BBC 2024-07-03 21:06:10

Grief and anger after India crush kills 121

By Anbarasan EthirajanBBC News, Sikandra Rao, Hathras
Watch: Survivors recount the horror of India’s religious event crush

A day after 121 people were crushed to death at a religious event in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, families of some of the victims are still searching for their loved ones.

The incident took place during a satsang (a Hindu religious festival) organised by a self-styled preacher called Bhole Baba.

Police said that massive overcrowding at the venue in Hathras district led to Tuesday’s crush – they have registered a case against the event’s main organisers.

It’s one of the worst such tragedies for many years in India, where accidents involving large crowds are often blamed on lax safety measures and crowd management.

On Wednesday, a large number of policemen were present as politicians visited the site to find out how the tragedy unfolded.

Dozens of workers were busy removing the sprawling tent from the event venue, about 500 metres from the main road. Two colourful arches bearing the name and photograph of the self-styled guru stood at the entrance and exit.

Early morning rain had drenched the place and large pools of water made it difficult to walk around.

The organisers had laid a brick path, leading to the main stage. It was strewn with clothes and shoes of victims – a painful reminder of the many lives lost.

Officials said most of the dead and injured were women.

  • What we know about the India crush that killed 121
  • More than 120 killed in crush at India religious event

Yogesh Yadav, who lives in the neighbourhood, was one of the first to rush to the site.

“After the prayer meeting was over, Bhole Baba was leaving. Hundreds of women ran after his car to pick up the soil underneath the tyres of the vehicle as a way of seeking his blessing,” he told the BBC.

“Some crossed the highway to get a better glimpse of his car. In the melee, many women fell in the drain adjacent to the highway. People started falling on top of each other,” Mr Yadav said.

According to the first information report (FIR) lodged by the police, authorities had given permission for 80,000 people to gather for the event. But around 250,000 people turned up to attend it.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that there wasn’t enough security to manage such a huge crowd.

At the main hospital in the nearby city of Aligarh, we saw dozens of people waiting to receive the bodies of their loved ones.

One man said he had come to look for his aunt who had been missing since Tuesday afternoon.

Hridesh Kumar was sitting outside the mortuary and wailing unconsolably.

“My wife Sarva Devi came with our two children to the prayer meeting with some of our relatives. My uncle and children were not injured. But my wife was killed in the crush,” he said.

“How will I look after my children without her? My whole life has turned upside down.”

Not much is known about the preacher, but locals said he was hugely popular in the district.

As we drove to the site of the accident, we saw several posters and billboards of him on both sides of the road.

Police say he runs an organisation called the Ram Kutir Charitable Trust, which was also the main organiser of Tuesday’s event.

Accidents are routinely reported at religious events in India, as huge crowds gather in small spaces with little to no safety measures.

In 2018, around 60 people were killed after a train rammed into a crowd watching celebrations for Dusshera, a Hindu festival.

In 2013, a crush at a Hindu festival in the central state of Madhya Pradesh had killed 115 people.

What we know about the India crush that killed 121

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai • Dilnawaz PashaBBC Hindi, Hathras
Watch: Survivors recount the horror of India religious event crush

The number of people killed in a crush at a religious gathering in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has risen to 121, making it one of the deadliest such disasters in more than a decade.

The incident took place during a satsang (a Hindu religious festival) in Hathras district on Tuesday.

Police said the number of people present at the venue was three times the permitted limit and most of those who died or were injured were women.

A case has been registered against the event’s organisers.

The tragedy has sparked outrage in India, and has led to questions about lapses in safety measures.

What happened?

The crush took place in Pulrai village, where a self-styled godman called Bhole Baba was holding a religious gathering.

Officials said the event was massively overcrowded.

Authorities had given permission for 80,000 people to gather but around 250,000 people attended the event, according to the first information report (FIR) lodged by the police.

Chaos broke out at the end of the event as the preacher was about to leave in his car.

The police report said thousands of devotees ran towards his vehicle and began collecting dust from the path in an act of devotion.

As crowds swelled, several of those sitting and squatting on the ground got crushed.

The document added that some people tried running to a patch of mud-filled fields across the road, but were forcibly stopped by the organisers and were crushed.

Police have registered a case against a man who they say was the event’s main organiser and a few others on several charges, including culpable homicide.

On Tuesday, distressing images from the site were circulated online.

Some videos showed the injured being taken to hospitals in pick-up trucks, tuk tuks and even motorbikes.

Other clips showed distraught family members screaming outside a local hospital as they tried to find their loved ones among rows of bodies left at the entrance.

Bunty, who uses only one name and comes from the state’s Aligarh district, said he was devastated at the loss of his mother.

He saw her body lying outside a hospital on a news channel on Tuesday evening.

“But when I went there, I could not find my mother and have since been trying to locate her body,” he told BBC Hindi.

Others expressed anger over the incident.

Ritesh Kumar, whose 28-year-old wife was among those killed, said his life had been upended.

“My family has been destroyed. The government should see to it that we get justice,” he said.

Who is Bhole Baba?

The self-styled godman’s original name is Suraj Pal but he reportedly re-christened himself Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari. His devotees call him Bhole Baba.

He hails from Bahadurpur village in Kasganj district, which is about 65km (40 miles) from Hathras.

Sanjay Kumar, a senior police officer in the state, told BBC Hindi that he was a constable in the police but was suspended from service after a criminal case was lodged against him.

He was reinstated in the force after a court cleared him but left his job in 2002, Mr Kumar added.

Details about his life are sketchy, but Mr Kumar says that after leaving the force, he began to call himself Bhole Baba.

He does not have much social media presence, but has hundreds of thousands of followers in Hathras and neighbouring districts.

Huge crowds attend his sermons where he is mostly seen in white clothes.

Since the tragedy, the preacher is believed to be hiding in his ashram in Mainpuri, about 100km (62 miles) from Pulrai village.

Shalabh Mathur, a senior official in Aligarh police, said a search was underway to find him and question him.

Police say he runs an organisation called the Ram Kutir Charitable Trust, which was also the main organiser of Tuesday’s event.

Satsangs are events where people gather to pray, sing devotional songs or listen to a preacher and they are often attended by a large number of women.

Gomti Devi, who was present at the event, said she had a lot of faith in the Bhole Baba.

She said she wears a locket with his photo because he “cures diseases, ends domestic troubles, and provides employment”.

Australian state orders sperm bank purge over mix-ups

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

A purge of frozen sperm has been ordered in the Australian state of Queensland, after an audit by its health watchdog found almost half of fertility samples were at risk of misidentification.

Such mix-ups can rob parents and donor children of key genetic information and medical records, and advocates say creates a danger of accidental incest.

Queensland is home to one of the country’s largest IVF industries, however it is self-regulated and has come under scrutiny as some of its biggest providers face claims of malpractice.

The clean out compounds a national shortage of donated sperm which has been driven by high demand, tightening regulations, and pandemic-related disruptions.

One in six Australian couples face difficulty trying to start a family, government data shows, with many increasingly relying on donors to conceive.

An inquiry into the multi-million-dollar sector in Queensland by the state’s health ombudsman this week found “systemic issues” concerning “quality and safety” and “safeguards for consumers, donors and donor-conceived children”.

The report detailed how 42% of sperm donations, egg samples and embryos in Queensland had “ identification and traceability” issues – meaning clinics had lost track of or incorrectly labelled samples, or allowed them to deteriorate below laboratory standards.

It also aired allegations from patients who accused IVF providers of failing to disclose the medical conditions of donors, misidentifying eggs and embryos, and mixing up sperm – which one family said had resulted in them parenting children from different biological fathers.

The body recommended that all fertility providers destroy stored donor material that does not meet current identification standards.

“The impact on consumers and the donor-conceived children… cannot be underestimated,” the report concluded, adding that “appropriate counselling should be offered” by fertility providers.

It is unclear how many sperm samples could be destroyed, but the ombudsman deemed “thousands” frozen before 2020 as “high risk” because they “did not comply with double witnessing” – a practice in which two IVF professionals check a patient’s material has been labelled correctly.

Anastasia Gunn – a mother suing one of Queensland’s fertility providers for allegedly providing her with the wrong sperm in 2014 – told the Guardian Australia she was “horrified [but] not surprised” by the ombudsman’s findings.

“It is scary to think how many patients may have unknowingly conceived with the wrong sperm.

“Why were the clinics not double-checking when they were making humans? The effects of these errors last for generations,” she added.

‘Almost whole island homeless’ in Hurricane Beryl’s wake

By Will GrantBBC News, Mexico, Central America and Cuba Correspondent
Watch: Union Island resident explains impact of Hurricane Beryl

Having survived the night as Hurricane Beryl tore across her idyllic home of Union Island with ferocious force, Katrina Coy was taken aback by the extent of the devastation which lay before her.

Virtually every building on the island, which lies off St Vincent and the Grenadines, has been razed or badly damaged, she said.

“Union Island is in a terrible state after Beryl passed. Literally, almost the whole island is homeless,” said Ms Coy in a video message.

“There are hardly any buildings left standing. Houses are flattened, roads are blocked, the electricity poles are down in the streets.”

Fisherman and fishing guide Sebastien Sailly agreed.

“Everything is lost. I have nowhere to live right now,” he said.

A resident of Union since 1985, he lived through Hurricane Ivan in 2004. But Hurricane Beryl, he said, was on another level.

“It’s like a tornado has passed through here. Ninety percent of the island – easily 90% – has been erased.”

The extent of the shock and fear is still evident in his voice.

“I was sheltering with my wife and daughter and, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure we would make it out at all.”

His cousin, Alizee, who runs a hotel with her family, described a horrific experience as Beryl passed over their town.

She said they had to push furniture against the doors and windows to keep the sustained winds and huge gusts from blowing them open.

“The pressure was so intense that you felt it in your ears. We could hear the roof coming apart and smashing into another building. Windows breaking, flooding.”

“No one knew it would be this bad, everyone is traumatised.”

An organic farmer and beekeeper as well as a fisherman, Sebastien’s two farms and his beehives have been completely destroyed as well.

Still, he said the community’s immediate priority is shelter. People have been trying to gather wood and plastic sheeting to make some kind of temporary accommodation for their families.

“And obviously, finding water and food is going to be tough,” he added.

Alizee Sailly said many other goods are also urgently needed on Union Island – from tinned foods and powdered milk to sanitary products, first-aid kits and tents.

Plus, of course, generators.

With power and communications still down, she has only managed to send out messages by connecting to the Starlink network launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

For its part, the government in St Vincent and the Grenadines says it recognises the scale of the problem.

In a morning address, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves summed up the sense of the shock across the Caribbean nation: “Hurricane Beryl – this dangerous and devastating hurricane – has come and gone and it’s left in its wake immense destruction. Pain and suffering across our nation.”

He also promised to react as quickly as possible to tackle the long list of post-hurricane priorities facing his administration.

On Union Island, however, there remains some scepticism that the government has the funds, resources and manpower to cope.

