defeated the old and the new opposition,” Viktor Orban consoled his supporters.

But in practice the political system he built, in which Fidesz acts as a “central force field” in which several other small, ineffective parties have to operate, is over.

Far-right party claims ‘new era’ in Austria

Bethany Bell in Vienna

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader, Herbert Kickl, has told a crowd of cheering supporters that his party’s victory in the European elections marked “a new era in politics”.

And the next step, he said, is the chancellery.

Austria will hold parliamentary elections in the autumn. Neither of the past two leaders of FPÖ, Hans Christian Strache or Jörg Haider, were able to deliver first-place for their party. But now the party is feeling confident.

Writing in the centre left-leaning Der Standard newspaper, editor-in-chief Gerold Riedmann said the FPÖ had become a melting pot of people who have “concerns about migration; who don’t think Putin is all that bad; who felt humiliated by vaccination and coronavirus; who think climate protection is unnecessary; and who simply want to teach everyone a lesson”.

With most of the votes counted, the FPÖ won 25.7% of the vote, just ahead of the conservative People’s Party at 24.7%. The Social Democrats got 23.3%, the Greens 10.9%, the liberal Neos 10.1%.

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.

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

Sale flanker Tom Curry has been named in England coach Steve Borthwick’s 36-man squad for the tour of Japan and New Zealand, with seven players from the champions Northampton also included.

Curry has only played just over half an hour of rugby since last year’s Rugby World Cup because of a serious hip injury.

Among the Saints contingent is uncapped wing Ollie Sleightholme, who scored a try in the Premiership final win over Bath.

England face Japan on 22 June before Tests against the All Blacks on 6 and 13 July.

“The Summer Series presents a valuable opportunity for the continued development of this squad and is a demanding challenge to conclude the season,” said Borthwick.

“With the changes in climate, playing conditions and contrasting styles of rugby from the two opponents we face, we will be challenged on and off the field.”

There are six uncapped players in the party, with Sleightholme joined by the Harlequins pair of prop Fin Baxter and centre Luke Northmore, the Sale back-three players Joe Carpenter and Tom Roebuck, and Bristol hooker Gabriel Oghre.

“For some of the younger players it will be their first time touring abroad with England,” added Borthwick.

“Travelling together is a great way to build closer bonds and provides an important opportunity for new players to settle into our environment.”

Curry is included despite the warnings from his club coach Alex Sanderson that he would need to be carefully managed after such a long injury absence, and he will tour alongside twin brother Ben.

Bristol’s Harry Randall is selected as one of three scrum-halves, alongside Premiership finalists Ben Spencer and Alex Mitchell.

With George Ford ruled out, there are only two specialist fly-halves in Marcus Smith and Fin Smith, although full-back George Furbank can provide cover.

After facing Japan in Tokyo, England meet the All Blacks in Dunedin and then Auckland as they bid to become the first side since 1994 to win a Test match at Eden Park.

“The National Stadium in Tokyo is an incredible venue for Test match rugby, and we will need to be at our very best against a Japanese team who will want to play fast,” said Borthwick.

“New Zealand’s home record is well documented, and we face a team who came within one point of winning a World Cup.

“Historically it is not a place England have had much success, but we are determined to change that.

“The players know that they will need to be mentally strong and tactically smart if we are to get the result we want.”

England squad

Forwards: Fin Baxter (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Alex Coles (Northampton Saints), Chandler Cunningham-South (Harlequins), Ben Curry (Sale Sharks), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Theo Dan (Saracens), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Ben Earl (Saracens), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Jamie George (Saracens) – captain, Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Marler (Harlequins), George Martin (Leicester Tigers), Gabriel Oghre (Bristol Bears), Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks), Ethan Roots (Exeter Chiefs), Will Stuart (Bath Rugby), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby)

Backs: Joe Carpenter (Sale Sharks), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs), Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints), George Furbank (Northampton Saints), Ollie Lawrence (Bath Rugby), Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), Luke Northmore (Harlequins), Harry Randall (Bristol Bears), Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), Fin Smith (Northampton Saints), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Ben Spencer (Bath Rugby), Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers)

  • 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 an 11-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 then until a lap too late. That dropped him from first to third, behind Verstappen and Russell.

And the team left him out a lap longer than it might have done when the drivers were switching to slicks with about 25 laps to go.

Verstappen pitted, but Norris, very quick again by now, stayed out. He looked to have a sufficient advantage to come out ahead of the Red Bull.

