The Guardian 2024-06-12 00:01:53


Hunter Biden found guilty on all three charges in federal gun case

Verdict comes after week-long trial in Biden family hometown of Wilmington, Delaware

  • Hunter Biden found guilty – live updates

Hunter Biden was found guilty on three counts related to illegal gun possession.

The jury’s verdict, reached after about three hours of deliberation, followed a week-long trial in the Biden family’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, that featured sometimes excruciating testimony about his addiction habit, much of it from some of his closest relatives.

It followed a decision by Hunter Biden, the oldest living son of Joe Biden, not to take the witness stand in his own defence.

He was accused of making two false statements when filling a form to buy a Colt revolver in October 2018: first by stating untruthfully that he was not addicted to or using drugs, and then by declaring the statement to be true. A third charge alleged that he then illegally owned the gun possession for 11 days, before his sister-in-law and then lover, Hallie Biden, threw it in a trash bin in panic.

Abbe Lowell, Hunter’s principal lawyer, argued that the prosecution had provided no evidence that he had taken crack cocaine – to which he later admitted in a memoir to having been addicted before going into rehabilitation – in the month that he bought and owned the gun.

The defence lawyer also established that no one had seen Hunter use the drug in that period.

But messages retrieved from Hunter’s mobile phone undermined the argument that he had not been ingesting drugs in the period before and after purchasing the weapon. The day after he bought the gun, he sent a text to Hallie Biden saying he was meeting a known drug dealer called Mookie. Then, a day later, he revealed in another text that he was sleeping on a car and smoking crack.

His daughter, Naomi Biden Neal – testifying in his defence – told the court that her father had seemed sober in the weeks before the purchase. But the prosecution introduced more text messages that betrayed a strained and fraying relationship between the pair, including one in which Naomi told her father he had driven her to breaking point.

The prosecution called other members of the Biden family, including his former wife Kathleen Buhle, to whom he was married for 24 years, and Hallie Biden, the widow of his brother Beau, as it tried to show that Hunter’s drug use continued during 2018 and 2019.

The testimony painted a portrait of Hunter Biden falling deeper into addiction as he struggled to cope with the death of Beau, who died from brain cancer in 2015.

After the breakup of his marriage, he formed a romantic relationship with Hallie Biden, who admitted to having smoked crack with him.

Summing up on Monday, prosecutor Leo Wise said Hunter Biden’s text message showed him trying to make drug deals before and after his gun purchase.

Calling the evidence against the defendant “personal, ugly and overwhelming”, he noted that Hunter Biden told Hallie Biden on 14 October 2018, two days after buying the gun, that he had been smoking crack. “That’s my truth,” he quoted Hunter as writing.

“Take the defendant’s word for it. That’s his truth,” Wise said, urging them to reject defence suggestions that Hunter Biden was simply trying to avoid being with Hallie Biden. “You don’t leave your common sense behind when you come into that jury box.”

The evidence had included lurid testimony of Hunter Biden smoking crack pipes, backed up by photographs shown in court.

Zoe Kestan, Hunter’s former girlfriend who met him at a gentleman’s club, told the court last week that he frequently withdrew money to fund drug purchases.

She said he would smoke what she presumed was crack “every 20 minutes or so” and that she had seen him smoke it over several days in Malibu, California, in September 2018, the month before he bought the gun.

The proceedings were witnessed by Hunter’s stepmother, Jill Biden, the first lady, who was present every day apart from last Thursday, when she flew to Normandy in France to attend the 80th anniversary of D-day with her husband.

Wise pointed to the gallery, where Jill Biden sat with Hunter’s wife, Melissa Cohen Biden and other family members, and told the jury not to be influenced.

“All of this is not evidence. People sitting in the gallery are not evidence,” he said.

Lowell, for the defence, took the opposite tack – telling jurors that the fact that Hunter Biden had a famous last name did not mean he was less entitled to his rights than any other defendant and urging them to find him not guilty.

He argued that there was no evidence that Hunter Biden had ever taken the newly-purchased gun out of the locked box it came in before Hallie Biden found it and threw it in a bin near a grocery store in Wilmington.

In a passage that crystallised how the trial had pitted members of the Biden family against each other, he said: “On October 23rd, Hallie did something incredibly stupid,” Lowell said, referring to her disposal of the weapon.

“She may have done it for love,” he added, or out of anger after suspecting that Hunter Biden had been with another woman.

