BBC 2024-07-04 12:07:02


I’m not leaving, Biden says, as pressure to drop out grows

By Gareth Evans, Courtney Subramanian and Kayla EpsteinBBC News, Washington & New York

US President Joe Biden worked to calm senior Democrats and staff on his campaign on Wednesday, as reports suggested he was weighing his future after his disastrous debate with Donald Trump last week.

Mr Biden held a closed-door lunch with Vice-President Kamala Harris at the White House as speculation mounted over whether she would replace him as the party’s candidate in November’s election.

The pair then joined a call with the broader Democratic campaign where Mr Biden made clear he would remain in the race and Ms Harris reiterated her support. “I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving,” he told the call, a source told BBC News.

That same phrase was repeated in a fundraising email sent out a few hours later by the Biden-Harris campaign. “Let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running,” Mr Biden said in the email, adding that he was “in this race until the end”.

Questions have been swirling around whether the 81-year-old will continue with his campaign following the debate with Trump, which was marked by verbal blanks, a weak voice and some answers which were difficult to follow. It sparked concern in Democratic circles around his fitness for office and his ability to win the election.

Pressure on Mr Biden to drop out has only grown in the days since as more polls indicate his Republican rival’s lead has widened. A New York Times poll conducted after the debate, which was published on Wednesday, suggested Trump was now holding his biggest lead yet at six points.

And a separate poll published by the BBC’s US partner CBS News suggested Trump has a three-point lead over Biden in the crucial battleground states. That poll also indicated the former president was leading nationally.

Name-calling and insults – key moments from Biden and Trump’s debate

The damaging polling has been compounded by some Democratic donors and lawmakers publicly calling on the president to stand aside. Ramesh Kapur, an Indian-American industrialist based in Massachusetts, has organised fundraisers for Democrats since 1988.

“I think it’s time for him to pass the torch,” Mr Kapur told the BBC. “I know he has the drive, but you can’t fight Mother Nature.”

And two Democrats in Congress also called for a change at the top of the party’s ticket. The latest, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, told the New York Times it was time for Democrats to “look elsewhere”.

Despite this, the White House and the Biden campaign have vehemently denied reports he is actively weighing his future and say he is committed to defeating Trump for a second time on 5 November.

The New York Times and CNN reported on Wednesday that Mr Biden had told an unnamed ally he was evaluating whether to stay in the race.

Both reports said the president had told the ally he was aware his re-election bid was in danger and his forthcoming appearances – including an ABC News interview and a Friday rally in Wisconsin – were hugely important to his campaign.

A spokesperson rejected the reports as “absolutely false”, shortly before White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced a barrage of questions about Mr Biden’s commitment to the race.

She said the reports he may drop out were untrue: “We asked the president [and] the president responded directly… and said ‘no, it is absolutely false’. That’s coming direct from him.”

On a call with White House staff on Wednesday, chief of staff Jeff Zients urged them to keep their “heads down”, accoring to CBS News.

“Get things done. Execution. Execution. Execution” he said.

“There is so much to be proud of, and there is so much more we can do together under this President’s leadership.”

Mr Biden met 20 Democratic governors from around the country, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, later on Wednesday. Both have been tipped as potential replacements if Mr Biden were to stand aside.

“The president has always had our backs, we’re going to have his back as well,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore told reporters after the meeting.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the two dozen governors who had just met the president pledged their support and that Mr Biden had vowed he was “in it to win it”.

But Ms Harris is still considered the most likely replacement. The 59-year-old has been hampered by poor approval ratings, but her support has increased among Democrats since the Biden-Trump debate.

Biden points to White House record after shaky debate

The vice-president gave an immediate interview on CNN after the debate, projecting calm as she expressed full support for the president.

“She’s changing nothing,” a source close to Ms Harris told BBC News, adding that she would continue to hit the road on behalf of the campaign.

“She has always been mindful to be a good partner to the president,” said Jamal Simmons, Ms Harris’ former communications director.

“The people who ultimately will make the decision about who the nominee should be mostly are people who are pledged to him. Her best role is to be a partner to him.”

Members of the Democratic National Committee are charged with voting to officially make President Biden the party’s nominee at the August convention, putting him on the ballot nationwide.

One member, who has spoken to other delegates and requested anonymity to speak frankly about sensitive discussions, told the BBC that the nomination should go to Vice-President Harris if Mr Biden opted not to run.

“If we open up the convention, it will cause pure chaos that will hurt us in November,” they said.

A report by the Washington Post, meanwhile, said Mr Biden and his team recognised that he must demonstrate his fitness for office in the coming days.

He appeared at a Medal of Honor ceremony on Wednesday, and has planned trips to Wisconsin and Philadelphia later in the week.

Ukraine calls them meat assaults: Russia’s brutal plan to take ground

By Gordon CoreraSecurity correspondent, Kyiv

On the frontlines, Ukrainian soldiers use a graphic term to describe the Russian tactics they face daily.

They call them “meat assaults”: waves of Russian soldiers coming at their defensive positions, sometimes nearly a dozen times in a day.

Lt Col Anton Bayev of the Khartia Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard says wave after wave can arrive in just a few hours at frontlines positions north of Kharkiv.

“The Russians use these units in most cases purely to see where our firing equipment is located, and to constantly exhaust our units,” he said.

“Our guys stand in positions and fight, and when four or five waves of the enemy come at you in a day, which you have to destroy without end, it is very difficult – not only physically, but also psychologically.”

This tactic has led to staggering Russian casualties since Moscow launched its latest offensive two months ago. Around 1,200 Russian soldiers were being killed or wounded every day in May and June, the highest rate since the beginning of the war, according to Western officials.

Those attacking are normally quickly spotted by drones above and the Russians leave their dead and wounded on the battlefield, Lt Col Bayev says. “Their main task is simply meat assaults and our total exhaustion.”

The tactic is a sign that Russia is seeking to make the most of its key advantage – numbers.

In Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region, Captain Ivan Sekach from Ukraine’s 110th Brigade compares what he sees to a conveyor belt bringing Russians to be killed, although still allowing them to push forward slowly.

Russia benefits from a significantly larger population than Ukraine. Some of those in the assaults are former prisoners, but Russia is also able to recruit through making one-off payments, sometimes thousands of dollars.

And there have been complaints from the Russian side about “crippled regiments”, in which wounded soldiers are forced back into fighting. One video shows dozens of men, some on crutches, appealing to their commanders because they say they are wounded and require hospital treatment, but instead are being sent back into combat.

All of this, Western officials say, means Moscow can keep throwing soldiers, even if poorly trained, straight on to the front lines at the same rate they are being killed or wounded.

Ukraine could not match the Russian tactics even if it had the numbers, partly due to a different attitude towards casualties. A senior general was removed in recent weeks after complaints he was using what are often called Soviet tactics – throwing people at the front lines.

“There are a lot of criticisms because we have lost a lot of our guys because of Soviet-type mindset and strategy,” says Ivan Stupak, a former Security Service officer. “We are limited with manpower. We have no other options than thinking of our people.”

In the area around Kharkiv, Russian advances have been stopped. But in the east, Russia’s attritional approach is making slow but steady advances.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of Russians. And they are trying to conduct this rolling operation centimetre by centimetre, inch by inch, 100m per day, 200m per day. And unfortunately, it’s successful for them,” says Stupak.

There is frustration in Kyiv about the pace of Western support. One senior official complains they are receiving enough help to ensure they do not lose but not enough to make sure they win.

Western officials acknowledge 2024 has been a tough year for Ukraine, with delays in the arrival of US military aid creating a major strain on defences which has cost territory and lives.

“It seems like a so-called incremental approach,” Oleksandr Merezhko, chair of Ukraine’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told the BBC.

“We receive little by little, and I get the impression that our Western allies give a little bit of weaponry, and they see what happens next, as if they’re afraid of what they refer to as escalation.”

The lifting of restrictions on using US weapons over the border into Russia has made a difference and helped stall Moscow’s assault on Kharkiv.

“If we have to fight with our hands tied behind our back, you know we’ll be only bleeding to death,” says Mr Merezhko. “That’s why it’s crucially important to be allowed to use long range missiles in the territory of Russia, and we already have results.”

But a Ukrainian official said the use of longer range strikes into Russia had only been a palliative and was not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the war.

“We are driving towards stalemate,” former security service officer Ivan Stupak says, acknowledging that this may lead eventually to the “bitter pill” of some form of negotiation.

During a visit to Kyiv this week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested a ceasefire first to hasten negotiations, a position that officials in Kyiv are wary of.

“We [are] not ready to go to the compromise for the very important things and values,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Zelensky, told reporters in Washington.

Ukrainians fear without hard security guarantees – such as Nato membership, rather than vague talk of a bridge to such status – Russia may simply regroup and attack again in the future.

Vladimir Putin is counting on wearing down Ukraine on the battlefield and outlasting the West’s resolve to provide support. As well as launching guided aerial bombs against frontline positions and civilians in Kharkiv, Moscow has also targeted energy infrastructure across the country, leading to increasingly frequent power blackouts and concerns over what winter might bring.

November’s US election adds another layer of uncertainty, along with a question mark as to whether the European Union could realistically pick up any slack.

For Lt Col Anton Bayev on the frontline near Kharkiv, the ability to strike into Russia may have been vital, but he now sees his enemy adapting its tactics – and not just with “meat assaults”.

His losses now come from mortars and glide bombs, while his Ukrainian forces remain short of ammunition.

“We need everything, and there is always a lack,” he says.

“The boys are holding on. We’re all hanging on. It’s hard, but everyone knows the price and why it’s all being done.”

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.

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 behaviour 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.

IVF help for wild rhinos from zoo cousins

By Rebecca MorelleScience Editor@BBCMorelle • Alison FrancisBBC News Science

Collecting eggs from a two tonne rhino is far from easy – but the procedure is being carried out in zoos across Europe in a bid to help the wild population.

The hope is that cutting-edge fertility technology could boost the genetic diversity of southern white rhinos in Africa.

The species was almost extinct, plummeting to a few dozen rhinos – so the animals are all descended from this tiny group.

Scientists believe rhinos in zoos, which have more genetic diversity because they are carefully cross bred, could widen the gene pool with the help of IVF.

It’s technology that has seen a recent breakthrough: in January, researchers announced that they had achieved the world’s first rhino IVF pregnancy.

One of the animals taking part in the southern white zoo project is 22-year-old Zanta from Dublin Zoo in Ireland.

“Zanta has wonderful genetics that are worth preserving, but we know from a previous reproductive assessment that she can’t breed,” says Frank O’Sullivan, a vet at the zoo.