But delaying two laps rather than one before responding enabled the world champion to get his new tyres up to temperature, and when Norris rejoined they were side by side. Norris slithered on the wet part of the track on pit-lane exit and Verstappen was through and back into the lead.

“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

A consortium of international investors, which involves a member of the Saudi royal family, has made a £400m offer to buy Premier League club Everton.

Farhad Moshiri agreed to sell his 94% stake to 777 Partners in September, but the investment firm could not complete the deal, opening the way for others to make a takeover bid.

Local businessmen Andy Bell and George Downing, as well as MSP Sports Capital – who have lent the Toffees around £158m – are also in the running for a period of exclusivity after lodging bids.

London-based businessman and lawyer Vatche Manoukian is leading a bid alongside an unnamed Saudi royal and families with a high-net worth from the United States.

Manoukian and his consortium have proposed an all-equity offer which would not take on additional debt and would aim to create a sustainable, long-term strategy.

They see Everton as a “sleeping giant” of English football with potential to secure a place “at the top of world football again” through the new stadium being built on Bramley-Moore Dock.

Manoukian, 45, is a partner at tech investment firm IMS Digital Ventures and is backed by Australia’s Myer family.

Roma owner Dan Friedkin, Michael Dell of Dell Technologies and Kenneth King of investment firm A-Cap are understood to be interested too.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which lists the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as chair, completed a £305m takeover of Newcastle in October 2021.

Fan board wants ‘open and transparent’ communication

Everton’s fan advisory board (FAB) has sent an open letter, external to prospective buyers of the club, calling for “open, transparent and regular engagement” with supporters.

Following the protracted takeover attempt by 777 and seeing the sales and purchase agreement end on 31 May, the FAB is hoping any future process is concluded in a “much shorter timeframe”.

The group added in a statement: “Now is the time for us to look forward and turn our attention to the parties who are in the process of bidding for our club.

“As one of the greatest sporting institutions in club football, we hope any new ownership will nurture, invest and most importantly acknowledge that their role as the steward of Everton FC is to run the club in partnership with its supporters in a way that recognises its heritage, sustainability, creativity and commercial potential.”

  • Published

Britain’s Emma Raducanu says she is in a “really fit place” as she prepares to start her grass-court season at the Nottingham Open.

The 21-year-old skipped the French Open to focus on her fitness, having not played since losing in the first round of the Madrid Open in April.

Raducanu, who had wrist and ankle operations last year, faces Japan’s Ena Shibahara in the Nottingham first round on Tuesday.

“Body-wise, physical-wise, I feel really healthy. I feel really strong,” said Raducanu, who played her first WTA match at Nottingham in 2021 before going on to win the US Open later that year.

“I’ve done amazing work with my trainer over the last few months, since surgery. I’m in a really fit place. I think my wrists are actually in a better position than they ever were.

“So there’s zero doubt or apprehension whether I’m hitting the ball or designing my schedule. It’s more about being proactive and not wanting to put yourself in any unnecessary situations.”

Raducanu had surgery on her right wrist and an ankle in May last year before a further operation followed on her left wrist.

It required her to use a mobility scooter to get around, with her admitting it was difficult to “shut your body down”.

“I think it’s very easy for me to lose sight of where I was exactly a year ago because it is pretty much a year ago to this day, this month,” she said.

“You get so caught up in your own world that you want more and more and more. But a year ago I was on a scooter scooting around and I didn’t know – there was an element of doubt.

“To be healthy and to be here, I need to cherish it.”

  • Published

Some media outlets have been criticised for the “divisive” choice of using a photograph of Bukayo Saka to illustrate England’s defeat to Iceland.

Saka came on as a 65th-minute substitute in the game at Wembley on Friday, but an image of him was used across several back pages of English newspapers.

A social media post of the coverage was highlighted by former England striker Ian Wright who said that “those deciding who goes on the back pages know what they’re doing”.

The Star and the Sun were highlighted for using a Saka image on their back pages, while the Telegraph used 22-year-old Saka to illustrate a player ratings post on X.

The BBC Sport website’s live text, which changes its main picture throughout the match, also used an image of Saka during the game after he had come on.

In an open letter to editors, Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett said the media needs to “remember its responsibilities”.

Burnett said: “Over the last few years, we know that a lot of work has gone into diversifying the media industry, and it has helped in showing that perpetrators of discrimination have been brought to justice.

“But many fans will have woken up on Saturday morning and questioned whether anything has changed at all.

“Heading into Euro 2024, fans are rightly asking whether the current England squad will see a repeat of what happened to Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho after the last Euros final where all three suffered terrible online abuse because of their actions on the field.