“I hope they can send us the military and the coastguard to help us. I have no idea if they’re able to rebuild the island but I don’t think so”, said Sebastien. “This is going to take billions, it will take a year or more and is going to need international help.”

Katrina Coy, the director of the Union Island Environmental Alliance, also implored members of the Caribbean diaspora to help in any way they could.

“We’re in dire need of help. Emergency kits, food, evacuation, all of that is needed in this moment.”

For years, Ms Coy has carried out crucial work for Union Island’s water security, a vital resource for small island communities in the Caribbean.

Heartbreakingly, her international colleagues say, that work has been lost to Hurricane Beryl.

Beryl hit land on Monday as a category four hurricane, with sustained winds of 150mph (240km/h).

Thousands of people are still without power and many are in temporary shelters in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and St Lucia.

Yet despite the chaos and the homelessness across every inch of the island Sebastian Sailly said he was just thankful things weren’t even worse.

“The most important thing is that we are still alive, not the material losses.”

“After witnessing the power of what we went through, today I was just pleased to see my neighbours were still here.”

China seizes Taiwan boat with crew for illegal fishing

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes & Fan WangBBC News in Taipei and Singapore

China has said it seized a Taiwanese boat, which had five crew members on board, for illegally fishing in its territorial waters on Tuesday night.

Taiwan has asked China to release the vessel – and the men, two Taiwanese and three Indonesians – which is being held at Weitou, a port in the south-east.

Taiwanese officials have confirmed to the BBC that the boat was seized inside China’s territorial waters, about 2.8 nautical miles (5.1km) off its coast. It was also operating during China’s annual summer-time fishing ban from May to August.

“The fishing vessel violated the fishing moratorium regulations and trawled illegally within the… prohibited area,” Liu Dejun, spokesperson of the China Coast Guard, said.

He also accused it of using the wrong fishing gear and “damaging marine fishery resources”. Taiwan is yet to respond to these comments.

Such altercations have become common in the contested 110-mile strait that separates China and Taiwan.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and the strait as its exclusive economic zone, although other countries that navigate these waters, such as Japan and the United States, do not recongise this. And the Chinese military has ramped up pressure on Taiwan in recent years.

Chinese authrities have seized and detained 17 Taiwan-registered vessels since 2003 for fishing during the summer-time ban, Taipei’s data shows. Taiwan too has detained five such boats from China this year alone.

Taiwanese authorities say they were alerted at 20:04 local time (12:04 GMT) on Tuesday by the captain that officers from two Chinese coast guard vessels had boarded and seized the fishing boat.

There was a brief but tense standoff as three Taiwanese coast guard ships were dispatched to rescue the boat. But they said they did not pursue them because there were four other Chinese coast guard ships approaching and they did not want to escalate tensions.

China’s coast guard says the Taiwanese used loudspeakers to demand the release of the fishing boat – and the Chinese did the same, asking the other side not to interfere.

“There were 40 to 50 fishing boats out at sea at the time. I don’t know why he targeted my boat,” the owner of the fishing vessel told local media. “This never happened before – in the past they would just chase you away if you got too close.”

Beijing and Taipei used to be more flexible about each other’s fishing fleets, especially around Taiwan’s off-shore islands, which lie extremely close to the Chinese coast.

But in recent years Taiwan has been enforcing its own waters more strictly – a response to what it says is a massive increase in poaching by fishermen from China’s coastal Fujian province.

In February, two Chinese fishermen drowned after their boat overturned while trying to outrun a Taiwanese coast guard boat. Since then, China’s coast guard has turned more assertive in patrolling around Taiwan’s outlying islands.

China has also become increasingly aggressive in enforcing what it sees as its maritime claims across the region. Its coast guard has become the most visbile arm of Beijing’s vast naval operation.

Its dispute with the Philipines over a number of reefs in the South China Sea has caught the most attention and has raised Washington’s concerns.

But the Chinese coast guard has also stepped up its actions around a Japanese-controlled group of islands in the East China Sea, known in Japan as the Senkaku and in China as the Diaoyu.

Last month Chinese coast guard ships took the unprecedented step of driving away Japanese fishing boats close to the islets. It led to a brief stand-off between Chinese and Japanese coast guard ships.

This more assertive Chinese behavior also comes just weeks after Beijing implemented new maritime regulations that give it’s coast guard personnel wide powers to board, search and detain vessels inside all waters China claims.

Under the new regulations, foreign nationals who are considered to have violated “exit and entry rules” can be detained without charge for up to 60 days.

The new regulations were thought to have been aimed mostly at deterring Filipino fishermen from entering disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

But maritime scholars have been quick to point out that China has expansive, poorly- defined claims across thousands of square kilometers of sea that are disputed by all of its neighbors from South Korea to Indonesia.

Japan top court says forced sterilisation unconstitutional

By Kelly NgBBC News

Japan’s top court has ruled as unconstitutional a defunct eugenics law which saw 16,500 disabled people forcibly sterilised between the 1950s and 1990s.

The Supreme Court also ordered the government to pay damages to 11 victims, who were involved in five cases that were heard on appeal.

Wednesday’s landmark ruling brings to an end a decades-long fight for justice by victims who have been demanding compensation and an apology.

After years of lawsuits, a 2019 law finally granted surviving victims damages but some have continued to fight for higher compensation.

In four of the cases brought to the court, the central government had appealed against the lower courts’ compensation orders.

In the fifth case, two female plaintiffs had appealed against a dismissal of their claims, with the lower court citing the statute of limitations.

Under a post-World War Two law enacted in 1948, some 25,000 people – many of whom had inheritable disabilities – underwent surgeries to prevent them from having children deemed “inferior”.

Japan’s government acknowledged that 16,500 of the sterilisation operations were performed without consent.

Although authorities claim the 8,500 other people consented to the procedures, lawyers have said they were “de facto forced” into surgery because of the pressure they faced at the time.

Victims were as young as nine years old, according to a parliamentary report published in June last year.

The law was repealed in 1996.

‘I could never be a mother’

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court also ruled that a 20-year statute of limitations could not be applied to compensation claims in forced sterilisation cases.

Lawyers had argued that the statute had meant that some victims, especially those who had been sterilised without their knowledge, had learnt of the surgery too late to meet the legal deadline.

Forced sterilisations were most prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, during the post-war baby boom. Many of those forcibly sterilised had physical and intellectual disabilities, mental health problems or chronic diseases such as leprosy.

Physical restraint, anaesthesia and even “deception” were allowed for these operations, according to a government notice in 1953.

“From here, I believe that the government must take a hard turn and move forward at full speed toward a full-fledged resolution,” said lawyer Yutaka Yoshiyama, who represented two of the plaintiffs.

He added that Japan has to date “turned a blind eye” to the “horrific harm” suffered by the victims and their family. Several of the victims who had sued the government died without receiving due reparations, he noted.

Under a law passed in 2019 following one of the lawsuits, surviving victims can each receive 3.2 million yen ($19,800; £15,600). About 1,300 people have applied for this compensation and 1,100 have been awarded so far, reports say.

Still, for some of the victims, financial compensation can only go so far.

“When I found out I realized I could never be a mother… It broke my heart,” Yumi Suzuki, who was born with cerebral palsy and forcibly sterilised when she was just 12, told the BBC in a 2021 interview.

The 68-year-old is among the 11 plaintiffs whose cases were brought to the court on Wednesday.

“I [have] faced discrimination from when I was small but his was very different. It broke my heart.

“I don’t want money. I want people to know what happened to us. To make sure it never happens again. I want disabled people to be treated equally. We are not things. We are human beings.”

Singapore to cane Japanese hairdresser for rape

By Joel GuintoBBC News

A Singapore court has sentenced a Japanese man to jail and caning for the “brutal and cruel” rape of a university student in 2019.

The 38-year-old hairdresser, Ikko Kita, is set to be the first Japanese national to be caned in the city state, the Japanese embassy in Singapore told BBC News.

He will be caned 20 times and also jailed for 17 and a half years.

Caning is a controversial but widely used form of corporal punishment in Singapore, and is compulsory for offences like vandalism, robbery and drug trafficking.

According to court documents, Kita met the woman at Clarke Quay, a popular nightlife district, in December 2019.

The woman, who was then 20, had not known Kita before. She was intoxicated when he took her to his flat and raped her.

He also filmed the act on his mobile phone and later sent it to a friend.

The victim managed to leave the apartment afterwards and reported the rape to police later that day.

Kita was arrested on the same day and has been in police custody since.

Police found two videos of the rape on his mobile phone.

Justice Aedit Abdullah called the assault “brutal and cruel”, adding that the victim was “vulnerable, clearly drunk, and incapable of looking after herself”.

The judge also dismissed the defence’s argument that the victim had allegedly given an initial indication of consent to sex.

The sentencing has been widely reported in Japan and has also been trending on social media.

Some users have expressed shock at the use of caning in modern Singapore, though there have also been some celebrating the sentence.

One said that “in Japan, when it comes to sexual assault, society and the police make victims feel guilty, and the punishment is far too lenient”.

Singapore says caning acts as a deterrent to violent crime, though some rights groups say there is no clear evidence of this.

Caning in Singapore involves being struck with a wooden stick on the back of the thigh, which can leave permanent scars.

According to rights group the Transformative Justice Collective, the cane measures about 1.5m (4.9ft) and not more than 1.27cm in diameter.

The practice drew international attention in 1994 when 19-year-old US citizen Michael Fay was given six strokes of the cane for vandalism.

Despite an appeal from US President Bill Clinton, Singapore authorities went ahead with the caning but gave Fay a reduced number of strokes.

Fears for Australian child missing after croc attack

By Tiffanie TurnbullBBC News, Sydney

A desperate search is under way in northern Australia for a child feared to have been taken by a crocodile.

The 12-year-old was last seen around dusk on Tuesday, swimming near the remote town of Nganmarriyanga – about a 7-hour drive south west of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT).

Police say a specialist search and rescue team has been deployed after “initial reports stated the child had been attacked by a crocodile”.

The NT is home to an estimated 100,000 saltwater crocodiles, more than anywhere else in the world, but attacks are uncommon.

Community members in Nganmarriyanga – previously known as Palumpa and home to only 364 people – and local police began searching for the child immediately after they vanished in Mango Creek around 17:30 local time (08:00 GMT).

They have now been joined by additional officers and the expert search and rescue team who are combing over both land and water.

An aerial search may also be launched, according to local media.

NT Police Minister Brent Potter on Wednesday afternoon said the operation had entered the “recovery phase”.

“It’s a tragic incident for any parent or family member to lose a young child, and especially in the circumstances like that, taken by a crocodile,” he told reporters.

Crocodiles involved in attacks on humans in Australia are usually captured and killed. Mr Potter said wildlife officers have been authorised to “remove” the crocodile from the area once it is located and reiterated the government’s safety message.

“We live in a place where crocodiles occupy our water places… it’s just a reminder to stay out of the water as best we can.”

Found all around the northern edges of Australia – from Broome in Western Australia to Gladstone in Queensland – saltwater crocodiles were hunted to near extinction but numbers have bounced back since the practice was banned in the 1970s.