“The main reason we want to do the procedure is to bypass that, harvest her eggs and then they’ll be fertilised. The great thing is Zanta will be represented in future generations of rhinos.”

A team of fertility specialists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany has flown to Ireland to carry out the procedure.

Zanta is anaesthetized with a dart, then once she’s fully sedated the scientists get to work.

Amidst the regular beeps of the equipment monitoring Zanta’s vital signs, the researchers cluster around a screen that’s showing an ultrasound of the rhino’s ovaries.

She’s been given special hormone injections to help her produce eggs. The researchers are able to locate them inside follicles, small sacs of fluid, that appear as black circles on the screen.

Using an ultra-fine needle, and a great deal of precision, they are able to extract the eggs.

It’s taken the team a long time to develop this technology.

The IVF pregnancy announced in January was in southern whites – with the team successfully transferring a lab-created rhino embryo into a surrogate mother.

A calf was never born because the mother died from an unrelated bacterial infection early in the pregnancy. However, the scientists believe the pregnancy shows the technique is viable.

Their ultimate aim is to repeat this with the southern white rhino’s all but extinct cousin – the northern white rhino – for a project called Biorescue. There are only two of these animals left on the planet – both of them females.

But the scientists believe the reproductive advances they’ve made could also help with the southern white rhino’s genetic problems.

Today southern whites number in their thousands, but it wasn’t always that way.

At the end of the 19th Century, the species was almost wiped out through hunting and land clearance. Some estimates suggest there were as few as 20 animals left.

The animals have slowly bounced back and now they are classified as near threatened, but starting off from this very small group has left them with a lack of genetic diversity.

This puts them at risk, says Prof Thomas Hildebrandt, the director of reproduction at Leibniz IZW.

“If you have a very narrow gene pool, a virus, for example, can jump from one individual to the other because each individual is the same and the immune system acts like the same,” he explained.

Southern whites in zoos, on the other hand, have more diversity because of the way their breeding is carefully planned.

“We’re trying to apply this new technology to rescue Zanta’s genes and bring them back to Africa, so that we have a wider gene pool for the future,” he says.

In a makeshift lab next to the rhino enclosure, the scientists peer intently into a microscope to assess what they’ve collected.

Susanne Holtze, part of the Leibniz team, says that they’ve managed to harvest four eggs.

Rhino IVF is still in its infancy – a calf has not yet been born from the technique – but the team is building a store of embryos made with eggs and sperm collected from across Europe and the hope is that they can one day be implanted into surrogates.

“It’s a lot of effort and in the end we actually come home with a few cells. But these cells have the potential to become embryos and to form a new rhino – a huge two tonne animal, so it’s worth it,” Dr Holtze said.

Back in the enclosure, not long after the procedure has been completed, Zanta wakes up.

She’s a little unsteady on her feet at first, but once everyone is sure she’s OK, she heads outside. Her keeper calls her name and she soon strolls over for a gentle scratch behind her ears.

Although she doesn’t know it, the few eggs that she’s donated could make a big difference, helping the survival of future generations of southern white rhinos.

Bird flu hits McDonald’s Australia breakfast hours

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

Australian fans of a late morning McDonald’s breakfast are having to wake up earlier.

The fast food giant has temporarily shortened the hours of its breakfast service in the country by 90 minutes due to an egg shortage caused by a bird flu outbreak.

It is currently serving its full breakfast menu only until 10:30am, instead of the usual midday.

“Like many retailers, we are carefully managing supply of eggs due to the current industry challenges,” McDonald’s Australia said in a statement sent to the BBC.

“We’re continuing to work closely with our network of Aussie farmers, producers, and suppliers, as the industry comes together to manage this challenge.”

Several strains of bird flu have been detected in 11 poultry facilities across southeast Australia in the past two months.

Authorities have said they have the situation under control.

“Consumers can expect to see some empty shelves in the short-term, however, supplies are being re-directed to areas with short supply,” the Australian government said.

“Consumers should refrain from purchasing more eggs than required.”

Bird flu has affected fewer than 10% of Australia’s egg laying hens but, some businesses have imposed limits on how many eggs people can buy.

The outbreaks have led to the culling of about 1.5m chickens in Australia.

So far, none of the strains detected have been the H5N1 variant of bird flu.

H5N1 has spread through bird and mammal populations globally, infecting billions of animals and a small number of humans.

Voters to head to polls for UK general election

Millions of voters are set to cast their ballots in the UK’s first July general election since 1945.

Polling stations, set up in buildings like local schools and community halls, will be open between 07:00 and 22:00 BST on Thursday.

Around 46 million voters are eligible to elect 650 members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

The results for each area, or constituency, will be declared through the night and into Friday morning.

Political parties are looking to win more than half the seats, 326, in order to form a majority government.

The election, called by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in May, is taking place under new constituency boundaries following a scheduled review to take account of changes in population.

The new boundaries, based on voter registration figures, have seen England receive an additional 10 MPs, taking its total seats to 543.

The number of seats in Wales has dropped by eight to 32 seats, with the total for Scotland falling from 59 to 57. Northern Ireland stays the same with 18.

Anyone aged 18 or over can vote, as long as they are registered and a British citizen or qualifying citizen of the Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland. Registration closed on 18 June.

Following a legal change in 2022, an estimated two million British citizens who have been living abroad for more than 15 years were able to register to vote.

Photo ID

This is also the first general election at which voters in England, Wales and Scotland will have to show photo ID to vote in person.

There are 22 acceptable forms of ID, including passports, driving licences, older or Disabled Person’s bus passes, and Oyster 60+ cards.

There are nine valid forms of ID to vote in Northern Ireland, where voters have had to show photo ID since 2003.

Alternatively, those registered to vote without the correct ID were able to apply for a free document called a voter authority certificate.

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales whose ID is lost or stolen after the deadline can apply for an emergency proxy vote, up until 17:00 on polling day, to allow another registered voter to cast a vote on their behalf.

Many people will have already voted for their favoured candidate in their constituency by voting by post.

Those who applied for a postal vote but have yet to return it can hand it into their local polling station by the close of polls at 22.00 BST.

Alternatively, they may also be able to hand it in to their local council office during office hours.

How does the BBC report polling day?

The BBC, like other broadcasters, is not allowed to report details of campaigning or election issues while polls are open.

On polling day, the BBC does not report on any of the election campaigns from 06:00 BST until polls close at 22:00 BST on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk, or on social media and other channels.

However, online sites do not have to remove archived reports, including, for instance, programmes on iPlayer.

The lists of candidates, as well as the manifesto guides, remain available online during polling day.

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.

World’s oldest cave art found showing humans and pig

By Pallab Ghosh@BBCPallabScience Correspondent

The oldest example of figurative cave art has been discovered in the Indonesian Island of South Sulawesi by Australian and Indonesian scientists.

The painting of a wild pig and three human-like figures is at least 51,200 years old, more than 5,000 years older than the previous oldest cave art.

The discovery pushes back the time that modern humans first showed the capacity for creative thought.

Prof Maxime Aubert from Griffith University in Australia told BBC News that the discovery would change ideas about human evolution.

“The painting tells a complex story. It is the oldest evidence we have for storytelling. It shows that humans at the time had the capacity to think in abstract terms,” he said.

The painting shows a pig standing still with its mouth partly open and at least three human-like figures.

The largest human figure has both arms extended and appears to be holding a rod. The second is immediately in front of the pig with its head next to its snout. It also seems to be holding a stick, one end of which may be in contact with the pig’s throat. The last human-like figure seems to be upside-down with its legs facing up and splayed outwards. It has one hand reaching towards and seemingly touching the pig’s head.

The team of scientists was led by Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian rock art specialist from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Jakarta. He says that that narrative storytelling was a crucial part of early human culture in Indonesia from a very early point in time.

“Humans have probably been telling stories for much longer than 51,200 years, but as words do not fossilise we can only go by indirect proxies like depictions of scenes in art – and the Sulawesi art is now the oldest such evidence by far that is known to archaeology,” he said.

The first evidence for drawing on stones found in the Blombos Caves in southern Africa dating back to between 75,000 to 100,000 years ago. These consist of geometric patterns.

The new painting, in the limestone cave of Leang Karampuang in the Maros-Pangkep region of South Sulawesi, shows representational art – and abstract representation of the world around the person or people that painted it. It therefore represents an evolution in the thought processes in our species that gave rise to art and science.

The question is what triggered this awakening of the human mind, according to Dr Henry Gee, who is a senior editor at the journal Nature, where the details were published.

“Something seems to have happened around 50,000 years ago, shortly after which all other species of human such as Neanderthals and the so-called Hobbit died out.

“It is very romantic to think that at some point in that time something happened in the human brain, but I think it is more likely that there are even earlier examples of representational art”.

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London believes that there may be examples of ancient representational art in Africa, where modern humans first evolved, but we have not found any yet.

“This find reinforces the idea that representational art was first produced in Africa, before 50,000 years ago, and the concept spread as our species spread.

“If that is true, much new supporting evidence from other areas including Africa has yet to emerge. Obviously this oldest date is work on one panel at one site – hopefully more dating will be done at more sites to confirm this apparently crucial finding”.

The new dating was made possible using a new method which involves cutting tiny amounts of the art using a laser. This enables researchers to study different parts of the artwork in greater detail and come up with a more accurate dating.

As the new method becomes more widely used, several sites with cave art across the world may be re-dated, possibly pushing back further the emergence of representational art.

Until 10 years ago, the only evidence of ancient cave art was found in places such as Spain and Southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe.

But the discovery of coloured outlines of human hands in South Suluwesi in 2014 shattered that view

Then in November 2018, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian Island of Borneo, scientists found the then oldest representational artwork, thought to be more than 40,000 years old, of an unknown animal.

Prof Adam Brumm from Griffith University said that the latest Indonesian cave art discoveries cast new light on the important role of storytelling in the history of art.

“It is noteworthy that the oldest cave art we have found in Sulawesi thus far consists of recognisable scenes: that is, paintings that depict humans and animals interacting in such a way that we can infer the artist intended to communicate a narrative of some kind – a story,” he said.

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Lula to steer clear of visiting Argentine leader

By Leonardo RochaJaroslav LukivBBC News

The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has cancelled a visit to the southern state of Santa Catarina because his Argentine counterpart is there this weekend.

Javier Milei is expected to meet Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro at a gathering of conservative leaders.

Lula recently demanded an apology from Mr Milei, who had described him as corrupt, a communist and a dinosaur.

Mr Milei said he “had no regrets”. The leaders of South America’s two biggest economies have never talked face to face.