He also contested the assertion that large cash amounts withdrawn by Hunter Biden had been used to buy drugs, saying the prosecution had not supported this claim with detailed financial records.

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A federal jury has convicted Hunter Biden on all three felony charges in his federal gun trial.

Hunter Biden is charged with two felony counts of making a false statement related to the purchase of a firearm, and a third felony count of illegally possessing a gun while being an unlawful user of drugs.

Revealed: drug cartels force migrant children to work as foot soldiers in Europe’s booming cocaine trade

Exclusive: Guardian investigation shows white powder trail linking hundreds of vulnerable African minors with ruthless gangs

  • Beaten and tortured: the north African children paying a bloody price for Europe’s insatiable appetite for cocaine

Hundreds of unaccompanied child migrants across Europe are being forced to work as soldiers for increasingly powerful drug cartels to meet the continent’s soaring appetite for cocaine, a Guardian investigation has found.

EU police forces have warned of industrial-scale exploitation of African children by cocaine networks operating in western Europe in cities including Paris and Brussels as they seek to expand Europe’s £10bn cocaine market.

Child protection agencies warned that cocaine gangs, which are exploiting the “unlimited” supply of vulnerable African children at their disposal, are using brutal means to control their victims, including torture and rape if they fail to sell enough drugs.

Sources told the Guardian that London may be next after police recently found a number of Moroccan and Algerian children, seemingly victims of torture, who they believe were trafficked into the country by cocaine gangs.

Concern over the level of exploitation was so great that in March, EU police forces – along with UK and UN agencies and Europol – met to discuss how to tackle the exploitation and trafficking of African children by drugs networks based in western Europe.

A separate recent assessment by EU police forces investigating serious organised crime and human trafficking concluded: “Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and France presented several concrete cases of the exploitation of hundreds of north African minors, recruited by drug trafficking networks to sell narcotics.”

Other sources believe the true figure could run into the thousands, with the latest police data showing 15,928 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe in 2022, many of whom subsequently went missing.

A recent document by the Belgian federal police for Europol stated: “Thousands of unaccompanied foreign minors cross the EU’s borders every year, disappearing without any traceable trail. Many of them are ‘captured’ by criminal circles to exploit them, which worsens their traumas.”

Eric Garbar, head of human trafficking and smuggling at the Belgian federal judicial police, is one of the officers leading attempts to tackle the exploitation of unaccompanied children by criminal networks. He said: “With African minors, essentially Moroccan and Algerian, the most important area is the exploitation by OCGs [organised crime groups] involved in criminal activities such as drug trafficking.

“What we have in the EU is an unstoppable low-cost human resource from Africa.”

Police cite the Moroccan “Mocro Maffia” as a prime exploiter of the children. The organisation includes several of Europe’s largest cocaine trafficking cartels, who work directly with South American producers. The group is thought to be active at Belgium port of Antwerp, the main gateway for cocaine into Europe.

The Mocro Maffia is notoriously brutal, issuing threats to Belgium’s justice minister and, in the Netherlands, to the Dutch crown princess. Earlier this year, a number of its members involved in a series of gangland killings were jailed for life.

Police have evidence that children are trafficked direct from Morocco to the cocaine networks in Europe, many lured by social media and promises of a better life.

“The Mocro Maffia understand that in their country of origin they have at their disposal unlimited human resources,” said Garber.

Caroline Vrijens, the Flemish children’s rights commissioner, said African children were the “most vulnerable” in Europe and called for urgent action from the authorities to tackle the issue.

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Explainer

How big is Europe’s cocaine problem – and what is the human cost?

Consumption of the drug has rapidly increased across the continent in recent years, leaving a trail of devastation

  • Beaten and tortured: the north African children paying a bloody price for Europe’s insatiable appetite for cocaine

Over the past 10 years, Europe has developed a serious cocaine problem. The drug, originating in the jungles of South America, is being transported, sold and consumed across the European continent in record amounts.

The increasing demand from users – and the huge profits to be made in this booming marketplace – is reshaping the international drug-trafficking trade on both sides of the Atlantic and its widespread availability is leaving a trail of addiction, organised crime and human rights abuses in its wake.

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Les Républicains leader says he wants alliance with France’s far-right National Rally

Éric Ciotti’s announcement welcomed by Marine Le Pen as ‘brave choice’ but seen as betrayal by members of mainstream right

The leader of France’s mainstream right has said he would back an alliance with the far right in the snap legislative elections later this month, shocking opponents and party members and throwing French politics into further disarray.