There have been at least two other crocodile attacks in the NT in the past year – a nine-year-old boy who was injured in January while swimming in Kakadu National Park, and a farmer who escaped a beast’s jaws by biting it back in October – but there has not been a fatal attack there since 2018.

Queensland, however, has had a series of deadly attacks in recent years, including a 16-year-old boy who was killed in the Torres Strait in April.

Gazans seek shelter as Khan Younis exodus continues

By David GrittenBBC News

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are seeking shelter and a safe location, as the exodus from Gaza’s second city of Khan Younis continues in response to Israeli military evacuation orders.

The UN estimates that 250,000 people in eastern parts of the city are affected by the orders issued on Monday, which suggest Israeli forces are set to re-enter.

Reports say an Israeli air strike on Tuesday killed 12 Palestinians in an Israeli-designated humanitarian area to which people have been told to flee.

A major hospital in Khan Younis also now stands empty, after all its patients and medical personnel left.

Much of the city was destroyed in a long Israeli offensive earlier this year, but large numbers of Palestinians had moved there to escape another Israeli operation in nearby Rafah.

Explosions, shelling and gunfire were also heard throughout Gaza City on Wednesday as Israeli forces continue to battle Hamas and other armed groups in the eastern Shejaiya district for a seventh day.

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage.

More than 37,950 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Speaking from Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, Louise Wateridge of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) told the BBC that its staff on the ground had been observing the “very chaotic” movement of civilians from eastern Khan Younis.

“[It’s] different from previous displacements, when we’ve seen trucks and vehicles loaded up,” she said.

“There are limited vehicles available, there’s limited fuel, the roads are so dangerous, the situation is so unsafe. People are really at this stage carrying what they can in their hands and moving. It’s devastating.”

Marwan, a father of four who has a pregnant wife, told the BBC that it had taken his family three hours to travel about 7km (4 miles) on a donkey-pulled cart from Khan Younis to al-Mawasi, which is inside a Israeli-designated “humanitarian area” that lacks basic services.

“We left in a rush, so we couldn’t get all of our luggage and important things,” he said. “I called a friend who resides in al-Mawasi. He told me there is a place next to me and you can come.”

He added: “For the bathroom, I have to dig in the sand and the mud and make a big hole.”

On Tuesday afternoon, nine members of an extended family who had fled Khan Younis were reportedly among 12 people killed in an Israeli air strike on a residential building in the central town of Deir al-Balah, which is also inside the “humanitarian area”.

The Associated Press cited hospital records as saying that Dr Hossam Hamdan, a 62-year-old dermatologist, his wife, their adult son and daughter were among the dead. Four of Dr Hamdan’s grandchildren and the mother of two of them were also killed, along with two other residents of the building and a man who was on the street outside, it added.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it was checking the reports.

Late on Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that the European Gaza hospital in eastern Khan Younis was completely empty, after its 320 patients and all of its medical staff left in response to an evacuation order for the surrounding area.

Most of the patients had been referred to Nasser hospital, which was now at full capacity and had a shortage of medical supplies and drugs for surgery, it warned.

“European Gaza Hospital – one of the largest referral hospitals in the south – must be protected and made operational immediately. Gaza cannot afford to lose more hospitals,” wrote WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on X, formerly Twitter.

An Israeli defence agency said it did not order the European hospital’s patients and staff to leave. But the head of the emergency department said the Hamas-run health ministry had said they should evacuate.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London, Orly Goldschmidt, said the evacuation orders were part of Israel’s efforts to minimise civilian casualties and accused Hamas members of embedding themselves in residential areas.

“We know that they are also hiding in Khan Younis and we want the civilian population to be out of it, so that we won’t harm the Palestinian population and only kill Hamas members,” she told the BBC on Tuesday.

The IDF has not announced the start of an operation in eastern Khan Younis. But the evacuation orders are seen as a sign that it will be the next area to be re-entered by Israeli troops because they believe Hamas and allied fighters have regrouped there.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) said on Monday that it had fired a barrage of about 20 rockets from Khan Younis towards border communities in southern Israel. It was the heaviest such attack from Gaza in months, but no casualties were reported.

Another 80,000 Palestinians in northern Gaza are estimated to have been affected by Israeli evacuation orders covering Gaza City’s eastern Shejaiya district, which Israeli troops re-entered last week.

Medics told Reuters news agency that four people had been killed in an air strike there on Wednesday, while the IDF said it had struck and dismantled more than 50 “terrorist infrastructure sites” over the past day.

The IDF also said strikes had killed “terrorists who posed a threat” to its troops in central Gaza. Local health officials said three people had been killed in a strike on a car in Deir al-Balah, and that another five had been killed in two strikes in the nearby urban Maghazi refugee camp.

In the southernmost city of Rafah, Israeli forces were reported to have shelled several areas in the city and continued to demolish apartment blocks.

The IDF said a “targeted” operation was continuing in Rafah and that ground forces backed by aircraft had “dismantled several terror infrastructure sites and eliminated terrorists”.

Biden blames jet lag and travel for poor debate performance

By Kayla EpsteinBBC News
Name-calling and insults – key moments from Biden and Trump’s debate

President Joe Biden has blamed his poor debate performance last week on jet lag, telling reporters that he “wasn’t very smart” for “travelling around the world a couple of times” before the debate.

“I didn’t listen to my staff… and then I nearly fell asleep on stage,” he said.

Mr Biden, 81, last returned from travel on 15 June, nearly two weeks ahead of the 27 June debate.

The president’s remarks come amid intra-party panic ahead of November’s election over his mental fitness, and after a congressman from Texas became the first sitting Democratic lawmaker to call for him to step aside following the debate.

“I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw,” Rep Lloyd Doggett said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Biden appeared to struggle through some responses during a debate with former President Donald Trump last Thursday.

“It’s not an excuse but an explanation,” he said at a private fundraiser in Virginia on Tuesday evening, referring to his travel.

He also apologised for his performance and said it was “critical” that he win re-election, according to ABC News.

Mr Biden made two separate trips to Europe within two weeks last month.

  • Incoherent debate performance heightens age fears
  • Panic and confusion as Democrats weigh Biden’s future

On 15 June, he appeared at a fundraiser alongside former President Barack Obama after an overnight trip from Italy. He returned to Washington DC the following day.

White House officials have previously said he was battling a cold on the day of the debate.

The president did not mention any illness in his remarks on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the White House said earlier in the day that he was not taking any cold medication during the debate.

Mr Biden also spent six days at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington DC, preparing for his debate against Donald Trump.

The New York Times, citing an unnamed source familiar with Mr Biden’s schedule, reported on Tuesday that his days began at 11:00 each morning and that he was given time each day to nap.

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  • Who could replace Biden as nominee?

The newspaper also reported that he was so exhausted from his travel that his debate preparations were cut short by two days to give him time to rest at his beach house in Delaware.

His spokesman, Andrew Bates, said the president began “working well before” 11:00, after his exercise routine, during his time at Camp David.

His age has been a long-simmering issue this election, with voters in multiple polls saying they think he is too old to be effective.

Mr Biden is currently the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for the White House.

He has vowed to stay in the race despite the debate performance.

In his Tuesday statement, Rep Doggett, 77, said the debate solidified his decision to urge Mr Biden to step aside.

“Instead of reassuring voters, the President failed to effectively defend his many accomplishments and expose Trump’s many lies,” said the Democratic representative for Austin, who was sworn in in 1995 and is running for re-election.

He said too much is at stake to risk the president losing to Trump over fears about his age.

“While much of his work has been transformational, he pledged to be transitional,” the congressman said of Mr Biden.

“He has the opportunity to encourage a new generation of leaders from whom a nominee can be chosen to unite our country through an open, democratic process.”

“My decision to make these strong reservations public is not done lightly nor does it in any way diminish my respect for all that President Biden has achieved,” Rep Doggett added.

Watch what Biden and Trump said after their high-stakes debate

Mr Biden will give a primetime interview to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Friday, his first since the debate.

Some prominent Democratic lawmakers voiced their concerns about Mr Biden’s age and stamina this week, but none until Rep Doggett has called for him to move aside as a candidate.

Other top Democrats have acknowledged fears about Mr Biden’s ability to win but emphasised that the choice to leave the race is the president’s alone.

Several have flocked to liberal-leaning network MSNBC to defend him.

“It’s going to be up to Joe Biden” to do what he thinks is best, former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC on Tuesday.

One of President Biden’s most important backers, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said he would support Vice-President Kamala Harris as the party’s nominee if Mr Biden stepped down.

But he told the network: “I want this ticket to continue to be Biden-Harris.”

Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, told MSNBC this weekend that the debate created a “difficult situation”.

He acknowledged that there were “very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party.”

But he added: “Regardless of what President Biden decides, our party is going to be unified and our party also needs him at the very centre of our deliberations in our campaign.”

Greece starts six-day working week for some industries

By Michael RaceBusiness reporter, BBC News

Greece has introduced a six-day working week for certain industries in a bid to boost economic growth.

New legislation, which came into effect at the start of July, allows employees to work up to 48 hours in a week as opposed to 40.

It only applies to businesses which operate on a 24-hour basis and is optional for workers, who get paid an extra 40% for the overtime they do.

However, the move by the Greek government is at odds with workplace culture elsewhere in Europe and the US, where four-day working patterns are becoming more common.

Firms adopting these policies typically argue that working fewer hours actually boosts productivity and staff wellbeing.

It is hoped that Greece’s six-day working week plan will help combat undeclared work that leads to tax evasion, according to Greek public broadcaster ERTNews.

Tourist businesses and the food industry are not included in the policy.

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the “nucleus of this legislation is worker-friendly, it is deeply growth-oriented”, the Guardian first reported.

“And it brings Greece in line with the rest of Europe.”

The EU’s “working time directive” requires member states to guarantee a 48-hour limit to weekly working hours, including overtime.

The BBC has contacted Greece’s labour minister Niki Kerameus for comment.

The global financial crisis of the late 2000s had a devastating effect on Greece, as the legacy of high public spending and widespread tax evasion left the country with crippling debts.

Mr Mitsotakis has been credited with successfully returning the economy to growth after the crisis forced Greece to seek three international bailouts.

But when it comes to working patterns, Greece appears to be moving in the opposite direction to other nations.

Since the Covid pandemic companies have been embracing flexible working models and many have trialled four-day weeks, with staff seeing no loss in wages.

Trials of a four-day week in Iceland were deemed an “overwhelming success” and led to many workers moving to shorter hours, according to researchers, which claimed productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces.

Revered screenwriter Robert Towne dies aged 89

By Ian YoungsCulture reporter

Robert Towne, who wrote films including Chinatown and Mission: Impossible, has been remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters following his death at the age of 89.

Towne won an Oscar for his 1974 crime and corruption thriller Chinatown, which starred Jack Nicholson as a private detective.

He was nominated for four Oscars during his career in total, including for co-writing 1975’s Shampoo with the film’s star Warren Beatty.