Mr Milei, a right-wing economist and former television personality, is expected to attend a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Santa Catarina.

At the gathering, he plans to meet Mr Bolsonaro, whom Lula defeated in the 2022 Brazilian presidential election.

Mr Milei is an outspoken critic of leftist governments in the region.

During his successful election campaign last year, he accused Lula of being corrupt.

The current Brazilian president once spent a year and a half in prison for corruption but the charges were dismissed on appeal. After his release he was allowed to run for office again.

Last week, Lula demanded an apology from Mr Milei but the Argentine leader ruled that out, saying: “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

The main concern among diplomats and businessmen is that the row between the leaders of the two neighbouring countries will have a major impact on bilateral relations.

Brazilian news website UOL said Mr Milei was putting the future of the South American trade bloc Mercosur at risk.

‘Something needs to happen’ – Democratic voters on replacing Biden

By Ana FaguyBBC News, Washington

In the days since President Joe Biden’s widely-criticised debate performance against former president Donald Trump, Democrats across the country have begun questioning whether Mr Biden is the best candidate for the party.

Most voters think Democrats have a better chance of keeping the White House if Biden isn’t the nominee, a CNN poll found this week.

The BBC spoke to Democratic voters who reflected that concern but who also worried about the logistics of switching candidates this far into the campaign.

As the party confronts this thorny question, we asked voters what they want to see Democrats do next and who they think could replace Mr Biden. Familiar names include Vice-President Kamala Harris, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro.

We start with a voter who feels the Democratic party is not listening to its constituents and wants a fresh face atop the ticket in place of Mr Biden.

They give us these text messages “Are you going to support President Biden for re-election?” and I said “no”. I don’t want someone who doesn’t have the ability to continue in office for a very long time.

I’m just tired.

They push who they think is going to get elected without listening to our voices.

We want someone younger, we want someone who has new ideas, has new ways to engage the whole country. But at the same time, what do I do now?

He should step aside.

I’m hoping we get someone fresh, but I don’t know who.

Other candidates don’t get the air time, so I have to do my own research.

I want someone new. I wish he would step down. I wish he would recognize as president, you’re the president of the people. Listen to the people, listen to us.

I definitely have been watching the governor of Michigan [Whitmer]. I think we need a woman as president and that’s who I would like on a ticket.

I think there has to be a serious discussion about Biden stepping down…

In the end, it’s up to Joe Biden, but I think at very least, there should be some other candidates floated to be able to to articulate what our our game plan is going forward…

I think the more the party tries to tell the public to not believe what we saw during that debate, it’s going to take me from believing we should maybe just deal with Biden to we need a change.

A lot of Democratic voters feel gas lit.

We’re being asked to not believe what we saw, and being told that this is a one off, and we know that this is not a one-off.

There’s been a lot that’s been accomplished, but if we can’t articulate those messages, we can’t win, which means that vision ceases to continue. The president – they affect down ballot races, and those down ballot races could mean catastrophe with what’s at stake in this election.

Gretchen Whitmer would be an excellent example of someone who could replace Biden, or Pete Buttigieg, but I think at this stage, it’s difficult to say.

But I think a Whitmer-Buttigieg ticket could win.

We need people and Democratic candidates who are from Midwestern states or other states who know how to communicate a little bit better with people in their constituencies.

On the one hand, I personally wouldn’t mind him stepping down, but that does lead me to a lot of scepticism that whoever replaces him as the nominee would have the capabilities and momentum to beat Trump.

It is a tough question of who could replace Biden.

Realistically, I don’t think my policy positions totally align with VP [Kamala] Harris, but I do think that, honestly, she’d probably be the best choice for president in terms of logistics, in terms of name recognition.

If he were to step down, she’s the clear successor. She’s already part of the ticket.

That said, I think if we could go back in time and rerun the primary system and actually have a proper voting primary with a field of candidates, I’d probably be more likely to lean towards someone who has a bit more support in the midwest and rust belt states. Someone like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer or Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.

Something needs to happen.

The Democrats need to have a moment of, “hey, this is what we did wrong”. Let’s have a conversation about if Biden is truly viable or not.

Is he the best to beat Trump now?

I don’t think anyone can confidently say he is.

Possibly Gavin Newsom is. He’s primed himself as the best alternative, knowing that this opportunity would come up.

If he runs, he’s just a name that people can get behind. He has a face that people like. He has a great family.

I just don’t know another name in the Democratic Party who, at this stage of the race, could catch up.

Gavin Newsom, who has primed himself to be in that position, or [Pennsylvania Governor] Josh Shapiro, who is an underdog that can really get there.

I’m conflicted.

Personally, yes, I think Biden should step down, but realistically and logistically, no – the primary is done.

He has won the Democratic nomination, even though participation in the primaries for an incumbent president is more of a formality. You have other candidates, like Newsom, Whitmer, Pritzker, Harris, who could technically be good candidates to replace him, but the plan should have been put in place years ago, if not a year ago, in my opinion.

Yeah, I would personally like to see Biden replaced, but I don’t see how that would logistically happen.

I would like to see Pritzker on the ticket.

It seems to me that Newsom is the heir apparent, but I would say Pritzker and maybe Harris, or Harris-Pritzker.

Pritzker has a more progressive policy that he’s enacted in Illinois that could expand as a vision for the rest of the country.

Biden’s done a good job as president, and I think his legacy as a decent one-term caretaker president is at risk by trying to hold on to power.

His legacy is absolutely in the gutter if he loses to Trump, in a landslide, which seems to be a possibility.

It’s too late. We’re too close to the election to have a switch.

If there was a single person that everyone could immediately get behind, maybe. But I don’t think that person exists right now.

I think if Kamala Harris came in, there’d be all these people complaining about her. Or if Pete Buttigieg came in, people complaining about him. So I think right now, where we are right now, I think it’s too late to switch.

If Biden were to drop out, I like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

Kamala Harris has the most name recognition, so I like her quite a lot, but I know that she also turns a lot of people off. I would worry that she would cause people not to show up to vote, but I guess I would support her.

I want to see him replaced. I feel guilty or bad saying that or thinking that. If Joe Biden stays in the race, I’ll be voting for Joe Biden.

But I don’t see how he can come back from that debate performance.

There are a lot of people who folks would be genuinely excited to vote for and I think now it’s really a feeling of dread.

Gretchen Whitmer is a name that has been thrown around who I think would be great. Josh Shapiro is wonderful.

Those are two that come to mind who I think people would be excited about.

I’d be excited to vote for Josh Shapiro, I’d be excited to vote for Gretchen Whitmer, I’d be excited to vote for Gavin Newsom.

I don’t even know a ton about Gavin Newsom, but from what I do know, I think there would be a level of excitement just knowing we have somebody other than Joe Biden who is qualified and capable and dynamic and decades younger.

Hurricane Beryl: Record-breaking sign of warming world

By Mark PoyntingClimate reporter

Hurricane Beryl is wreaking havoc in parts of the Caribbean – and putting the role of climate change under the spotlight.

With maximum sustained wind speeds of more than 160mph (257km/h), it became the earliest category five Atlantic hurricane in records going back around 100 years.

In fact, there has only been one previous recorded case of a category five Atlantic hurricane in July – Hurricane Emily, on 16 July 2005.

The causes of individual storms are complex, making it difficult to fully attribute specific cases to climate change.

But exceptionally high sea surface temperatures are seen as a key reason why Hurricane Beryl has been so powerful.

Usually, such strong storms only develop later in the season, after the seas have heated up through the summer.

Hurricanes generally need the sea surface to be at least 27C in order to have a chance of developing. As the map below shows, waters along Hurricane Beryl’s path have been exceptionally warm for this early in the season.

All else being equal, warmer seas mean more powerful hurricanes, because the storms can pick up more energy, enabling higher wind speeds.

“We know that as we warm the planet, we’re warming our sea surface temperatures as well,” explains Andra Garner, an assistant professor at Rowan University in the US.

“And we know that those warm ocean waters are a critical fuel source for hurricanes.”

In the main Atlantic hurricane development region, the ocean heat content – the energy stored throughout the water column – is at levels not usually seen until September.

That is when the Atlantic hurricane season is usually at its most active, as the sea surface is typically at its warmest at the end of summer.

This is illustrated by the chart below, where a dot represents a major hurricane between 1940 and 2024. As you can see, most major hurricanes happen in late August and September, and earlier ones are very rare.

While a category five hurricane is unheard of this early in the season, its strength fits into the broader picture of how these storms are changing in a warming world.

The number of hurricanes has not been increasing, but a higher proportion of them are expected to reach the highest categories globally as temperatures rise.

“Although it is uncertain to what extent climate change contributed to the early formation of Hurricane Beryl, our climate models suggest that the mean intensity of hurricanes will increase in the future due to enhanced global warming,” explains Hiroyuki Murakami, research scientist at Noaa’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Another factor to consider this year is regional weather patterns.

In the eastern Pacific, El Niño conditions have recently come to an end.

El Niño inhibits the formation of strong hurricanes in the Atlantic, because of the way it affects winds in the atmosphere. The opposite phase, known as La Niña, favours Atlantic hurricane development.

Currently, there are “neutral” conditions – neither El Niño nor La Nina. But La Niña conditions are expected later this year.

This likely transition – as well as rising sea temperatures through July and August – has led to concerns that even more powerful hurricanes could form later in the season.

“Hurricane Beryl sets a precedent for what we fear is going to be a very, very active, very dangerous hurricane season, which will impact the entire Atlantic basin,” says Ko Barrett, Deputy Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization.

In May, the US weather agency Noaa warned an “extraordinary” Atlantic hurricane season could be in store, forecasting between four and seven major hurricanes – category three (111mph) or above – between June and November. On average, the Atlantic is hit by three major hurricanes a year.

Watch: Union Island resident explains impact of Hurricane Beryl

Rapid intensification

Meteorologists and climate scientists have also remarked about how quickly Hurricane Beryl strengthened.

It took just 42 hours to go from a tropical depression – with maximum sustained wind speeds of 38mph or less – to a major hurricane (meaning above 111mph).

“What makes Beryl particularly notable is that it […] intensified the fastest from a tropical depression to a hurricane [of any Atlantic hurricane in June or early July],” explains Shuyi Chen, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.

Hurricane Beryl is an example of “rapid intensification” – where maximum wind speeds increase very quickly. It can be especially dangerous, because communities have less time to prepare.

The frequency and magnitude of these rapid intensification events in the Atlantic appears to have increased in recent decades.

“Unprecedented as Beryl is, it actually very much aligns with the kinds of extremes we expect in a warmer climate,” Dr Garner says.