Éric Ciotti’s announcement, welcomed by Marine Le Pen as a “brave choice”, is a historic departure for the opposition right and sparked accusations of betrayal from high-profile members of Les Républicains (LR).

Ciotti defended his decision to join forces with Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), saying LR, fifth-placed in Sunday’s European elections, was too weak to see off the “threat to the nation” from leftwing and centrist rivals. The parties could field joint candidates in the vote, called by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, after his centrist allies’ defeat to RN at the weekend, or agree not to stand against each other.

“I believe that the country has never been so right wing. It expects the right, it expects rightwing action. We can no longer rely on impotence, on communication, on a form of immobilism that has led us to where we are now,” he said.

“Our political family cannot continue compromising, supporting the government … Mr Macron has damaged the country and there needs to be another majority as soon as possible,” he added.

Ciotti had to push his way through a furious crowd to enter the LR headquarters in Paris after his announcement.

Ciotti’s decision to ally the LR and RN brought furious reactions from leading LR ministers and MPs and is almost certain to shatter the conservative party that has produced four of the country’s seven presidents, including Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, since Charles de Gaulle left office in 1969.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, accused Ciotti of “signing the Munich agreement”, an appeasement deal reached in 1938 between Nazi Germany, the UK, France and Italy.

“He is plunging the Gaullist family into dishonour by embracing Marine Le Pen,” Darmanin tweeted.

Rachida Dati, the culture minister and, like Darmanin, a former member of LR before entering Macron’s centrist government, said the decision was “a terrible blow to my political family, the republican right”.

Éric Dupont-Moretti, the justice minister, accused Ciotti of “dishonour”.

“Offering General de Gaulle’s party to Le Pen on a silver platter … shame now has a name … the extremists are dropping their masks. All republicans must rise to the occasion,” Dupont-Moretti tweeted.

Xavier Bertrand, an LR regional president in northern France, had earlierdeplored Ciotti’s failure to firmly reject Le Pen’s call for an alliance. “We owe our voters the truth,” Bertrand said. “The DNA of the republican right is never the extremes, never the far right, never Madame Le Pen. If certain [LR representatives] want to stand with the RN they should say now.”

He added: “As far as I’m concerned, it is clear: never the National Rally. Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Marion Maréchal announced that talks between her, representing the ultra-right Reconquer party founded by Éric Zemmour, and the RN had failed and there would be no alliance.

“Despite my attempts at negotiation, the regrettable argument was given that they do not wish any association, direct or indirect, with Éric Zemmour,” she wrote in a statement.

Political parties have been scrambling to form alliances following Macron’s shock decision to dissolve parliament on Sunday, engaging in what the French media are calling a “national seduction” campaign – a race to pick up potential candidates before 16 June, the deadline for declarations. The official election campaign will begin on 17 June and the two-round vote takes place on 30 June and 7 July.

On the left, party leaders, including socialists, communists and the hard left, were reported to have formed a “popular front” to field a single candidate. It was unclear if La France Insoumise (LFI) had joined the alliance and what role if any the party’s leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, would play.

Mélenchon was scathing about his leftwing rivals, particularly the Socialist party (PS) candidate Raphaël Glucksmann, during the European campaign.

However, the ink was barely dry on reports of a leftwing alliance, when Glucksmann insisted there was no formal agreement and ruled out taking part in any pact with LFI.

In his first interview since Sunday, Jordan Bardella, the RN president who led the far right to a crushing victory in France’s European election, said: “We are ready to govern.” He told French television that in case of a “cohabitation” – where the president and government are not the from the same party – that would stymie the RN’s yet-to-be released programme, the RN would concentrate on crime, immigration and the cost of living.

Macron was due to give a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, but postponed it until Wednesday. The Élysée said the president would make three “election interventions” every week until the election. In an interview with Le Figaro on Tuesday he said he was out to win the vote.

A Harris Interactive poll suggested the RN could win 34% of votes, well ahead of any leftwing alliance on 22%, Macron’s Renaissance on 19% and LR on 9%.

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Blinken says Hamas signoff still needed on Gaza ceasefire resolution

US secretary of state hails ‘hopeful sign’ of endorsement although plan has not been formally accepted by either party to conflict

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said endorsement of the UN security council’s ceasefire resolution by Hamas officials was a “hopeful sign”, but the group’s leadership in Gaza needed to sign off on the deal.

Blinken, who is in Israel as part of his eighth regional trip since the war began, said the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had “reaffirmed his commitment” to the ceasefire plan outlined by the US, although it has not been formally accepted by either party to the conflict.