Lee Grant, who won best supporting actress for her role in that film, paid tribute to Towne on X. “His life, like the characters he created, was incisive, iconoclastic & entirely originally [sic],” she wrote.

“He gave me the gift of Shampoo. He gave all of us the gift of his words & his films. There isn’t another like him. There won’t be again.”

Towne also had a high reputation as a script doctor, fixing or adding to existing scripts, such as 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde and 1972’s The Godfather.

Towne often didn’t get an official credit, but The Godfather’s writer-director Francis Ford Coppola used his Oscars best adapted screenplay acceptance speech to thank him for writing a pivotal and “very beautiful” scene between Al Pacino and Marlon Brando’s characters in a garden.

“That was Bob Towne’s scene,” Coppola told the 1973 award ceremony.

Towne also earned his own Oscar nominations for writing 1973’s The Last Detail – also starring Nicholson – and 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

However, he had handed over writing duties on Greystoke and disliked the results so much that he took his name off the credits and used the pseudonym PH Vazak instead. Vazak was the name of his Hungarian sheepdog.

Towne had no such qualms about Chinatown, but did admit to having fierce rows with director Roman Polanski throughout the writing and filming process.

“We fought every day, over everything,” he said.

‘Everlasting influence’

Scott Tobias wrote in the Guardian last month: “There has been no greater original screenplay in the last 50 years than the one Robert Towne wrote for Chinatown.

“None more elegantly plotted and politically charged, none more literate and historically evocative, none more pungent in its hard-bitten dialogue and sophisticated in its play on noir archetypes.”

  • Chinatown: The real-life California scandal that inspired the iconic Los Angeles thriller

In 2006, Chinatown was ranked third on a Writers Guild of America list of the greatest screenplays ever – ahead of The Godfather in second and Casablanca in first, meaning Towne had at least a hand in two of the top three.

In 2017, Vulture placed him at number three on its list of the best screenwriters of all time.

Following his death, the American Film Institute wrote on X: “From writing masterpieces like Chinatown, Shampoo & countless others, his influence is everlasting.”

Towne’s Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes, failed to make the same impact when it was released in 1990.

He also wrote 1990 racing drama Days of Thunder and 1993 legal thriller The Firm, both of which starred Tom Cruise.

And when Cruise launched the Mission: Impossible film franchise in 1996, Towne co-wrote the first instalment and had the sole writing credit on the second.

He also served as both writer and director on a string of films, including 1982’s athletics drama Personal Best. The New York Times reported that he had affairs with the film’s stars Patrice Donnelly and Mariel Hemingway, leading to the end of his first marriage, to actress Julie Payne.

Towne also wrote and directed 1988’s Tequila Sunrise, starring Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer; and was credited as a “consulting producer” on the 2014-15 season of TV’s Mad Men.

Towne is survived by his second wife Luisa, and daughters Chiara and Katharine.

What we know about the India crush that killed 121

By Cherylann MollanBBC News, Mumbai • Dilnawaz PashaBBC Hindi, Hathras
Watch: Survivors recount the horror of India religious event crush

The number of people killed in a crush at a religious gathering in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has risen to 121, making it one of the deadliest such disasters in more than a decade.

The incident took place during a satsang (a Hindu religious festival) in Hathras district on Tuesday.

Police said the number of people present at the venue was three times the permitted limit and most of those who died or were injured were women.

A case has been registered against the event’s organisers.

The tragedy has sparked outrage in India, and has led to questions about lapses in safety measures.

What happened?

The crush took place in Pulrai village, where a self-styled godman called Bhole Baba was holding a religious gathering.

Officials said the event was massively overcrowded.

Authorities had given permission for 80,000 people to gather but around 250,000 people attended the event, according to the first information report (FIR) lodged by the police.

Chaos broke out at the end of the event as the preacher was about to leave in his car.

The police report said thousands of devotees ran towards his vehicle and began collecting dust from the path in an act of devotion.

As crowds swelled, several of those sitting and squatting on the ground got crushed.

The document added that some people tried running to a patch of mud-filled fields across the road, but were forcibly stopped by the organisers and were crushed.

Police have registered a case against a man who they say was the event’s main organiser and a few others on several charges, including culpable homicide.

On Tuesday, distressing images from the site were circulated online.

Some videos showed the injured being taken to hospitals in pick-up trucks, tuk tuks and even motorbikes.

Other clips showed distraught family members screaming outside a local hospital as they tried to find their loved ones among rows of bodies left at the entrance.

Bunty, who uses only one name and comes from the state’s Aligarh district, said he was devastated at the loss of his mother.

He saw her body lying outside a hospital on a news channel on Tuesday evening.

“But when I went there, I could not find my mother and have since been trying to locate her body,” he told BBC Hindi.

Others expressed anger over the incident.

Ritesh Kumar, whose 28-year-old wife was among those killed, said his life had been upended.

“My family has been destroyed. The government should see to it that we get justice,” he said.

Who is Bhole Baba?

The self-styled godman’s original name is Suraj Pal but he reportedly re-christened himself Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari. His devotees call him Bhole Baba.

He hails from Bahadurpur village in Kasganj district, which is about 65km (40 miles) from Hathras.

Sanjay Kumar, a senior police officer in the state, told BBC Hindi that he was a constable in the police but was suspended from service after a criminal case was lodged against him.

He was reinstated in the force after a court cleared him but left his job in 2002, Mr Kumar added.

Details about his life are sketchy, but Mr Kumar says that after leaving the force, he began to call himself Bhole Baba.

He does not have much social media presence, but has hundreds of thousands of followers in Hathras and neighbouring districts.

Huge crowds attend his sermons where he is mostly seen in white clothes.

Since the tragedy, the preacher is believed to be hiding in his ashram in Mainpuri, about 100km (62 miles) from Pulrai village.

Shalabh Mathur, a senior official in Aligarh police, said a search was underway to find him and question him.

Police say he runs an organisation called the Ram Kutir Charitable Trust, which was also the main organiser of Tuesday’s event.

Satsangs are events where people gather to pray, sing devotional songs or listen to a preacher and they are often attended by a large number of women.

Gomti Devi, who was present at the event, said she had a lot of faith in the Bhole Baba.

She said she wears a locket with his photo because he “cures diseases, ends domestic troubles, and provides employment”.

How Microsoft and Nvidia bet correctly to leapfrog Apple

By Zoe KleinmanTechnology editor

Life comes at you fast.

Last month, AI chip giant Nvidia briefly became the world’s richest company, overtaking Microsoft, which had in turn risen above Apple.

When this news was mentioned on stage at a tech industry event I attended in Copenhagen, there was spontaneous applause from the audience.

As I write, Nvidia is now back in second place, after a fall in its share price took its combined value down to $3tn (£2.4tn) compared with $3.4tn for Microsoft.

Two things have propelled these two US tech titans to such a dizzying pinnacle: AI and foresight.

Microsoft started investing in OpenAI, the creator of popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, back in 2019. Meanwhile, Nvidia boss Jensen Huang pushed his company towards AI chip development many years before generative AI exploded onto the scene.

Both firms took a long-term bet on the current AI boom – and so far, it’s paid off, leaving former top-dog Apple trailing in their wake. But how long will it last?

This year’s London Tech Week, an annual event for the UK tech scene, may as well have been called London AI Week. The letters AI were emblazoned on every stand, and uttered in every speech.

I bumped into Anne Boden, the founder of Starling Bank, a significant fintech disruptor. She was buzzing with excitement.

“We thought we knew who the winners and losers were [in tech],” she told me. “But with AI, we are throwing the dice again”.

She believes she’s watching the AI revolution re-landscape the tech sector, and she wants to dive back in.

That same week I also popped along to Founders Forum, an annual gathering of around 250 high-level entrepreneurs and investors. Some serious money, in other words. It’s a confidential event, but I don’t think I’ll get into too much trouble for saying that much of the chat there was also centred around AI.

A few days after that, a headline in the Financial Times caught my eye. “Most stocks hyped as winners from AI boom have fallen this year,” it read, claiming that more than half of the stocks in Citigroup’s “AI winners basket” had fallen in value in 2024.

Life comes at you fast indeed.

“Given how high valuations have leapt for tech companies, missteps ahead could cause big wobbles in share prices,” warns Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at the investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Just like the bubble, over-enthusiasm risks spilling over into disappointment.”

In 2023 you’d have been forgiven for thinking that anything with the acronym AI in it was guaranteed to open up a lucrative seam of funding, with investment dollars flooding into all things AI.

My friend Saurabh Dayal, who is based in Scotland, identifies AI projects for his pharmaceutical firm to potentially collaborate on.

He said he soon grew tired of misleading pitches.

“I spend a lot of time saying ‘… but that’s not AI’,” he tells me.

It seems both investors and clients are finally growing wiser to the term AI, and, as a result, more picky.

Speaking to the FT, Citi’s Stuart Kaiser said that while AI remained a big theme in the world of stocks and shares, “just saying AI 15 times isn’t going to cut it anymore”.

In addition, there is increased awareness of current generative AI products not exactly living up to their own hype. Inaccuracies, misinformation, displays of bias, copyright infringements and some content that’s just plain weird.

And early AI-enabled physical devices like the Rabbit R1 and Humane Pin have received bad reviews.

“We’re seeing the market around generative AI mature a little right now – early experiments set a lot of grand expectations, but when the rubber hit the road there were too many unexpected outcomes,” says Chris Weston, chief digital and information officer of the tech service firm Jumar.

“Businesses have a lot of value tied up in goodwill – the trust and comfort that their clients have in their services. Introducing ungovernable chatbots is a step too far for many right now.”

Tech analyst Paolo Pescatore agrees that the pressure is on for AI firms to deliver on their promises. “The bubble will burst the moment one of the giants fails to show any meaningful growth from AI,” he says.

But he does not believe that is going to happen any time soon.

“Everyone is still jostling for position, and all companies are pinning their strategies on AI,” he adds.

“All the players are ramping up their activities, increasing spend and claiming early successes.”

There’s another reason why the AI bubble might pop. It’s got nothing to do with the quality of the products or their market value. It’s whether the planet itself can afford it.

A study published last year predicted that the AI industry could consume the same amount of energy of a country the size of the Netherlands by 2027 if growth continues at its current rate.

I interviewed Prof Kate Crawford from the University of Southern California for the BBC’s Tech Life podcast, and she told me that worrying about the amount of electricity, energy and water required to power AI kept her awake at night.

Dr Sasha Luccioni from the machine-learning firm Hugging Face is also concerned.

“There’s simply not enough renewable energy to power AI right now – most of that bubble is fuelled by oil and gas,” she says.

The hope is that the tech could be used to identify sustainability solutions, like for example the secret of nuclear fusion, the way in which the sun gets its energy. But that hasn’t happened yet, and in the meantime, “AI systems put a huge strain on energy grids that are already under immense strain,” adds Dr Luccioni.

With so much uncertainty, few should bet against another shake-up among the world’s richest firms. But currently, Apple has a fight on its hands to catch up with Microsoft and Nvidia in the AI race.