“As we’re warming the planet, we’re essentially “stacking the deck” of extreme events against ourselves, making events like Hurricane Beryl not only possible, but more likely.”

“It’s up to us to reduce our emissions to change that story.”

More on Hurricane Beryl

In Marseille, pétanque masks political divides ahead of Sunday’s vote

By Andrew Harding@BBCAndrewHParis correspondent

First came the sharp clack of metal on metal, then the scuffing of shoes on gravel, and finally a chorus of polite applause.

On a bright, blustery morning this week, thousands of people gathered in a park in the southern port city of Marseilles, taking their minds off France’s seething political divisions and focusing instead on the beloved local sport of pétanque.

And this was no casual game, but rather a quarter finals match at the World Pétanque Championships – an annual televised event held on France’s Mediterranean coast, and overlapping this year with the nation’s unexpected parliamentary elections.

“The show must go on. Pétanque must go on. Smiling must go on,” said Laurence Astier, head of communications for the championships.

“France is the best nation in the world, of course, at this sport. But the other ones are Thailand and Benin. It’s an international sport,” Astier enthused.

Around her, in the dappled shade of the park’s leafy avenues, the crowds moved between matches, beer in hand, necks craned for a glimpse of the action.

“I lost yesterday,” said George Gonzalez-Gomez, 68, a retired civil servant, with a cheerful shrug.

But even here, the discordant clamour of France’s polarised politics sometimes broke through.

“Fachos,” – fascists – said a man near the entrance, waving a copy of La Marsaillaise, the proudly communist newspaper that was sponsoring the championship. He was referring to supporters of the far-right National Rally, which looks likely to win the most seats in France’s parliament.

“I support the National Rally. We need to fix the country,” countered Gonzalez-Gomez, blaming immigrants for Marseille’s high crime rate.

“It’s like the way you had Brexit. Things were calmer after that. Now there is delinquency, crime, and [Islamist] radicalisation. As for [President] Macron – he is finished,” he said, arguing that France should take back control of its borders from the European Union.

In Marseille, candidates for the National Rally (RN) – the far-right, staunchly anti-immigration party that won 33% of the vote in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections last week – have steered clear of media interviews since their electoral success. Local press are referring to them as “phantom candidates”.

But their members are actively trying to rally support for their party online.

“We’re the last bastion against chaos,” candidate Olivier Fayssat wrote on X.

“Less immigration means fewer homeless people and more money for the people of Marseilles,” Gisèle Lelouis, another RN candidate, posted on the site.

With its luxury yachts, ancient architecture, and crowded, impoverished , Marseille has always been a chaotic melting pot of a city, due to its position on the Mediterranean coast and its history as a gateway to France and beyond.

In recent years National Rally has built up a powerful support base across the south, but has always been strongly challenged by parties from the left and the centre. This election has changed that balance, with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist candidates already losing their seats in the city in the first round.

“Macron… is not popular here at all,” said Gilles Rof, the local correspondent for Le Monde newspaper, explaining that residents have not yet felt the impact of the president’s multi-billion euro infrastructure project for Marseille, and are, more generally, in a mood to shake things up.

Rof argued that racism lay at the root of much of the anti-immigrant sentiment in parts of the city, and that RN was playing on people’s legitimate concerns about crime.

“The basis of this vote [for RN] is clearly racism. [Their supporters say] there are too many immigrants and too many Arabic people. You can hear that all the time. It’s out in the open,” he said.

Much of the crime is linked to Marseille’s powerful drug gangs, which operate – often quite openly – in some of the poorer suburbs north of the city.

In a windswept neighbourhood one afternoon this week, a small crowd gathered to offer support for their parliamentary candidate, a 20-year-old man of Algerian heritage.

“Front Populaire! Front Populaire! Amine Kessaci! Amine Kessaci!” people chanted, naming France’s new left-wing coalition and its young would-be deputy.

Mr Kessaci’s social activism – focused on tackling crime and on local empowerment – was influenced by the death of his brother in a drug-gang-related murder in 2020.

He said migrants were being scapegoated by the far right for political gain, and that poverty and unemployment needed to be addressed as a priority.

“This election… is a rendezvous with history. The extremists are at the gates of power. [If RN wins] it will be chaos, like what you had in Germany in the 1930s,” he said.

“We need to stop them waging a war against the poor, a war against foreigners. We need to tackle the drug traffickers and help the marginalised.

“The far right have no plan, they just have anger. My parents chose this country and I’m a Frenchman,” the young candidate said, before racing off to meet the deadline to submit his application to run in the second-round vote.

Rare plants hidden in toys – and other trafficking tactics

By Navin Singh KhadkaEnvironment correspondent, BBC World Service

When South African officials at Cape Town’s international airport came across cardboard boxes labelled as toys being sent to China they became suspicious.

China is famous for exporting toys around world – not importing them.

The boxes were opened for a spot check – and instead of finding the promised toddler’s cooking set or a board game inside, they discovered bundles of endangered succulent plants all carefully wrapped in toilet paper.

In total 23,000 plants known as conophytum were found in that consignment in April 2022, investigators with the Endangered Species Unit of the South African Police Service told the BBC.

The authorities had been on the alert after a courier company was nearly duped by the same ploy a few months earlier.

About a year later, the authorities at the same airport came across cardboard boxes labelled as mushrooms. They were also being exported to China.

When opened, they saw bags usually used for onions stuffed with succulents – around 12,000 pieces.

“It never stops,” said one police investigator. “You find out their one method, and they come up with another smuggling idea.”

Since 2019, more than one million illegally harvested succulents representing 650 different species have been seized by authorities as the plants transit through southern Africa to overseas markets, according to Traffic, an international organisation that investigates wildlife crimes.

It said that within South Africa, some 3,000 trafficked succulents are intercepted by enforcement agencies each week.

Driven by growing demand for them as ornamental plants, new markets are emerging, particularly across East Asia, with many African countries now involved in supplying them, largely from the wild, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

This has threatened biodiversity in regions such as the Succulent Karoo – an area so-called by the World Wide Fund for Nature which covers extensive arid zones of South Africa and Namibia. It supports more than 6,000 succulent species – 40% of which are found nowhere else, conservation organisations say.

One of the most-common smuggled succulent species is the conophytum of which several sub-species are subject to trade restrictions.

This is because, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, they are either critically endangered or endangered.

And postal and courier services have become an easy way to smuggle small plants like succulents, wildlife trade experts say.

A recent report by the World Customs Organization (WCO) found that the most common method of smuggling flora and fauna was to pack them into small parcels to post, which accounted for 43% of all seizures in 2022 – an increase of 17% from the previous year.

“There are many different ways criminals may use to conceal illicit goods in the post. A common method is to use children’s toys,” said Dawn Wilkes, postal security programme manager for the Universal Postal Union – a global association of postal services.

She told the BBC such consignments generally originated from Africa or Asia.

And customs agents know all too well that traffickers are nothing if not cunning.

Last March, officials at Hai Phong city, in north-eastern Vietnam, discovered an intriguing shipment from Nigeria.

The containers were full of what looked like black horns. On closer examination, they found that were ivory tusks painted black.

Experts investigating illegal wildlife trade say it is unusual for tusks to be disguised with paint – though in the past Vietnamese authorities have seized ivory concealed in shipments of cow horns.

The Hai Phong seizure included some 550 pieces of elephant tusks, weighing nearly 1,600kg (252st).

It led to the arrest of two people in Nigeria in connection with the shipment, according to the Wildlife Justice Commission, which worked with the country’s customs service on the case.

The illegal trade in ivory mainly affects Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and is one of the major reasons behind a decline in African elephants – the population has fallen by around 90% over the past 30 years.

The African forest elephant is on the IUCN’s red list as critically endangered.

Endangered sharks off the coast of Africa are also proving difficult to protect -especially as their fins are a key ingredient in shark fin soup, a much sought-after delicacy in many parts of the world.

There are more than 500 recorded species of sharks, and the trade in many of them is allowed. But selling and buying parts of around 60 shark species is restricted as they have become endangered.

And this is the loophole traffickers exploit, wildlife trade investigators say.

A few cases were detected in South Africa in recent years when customs authorities were faced with shipments that included a mix of both legal and illegal shark fins.

“Criminals will claim that the endangered species are actually the legally traded species,” Sarah Vincent, an expert with Traffic, told the BBC.

“So it is vital that law enforcement know how to tell which is which.”

This was being done in South Africa with the aid of Traffic’s 3D digital technology, she said.

Given that wildlife trafficking cases have become increasingly sophisticated with varied concealment methods, it is important for enforcement agencies to share information with their regional and international counterparts.

For Elizabeth John, senior wildlife investigator with Traffic in south-east Asia, a united front against traffickers is the only way to confront them.

More information-sharing over the years has resulted in increased seizures.

Confiscations in 2022 were up 10% compared to 2020 figures, and a striking 56% compared to 2021, according to a WCO report.

But increased seizures also point to an alarming trend.

“These statistics suggest that illegal wildlife and timber trade are still prevalent, and traffickers are employing various techniques which are evolving, to evade applicable laws that prohibit this illicit crime,” the WCO says.

Wildlife trade experts say the challenge is to keep customs and border control authorities well-resourced, equipped and trained to be ahead of the traffickers’ constantly evolving tactics.

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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.

Scotland’s skies aglow with rare clouds

Noctilucent clouds have been spotted from Scotland over the past few weeks.

The Met Office says the clouds are extremely rare and form in summer high up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Latin name means “night shining” and the clouds usually appear bluish or silvery in colour.

They have been seen from the Western Isles, north-east Scotland and the Scottish Borders.

Related internet links

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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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.

Ukraine calls them meat assaults: Russia’s brutal plan to take ground

By Gordon CoreraSecurity correspondent, Kyiv

On the frontlines, Ukrainian soldiers use a graphic term to describe the Russian tactics they face daily.

They call them “meat assaults”: waves of Russian soldiers coming at their defensive positions, sometimes nearly a dozen times in a day.

Lt Col Anton Bayev of the Khartia Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard says wave after wave can arrive in just a few hours at frontlines positions north of Kharkiv.

“The Russians use these units in most cases purely to see where our firing equipment is located, and to constantly exhaust our units,” he said.

“Our guys stand in positions and fight, and when four or five waves of the enemy come at you in a day, which you have to destroy without end, it is very difficult – not only physically, but also psychologically.”

This tactic has led to staggering Russian casualties since Moscow launched its latest offensive two months ago. Around 1,200 Russian soldiers were being killed or wounded every day in May and June, the highest rate since the beginning of the war, according to Western officials.