“Everyone’s vote is in, except for one vote, and that’s Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting Israeli officials to discuss the proposal.

He said the statements from Hamas spokespeople welcoming the UN resolution were encouraging, but the position of the leadership on the ground in Gaza was critical, “and that’s what we don’t have”.

Blinken met opposition leaders on Tuesday morning, and spoke privately with hostages’ families, before travelling to Jordan for an emergency summit on humanitarian aid for Gaza, where more than a million people are on the brink of famine and most of the population are displaced.

He had been in Egypt on Monday, and is expected to visit Qatar during this trip as well; both countries have served as key mediators with Hamas.

The deal, which was approved by the UN on Monday, was unveiled by the US president, Joe Biden, at the end of May. Biden presented it as an Israeli initiative although Netanyahu has been at best ambivalent about the plan, saying any proposal to fix a ceasefire before Hamas military and governance capacity were destroyed was a “non-starter”.

That position appears to contradict the terms of the agreement, which calls for an initial exchange of elderly, sick or female hostages for Palestinian detainees held by Israel, in the course of a first six-week halt to fighting.

The ceasefire would evolve into a permanent end to hostilities and the release of all hostages in a second phase that would be negotiated by the two parties and US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators. A final stage would see the launch of a major reconstruction effort.

Hamas’s position could also complicate progress. It has said it would only accept a permanent ceasefire deal, after one temporary break in fighting collapsed last winter, and reportedly asked for international guarantees of any ceasefire.

Senior officials from the group on Tuesday welcomed the resolution and said it was ready to negotiate details, news agencies reported. A spokesperson, Jihad Taha, said Israel was “stalling and procrastinating and creating obstacles” so it could continue fighting.

The UN vote on Monday was the first time a deeply divided security council has endorsed a comprehensive plan for Gaza. Palestinian support for the US resolution made it much harder diplomatically for Russia or China to veto it.

The rare show of relative unity puts pressure on both parties to the conflict to strike an agreement, though both have shown themselves to be far more influenced by local constituencies and the personal interests of leaders than by international public opinion.

Netanyahu’s government has shifted to the right since Biden unveiled the deal, with war cabinet member Benny Gantz resigning from the government over the failure to make a long-term plan for Gaza.

That has increased the weight of hardline extremists, who want to keep fighting and have said they would resign if Netanyahu accepts a deal. That would remove his majority in parliament and potentially force Israel to hold elections.

However, the prime minister is also under pressure over the fate of hostages still in Gaza, whose relatives are lobbying hard for Israel to accept the deal. They demonstrated outside Blinken’s hotel in Tel Aviv, and he also met hostages’ families.

Four hostages were rescued at the weekend by Israeli special forces, in a mission that also killed more than 270 Palestinians, many of them civilians, prompting international outrage at what the top EU diplomat, Josep Borrell, called a “massacre”.

The UN human rights office said it was “shocked” by the impact on civilians of the rescue operation, and warned that Israeli forces and Hamas may both have committed war crimes.

The operation brought the total freed in military operations to just seven, a tiny proportion of the 250 people captured in the Hamas cross-border attacks on 7 October, when militants also killed about 1,200 Israelis.

Relatives say military operations can’t free all their loved ones. Most of those who are now home were handed over under a temporary ceasefire deal last November. There are still 120 held in Gaza, at least a third of whom are presumed to have died.

In Gaza there was scepticism that the deal would bring a halt to Israeli attacks that have killed more than 37,000 people, according to health authorities in the strip, and brought at least half the population to the brink of famine.

“We will believe it only when we see it,” said Shaban Abdel-Raouf, 47, displaced with his family of five to the central town of Deir al-Balah. “When they tell us to pack our belongings and prepare to go back to Gaza City, we will know it is true,” he told Reuters.

Biden had previously said he hoped to reach a ceasefire deal for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell in spring. Instead, Israel readied its forces for a ground invasion of the southern city of Rafah.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed there in an ambush on Tuesday, Israeli media reported. Forty Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the last 24 hours, and 120 injured, Gaza health authorities said.

Fears of escalating conflict between Hezbollah and Israeli forces across the northern border were also on Blinken’s agenda in Israel. Late on Monday Israeli forces killed three fighters when they hit a convoy of tankers, and on Tuesday Hezbollah fired a barrage of about 50 projectiles towards the Golan Heights.

Blinken told Gantz that the ceasefire deal for Gaza would also improve Israel’s security by taming tensions on that border, the US state department said.