Read more about AI

SAS war crimes inquiry obtains huge cache of new evidence, BBC reveals

By Joel Gunter, Hannah O’Grady, Rory TinmanBBC Panorama

The public inquiry into alleged SAS war crimes in Afghanistan has obtained a previously deleted cache of data that could hold crucial evidence, the BBC can reveal.

The files were permanently erased from a server by a UK Special Forces contractor in 2016, during a murder investigation into the SAS.

But the public inquiry team has now secured backups of the server – part of a Special Forces communications system codenamed “Sonata” – believed to have been created before the files were erased.

The backups are likely to contain information about SAS operations on which members of the elite regiment were suspected of unlawfully killing unarmed Afghan detainees and civilians.

A spokesperson for the inquiry confirmed to the BBC that they had obtained the backups, adding: “We now hold the relevant material and are exploring a technical solution to retrieve and review the data to determine its relevance to the investigation.”

The spokesperson said the inquiry team was approached during several days of hearings about computer evidence last December by someone offering them access to the backups, but the inquiry declined to comment on the source of the offer.

This is the first time backups of Sonata have been obtained by investigators outside UK Special Forces, which blocked previous efforts by the Royal Military Police (RMP) to copy the server.

To the dismay of the RMP investigators, a contractor hired by UK Special Forces (UKSF) during the murder investigation ran a program on the server in 2016 designed to permanently erase previously deleted files.

This process, known as “zeroing”, flew in the face of explicit instructions the RMP had given to UKSF that no data should be tampered with before the server could be copied.

Battle to obtain Sonata

The RMP quickly identified Sonata as a potential source of key evidence during the force’s investigation into the SAS, but according to the internal logbook of lead investigator Maj Jason Wright, the RMP’s efforts to obtain or copy the server encountered resistance and delays from UKSF from the outset.

According to the logbook, Maj Wright – who was then a captain – also met resistance from within the RMP. He wanted to use the force’s legal powers to seize the server, but his senior officer, Gold Commander John Harvey, directed Maj Wright not to use them.

After months of stalemate, UKSF informed the RMP that it planned to migrate the contents of the server over to a new system, and that if the RMP investigators would wait for this process to be completed it could then take physical possession of the old server and all the data on it.

According to RMP Warrant Officer James Priddin, who led the technical effort to obtain the server, this plan was agreed at a high level following a “gentleman’s agreement” between then-Director, Special Forces, Gen James Chiswell and then-head of the RMP, Brig David Neal that the RMP would not seize the server using police powers.

Ministry of Defence documents disclosed during a court case several years later showed that shortly before this agreement was made, Brig Neal had been accused by a RMP fellow officer of trying to improperly close down a separate SAS murder investigation.

The RMP agreed to the delay, but set the condition that no data stored on Sonata could be in any way modified or deleted during the migration process. The stipulation was issued in writing to the office of the director of Special Forces, and a staff officer replied in writing to agree.

But, following further delays, the RMP was informed by UKSF that a program had been run across the server called SDelete, which is specifically designed to permanently erase previously deleted files.

The reason given by the contractor for the use of SDelete was that it sped up the migration process by first permanently erasing deleted data, rather than migrating it unnecessarily.

The news shocked WO Priddin, who had personally received the written assurance from UKSF that no data would be modified or deleted during the migration.

“The deleted data had been permanently erased from the hard drives,” he would later write. “There is no way of understanding what the data was afterwards. It was a clean, forensic delete.”

Maj Wright wrote in his logbook that the deletions were “either unintentional and caused by error/communication breakdown within [UKSF headquarters] or an intentional act to prevent RMP from accessing that data”.

Throughout the process, the backups of the server were never made available to the RMP by UKSF. The RMP’s investigation was wound down in 2019, and the backups sat unexamined until the public inquiry held a week of hearings about the deletions last December, prompting someone to come forward.

In a memo summarising the Sonata case, Maj Wright would note that this was not the first time data had been deleted by UKSF.

In 2010, during a previous investigation into an alleged extrajudicial killing by the SAS, UKSF headquarters staff had “forensically wiped a laptop client machine the day before RMP had the opportunity to recover it”, Maj Wright wrote.

He added: “The deletion of evidence immediately prior to recovery by RMP is coincidental at best; at worst, this may be deemed suspicious.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “The MoD is fully committed to supporting the Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan as it continues its work and so it is appropriate we await the outcome of its work before commenting further.”

The RMP and Gen Chiswell also said that they fully support the work of the Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan and that it would not be appropriate to comment while the inquiry was ongoing.

Brig Neal and Lt Col Harvey did not respond to a request for comment.

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Doctors dismissed these women as hysterical. Now they’re fighting back

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

There’s a memory, or more specifically a moment, that came to define Heidi Metcalf’s second birth.

It wasn’t saying goodbye to her husband and newborn before being wheeled into an operating theatre, or the heart attack she thought she was having as she lay there on the table.

It was when a male obstetrician “ripped the placenta” out of her body, without word or warning.

A nurse, Ms Metcalf knows the intervention – while immensely painful – was necessary. She couldn’t push it out naturally, which was causing potentially fatal bleeding.

But she hadn’t “seen or met this man before”, and she can’t get past the fact that her consent, during one of the most traumatic experiences of her life, “meant so little”.

“It felt like a violation – I needed to feel involved in what was happening to my body, and not just like a bystander.”

Ms Metcalf is one of thousands of Australian women who have come forward to tell their stories, after the federal government assembled a team of experts to tackle what it calls “medical misogyny”.

So far, they have uncovered that a staggering two-thirds of females nationwide have encountered gender bias or discrimination in healthcare.

And many say it is taking place when they’re at their most vulnerable, such as during intimate examinations, or like Ms Metcalf, while in labour. Others report having their pain dismissed or dangerously misdiagnosed.

The BBC spoke to six women for this piece. They shared experiences of being called “anxious”, “pushy” or even “hysterical” while seeking treatment for a range of debilitating symptoms.

They also said they felt that the men in their lives seemed to consistently have their pain taken more seriously.

‘I just don’t feel safe’

Nadiah Akbar was once told by a doctor in Singapore that the extreme fatigue she was experiencing was due to the “stress” of being a busy mother. Tests would later show it was thyroid cancer.

Years later, in remission and having migrated to Australia, staff at a Melbourne hospital failed to diagnose a cartilage tear in her hip socket and a slipped disk in her back.

Instead, they suggested the crippling pain could be linked to “depression” or being “overtired”. It led to Ms Akbar paying for two costly MRI scans out of pocket to be taken seriously.

“‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ I’ve heard that statement so many times… It’s really disheartening as a human being to keep hearing that,” she says.

“It takes a lot of energy for you to keep advocating for yourself, and that’s the part that’s worrying – a lot of people just stop.”

Laura – who asked to have her name changed – is close to that point, after years of having symtoms of what would eventually be confirmed as a traumatic brain injury dismissed.

“I don’t get healthcare without my partner with me, that’s a blanket rule,” she says, explaining that she feels her concerns are taken “more seriously” when voiced by a man.

“I just don’t feel safe, engaging with the system, because when you’re young and you’re told over and over that something is all in your head, it’s easy to believe it.”

Like so many others across the country, both women say they’re coming forward to share their experiences to seize on this moment of promised change.

Assistant health minister Ged Kearney – who chairs the national council tasked with examining these issues – says that their stories, along with those of countless others facing additional disadvantage in First Nations, LGBTQ+, and migrant communities will guide its work.

Her team’s remit is vast and broad areas of focus have already emerged.

But untangling gender inequity in medicine is no small task, and Australia’s attempts could have far-reaching implications as other nations eye reforms.

‘A one-size-fits-all approach’

The problem is not that “all healthcare professionals have some set agenda against women”, Ms Kearny says.

Rather it’s that bias is woven into the fabric of modern medicine because for centuries it was “delivered by and designed for” men.

Women’s health – by contrast – was often rooted in myth and pernicious gender stereotypes.

“Hysteria”, a now-defunct medical term, was a catch-all diagnosis for females presenting with an array of symptoms, meaning their pain was attributed to emotional causes, rather than biological ones.

But today, some women say they continue to feel gaslit – disbelieved and patronised – in medical settings.

And a lack of diversity in medical research compounds the issue.

More than 70% of participants in early-stage clinical trials globally are still white men, while male cells and animals are used as standard in the lab, according to Professor Robyn Norton, a public health expert.

The results are then applied to women, intersex, trans and gender-diverse people, causing issues when it comes to their treatment, diagnosis and how their symptoms are understood, Prof Norton says.

She describes it as a “one-size-fits-all, male-centric” approach to healthcare that has created huge knowledge gaps.

One analysis carried out in 2019 by the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research – which used data from the entire Danish population – found that, across 770 diseases they studied, women were diagnosed later than men, with an average lag time of four years.

In Australia, research from the University of Sydney in 2018 found that females admitted to hospital for serious heart attack were half as likely as men to get proper treatment and that they died at twice the rate six months after discharge.

Scientists have warned that another roadblock is the chronic underinvestment in women-specific health issues.

Endometriosis is pointed to as a key example. Despite impacting roughly 10% of reproductive-age women and girls globally, there is no cure, and it takes seven years on average for patients to be diagnosed.

One recent study found that 89% of Australian women were still being advised by health professionals that pregnancy would fix their symptoms – despite growing evidence it’s a medical fallacy.

Such disparities are being recognised and investigated globally, experts say – with countries comparing notes on what might be the best approach.

The UK, for one, recently announced measures aimed at closing the “gender health gap” in its system. And in the US, the federal government has launched an initiative to improve funding and research into women’s health, led by First Lady Jill Biden.

Ms Kearny says Australia is already making inroads.

In the past 12 months, her government has opened 22 endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics aimed at improving care and diagnosis.

The nation’s drug regulator has removed restrictions on prescribing and dispensing medical abortion pills to increase universal access to reproductive healthcare.

And researchers will soon be able to examine how key diseases are experienced in female, intersex and gender diverse populations at a new centre Prof Norton is leading.

She’s optimistic her team’s work could “catalyse the kind of change in Australia that could see it become a leader in this space”.

There’s also been some investment in women’s health in the latest national budget. Almost A$100m ($66m; £52m) has been set aside for things like reducing the out-of-pocket costs associated with gynaecological conditions, as well as studies into menopause, pregnancy loss and fertility. All are issues which have been historically under-funded.

But while advocates like Bonney Corbin – the chair of Australia’s Women’s Health Alliance who also sits on the council – have welcomed the cash injection, they say it doesn’t go far enough and that state governments should step up too.

“A gender lens on healthcare is more than funding things related to breasts and uteruses. We need to look at women’s bodies on the whole,” she explains.

In the coming months, Ms Kearney’s advisory body will release its first set of major reform recommendations.

She says it has no intention of putting forward “tick-box” measures that tinker around the edges.

Instead, she says the long-term goal is to create a blueprint to “build a healthcare system that actually works for everyone”.