Those attacking are normally quickly spotted by drones above and the Russians leave their dead and wounded on the battlefield, Lt Col Bayev says. “Their main task is simply meat assaults and our total exhaustion.”

The tactic is a sign that Russia is seeking to make the most of its key advantage – numbers.

In Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region, Captain Ivan Sekach from Ukraine’s 110th Brigade compares what he sees to a conveyor belt bringing Russians to be killed, although still allowing them to push forward slowly.

Russia benefits from a significantly larger population than Ukraine. Some of those in the assaults are former prisoners, but Russia is also able to recruit through making one-off payments, sometimes thousands of dollars.

And there have been complaints from the Russian side about “crippled regiments”, in which wounded soldiers are forced back into fighting. One video shows dozens of men, some on crutches, appealing to their commanders because they say they are wounded and require hospital treatment, but instead are being sent back into combat.

All of this, Western officials say, means Moscow can keep throwing soldiers, even if poorly trained, straight on to the front lines at the same rate they are being killed or wounded.

Ukraine could not match the Russian tactics even if it had the numbers, partly due to a different attitude towards casualties. A senior general was removed in recent weeks after complaints he was using what are often called Soviet tactics – throwing people at the front lines.

“There are a lot of criticisms because we have lost a lot of our guys because of Soviet-type mindset and strategy,” says Ivan Stupak, a former Security Service officer. “We are limited with manpower. We have no other options than thinking of our people.”

In the area around Kharkiv, Russian advances have been stopped. But in the east, Russia’s attritional approach is making slow but steady advances.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of Russians. And they are trying to conduct this rolling operation centimetre by centimetre, inch by inch, 100m per day, 200m per day. And unfortunately, it’s successful for them,” says Stupak.

There is frustration in Kyiv about the pace of Western support. One senior official complains they are receiving enough help to ensure they do not lose but not enough to make sure they win.

Western officials acknowledge 2024 has been a tough year for Ukraine, with delays in the arrival of US military aid creating a major strain on defences which has cost territory and lives.

“It seems like a so-called incremental approach,” Oleksandr Merezhko, chair of Ukraine’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told the BBC.

“We receive little by little, and I get the impression that our Western allies give a little bit of weaponry, and they see what happens next, as if they’re afraid of what they refer to as escalation.”

The lifting of restrictions on using US weapons over the border into Russia has made a difference and helped stall Moscow’s assault on Kharkiv.

“If we have to fight with our hands tied behind our back, you know we’ll be only bleeding to death,” says Mr Merezhko. “That’s why it’s crucially important to be allowed to use long range missiles in the territory of Russia, and we already have results.”

But a Ukrainian official said the use of longer range strikes into Russia had only been a palliative and was not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the war.

“We are driving towards stalemate,” former security service officer Ivan Stupak says, acknowledging that this may lead eventually to the “bitter pill” of some form of negotiation.

During a visit to Kyiv this week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested a ceasefire first to hasten negotiations, a position that officials in Kyiv are wary of.

“We [are] not ready to go to the compromise for the very important things and values,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Zelensky, told reporters in Washington.

Ukrainians fear without hard security guarantees – such as Nato membership, rather than vague talk of a bridge to such status – Russia may simply regroup and attack again in the future.

Vladimir Putin is counting on wearing down Ukraine on the battlefield and outlasting the West’s resolve to provide support. As well as launching guided aerial bombs against frontline positions and civilians in Kharkiv, Moscow has also targeted energy infrastructure across the country, leading to increasingly frequent power blackouts and concerns over what winter might bring.

November’s US election adds another layer of uncertainty, along with a question mark as to whether the European Union could realistically pick up any slack.

For Lt Col Anton Bayev on the frontline near Kharkiv, the ability to strike into Russia may have been vital, but he now sees his enemy adapting its tactics – and not just with “meat assaults”.

His losses now come from mortars and glide bombs, while his Ukrainian forces remain short of ammunition.

“We need everything, and there is always a lack,” he says.

“The boys are holding on. We’re all hanging on. It’s hard, but everyone knows the price and why it’s all being done.”

I’m not leaving, Biden says, as pressure to drop out grows

By Gareth Evans, Courtney Subramanian and Kayla EpsteinBBC News, Washington & New York

US President Joe Biden worked to calm senior Democrats and staff on his campaign on Wednesday, as reports suggested he was weighing his future after his disastrous debate with Donald Trump last week.

Mr Biden held a closed-door lunch with Vice-President Kamala Harris at the White House as speculation mounted over whether she would replace him as the party’s candidate in November’s election.

The pair then joined a call with the broader Democratic campaign where Mr Biden made clear he would remain in the race and Ms Harris reiterated her support. “I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving,” he told the call, a source told BBC News.

That same phrase was repeated in a fundraising email sent out a few hours later by the Biden-Harris campaign. “Let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running,” Mr Biden said in the email, adding that he was “in this race until the end”.

Questions have been swirling around whether the 81-year-old will continue with his campaign following the debate with Trump, which was marked by verbal blanks, a weak voice and some answers which were difficult to follow. It sparked concern in Democratic circles around his fitness for office and his ability to win the election.

Pressure on Mr Biden to drop out has only grown in the days since as more polls indicate his Republican rival’s lead has widened. A New York Times poll conducted after the debate, which was published on Wednesday, suggested Trump was now holding his biggest lead yet at six points.

And a separate poll published by the BBC’s US partner CBS News suggested Trump has a three-point lead over Biden in the crucial battleground states. That poll also indicated the former president was leading nationally.

Name-calling and insults – key moments from Biden and Trump’s debate

The damaging polling has been compounded by some Democratic donors and lawmakers publicly calling on the president to stand aside. Ramesh Kapur, an Indian-American industrialist based in Massachusetts, has organised fundraisers for Democrats since 1988.

“I think it’s time for him to pass the torch,” Mr Kapur told the BBC. “I know he has the drive, but you can’t fight Mother Nature.”

And two Democrats in Congress also called for a change at the top of the party’s ticket. The latest, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, told the New York Times it was time for Democrats to “look elsewhere”.

Despite this, the White House and the Biden campaign have vehemently denied reports he is actively weighing his future and say he is committed to defeating Trump for a second time on 5 November.

The New York Times and CNN reported on Wednesday that Mr Biden had told an unnamed ally he was evaluating whether to stay in the race.

Both reports said the president had told the ally he was aware his re-election bid was in danger and his forthcoming appearances – including an ABC News interview and a Friday rally in Wisconsin – were hugely important to his campaign.

A spokesperson rejected the reports as “absolutely false”, shortly before White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced a barrage of questions about Mr Biden’s commitment to the race.

She said the reports he may drop out were untrue: “We asked the president [and] the president responded directly… and said ‘no, it is absolutely false’. That’s coming direct from him.”

On a call with White House staff on Wednesday, chief of staff Jeff Zients urged them to keep their “heads down”, accoring to CBS News.

“Get things done. Execution. Execution. Execution” he said.

“There is so much to be proud of, and there is so much more we can do together under this President’s leadership.”

Mr Biden met 20 Democratic governors from around the country, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, later on Wednesday. Both have been tipped as potential replacements if Mr Biden were to stand aside.

“The president has always had our backs, we’re going to have his back as well,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore told reporters after the meeting.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the two dozen governors who had just met the president pledged their support and that Mr Biden had vowed he was “in it to win it”.

But Ms Harris is still considered the most likely replacement. The 59-year-old has been hampered by poor approval ratings, but her support has increased among Democrats since the Biden-Trump debate.

Biden points to White House record after shaky debate

The vice-president gave an immediate interview on CNN after the debate, projecting calm as she expressed full support for the president.

“She’s changing nothing,” a source close to Ms Harris told BBC News, adding that she would continue to hit the road on behalf of the campaign.

“She has always been mindful to be a good partner to the president,” said Jamal Simmons, Ms Harris’ former communications director.

“The people who ultimately will make the decision about who the nominee should be mostly are people who are pledged to him. Her best role is to be a partner to him.”

Members of the Democratic National Committee are charged with voting to officially make President Biden the party’s nominee at the August convention, putting him on the ballot nationwide.

One member, who has spoken to other delegates and requested anonymity to speak frankly about sensitive discussions, told the BBC that the nomination should go to Vice-President Harris if Mr Biden opted not to run.

“If we open up the convention, it will cause pure chaos that will hurt us in November,” they said.

A report by the Washington Post, meanwhile, said Mr Biden and his team recognised that he must demonstrate his fitness for office in the coming days.

He appeared at a Medal of Honor ceremony on Wednesday, and has planned trips to Wisconsin and Philadelphia later in the week.

World’s oldest cave art found showing humans and pig

By Pallab Ghosh@BBCPallabScience Correspondent

The oldest example of figurative cave art has been discovered in the Indonesian Island of South Sulawesi by Australian and Indonesian scientists.

The painting of a wild pig and three human-like figures is at least 51,200 years old, more than 5,000 years older than the previous oldest cave art.

The discovery pushes back the time that modern humans first showed the capacity for creative thought.

Prof Maxime Aubert from Griffith University in Australia told BBC News that the discovery would change ideas about human evolution.

“The painting tells a complex story. It is the oldest evidence we have for storytelling. It shows that humans at the time had the capacity to think in abstract terms,” he said.

The painting shows a pig standing still with its mouth partly open and at least three human-like figures.

The largest human figure has both arms extended and appears to be holding a rod. The second is immediately in front of the pig with its head next to its snout. It also seems to be holding a stick, one end of which may be in contact with the pig’s throat. The last human-like figure seems to be upside-down with its legs facing up and splayed outwards. It has one hand reaching towards and seemingly touching the pig’s head.

The team of scientists was led by Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian rock art specialist from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Jakarta. He says that that narrative storytelling was a crucial part of early human culture in Indonesia from a very early point in time.

“Humans have probably been telling stories for much longer than 51,200 years, but as words do not fossilise we can only go by indirect proxies like depictions of scenes in art – and the Sulawesi art is now the oldest such evidence by far that is known to archaeology,” he said.

The first evidence for drawing on stones found in the Blombos Caves in southern Africa dating back to between 75,000 to 100,000 years ago. These consist of geometric patterns.

The new painting, in the limestone cave of Leang Karampuang in the Maros-Pangkep region of South Sulawesi, shows representational art – and abstract representation of the world around the person or people that painted it. It therefore represents an evolution in the thought processes in our species that gave rise to art and science.

The question is what triggered this awakening of the human mind, according to Dr Henry Gee, who is a senior editor at the journal Nature, where the details were published.