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Man arrested after four US academics stabbed in park during China visit

Group from Cornell College and a Chinese person who tried to help have non life-threatening injuries after attack in Jilin province

Four US college instructors teaching in China have been stabbed while visiting a public park, US officials have said.

The tutors from Cornell College in Iowa were at the park in Jilin province, north-eastern China, with a faculty member from Beihua University on Monday when the attack occurred, the college president Jonathan Brand said in a statement. The private college in Iowa partners with the university near Jilin City.

Police in Jilin said on Tuesday that they had arrested a 55-year-old man, whose surname is Cui, who was suspected of being responsible for the attack. Cui had “collided” into one of the Americans before attacking the group, injuring the four instructors and a Chinese person who stepped in to help, according to the police.

The police said that the injuries were not life-threatening.

Iowa state representative Adam Zabner told US media that his brother, David Zabner, was one of the group visiting a temple in Beishan park when a man with a knife attacked them. David Zabner “was wounded in the arm during a stabbing attack while visiting a temple in Jilin City, China,” he told Reuters, and was recovering in hospital.

“I spoke to David a few minutes ago, he is recovering from his injuries and doing well. My family is incredibly grateful that David survived this attack,” Adam Zabner added.

A video of people lying on the ground in a park covered in blood were circulating on X on Monday, though no trace of the images could be found on Chinese social media.

Reuters identified the location based on background information in the footage but was not able to confirm when the video was shot.

The state department said it was aware of reports of a stabbing and was monitoring the situation.

The Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, wrote on X that she was in touch with the US state department about the “horrifying” attack, adding: “Please pray for their full recovery, safe return, and their families here at home.”

Representative Ashley Hinson of Iowa wrote online: “Horrified that multiple Cornell College faculty members were brutally stabbed in China. My team has been in communication with Cornell College and will do everything in our power to bring these Iowans home safely.”

A US Representative, Mariannette Jane Miller-Meeks of Iowa, said she was trying to reach the US embassy to ensure the victims got good health care and returned to the US as soon as possible.

The attack happened as both Beijing and Washington are seeking to maintain people-to-people exchanges to prevent bilateral relations from deteriorating.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has unveiled a plan to invite 50,000 young Americans to China in the next five years, but Chinese diplomats say a travel advisory by the US state department has discouraged Americans from going to China.

Citing arbitrary detentions as well as exit bans that could prevent Americans from leaving the US, the state department has a level 3 travel advisory – the second highest warning level – for mainland China, urging Americans to “reconsider travel” there. Some American universities have suspended their China programmes because of the travel advisory.

There are fewer than 900 American exchange students studying in China compared with more than 290,000 Chinese students in the US, according to US data.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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Man arrested after four US academics stabbed in park during China visit

Group from Cornell College and a Chinese person who tried to help have non life-threatening injuries after attack in Jilin province

Four US college instructors teaching in China have been stabbed while visiting a public park, US officials have said.

The tutors from Cornell College in Iowa were at the park in Jilin province, north-eastern China, with a faculty member from Beihua University on Monday when the attack occurred, the college president Jonathan Brand said in a statement. The private college in Iowa partners with the university near Jilin City.

Police in Jilin said on Tuesday that they had arrested a 55-year-old man, whose surname is Cui, who was suspected of being responsible for the attack. Cui had “collided” into one of the Americans before attacking the group, injuring the four instructors and a Chinese person who stepped in to help, according to the police.

The police said that the injuries were not life-threatening.

Iowa state representative Adam Zabner told US media that his brother, David Zabner, was one of the group visiting a temple in Beishan park when a man with a knife attacked them. David Zabner “was wounded in the arm during a stabbing attack while visiting a temple in Jilin City, China,” he told Reuters, and was recovering in hospital.

“I spoke to David a few minutes ago, he is recovering from his injuries and doing well. My family is incredibly grateful that David survived this attack,” Adam Zabner added.

A video of people lying on the ground in a park covered in blood were circulating on X on Monday, though no trace of the images could be found on Chinese social media.

Reuters identified the location based on background information in the footage but was not able to confirm when the video was shot.

The state department said it was aware of reports of a stabbing and was monitoring the situation.

The Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, wrote on X that she was in touch with the US state department about the “horrifying” attack, adding: “Please pray for their full recovery, safe return, and their families here at home.”

Representative Ashley Hinson of Iowa wrote online: “Horrified that multiple Cornell College faculty members were brutally stabbed in China. My team has been in communication with Cornell College and will do everything in our power to bring these Iowans home safely.”