Whether the advice will lead to lasting change remains an open question despite the assistant health minister’s participation at this point, Ms Corbin says.

If it doesn’t though, she hints that there could be public backlash.

“We’ve mobilised a whole lot of women in this process – now we need action.”

Talks with the Taliban – no women allowed

By Caroline Davies

Two days of talks between the international community and the Afghan Taliban have been productive, diplomats say.

The meetings in Doha were the first to include the Taliban – whose government no country recognises – since they seized power three years ago.

At the Taliban government’s insistence, no civil society representatives were in the room with the Taliban officials, meaning no women from Afghanistan were included, prompting criticism from rights groups and activists.

UN officials met Afghan civil society groups separately on Tuesday.

  • Five key moments in the crushing of Afghan women’s rights

As the diplomats and media vacate the vast air-conditioned ballrooms of the Qatari capital, has anything changed for Afghanistan in the last few days?

There were no grand announcements, no massive breakthroughs, no solutions – but then none were expected – from the organisers or participants. Instead, the Taliban officials and diplomats seemed quietly and tentatively positive.

The tone was “respectful”, “engaged”, “frank”, according to different diplomats the BBC spoke to. The most repeated phrase was “this is a process”.

There were no concessions gained, nor pledges won from the Taliban delegation, led by spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid. I asked him what the Taliban government would be willing to offer.

“When we go ahead we will see what they [the international community] want and what we can do based on Sharia law,” he told us. “ Whatever is against Sharia law we will not discuss it. Whatever is in the framework of Sharia we will solve it. It is a process and it will continue; we will see where it will take us and how much we will improve.”

The topics on the agenda were counter-narcotics and the private sector, easier topics to cover than issues like human rights or the role of women.

On the latter, the Taliban remained immovable on their view that this is an internal matter.

“We don’t want to discuss these sorts of issues between other countries. We will find a solution for it back home,” said Zabihullah Mujahid.

When the BBC pointed out to him there had been no solutions for nearly three years, and asked why that was, he said: “We are not ignoring it, we are working on it. We are finding a solution for it based on Sharia law.”

The UN itself referred to the situation in Afghanistan as “gender apartheid” where women and girls are not able to attend secondary school, visit parks or gyms and hold certain jobs among an increasing list of restrictions.

“It is not just an internal issue and we have made that clear to them,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s lead in these talks.

She cited the different treaties signed by Afghanistan prior to the Taliban authorities’ takeover in August 2021 that agree to human rights.

“It doesn’t matter if the government changes, they are still party to those.”

“I think they are ready to talk about some of these things [women’s rights], but they are not ready to move,” Tomas Niklasson, special envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, told the BBC.

“I am hopeful that things will change on women’s rights, but I’m not sure about the time perspective.”

What made him hopeful?

“I’m surprised to see the way in which Afghans still manage through resilience to push back,” he said, adding after a pause. “Hope is not always a rational thing.”

The UN did arrange for a separate meeting to take place on Tuesday with civil society activists, although several chose to boycott it and none of those who attended wanted to speak to the media.

According to the list of attendees provided by the UN, several countries including China and Russia chose not to attend the session. The UN told us that several delegations not in attendance had travel arrangements.

There is no set date for the next meeting of this kind, although many of the countries that attended already meet the Taliban bilaterally and told the BBC that that would continue. All officials we spoke to thought that the few days had laid groundwork for more engagement and conversation.

After nearly three years of the Taliban authorities in control, the general mindset of the diplomats we met was that little would improve in Afghanistan if there was not an attempt to engage, at least on the areas of some overlap.

“We felt we had to start somewhere,” Ms DiCarlo said in Tuesday’s closing press conference.

The question still is where might these talks lead.

The ex-gangster who has become South Africa’s sports minister

By Rafieka WilliamsBBC News, Johannesburg

A former gangster and bank robber who turned into a nightclub owner and opposition politician, Gayton McKenzie has now risen to become South Africa’s minister of sports, arts and culture.

President Cyril Rampahosa appointed Mr McKenzie – the leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA) – to the portfolio in the multi-party government that he announced on Sunday after his African National Congress (ANC) lost its parliamentary majority in the 29 May election.

A prolific tweeter, the 50-year-od relished his appointment, posting a photo of himself putting on football boots and, with a touch of humour, typed: “Thank you for all the well wishing messages, I will reply shortly I’m just busy getting ready, I have work to do 🥅 ⚽️.”

For Mr McKenzie’s admirers, his appointment is the latest sign of how he overcame adversity to achieve success. He robbed his first bank before he turned 16, then became, as he put in an interview with a local radio station, a fully fledged gangster, spent seven years in prison, and vowed to change after his release.

“I might have had 12 rand in my pocket but I had billion rand in my mind. And that is what people do not understand – they concentrate on what they lack instead of how to get what they lack,” he said in a 2013 interview with public broadcaster SABC.

He became a highly paid motivational speaker, got books about his life published, including A Hustler’s Bible, and ventured into various businesses – from mining in Zimbabwe to nightclubs in South Africa – with Kenny Kunene, his soulmate from prison.

Mr Kunene earned the nickname “Sushi King” after he had sushi served on the bodies of women clad only in their underwear at his 40th birthday bash at the Zar Lounge nightclub in an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa’s main city.

The nightclub subsequently shut, as did a branch in Cape Town registered in Mr McKenzie’s name following legal action over alleged unpaid rent and electricity, according to the IOL news site.

“I’m not interested in clubbing. I’m busy with other projects. We killed the Zar brand – there are no future plans [for Zar],” Mr McKenzie was quoted as saying at the time.

These days, he is better known as a politician, having launched the PA in 2013, with Mr Kunene as his deputy.

More than a decade later, the party gained 2% of the national vote and fared better in elections for the provincial government in the Western Cape, getting 8%.

Its support came mainly from the coloured community, as people of mixed race are known in South Africa.

The PA’s signature slogan is “Ons baiza nie”, an Afrikaans phrase which loosely translates as “We are not scared”. Afrikaans is widely spoken in the coloured community, which makes up around 8% of South Africa’s population.

“For the first time there is coloured people also going to parliament through the Patriotic Alliance. We are the only party that takes all races to parliament,” Mr McKenzie said, after the results were announced.

Political analyst Kagiso Pooe told the BBC that Mr McKenzie had a “bravado” style, which appeals to his constituency.

“People want to believe and see someone that comes from their type of background and isn’t shy to say: ‘This is who I am.’ You see it with people like President Zuma, President Trump and other such personalities,” he said.

Mr McKenzie’s campaign against undocumented migrants was a vote-winner for him, the analyst added.

“Unfortunately, mainstream politicians and parties have shied away from this and he tackles it directly.”

Critics denounced his campaign as xenophobic. He waged it under the slogan “Abahambe”, which he has translated from the Zulu as “Let them go” – and, in a publicity stunt, he visited the border with Zimbabwe to chase away people trying to enter South Africa.

He was also accused of hypocrisy, as his critics pointed out that in the 2013 SABC interview he described immigrants from other parts of Africa, including Zimbabwe, as an “integral” part of South Africa’s economy, while “the problem with us is – black people I’m talking about here – we are lazy”.

As Mr Ramaphosa began negotiations over the formation of a coalition government, Mr McKenzie publicly said that he wanted his deputy to run the home affairs ministry, which is in charge of immigration.

He sought the police ministry for himself as he said his previous life as a gangster meant he was in a good position to tackle South Africa’s high crime rate.

“None of them [other politicians] are equipped to deal with the mafias, with the murder rates we are seeing. South Africa needs me,” he was quoted as saying by the TimesLive news site.

He was unperturbed when he failed to get the post, saying he had in fact asked for the sports ministry in “off-the-record” negotiations with the ANC.

“Sport can be used to change children’s lives. A child in sport is a child out of court,” he said.

“There’s one promise I’ve made: I will make spinning [of cars] one of the biggest sports in this country,” he added in a live Facebook post.

Car spinning is a recognised motorsport in South Africa – it involves vehicles being driven in circles and a driver climbing out to perform stunts.

But there are many unregulated events and as IOL sports journalist John Goliath wrote, stigma still surrounds it as a lot of people in the coloured, Indian and black townships often do spinning in the streets, which is viewed as dangerous.

“The spinning of tyres started in the townships as a ritual to honour fallen gangsters during the apartheid era,” he said.

Mr McKenzie has promised to make it possible for car spinning to take place in a safe environment, and to help keep young people away from gangsterism and drugs.

“The spinners will be recognised,” he said, adding: “When a boy has an interest in cars, he doesn’t have time for drugs. He just worries about his car.”

But Mr Ramaphosa’s decision to give Mr McKenzie a seat in his cabinet is politically risky, as he is at the centre of an investigation ordered by the Western Cape government. It is controlled by the Democratic Alliance (DA), a fierce political rival of the PA, although they are now partners in Mr Ramaphosa’s government.

Until last year, Mr McKenzie was the mayor of Central Karoo, and was accused of failing to account for 3m rand ($161,000, £127,000) raised at a glitzy gala dinner in 2022 to improve public services, including repairing swimming pools and replacing bucket toilets.

According to local media, a court ordered him last month – just weeks before his promotion to the cabinet – to declare certain financial records to investigators.

While the PA described the ruling as “flawed”, the DA welcomed it, saying Mr McKenzie would “soon learn that corruption does not pay off”.

The DA kept up the pressure by picketing last week in the small town of Beaufort West, which is part of Central Karoo, to demand answers about the money.

Mr McKenzie said in a post on X that he intended to visit the area to give “feedback”.

“The truth shall come out. I have nothing to hide,” he said, adding: “Lies have short legs.”

More stories on South Africa’s election from the BBC:

  • The winners and losers in South Africa’s historic new government
  • Unity government is a landmark moment for South Africa
  • Why voters fall out of love with liberation movements
  • Behind the ‘Zuma tsunami’ in South Africa

BBC Africa podcasts

Iconic Parisian drag club Chez Michou closes

By André Rhoden-PaulBBC News

A celebrated French drag cabaret has given its final performance, bringing an end to the Parisian fixture that inspired a Hollywood film.

Chez Michou said on social media that Sunday’s performance would be its last due to financial reasons.

The trailblazing cabaret in the capital’s Montmartre district brought drag entertainment to France in the mid-1950s.

The venue’s managers said that a liquidator would be appointed later this month, with hopes that a buyer can be found for the club.

Despite being in a tiny venue, Chez Michou decorated with gilt framed mirrors attracted visitors from across France and around the world.

In its heyday, they included French President Jacques Chirac and Hollywood star Liza Minnelli.

The servers who kept the champagne flowing were called Michettes, and doubled as performers in the lively club.

Chez Michou was founded by flamboyant cabaret artist Michel Catty – known simply as Michou.

The larger-than-life character was known for his all-blue outfits – including chunky blue glasses.

He is credited with inspiring the 1983 Oscar-nominated French film La Cage aux Folles – a comedy about a gay couple operating a drag nightclub in a French resort town.