“It’s a question we have been asking ourselves at Kick it Out.

“There has been progress with prosecutions, and the Online Safety Bill has been passed to hopefully bring more scrutiny on social media companies. But last season, we received more reports – both online and in stadiums – targeting players than ever before. So whatever gains we are making, they are not enough.

“I shouldn’t need to remind you that the impact of black players being targeted in the media has a long history and is felt far and wide. It sends a message that they are not welcome, that they are only a misplaced kick from being vilified and it sends a message to online abusers that targeting players is fair game.

“But it also sends a message to fans from black and ethnic minority communities that they do not belong or can be abused too. Those points need to be considered when writing headlines or selecting images as deadlines approach. The words and pictures travel a long way, hitting harder than you might realise.”

Delroy Corinaldi, executive director of Black Footballers Partnership, called the use of Saka imagery “divisive” and added: “We’ve been here before: the UK media has not learnt from its past behaviours.

“In 2018, Raheem Sterling called out the media for unfairly targeting young black footballers with negative headlines. Yet here we are a week before the Euro 2024 tournament, and the press are playing their age old games.”

Saka, Rashford and Sancho were racially abused on social media in the wake of all three missing penalties in England’s 3-2 shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

A day after suffering alleged racist abuse from Chelsea fans during his then-club Manchester City’s defeat at Stamford Bridge in December 2018, Sterling – who has since joined the Blues – said newspapers were helping to “fuel racism” by the ways in which they portray young black footballers.

Arsenal winger Saka made his England debut in October 2020 and has since accumulated 33 caps, scoring 11 goals.

Wright called for greater media responsibility, saying: “Now more than ever let’s get behind and support these young people. We can all see what’s happening and who’s being set up to be the face of defeat.

“Let’s keep our energy focused on giving these players pure love and support throughout the tournament.”

Football journalist Darren Lewis, who is assistant editor of the Daily Mirror and president of the Sports Journalists’ Association, also criticised the use of Saka’s image in the wake of the defeat.

“Just because I work in the media it doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge the concern about Bukayo Saka being used as the face of England’s defeat and poor performance – despite other players performing worse – across a number of platforms,” Lewis wrote on social media.

“It is a reminder that we need to think about everything put into the public domain.”

BBC Sport has approached the Sun, the Star, the Telegraph, press regulator Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) and newspaper body News Media Association for a response.

  • Published

Real Madrid and manager Carlo Ancelotti have clarified the Champions League winners will compete at next year’s Club World Cup despite the Italian earlier saying the club would “refuse the invitation”.

Ancelotti’s comment appeared in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Giornale, external which was released on Monday.

But the 65-year-old later posted on social media to say his words were “not interpreted in the way I intended”.

He added: “Nothing could be further from my interest than to reject the possibility of playing in a tournament that I consider could be a great opportunity to continue fighting for big titles with Real Madrid.”

Real are one of 12 European teams already qualified for the 32-team Fifa tournament to be held in the USA between 15 June and 13 July 2025.

In a statement, the La Liga champions said: “Real Madrid would like to announce that at no time has there been any question regarding our participation in the new Club World Cup to be organised by Fifa in the coming 2024/2025 season.

“Our club will therefore take part, as planned, in this official competition and we are proud and excited to be involved in it and we will once again inspire our millions of fans all over the world with another trophy.”

In the interview with Il Giornale, Ancelotti was quoted as saying: “FIFA can forget it, footballers and clubs will not participate in that tournament.

“A single Real Madrid match is worth 20 million and Fifa wants to give us that amount for the whole cup. Negative. Like us, other clubs will refuse the invitation.”

The European Club Association (ECA) had distanced itself from Ancelotti’s interview remarks.

Last month. Fifa rejected claims that world players’ union Fifpro and the World Leagues Association (WLA), which includes the Premier League, were not consulted over plans.

Fifpro and the WLA called on Fifa to reschedule the tournament amid a threat of legal action.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has previously said the football calendar is “getting to a tipping point” with the amount of matches that teams are being asked to play.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino last month said he hoped Fifpro and the WLA would stop this “futile debate”.

“Even with the new Club World Cup of Fifa with 32 teams and 63 matches every four years, Fifa is organising around 1% of the games of the top clubs in the world,” he said.

“All other matches, 98, 99%, are organised by the different leagues, associations, confederations, by all of you – and that’s good.

“But here comes the thing – the one or two per cent of matches that Fifa organises is financing football all over the world.”