A US Representative, Mariannette Jane Miller-Meeks of Iowa, said she was trying to reach the US embassy to ensure the victims got good health care and returned to the US as soon as possible.

The attack happened as both Beijing and Washington are seeking to maintain people-to-people exchanges to prevent bilateral relations from deteriorating.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has unveiled a plan to invite 50,000 young Americans to China in the next five years, but Chinese diplomats say a travel advisory by the US state department has discouraged Americans from going to China.

Citing arbitrary detentions as well as exit bans that could prevent Americans from leaving the US, the state department has a level 3 travel advisory – the second highest warning level – for mainland China, urging Americans to “reconsider travel” there. Some American universities have suspended their China programmes because of the travel advisory.

There are fewer than 900 American exchange students studying in China compared with more than 290,000 Chinese students in the US, according to US data.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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The Resolution Foundation, in its instant of the Tory manifesto, also says that the richest fifth of households will benefit most from the plans it contains. It says:

Total tax giveaways announced in the manifesto today amount to £17.2bn a year by the end of the decade. RF analysis of these tax cuts (which excludes the one-off Stamp Duty cut for first-time buyers) shows that the biggest gainers overall are the richest fifth of households, who are set to gain £1,300 on average, compared to the poorest fifth who would gain £150.

And this is how it sums up the plans.

The tax and spend pledges announced today sit on top of already announced tax rises worth £23bn, and an implied £21bn cut to unprotected departments (given today’s commitment to increase defence spending), all of which would be needed for an incoming Conservative government to meet its key fiscal rule of having debt fall as a share of the economy in five years’ time (a rule reaffirmed in the manifesto).

This would leave the next parliament as a whole as one of modest tax rises, major spending cuts, and heroic efforts on the part of both HMRC and DWP to find £6bn of extra tax avoidance and benefit cuts in nine months’ time. The Foundation cautions that even if this were to be achieved, if key fiscal risks – such as lower productivity growth – become fiscal reality then this could blow another £17bn hole in these plans.

Iranian presidential vote: lone reformist candidate faces uphill struggle

Masoud Pezeshkian must convince disillusioned voters that he represents chance for credible change

The one reformist candidate in Iran’s presidential election, a 69-year-old doctor who raised his three children alone after his wife died in a car accident, faces an uphill but not impossible battle to convince a disenchanted Iranian electorate that he represents a chance for credible change.

Masoud Pezeshkian, an MP for 20 years, was given clearance to stand by the 12-strong Guardian Council on Sunday and has until 28 June to reach the second round of the elections called after president Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash. No reformist was allowed to stand in the presidential election three years ago.

His best chance is that the ideological splits among the five other permitted candidates continue and ultimately divide their vote.

The cardiac surgeon from West Azerbaijan province was the health minister under the previous president Mohammad Khatami from 2001 to 2005 and tried to improve rural medical services. Before this, he was president of the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences.

After he lost his wife and a child in a car accident he never remarried, saying his three remaining children would not have understood. His son says that even when his mother was alive, it was the father who cooked for the family. He registered as a candidate accompanied by his daughter, holding her hand.

Although experienced in parliament, his test will come in TV debates, where he will face five other politicians that share broadly similar conservative views, including well-known hardliners. Five TV debates are scheduled before polling day, each lasting as long as three and a half hours.

Pezeshkian has already won the support of the reformist foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and most of the reformist movement, but many in Iran – especially younger voters in urban areas – have turned away from politics.

The candidate’s backers say he was critical of the government during the “women, life, freedom” protests after the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, including the morality patrols designed to crack down on women not wearing the hijab fully.

But opponents of the regime say his presence on the ballot paper is akin to a fig leaf, designed to boost turnout, and claim he ultimately supported the hijab as necessary. He is also accused of being willing to see Iran divided, a charge made due to his links with Azeris.

The regime is said to hope that the inclusion of a reformist in the field will get turnout back above 50%. It also increases the chances of a second round, which is required if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round.

The two frontrunners are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the speaker of the parliament, and Saeed Jalili, a populist hardline former negotiator opposed to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Ghalibaf, a former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, is seen as more likely to be favoured by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, though he suffered a big loss of support in Tehran during the recent parliamentary elections, in which his vote halved.