An American version was made in 1996 – The Birdcage – starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

Michou ran the club right up until his death in 2020, at the age of 88.

There was an outpouring of grief, with the Élysée Palace issuing a statement saying: “The sky above Montmartre will be a little less blue from now on.”

His niece, Catherine Catty-Jacquart, took over running the club, and told AFP news agency that it had seen a lack of bookings despite the Olympics, and blamed its financial woes on protests, strikes, parking and the impact of Covid.

“We’re living from day to day,” she said on Saturday, before it was announced that the club had closed its doors – at least for now.

Ban on Welsh politicians lying promised by 2026

By David DeansPolitical reporter, BBC Wales News

A ban on politicians lying will be brought in before the 2026 Senedd elections, the Welsh government has promised.

Counsel General Mick Antoniw vowed to legislate on Tuesday in a move that spared the government an embarrassing defeat in the Welsh Parliament.

Labour faced losing a vote as it tried to stop a Plaid Cymru attempt to pass its own version of the ban.

Mr Antoniw promised that the law would disqualify Senedd politicians and candidates found guilty of deliberate deception from being a Member of the Senedd (MS).

BBC Wales was told that ministers cut a deal with Plaid Cymru and former Labour minister Lee Waters hours before the vote was due to take place.

In the end the government won with 26 votes for, 13 against and with 13 abstentions.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said what had been announced was “truly historic”.

Discussions had taken place with opposition parties throughout the day, with Mr Antoniw even taking the unusual step of going to a meeting of the Conservative Party group on Tuesday morning.

In May, Mr Waters helped the former Plaid leader amend a law on the operation of elections, currently being considered by the Senedd, to introduce a new offence of deception in politics.

That was despite opposition from the Welsh government.

Mr Antoniw, who the government’s chief legal adviser, criticised the lack of consultation with the police.

In a letter to MSs he warned it presented “a serious risk of political debate being stifled and effective scrutiny of the government undermined”.

On Tuesday, he tried to have Mr Price’s offences deleted from his bill, which among other items would lay the groundwork for piloting automatic voter registration, via an amendment.

But he faced losing as the entire opposition – including Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and Welsh Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds – united to support Mr Price’s offence.

The law, had it been passed, would have given politicians and candidates 14 days to withdraw a false statement.

If they were prosecuted through the courts they would be banned from being an MS for four years.

It is not yet clear whether the proposed law would make lying a criminal offence or a civil sanction.

In the Senedd, Mr Antoniw said: “The Welsh government will bring forward legislation before 2026 for the disqualification of members and candidates found guilty of deliberate deception, though an independent judicial process.”

He said he would invite the standards committee of the Senedd “to make proposals to that effect”.

He said it was a “matter that goes to the heart of everyone”.

Mr Price called it a “landmark moment and is a recognition that existing mechanisms to ensure public trust and confidence in politics have failed”.

He said it would make Wales the first country to outlaw political lying.

In an hour-long debate, Mr Waters, MS for Llanelli, said that “no doubt, politics in this country has become darker””.

He recounted a year in his consistency where he had encountered “lying, manipulation, racist abuse, arson” and “mobs whipped up by the visiting far right descending on the homes of those who put their heads above the parapet”.

He added: “It’s been an awful, upsetting experience seeing ugliness becoming quietly normalised.

“It’s naive… to think that democratic traditions are sacred. We mustn’t allow this… norm spoiling in any form.”

Peter Fox, Welsh Conservative, told the debate: “It is so fundamental that we try to rebuild the trust that has been diminished in in our vocation, because it’s so fundamental to democracy that we are trusted and believed.

“Sadly, that’s been eroded.”

But he said he was concerned Mr Antoniw’s proposal “might not give the parliamentary time to enable things to go forward”.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Ms Dodds, her party’s only MS, asked “why does lying flourish in politics?”

“Because we can get away with it. Deception can run among politicians, largely because we face no real repercussions.”

Osprey chicks relocated to Spain over food concerns

Two osprey chicks are to be rehomed in Spain after concerns over their father’s hunting performance.

Wildlife experts are worried the Loch Arkaig-based chicks are struggling for food following reduced fish catches by dad Louis in recent weeks.

They believe the raptor, who became an online hit through the Woodland Trust Scotland’s wildlife webcam, may be ill or suffering age-related effects.

The six-week-old birds will now be relocated from the forest, near Lochaber, to the Valencian region as part of a reintroduction programme.

Woodland Trust spokesperson, George Anderson, said Louis had been “off his game” in recent weeks, bringing in very few fish to feed the chicks.

Mr Anderson said the bird, who has been the star of the webcam since 2017, would normally be bringing catches of four or five every day.

The Trust said it would never interfere with the ospreys’ daily lives in normal circumstances.

But Mr Anderson said it would be “needless” to let the chicks die from starvation when a relocation option was available.

He said: “Louis has always been a very dependable provider, but he has been off his game lately.

“Bad weather is likely part of the problem and lots of nests appear to have had a poor year, but we think there is something not right about Louis.

“We waited to see if Louis’ performance would pick up but it hasn’t and, while it is our default position not to intervene, we think it would be needlessly dogmatic to let the chicks die when the option to relocate them is available.”

Louis and his 2020 cohort of chicks with previous mate Alia became a huge online hit during Covid lockdown.

They were named Dame Vera, Captain Tom and Doddie in honour of singer, Dame Vera Lynn, charity fundraiser, Captain Sir Tom Moore and rugby star and MND campaigner Doddie Weir following a public ballot.

Alia failed to return from migration in 2021, but Louis found a new mate, named Dorcha.

The pair hatched three chicks earlier this year, two of which survived.

The Trust is now working with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation as part of the project to introduce the birds to the eastern part of Spain.

The project is based in the Pego-Oliva Marsh Natural Park, near the town of Playa Santa Ana.

It is hoped the scheme, which is in its second of five years, can help restore the species to the region – where they became extinct in the 1980s.

Mr Anderson said: “We have every confidence that while the chicks’ survival is not guaranteed, they will have a vastly better chance.

“It will take the pressure off the adult birds, who will now only need to feed themselves and can hopefully get back in condition before migration and will contribute to an excellent conservation initiative expanding the range of the species to make it more resilient in the future.”

He added: “Scotland has reintroduced species such as beaver, red kite and sea eagle thanks to other nations gifting us their animals.

“I think it is great that Scotland is giving this gift to Spain and we are proud this Arkaig pair are going to be a part of that.”

US stingray who became pregnant without mate dies

By Ana FaguyBBC News, Washington

A stingray who miraculously became pregnant earlier this year, despite not sharing her tank with a male stingray, died over the weekend.

Charlotte, a rust-coloured round stingray, died after suffering from a rare reproductive disease, according to Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO, the North Carolina aquarium where she lived.

In February, Charlotte was said to be carrying as many as four young.

Her pregnancy was likely due to parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction where a female egg is fertilized without the sperm from a male.

That phenomenon occurs in species including reptiles, insects and some fish.

When it was originally announced she was pregnant some believed she was impregnated by one of two “very young male sharks” who also lived in her tank.

Initially, the aquarium had predicted Charlotte would give birth in late February but she never delivered her offspring.

In May, the aquarium announced she had a disease that had “negatively impacted her reproductive system”.

“The findings are truly a sad and unexpected medical development,” the aquarium said at the time.

By June the aquarium said she was no longer pregnant but was in stable condition.

“Charlotte continues to be in her normal routine and content,” the aquarium said.

Following her death Sunday, the aquarium closed on Monday.

Her pregnancy was followed by many across the US and was included in a Saturday Night Live sketch in March.

The aquarium said it would continue to work with her medical care team and researcher.

It added that it “appreciates your continued love and support while we navigate this great loss”.

A few weeks prior to a previous Tour de France, amid the maelstrom of planning involved with eight riders and more than a dozen support vehicles navigating the country, EF Education-EasyPost head performance chef Owen Blandy received notice of an issue at one of the hotels.

For reasons unexplained, Blandy was told he would not be allowed to use the hotel kitchen, nor even cook in his own food truck on site.

If he desired, he might be able to supervise the hotel’s own chef in their preparations, but would not be permitted to do so from inside the kitchen.

For a man tasked with fuelling a professional cycling team throughout the most important race on the sport’s calendar, it was not ideal news. But he was entirely unflustered.

“It was fine,” shrugs Blandy. “I just had a challenging few days before settling into my own kitchen.”

Personal experience gleaned from a cumulative total of more than a year on the road at major races has taught Blandy to roll with the punches.

“There are never perfect working conditions in cycling so you always have to adapt and be flexible,” he says.

If a hotel bans the team chef from cooking food, then so be it.

Not so long ago, the professional cycling world’s approach to fuelling was remarkably basic.

Options for riders barely extended beyond a monotonous menu of pasta, rice or whatever fare that night’s hotel kitchen decided to serve up.

These days, it is an entirely different prospect, with vast sums spent on custom-built food trucks, personalised nutrition apps and meticulously planned meal regimes all in the name of performance enhancement.

For the nutritionists and chefs tasked with providing sustenance to power their team’s riders over 2,170 miles in the coming weeks there are principally two dilemmas: what food to prepare and how to do so in an ever-changing environment.

The answers are gleaned from a year-round process that begins in December during pre-season training.

While the riders are honing their bodies, ready for the multitude of races ahead, the number-crunchers eagerly gather data to better understand their nutritional needs.

“We know their individual bodies, their metabolism, how many calories they burn when resting and exactly what they will do in training, the intensity, how long and how many calories they will burn,” says Visma-Lease a Bike head of nutrition Martijn Redegeld.

“Heart rate plays a role. We have that after each training ride. And at certain points in the season we test lactate measurements and breathing measurements in the lab to develop a good profile of each rider.”

As one of three teams – alongside UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers – whose budget tends to dwarf all others, Visma-Lease a Bike has strived to place itself at the forefront of nutritional advancement.

Partnerships with universities aim to ensure they are firmly aware of developments within the field “to keep that competitive edge over other teams”, says Redegeld.

With riders burning an average of 6,000 calories per day during the Tour (around three times more than a resting adult), Visma-Lease a Bike have even begun using artificial intelligence to help determine precisely how much – and what type of – food each individual cyclist should consume.

Personalisation has become increasingly paramount, with the team developing its own app,, external where various algorithms are used to generate individualised nutrition plans.

When a rider comes back from a day on the bike, they simply open the app and are told exactly how many grams of each nutritional component (carbohydrates, proteins, fats etc) to put on their plate. No brain power is wasted beyond using the ubiquitous buffet table weighing scales.

While the methods used to generate precise nutritional needs vary between teams, all of them work to a broad five-meal daily plan of breakfast, pre-race snack, on-bike fuelling, recovery meal and dinner.

The core feeding principles remain the same across the peloton, although they are tweaked depending on the upcoming day’s requirements and whether the rider in question is a climber or a sprinter, a domestique or a general classification contender.

Carbohydrates – usually in the form of rice or pasta – serve as the petrol, necessitating painfully high consumption levels.