“Something seems to have happened around 50,000 years ago, shortly after which all other species of human such as Neanderthals and the so-called Hobbit died out.

“It is very romantic to think that at some point in that time something happened in the human brain, but I think it is more likely that there are even earlier examples of representational art”.

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London believes that there may be examples of ancient representational art in Africa, where modern humans first evolved, but we have not found any yet.

“This find reinforces the idea that representational art was first produced in Africa, before 50,000 years ago, and the concept spread as our species spread.

“If that is true, much new supporting evidence from other areas including Africa has yet to emerge. Obviously this oldest date is work on one panel at one site – hopefully more dating will be done at more sites to confirm this apparently crucial finding”.

The new dating was made possible using a new method which involves cutting tiny amounts of the art using a laser. This enables researchers to study different parts of the artwork in greater detail and come up with a more accurate dating.

As the new method becomes more widely used, several sites with cave art across the world may be re-dated, possibly pushing back further the emergence of representational art.

Until 10 years ago, the only evidence of ancient cave art was found in places such as Spain and Southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe.

But the discovery of coloured outlines of human hands in South Suluwesi in 2014 shattered that view

Then in November 2018, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian Island of Borneo, scientists found the then oldest representational artwork, thought to be more than 40,000 years old, of an unknown animal.

Prof Adam Brumm from Griffith University said that the latest Indonesian cave art discoveries cast new light on the important role of storytelling in the history of art.

“It is noteworthy that the oldest cave art we have found in Sulawesi thus far consists of recognisable scenes: that is, paintings that depict humans and animals interacting in such a way that we can infer the artist intended to communicate a narrative of some kind – a story,” he said.

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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.

Voters to head to polls for UK general election

Millions of voters are set to cast their ballots in the UK’s first July general election since 1945.

Polling stations, set up in buildings like local schools and community halls, will be open between 07:00 and 22:00 BST on Thursday.

Around 46 million voters are eligible to elect 650 members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

The results for each area, or constituency, will be declared through the night and into Friday morning.

Political parties are looking to win more than half the seats, 326, in order to form a majority government.

The election, called by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in May, is taking place under new constituency boundaries following a scheduled review to take account of changes in population.

The new boundaries, based on voter registration figures, have seen England receive an additional 10 MPs, taking its total seats to 543.

The number of seats in Wales has dropped by eight to 32 seats, with the total for Scotland falling from 59 to 57. Northern Ireland stays the same with 18.

Anyone aged 18 or over can vote, as long as they are registered and a British citizen or qualifying citizen of the Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland. Registration closed on 18 June.

Following a legal change in 2022, an estimated two million British citizens who have been living abroad for more than 15 years were able to register to vote.

Photo ID

This is also the first general election at which voters in England, Wales and Scotland will have to show photo ID to vote in person.

There are 22 acceptable forms of ID, including passports, driving licences, older or Disabled Person’s bus passes, and Oyster 60+ cards.

There are nine valid forms of ID to vote in Northern Ireland, where voters have had to show photo ID since 2003.

Alternatively, those registered to vote without the correct ID were able to apply for a free document called a voter authority certificate.

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales whose ID is lost or stolen after the deadline can apply for an emergency proxy vote, up until 17:00 on polling day, to allow another registered voter to cast a vote on their behalf.

Many people will have already voted for their favoured candidate in their constituency by voting by post.

Those who applied for a postal vote but have yet to return it can hand it into their local polling station by the close of polls at 22.00 BST.

Alternatively, they may also be able to hand it in to their local council office during office hours.

How does the BBC report polling day?

The BBC, like other broadcasters, is not allowed to report details of campaigning or election issues while polls are open.

On polling day, the BBC does not report on any of the election campaigns from 06:00 BST until polls close at 22:00 BST on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk, or on social media and other channels.

However, online sites do not have to remove archived reports, including, for instance, programmes on iPlayer.

The lists of candidates, as well as the manifesto guides, remain available online during polling day.

Bird flu hits McDonald’s Australia breakfast hours

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

Australian fans of a late morning McDonald’s breakfast are having to wake up earlier.

The fast food giant has temporarily shortened the hours of its breakfast service in the country by 90 minutes due to an egg shortage caused by a bird flu outbreak.

It is currently serving its full breakfast menu only until 10:30am, instead of the usual midday.

“Like many retailers, we are carefully managing supply of eggs due to the current industry challenges,” McDonald’s Australia said in a statement sent to the BBC.

“We’re continuing to work closely with our network of Aussie farmers, producers, and suppliers, as the industry comes together to manage this challenge.”

Several strains of bird flu have been detected in 11 poultry facilities across southeast Australia in the past two months.

Authorities have said they have the situation under control.

“Consumers can expect to see some empty shelves in the short-term, however, supplies are being re-directed to areas with short supply,” the Australian government said.

“Consumers should refrain from purchasing more eggs than required.”

Bird flu has affected fewer than 10% of Australia’s egg laying hens but, some businesses have imposed limits on how many eggs people can buy.

The outbreaks have led to the culling of about 1.5m chickens in Australia.

So far, none of the strains detected have been the H5N1 variant of bird flu.

H5N1 has spread through bird and mammal populations globally, infecting billions of animals and a small number of humans.

Hamas faces growing public dissent as Gaza war erodes support

By Lucy Williamson & Rushdi AboualoufBBC Middle East correspondent & Gaza correspondent

The man in the video is beside himself, a mask of anguish radiating through his bloodied face.

“I am an academic doctor,” he says, “I had a good life, but we have a filthy [Hamas] leadership. They got used to our bloodshed, may God curse them! They are scum!”

The video – unthinkable before the Gaza war – was filmed outside a hospital, inundated with hundreds of Palestinian casualties after an Israeli operation to free hostages from central Gaza last month.

Seconds before the video ends, he turns to the crowd.

“I’m one of you,” he says, “but you are a cowardly people. We could have avoided this attack!”

The video went viral. And it’s not the only one.

Open criticism of Hamas has been growing in Gaza, both on the streets and online.

Some have publicly criticised Hamas for hiding the hostages in apartments near a busy marketplace, or for firing rockets from civilian areas.

Residents have told the BBC that swearing and cursing against the Hamas leadership is now common in the markets, and that some drivers of donkey carts have even nicknamed their animals after the Hamas leader in Gaza – Yahya Sinwar – urging the donkeys forward with shouts of “Yallah, Sinwar!”

“People say things like, ‘Hamas has destroyed us’ or even call on God to take their lives,” one man said.

“They ask what the 7 October attacks were for – some say they were a gift to Israel.”

Some are even urging their leaders to agree a ceasefire with Israel.

There are still those in Gaza fiercely loyal to Hamas and after years of repressive control, it’s difficult to know how far the group is losing support, or how far existing opponents feel more able to speak their mind.

But even some on the group’s own payroll are wavering.

One senior Hamas government employee told the BBC that the Hamas attacks were “a crazy, uncalculated leap”.

He asked that we concealed his identity.

“I know from my work with the Hamas government that it prepared well for the attack militarily, but it neglected the home front,” he said.

“They did not build any safe shelters for people, they did not reserve enough food, fuel and medical supplies. If my family and I survive this war, I will leave Gaza, the first chance I get.”

There was opposition to Hamas long before the war, though much of it remained hidden for fear of reprisals.

The last time Palestinian elections were held, in 2006, in the party list vote Gazans voted for Hamas in 15 out of 24 seats in the territory – in the other nine districts, voters chose a different party.

A year later, Hamas violently ejected Palestinian Authority forces from Gaza causing a bitter rift with the rival Fatah movement, and took over the running of the whole Gaza Strip.

Ameen Abed, a political activist, said he had been arrested many times for speaking out against Hamas before the war, but said – nine months on – dissent was becoming more common there.

“In Gaza, most people criticise what Hamas has done,” he said.

“They see children living in tents, and insulting their leaders has become routine. But it has a lot of support among those outside Gaza’s border, who are sitting under air conditioners in their comfortable homes, who have not lost a child, a home, a future, a leg.”

Desperation and war are eroding social structures in Gaza, and Hamas control is not what it was.

Four-fifths of Gaza’s population is displaced, often moving between temporary shelters.

And law and order has broken down in places, partly as a result of Israel’s policy of targeting Gaza’s security forces – not just the official Hamas internal security service, but also the community police responsible for street crime.

As control has waned, criminal gangs have thrived, looting neighbourhoods and aid convoys; and private security companies – some run by powerful local families – have emerged.

One staff member from an aid organisation operating in Gaza described “absolute chaos at street level” and “a state of anarchy”, saying that civilian order had completely broken down as a result of the Israeli policy.

Israel’s prime minister has repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed.

But some aid agencies – in both northern and south areas of Gaza – have also reported regular checks on their activities by local Hamas officials, and videos are frequently circulated of unofficial Hamas security forces shooting and beating those caught looting.

One well-placed source told the BBC that dozens of people had been killed by Hamas in bloody score-settling with other local groups, after Israeli troops withdrew from one area.

Fear of criticising Gaza’s leaders might have lessened, but it hasn’t gone, so it is still hard to accurately gauge, beyond individual testimony, how far support for the group is shifting.

Some, like 26-year-old Jihad Talab, still strongly support Hamas.

Displaced from the Zeitoun area of Gaza City with his wife, daughter and mother, and now sheltering in Deir al Balah, he said the group was not responsible for their suffering.

“We must support [Hamas] because it’s the one working on the ground, the one who understands the battle – not you or I,” he said. “Empty accusations only serve the Occupation [Israel]. We’ll support it until our last breath.”

A regular poll carried out by a West Bank-based think tank, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, suggests that most people in Gaza still blame Israel and its allies for the war, rather than Hamas.

The latest survey in June found that almost two-thirds of Gazan respondents were satisfied with Hamas – a rise of 12 points from December – and that just around half would still prefer Hamas to run Gaza after the war ends, over any other option.

These results differ from several accounts given to the BBC, including from a senior Hamas official who privately acknowledged that they were losing support as a result of the war.

These glimpses through chinks in the media blockade around Gaza can never give a full assessment of the situation. International journalists are barred by Israel and Egypt from reporting on the situation there first-hand.

What is clear is that Hamas remains very sensitive to public opinion.

Strikingly similar messages regularly appear on certain social media platforms to justify its actions, often apparently in response to criticism at home.

A source familiar with Hamas told the BBC there was an organised international network to co-ordinate social media messaging for the group.

After Israeli families released a video showing the moment female soldiers were kidnapped by Hamas units on 7 October, some in Gaza questioned whether targeting women during war was in line with Islamic teaching.