Two reporters who exposed corruption – including allegations against Ghalibaf – were jailed on Sunday. Yashar Soltani was sentenced to 14 months in prison and Saba Azarpeik was sentenced to two years. Soltani, with 350,000 followers on X, has been a thorn in Ghalibaf’s side for years, exposing alleged corruption during his time as the mayor of Tehran in 2016.

The timing, just as the election campaign started, has been interpreted as a reminder to Iranian newspapers about how to cover the elections. Guidance issued by the regime bans advocacy of election boycotts and disallows candidates having contact with foreign hostile media.

The three other permitted candidates are Alireza Zakani, Tehran’s conservative mayor, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, an old ally of Raisi, and Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a government minister.

No woman has been allowed to stand, even though four put their name forward.

The Guardian Council’s role in banning candidates from standing – on the basis of a supposedly neutral examination of their qualifications – has once again proved controversial. Three senior Iranian politicians among the 74 banned from standing – the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, and a leading reformist, Abbas Akhondi – have openly demanded the right to challenge the council’s decision.

“The council is obliged to listen to the explanations and defences of the candidates who have been rejected,” Akhondi wrote to the chair of the council. “I consider my failure to qualify as oppression and persecution against myself, the group of legal political parties, groups and personalities that nominated me as their desired candidate, as well as restricting the right of Iranian voters to choose freely.”

The former speaker Ali Larijani, a moderate conservative, and Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, a culture minister in Raisi’s cabinet, were also blocked. Larijani appeared to accept the decision in a statement, though he criticised it for not being transparent.

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Women may be more resilient than men to stresses of spaceflight, says study

US study suggests gene activity is more disrupted in men, and takes longer to return to normal once back on Earth

When faced with acid-dripping aliens, an untested machine that travels through wormholes, or a space station shattered by hurtling debris, it is the tough female astronaut who steps up to save the day.

And perhaps Hollywood is on to something. A major study into the impact of spaceflight suggests women may be more resilient than men to the stresses of space, and recover more quickly when they return to Earth.

The findings are preliminary, not least because so few female astronauts have been studied, but if the trend is confirmed, it could prove important for astronaut recovery programmes and selecting crews for future missions to the moon and beyond.

“Males appear to be more affected by spaceflight for almost all cell types and metrics,” scientists write in a Nature Communications paper that examines the effects of space travel on the human immune system.

Led by Christopher Mason, a professor of physiology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, a team of researchers examined how the immune system reacted to space flight in two men and two women who flew around Earth as civilians on the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission in 2021, and compared the findings with data from 64 other astronauts.

The study showed that gene activity was more disrupted in men than women and took longer to return to normal in men once back on terra firma. One protein affected was fibrinogen, which is crucial for blood clotting.

“The aggregate data thus far indicates that the gene regulatory and immune response to space flight is more sensitive in males,” the scientists write. “More studies will be needed to confirm these trends, but such results can have implications for recovery times and possibly crew selection, for example more females, for high-altitude, lunar, and deep space missions.”

It is unclear why women might be more resilient to spaceflight than men, but Mason said being able to cope with the demands of pregnancy might help. “Being able to tolerate large changes in physiology and fluid dynamics may be great for being able to manage pregnancy but also manage the stress of spaceflight at a physiological level,” he said.

The paper is among more than a dozen published on Tuesday that analyse samples from the Inspiration4 mission crew and other astronauts who spent six months or a year on the International Space Station. The measurements lay the foundations for a space biology database that will be used to reduce the health risks for future astronauts bound for the moon, lunar orbit and potentially even Mars.

Nasa wants to fly humans around the red planet as early as the 2030s, but another study published in Nature Communications raises serious doubts over the safety of such a long, deep space mission. The international team, led by researchers at University College London, exposed mice to simulated galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) and found that the dose humans might encounter on a round-trip to Mars could cause permanent kidney damage, with astronauts potentially needing dialysis on the return leg if they were not protected from the rays.

Keith Siew, a research fellow in renal medicine at UCL, said the kidneys were extremely sensitive to radiation, but that permanent damage may not be obvious for months after exposure. The radiation appears to damage mitochondria, the tiny power plants inside cells, which could ultimately contribute to kidney failure.

“It’s likely to be a serious issue,” said Stephen Walsh, professor of nephrology at UCL and a senior author on the study. One problem with GCRs is that shielding can make matters worse, because the incoming rays are so energetic they produce secondary radiation that also harms astronauts. “It’s very hard to see how that’s going to be OK,” he said.