Proteins – predominantly fish or chicken – are always unprocessed and fibre is kept low to minimise gut irritation and aid digestion, with fruit and vegetables often consumed in juice form.

Vegetarians tend to supplement themselves with protein shakes, in addition to plant-based proteins like tofu and seitan.

Riders might be allowed more vegetables and fibrous foods before flatter race days, when the body will be better equipped to break them down, while red meats are saved as a treat the evening before rest days.

On-bike fuelling comes courtesy of roadside soigneurs who load up musette bags with a variety of high-carbohydrate forms that can be selected or discarded based on personal preference.

Energy bars, gels, drinks and gummies provide quick hits on tough days, while more traditional food sources include wet rice cakes, brioches, jam sandwiches, flapjacks, sweet breads and cakes for easier days.

The required quantities are unenviably vast. Each rider consumes close to 1.5kg of rice or pasta every day and in the region of 120g of carbohydrates per hour when on the bike – the equivalent carbohydrate content of five hourly bananas.

One EF rider once went through four tubs of maple syrup during the three-week race.

Blandy’s laptop contains a treasure trove of nutritional information to enable his menu design.

One spreadsheet allows him to compare every food item’s nutrient values to decide whether to cook with aubergines or parsnips, quinoa or couscous, chicken breast or chicken thigh.

Another document comprises the EF Education-EasyPost recipe bible, listing a myriad of soups, salads, carbohydrates, proteins, sides, desserts, post-race snacks and drinks. In a bid to combat flavour fatigue, repetition is kept to an absolute minimum across a three-week race.

“The food I make is all transparent,” says Blandy. “There are no rich sauces, it’s all plain, simple cooking with a light amount of seasoning, light amount of oil, fresh herbs and citrus.

“Instead of putting flavour in with cream, salt and butter we’re adding it with herbs and citrus because they are low calorie and contain antioxidants.”

It does not lend itself to the type of innovative kitchen artistry you might see on television shows or in fancy restaurants.

“When I’m teaching new chefs, I always say the only way they will mess it up is by being too ‘cheffy,'” says Blandy.

“You need to swallow your chef ego and put it into a dessert or play around at the end of a race. Go wild then but don’t mess with the simple stuff: the carbohydrates and proteins. Give the guys what they want and they will be happy.

“I’ve cooked risottos before and they’ve just asked for plain basmati rice. They aren’t there on a holiday. They don’t care about fancy food. They are literally there to fuel.”

Blandy estimates he has stayed – and therefore been tasked with cooking – at more than 300 hotels during his time working for EF Education-EasyPost. The transient nature of the job presents numerous logistical headaches.

A chef’s day at the Tour de France begins around 06:00. They must prepare fresh breakfast items (all packaged food has already been set up the night before) for 08:00 before packing up and driving to the next hotel while the race is ongoing.

As well as cooking the food, they are also responsible for procuring it – a task that varies depending on team and, crucially, sponsor.

Blandy’s experience of European supermarkets means he knows where to find the highest-quality food and shops personally for most of it, in addition to emailing hotels in advance to order some perishable items.

Conversely, Visma-Lease a Bike have been sponsored since 2014 by Dutch supermarket Jumbo, who provide all their food at every race, including the Tour de France.

“During a Grand Tour there are three times that a new delivery comes from the Netherlands to stock up on fresh produce,” says Redegeld. “It’s always the same Dutch food and the guys like that because they know what to expect and we know what products they like, so we can always have that available.

“It makes things a lot easier for the chefs who don’t have to search in local supermarkets for things. For me as a nutritionist, we know the nutritional values of all the products so it makes the calculations a lot easier.”

Upon arriving at a hotel, chefs will begin preparations for dinner and the following day’s breakfast and snacks.

Professional cycling teams tend to adhere to one of two dining styles.

Most travel with customised kitchen trucks – a similar size to supermarket delivery vans – where food is stored and meals cooked. Food is then served up for the riders and wider team members in a private room inside the hotel.

A select few teams – including Ineos Grenadiers – instead choose to travel with a far bigger lorry, which contains a kitchen and dining room.

Camaraderie between chefs on rival teams is high. “Sometimes you’re in a hotel with six teams, so the car parks are rammed,” says Blandy.

“It’s manic. Everyone is sharing water and electricity. So you have to scratch each other’s backs. Chefs come to me and ask for an ingredient and I go to them. We help each other out.”

It is a world away from the three successive weeks of pasta with tomato sauce that riders just a generation ago were accustomed to stomaching throughout their Tour de France endeavours.

Redegeld predicts the nutrition evolution will continue, suggesting that within a decade or so teams will employ DNA analysis to take rider fuelling personalisation to the next level.

But all the analytics are worthless without someone to prepare the food.

Earlier this year, Blandy was all set for a quiet week at home when he received an SOS from the team.

He was given half an hour to pack his bags and jump in a taxi to the airport because a fellow EF Education-EasyPost chef had fallen ill before the Paris-Roubaix race.

“I rolled my knives up and threw them in a suitcase,” he says. “I felt like chef special forces.”

Cooking is serious business in the elite cycling world.

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How a Gaza ‘stunt’ divided Australia’s parliament

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

When Fatima Payman crossed the Senate floor to vote against her government she knew it would come with consequences.

The Australian Labor party has strict penalties for those who undermine its collective positions, and acts of defiance can lead to expulsion – a precedent with a 130-year history.

The last time one of its politicians tested the waters while in power was before Ms Payman was born.

But last Tuesday, the 29-year-old did just that – joining the Green party and independent senators to support a motion on Palestinian statehood.

Officially the Australian government supports a two-state solution, but did not back the motion after trying – and failing – to insert a condition that any recognition should be “as part of a peace process”.

Within hours, Ms Payman had been temporarily suspended from her party room, by the end of the week it would become indefinite – after she publicly vowed to cross the floor again if given the opportunity.

“By her own actions and statements, Senator Payman has placed herself outside the privilege that comes with participating in the federal parliamentary Labor Party caucus,” a government spokesperson said.

Prime Minister and Labor leader Anthony Albanese was more concise: “No individual is bigger than the team.”

On Monday, Ms Payman responded by saying she had been “exiled” – explaining that she had been removed from caucus meetings, group chats and all committees.

The dismissal of the senator, elected in what was billed as Australia’s most diverse parliament to date, has drawn a mixed response and raised questions – mainly, whether it’s practical or fair for politicians to toe the line on issues affecting their communities.

Each step ‘felt like a mile’

Ms Payman stands out in Australia’s parliament.

The first and only hijab-wearing federal politician, she has been described as the embodiment of some of the nation’s most marginalised: a young woman, a migrant, a Muslim.

She recounted crossing the Senate floor as “the most difficult decision” of her political career, adding that each step of her short walk had “felt like a mile”.

However, the 29-year-old said she was “proud” of what she had done, and “bitterly disappointed” others hadn’t followed.

“I walked with my Muslim brothers and sisters who told me they have felt unheard for far too long,” she said.

The Israeli military launched a campaign to destroy the Hamas group which runs Gaza in response to an unprecedented Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage.

More than 37,900 people have been killed in Gaza since then, including 23 over the past 24 hours, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

This has become a volatile political issue in Australia that all sides have sought to carefully manage.

As has been the case in countless other countries, there have been protests from both Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as a sharp uptick in Islamophobia and antisemitism.

The senator’s move has drawn both praise and criticism.

Anne Aly – who became the first Muslim woman to be elected in Australia’s parliament in 2016 – and has been a fierce advocate for an end to the conflict in Gaza, said she disagreed with Ms Payman’s approach.

“I choose to do things in a way I think will make a material difference on the ground. Fatima chooses to do it her way,” she told news outlet the ABC.

But Josh Burns – a Jewish Labor MP from Melbourne – who has a different world view from Ms Payman when it comes to issues such as Palestinian statehood, has been one of her biggest supporters.

“Parliamentarians come from different communities and backgrounds, and trying to balance all those perspectives isn’t easy, but we must be an example to the Australian community about how to debate difficult issues respectfully.”

The nation’s Islamic bodies have also issued a joint statement describing Ms Payman’s actions as “courageous” and calling on the Labor party to “echo the voices of the people it represents”.

“Political calculations and attempts to walk both sides have devastating consequences in Palestine and will ultimately end in failure,” it read.

But Mr Albanese called the resolution a “stunt”, adding: “We need actually real solutions… this stunt from the Greens was designed to put Fatima Payman in a difficult position. It was designed to do that.”

Mr Albanese’s penalty against Ms Payman has been more lenient than the complete expulsion that party rules require.

And he’s left the door open for her to re-enter the fold if she’s willing to change course: “Fatima Payman is welcome to return to participating in the team if she accepts she’s a member of it,” he said in an interview on Monday.

‘Not a token representative’

Australian politicians have voted against their own beliefs to fall in line with party politics before.

Queer MPs – including current Foreign Minister Penny Wong – felt a similar conflict in the Labor caucus back in the days when it officially opposed gay marriage.

It’s an issue that has opened Ms Wong up to personal attacks, but she’s remained adamant that quiet advocacy from within the party – rather than public criticism – is the preferred route.

And she says it was a decade of doing just that which saw same-sex marriage legalised.

“Even when we disagree, we have those arguments internally, as you saw over many years in the marriage equality debate. That’s what I did, and I think that’s the right way to go about it,” she told the ABC.

But when asked whether she should have followed precedent, Ms Payman said: “It took 10 years to legislate same-sex marriage… These Palestinians do not have 10 years.”

The contrasting approaches represent the changing demands of the Australian public, according to Kos Samaras – one of the nation’s leading pollsters.

He says a growing cohort of young, multicultural voters are increasingly aligning themselves with politicians who aren’t afraid to take a stance on causes their constituents are “passionate about”.

He also argues that migrant communities are no longer willing to accept political messaging that effectively urges them to “keep their head down”.

“Australia has had a terrible history, whether from a societal perspective or political parties – that whenever someone from a diverse background expresses their view, overwhelmingly they’re told to pull their head in.”

“That’s a formula that kind of works when a new group of people migrate to a country and want to keep a low profile as they’re establishing a new life – it’s not going to work with those migrant’s kids. And that’s exactly who we’re talking about.

“These are people who have grown up in a country that has often made them feel like outsiders, and they’re no longer prepared to keep silent,” he adds, noting recent polling from his team which found that many young Australian-Muslim women feel they lack a political voice.

A refugee whose family fled Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban in 1996, it’s a sentiment that Ms Payman says guides her politics.

“I was not elected as a token representative of diversity,” she said after her temporary suspension last week.

“I was elected to serve the people of Western Australia and uphold the values instilled in me by my late father.”

Ms Payman says that she believes the government is freezing her out to “intimidate” her into resigning.

But Mr Albanese is adamant that his decision is the right one, while emphasising that it is not about Ms Payman’s “policy position” but rather, her decision to “undermine” her party.

For the time being at least, the young lawmaker has vowed to “abstain from voting on Senate matters… unless a matter of conscience arises where I’ll uphold the true values and principles of the Labor Party.”

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