In response, several pro-Hamas social media accounts put out similar messages insisting that soldiers – male or female – were justified military targets, and saying the unit had been involved in shooting Gazan protestors during demonstrations six years ago.

Criticism of Hamas is growing sharper, and long-buried divisions over Hamas rule in Gaza are becoming clear.

Out of the destruction left by Israel’s battle with Hamas, a new war is emerging: a battle for control of public opinion within Gaza itself.

Israeli strike kills senior Hezbollah commander in Lebanon

By Hugo Bachega & David GrittenBBC News

Hezbollah has said one of its senior commanders was killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon, with the Iran-backed armed group retaliating with a barrage of rockets against Israel.

Mohammed Nimah Nasser is the latest senior member of Hezbollah to be targeted by Israel during almost nine months of cross-border violence which have raised fears of an all-out war.

Hezbollah said it had launched 100 rockets and missiles at Israeli military positions “as part of the response to the assassination”. The Israeli military said a number of projectiles which fell in open areas sparked fires, but no injuries were reported.

The military said Nasser commanded Hezbollah’s Aziz Unit, which is responsible for launching rockets from south-western Lebanon, and accused him of directing a “large number of terror attacks”.

It also described him as “the counterpart” of Taleb Sami Abdullah, the commander of another unit whose killing last month prompted Hezbollah to launch more than 200 rockets and missiles into northern Israel in a single day.

Since then, there has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions, with the UN and US warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war that could also draw in Iran and other allied groups.

There have been almost daily exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since the day after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on 7 October.

Hezbollah has said it is acting in support of the Palestinian group that is also backed by Iran. Both groups are proscribed as terrorist organisations by Israel, the UK and other countries.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they will use military force to restore security along the northern border if diplomacy fails.

“We are striking Hezbollah very hard every day and we will also reach a state of full readiness to take any action required in Lebanon, or to reach an arrangement from a position of strength,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday. “We prefer an arrangement, but if reality forces us we will know how to fight.”

Hezbollah, heavily armed and long seen as a significantly superior foe to Hamas, has said it does not want a full-out war with Israel and that it will observe in Lebanon any ceasefire in Gaza.

“Israel can decide what it wants: limited war, total war, partial war,” the group’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday. “But it should expect that our response and our resistance will not be within a ceiling and rules of engagement set by Israel.”

So far, more than 400 people have been reported killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them Hezbollah fighters, and 25 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Tens of thousands from communities on both sides of the border have also been displaced.

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.

Lula to steer clear of visiting Argentine leader

By Leonardo RochaJaroslav LukivBBC News

The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has cancelled a visit to the southern state of Santa Catarina because his Argentine counterpart is there this weekend.

Javier Milei is expected to meet Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro at a gathering of conservative leaders.

Lula recently demanded an apology from Mr Milei, who had described him as corrupt, a communist and a dinosaur.

Mr Milei said he “had no regrets”. The leaders of South America’s two biggest economies have never talked face to face.

Mr Milei, a right-wing economist and former television personality, is expected to attend a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Santa Catarina.

At the gathering, he plans to meet Mr Bolsonaro, whom Lula defeated in the 2022 Brazilian presidential election.

Mr Milei is an outspoken critic of leftist governments in the region.

During his successful election campaign last year, he accused Lula of being corrupt.

The current Brazilian president once spent a year and a half in prison for corruption but the charges were dismissed on appeal. After his release he was allowed to run for office again.

Last week, Lula demanded an apology from Mr Milei but the Argentine leader ruled that out, saying: “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

The main concern among diplomats and businessmen is that the row between the leaders of the two neighbouring countries will have a major impact on bilateral relations.

Brazilian news website UOL said Mr Milei was putting the future of the South American trade bloc Mercosur at risk.

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Mark Cavendish broke the Tour de France stage wins record as he took his 35th victory in cycling’s greatest race to surpass the legendary Eddy Merckx with a sensational sprint finish in Saint Vulbas.

Contesting what is expected to be his final Tour, the 39-year-old burst clear in a dramatic finale to stage five and raised his arms in celebration as he crossed the line victorious, before being embraced by his team.

The historic achievement comes one year after Cavendish suffered a race-ending crash on stage eight, one day after being pipped to a record-breaking victory by Jasper Philipsen.

“You sprint and go as hard as you can until you get to the finish and maybe your life changes if you cross that line first, maybe it doesn’t if you don’t. That is the nature of this race and what makes it so beautiful,” Cavendish told ITV.

Cavendish had jointly held the record for most Tour stage wins with Belgian Merckx since winning his 34th stage in 2021.

Last year was supposed to be his 14th and final Tour, but the dream of ending his career with the outright Tour stage record motivated him to make another comeback.

Delaying his retirement plans by one more year, Cavendish, already regarded as the best sprinter of all time, has earned the prize he desperately sought.

The Briton had feared his career could be over and battles with illness, injuries and depression contributed to him not winning once during 2019 and 2020.

But he returned to the Belgian Quick Step team in 2021 to win four stages in a remarkable comeback at that year’s Tour.

Left out of the 2022 Tour and seemingly out of contract at the end of that year, he joined Astana Qazaqstan at the last minute for 2023.

With his race abruptly ended after he sustained a broken collarbone in a crash when on the verge of history last year, the Manx Missile decided he could not allow his career to end there.

And so, in Saint Vulbas, with a trademark dash to the line, Cavendish achieved the record-breaking moment that has long felt his destiny.

Tour race director Christian Prudhomme said: “Everyone has a smile today – even Eddy Merckx.

“Everybody thought it was too late but him. It is a wonderful story. He is the yellow jersey of the sprinters.”

Cavendish immortalised in Tour history

After Tuesday’s ascent of the iconic Col du Galibier, stage five offered the contenders for the overall race respite as they rode the relatively flat 177.4 km route from Saint Jean de Maurienne to Saint Vulbas.

And it offered Cavendish his latest shot at history – later revealing this was the stage he and his Astana Qazaqstan team had been “specifically” preparing for.

Groupama-FDJ rider Clement Russo and Matteo Vercher of Total Energies were the only riders to attempt a move on stage five, but their four-and-a-half-minute advantage was quickly reduced as the sprint teams took charge in the peloton.

There was a nervous moment for race leader Tadej Pogacar, who narrowly escaped disaster by swerving a traffic island at the last minute, as several riders suffered crashes but nobody was seriously injured.

Slovenia’s Pogacar, 25, retained the leader’s yellow jersey which he reclaimed by taking victory on stage four, 45 seconds ahead of Remco Evenepoel in the General Classification standings with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard five seconds further adrift.

Once the GC teams had delivered their leaders into the safety of the final few kilometres, the frantic push to the finish line unfolded and Astana Qazaqstan always appeared well-organised before Cavendish made his historic move.

With his 165th career victory, achieved fittingly as he held his nerve and picked his moment, Cavendish is now immortalised in the race’s history as the Tour’s greatest ever stage winner – sixteen years after he opened his record-breaking Tour de France love affair on the fifth stage of the 2008 race.

Reacting to Cavendish’s historic win, former team-mate and good friend Geraint Thomas said: “It’s unbelievable, I am super happy for him. It is great he has the record alone and is not sharing it with anyone.

“I said, ‘Mate, if you win this stage just drop your bike and walk away’ – but he was like, ‘If I win the first one, I’ll want to win more’. So he’s definitely going to hang around, isn’t he.”

Stage six on Thursday provides the sprinters with another opportunity on a flat 163.5km route from Macon to Dijon, which concludes with a 800m-straight finish.

Stage five results

  1. Mark Cavendish (GB/Astana-Qazaqstan) 4hrs 08mins 46secs

  2. Jasper Philipsen (Bel/Alpecin-Deceuninck) same time

  3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Uno-X) “

  4. Arnaud de Lie (Bel/Lotto-dstny) “

  5. Fabio Jakobsen (Ned/DSM-firmenich-PostNL) “

  6. Pascal Ackermann (Ger/Israel Premier Tech) “

  7. Arnaud Demare (Fra/Arkea-B&B Hotels) “

  8. Gerben Thijssen (Bel/Intermarche–Wanty) “

  9. Biniam Girmay (Eri/Intermarche-Wanty) “

  10. Marijn van den Berg (Ned/EF Education-EasyPost) “

General classification after stage five

1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 23hrs 15mins 24secs

2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel/Soudal-Quick Step) +45secs

3. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Visma-Lease a Bike) +50secs

4. Juan Ayuso (Spa/UAE Team Emirates) +1min 10secs

5. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe) +1mins 14secs

6. Carlos Rodriguez (Spa/Ineos Grenadiers) +1mins 16secs

7. Mikel Landa (Spa/Soudal-Quick Step) +1min 32secs

8. Joao Almeida (Por/UAE Team Emirates) +1min 32secs

9. Giulio Ciccone (Ita/Lidl-Trek) +3mins 20secs

10. Egan Bernal (Col/Ineos Grenadiers) +3mins 21secs

North London is humid and Rob White is tired.

“We had ridiculous storms here last night,” he says.

“I woke up at 4am and it was like someone switching a neon light on and off in my room.

“Even at the age of 60, that takes me somewhere.”

White is aware of the cliche.

“The clap of thunder, the flash of lightning, it is almost lazy as a plot device isn’t it?” he says.

“You see it in movies, in books, in plays – it goes all the way back to Greek tragedy.”

But for his story, it is undeniable and unavoidable. Every bolt lands in the same place: 21 July 1964.

Sixty years ago, a summer storm erupted over Essex and lightning struck a lone golfer.

John White, 27, was found crouched and scorched under a tree, the rings on his fingers fused to the shaft of the club he was clutching.

Tottenham and Scotland had lost one of the finest footballers of his generation – a Double winner, with a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal to his name – at the height of his powers.

Rob, just six months old at the time, had lost a father.

His search has continued ever since.

Rob has spent his life trying to unravel a death and reveal its victim, listening at closed doors and investigating sliding doors.

The day he knows best in his father’s life is the last.

It is one littered with chance encounters and alternate universes, any of which would have led John out of a lightning bolt’s path.

On the fateful morning of 21 July 1964, Tottenham’s players gathered for some team photos and gentle pre-season training at White Hart Lane.

Having finished in the top four in seven of the previous eight seasons, they were an established power, with an attack centred on Jimmy Greaves’ power and Cliff Jones’ tricky.

John White’s gifts were more subtle. He had a silken first touch, an astute passing game and an ability to lose his marker that, combined with his slight frame and pale complexion, earned him the nickname ‘the Ghost’.