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Iceland grants country’s last whaling company licence to hunt 128 fin whales

Conservationists criticise ‘disappointing’ and ‘dangerous’ move to allow harpooning of fin whales after curbs last year

Iceland has granted a licence to Europe’s last whaling company to kill more than 100 animals this year, despite hopes the practice might have been halted after concerns about cruelty led to a temporary suspension last year.

Animal rights groups described the news as “deeply disappointing” and “dangerous”.

Hvalur, an Icelandic company run by Kristján Loftsson, will now be permitted to kill 128 fin whales over this year’s hunting season. Last year, just 24 fin whales were killed after a government-commissioned report found harpooned whales took as long as two hours to die and new regulations were introduced, delaying the whaling season.

Iceland is the second country, after Japan, to allow fin whaling to resume this year.

Fin whales, the second-largest mammal in the world, are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their numbers have recovered since bans on hunting were introduced in many countries from the 1970s.

In granting the permit, Iceland’s food, fisheries and agriculture minister, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, said her decision was not necessarily in line with her views or those of her party, the Left-Green Movement.

“Nevertheless, I have to follow the laws and regulations, and this is my conclusion now,” Gunnarsdóttir told RÚV, the Icelandic national broadcasting service.

Campaigners claimed that a recent report by Mast, Iceland’s food and veterinary authority, had failed to demonstrate any significant improvements in animal welfare for the 2023 hunt compared with the year before, despite the implementation of new regulations aimed at reducing suffering.

Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “It’s hard to fathom how and why this green light to kill 128 fin whales is being given. “There is clearly no way to kill a whale at sea without inflicting unthinkable cruelty.”

Luke McMillan, an anti-whaling campaigner with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “It is unbelievable and deeply disappointing that the Icelandic government has granted [this], defying extensive scientific and economic evidence against such actions.”

The decision set a “dangerous” precedent for commercial whaling around the world, he said, as well as undermining global conservation efforts.

Iceland’s previous fisheries minister suspended whaling after a report concluded that the 2022 hunt did not comply with the country’s animal welfare legislation, as the whales took too long to die.

The report, by Mast, found that some harpooned whales took two hours to die and it questioned whether hunting large whales could ever meet animal welfare objectives.

An expert working group, set up subsequently to look into whether the hunt could be modified to meet welfare laws, concluded there were grounds for making improvements to hunting methods.

However, a Mast analysis of last year’s whale hunt, seen by the Guardian, concluded that while the efficiency of killing whales in 2023 appeared to be better than in 2022, the difference was not statistically significant, possibly due to the small numbers of animals killed in 2023. There were 148 whales hunted in 2022.

Last month, Japan announced that fin whaling could resume, adding the cetacean to a list of other species it allows to be caught commercially.

Although populations of fin whales are reportedly increasing, thanks to regulation of commercial whaling, they were still classified as endangered as recently as 2018 and also face other pressures, including climate change.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus pushes back on Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘PC crap’ comments

Asked about her former co-star’s claims that comedy had been ruined by ‘the extreme left and PC crap’, the actor said ‘that’s a red flag’

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has pushed back at former co-star Jerry Seinfeld’s negative remarks about “political correctness” in comedy, saying that having “an antenna about sensitivities is not a bad thing” and that complaining about political correctness is “a red flag, because it sometimes means something else”.

Louis-Dreyfus was speaking to the New York Times and was asked about Seinfeld’s claim that TV comedy had been wrecked by “the extreme left and PC crap and people worrying so much about offending other people”. Louis-Dreyfus responded by saying: “I think to have an antenna about sensitivities is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that all comedy goes out the window as a result.”

She added: “When I hear people starting to complain about political correctness – and I understand why people might push back on it – but to me that’s a red flag, because it sometimes means something else. I believe being aware of certain sensitivities is not a bad thing. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Louis-Dreyfus spoke to the same journalist 11 days later to clarify her thoughts on the subject, saying: “My feeling about all of it is that political correctness, insofar as it equates to tolerance, is obviously fantastic. And of course I reserve the right to boo anyone who says anything that offends me, while also respecting their right to free speech, right? But the bigger problem – and I think the true threat to art and the creation of art – is the consolidation of money and power.”

However, Louis-Dreyfus defended the idea that it was important to anticipate problematic issues, adding: “Even classically wonderful, indisputably great films from the past are riddled with attitudes that today would not be acceptable. So I think it’s just good to be vigilant.”

In recent weeks Seinfeld, with whom she performed in the successful sitcom between 1990 and 1998, has offered a number of controversial opinions, including saying he missed “dominant masculinity”.

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