Bill Nicholson knew John’s value. Having lost Dave Mackay to a broken leg and captain Danny Blanchflower to retirement, the manager had told John that his next Tottenham team would be built around him.

That was all to come, though. This wasn’t the time of year for serious business.

After training, barely blowing, John stripped down to his vest and pants to take on team-mate Terry Medwin in an indoor tennis match, rather than head straight home.

When John returned to the dressing room, he was confused. His trousers were missing. Ten minutes before, a smiling Jones had driven out of White Hart Lane, waving them out of his car window in glee at a well-executed prank.

John eventually found a pair to borrow, finally returned home and, despite the day drawing on, said he was going to play golf.

His young wife Sandra, juggling Rob and his two-year-old sister, suggested he shouldn’t. They argued.

Delay heaped on delay. The sky darkened.

A compromise was found. Sandra dropped John off at Crew’s Hill golf course. He headed into the club shop and bought a pack of three balls. As he left, he bumped into Tony Marchi, another Tottenham team-mate. Having asked about for a playing partner at training earlier in the day, John asked for a final time. Did Tony fancy playing with him?

“As far as we know, that was the last conversation my father had,” says Rob.

“The last thing that Tony thought as he watched my dad go out was: ‘John is going to get really wet out there this afternoon.'”

Marchi, having played his own round already, opted against joining John. The final sliding door shut. John walked out another and on to the course.

“I know that Tony [who died in 2022] always wished he could have just had another paragraph of conversation with my dad,” says Rob. “Because if he had, my dad wouldn’t have been in that place at that time.”

The landlord emerges from behind a curtain, cigarette in mouth, thinning hair slicked back, and nonchalantly hands out a collection of pistols to the suited young men on the other side of the bar.

Each handles them with awed reverence, spinning the barrels and staring down the sights.

At one point, one of young men, blonde and slight, takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and blows his nose.

And all the time, an unseen Pathe newsreader chatters away over the top.

It is a film from 1962 – a different time when top-flight footballers would be little more than extras in a news report about a gun-collecting publican in north London., external

John White and his team-mates played their parts well, looking on in due awe as their host spun a gun on his finger and slotting it back into his holster.

For Rob, the footage is part of a patchwork he has been stitching together over the past 60 years.

The first pieces came when, aged nine, he sneaked up into the attic of the family home and opened up a cardboard box.

“It was like Tutankhamun’s tomb – it had scrapbooks, newspapers, programmes, boots, medals, a couple of Scotland caps, a shaving kit that smelt of Old Spice,” Rob says.

“As a kid, I would sneak up into the loft and essentially grieve and get really quite sad looking at this stuff.

“It was as if my Dad was one of those wire mannequins that sculptors might use; I knew ‘the Ghost’, that my dad was something, but finding this stuff allowed me to put texture on that outline.”

Just as on the pitch though, tracking down John was not easy.

Rob’s mother Sandra could remember driving up to the course to pick up her husband, seeing the clubhouse surrounded with police cars and then, such was the shock, little else from the next five years of her life.

In the wake of John’s death, the sideboard trophies, celebratory photos and any trace of his existence were tidied away. In their place, a culture of stoicism, silence and secrecy dominated. His father was rarely spoken about – a subject too sore for anyone to know how to handle.

“Most families have a story that as a kid you don’t know the full details of, but you know never to ask about,” says Rob.

“Maybe you are told something once, or a door is half-open and you hear something. You can’t quite piece it together, but, as humans, we create our own narrative, filling in the gaps with information that may, or may not, be right.”

For Rob, there was plenty of information to fill in the gaps.

John’s life was documented in an uncommon depth for his era.

People shared hundreds of photos, thousands of memories and the odd piece of footage.

Usually the film was match action, but occasionally it was something rarer and, in many ways, more precious – an afternoon John spent in a pub with its eccentric landlord and a Pathe film crew for instance.

Too often, though, the character lacked depth: as thin as the page of the comic he seemed to spring from.

“He was this kind of Roy of the Rovers figure and as I got older I got frustrated and almost embarrassed by people having a better knowledge of my dad than I did,” Rob says.

“Part of the joy of having a father is finding our own identity – there is a little blueprint there and if we are lucky we follow the good bits and jettison the bad bits – but I didn’t have that.

“There is still a kid in me that wants to know the simple stuff: what he smelt like and sounded like, a bit more about him, rather than this persona. That is the eternal frustration.”

Rob channelled that frustration into a book – The Ghost of White Hart Lane – interviewing family members, former team-mates, friends and acquaintances, to try and discover the man behind the myth.

And gradually he found him.

Rob heard about the sadness and homesickness that would grip John each winter in London. He heard about the time he drove home dangerously drunk, clipping the White Hart Lane gates in his car. Most revealingly, an uncle told Rob about the child that John had fathered in Scotland and left behind before he travelled south, played for Spurs and met Sandra.

“Part of me has always been trying to live up to this person who was absolutely perfect, who was idolised not just by the family, but by hundreds of thousands of people,” says Rob.

“To find out he had defects and weaknesses, that he struggled with confidence, mental health and seasonal affective disorder, that he had made mistakes – if I had found all that out earlier, it would have made more sense to my life.

“If we know our parents are fallible, it really makes us understand that we can make mistakes. We don’t have to know all the answers.”

John’s absence shaped Rob as surely as his presence would have.

Rob is a still-life photographer – “I have always been looking for those details and clues” – and is also training as a counsellor.

Later this month, he will be in the audience at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first performance of a play he has helped produce about his father’s life.

“It is something I talk about with my own therapist,” he says. “Having seen life breathed into the story at the read-throughs, it reinforced the reasons I wanted to get involved with the project.

“I think there is something of trying to bring my dad back to life.”

After two nights in Tottenham, the play will then transfer north, taking the opposite journey to the one John took in life, for a stint at the Edinburgh Festival.

There are some things that remain lost. Rob is still searching for a recording of John’s voice. One of his match-worn Tottenham shirts remains elusive.

But over the decades, he has found much more: an understanding and an empathy for the father he never knew.

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Andy Murray begins his Wimbledon farewell on Thursday as he teams up with brother Jamie in the men’s doubles, while there are two all-British battles in the singles.

The Murrays play Australian pairing John Peers and Rinky Hijikata in the third match on Centre Court.

In the second round of the singles, 32nd seed Katie Boulter takes on Harriet Dart before British men’s number one Jack Draper faces 2022 semi-finalist Cameron Norrie.

Opening play on Centre, British wildcard and recent university graduate Jacob Fearnley has the formidable task of playing seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.

Meanwhile, Lily Miyazaki aims to join Emma Raducanu and Sonay Kartal in the third round when she takes on 14th seed Daria Kasatkina on court 18 at 11:00 BST, in a match delayed by rain on Wednesday.

Murrays plan ‘good run’ in Andy’s farewell

Two-time champion Andy Murray was cruelly denied the opportunity to play in the singles for one final time at the place he will always be synonymous with.

But, just 10 days after a back operation, he has declared himself fit enough to make a touching appearance with his older sibling Jamie in the men’s doubles.

The pair have never played together at the Championships before, despite memorably teaming up during Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup triumph and competing in the men’s doubles at three Olympics Games, including London 2012.

This is their last opportunity at Wimbledon with 37-year-old Andy ready to retire later this year.

“Getting the opportunity to play with Jamie here will be special and I’ll make the most of it,” said Andy.

“It’s easier said than done to just enjoy it when you’re out there because you’re competing, concentrating and trying to win the match.

“Hopefully we can have a good run.”

Top two Britons go head to head – in women’s and men’s singles

Court One is dominated by British players on day four with Boulter opening play at 13:00 against Dart.

The 27-year-olds were born just four days apart and Boulter says they “both know each other’s games inside out, back to front”.

Boulter has won both their meetings on the WTA Tour, including a tight three-set battle on her way to winning the Nottingham Open last month.

It is a meeting between the British number one and two with Dart, ranked 94th, saying her opponent has “been having an amazing year”.

They will be followed on court by their male equivalents, left-handers Draper and Norrie, with the former recently taking over as Britain’s leading player.

Draper, the 28th seed, said he has “huge respect for Cam” and was expecting an “incredibly tough” match.

The 22-year-old told BBC Sport: “He is one of these guys with incredible discipline and always treated me extremely well as a young player. Cam is someone who has really shown me the way.”

Draper won his first ATP Tour title on the grass in Stuttgart last month before beating Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz at Queen’s. Norrie, 28, said the younger man was playing at an “unreal” level.

“I’m really going to have to play my best to have a chance with him. He’s really looking good,” Norrie added.

“We have practised with each other a lot, we’re good friends so it’s a shame we have to face each other this early but I’m looking forward to the match.”

Djokovic doing homework on Fearnley

Few outside of the inner circle of British tennis will have heard of Jacob Fearnley until now.

That included his opponent in Thursday’s second-round match on Centre Court.

“I don’t know much about him myself,” said 24-time major champion Djokovic.

“I watched a couple of videos this morning of his first-round match and I’m going to have to do my homework better with my team with some video analysis and prepare myself.”

Fearnley, a 22-year-old from Scotland who only left university in the United States in May, has enjoyed a productive summer on the British grass courts.

Ranked outside the top 500 last month, he won the Nottingham Open title on the second-tier ATP Challenger Tour and climbed into the world’s top 300 as a result.

He was rewarded with a Wimbledon wildcard and beat Spanish qualifier Alejandro Moro Canas on Tuesday.

“A British player playing in Britain is always a tough task,” said 37-year-old Djokovic, who is still recovering from knee surgery last month.

“I watched him play and he’s got a complete game. He’s got a big serve, an aggressive style and loves to come to the net as well.”

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Emma Raducanu cruised past Belgium’s Elise Mertens to join fellow Briton Sonay Kartal in the Wimbledon third round.

Former British number one Raducanu, given a wildcard in her return to the Championships after last year’s injury troubles, struck the ball confidently and clinically in a 6-1 6-2 win.

It is the first time she has reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since lifting the 2021 US Open title as an 18-year-old qualifer.

Raducanu’s impressive victory came a couple of hours after 22-year-old qualifier Kartal produced the biggest win of her career to beat France’s Clara Burel in three sets.

Kartal, ranked 298th in the world, won 6-3 5-7 6-3 to become the first home player to reach the Wimbledon third round this year.

She will face US Open champion Coco Gauff after the American’s 6-2 6-1 win over Anca Todoni.

From ‘winning ugly’ to winning pretty

If Raducanu’s first-round win was all about “winning ugly”, her dominant victory over 33rd-ranked Mertens was a thing of beauty.

The 21-year-old’s clean ball-striking was a marked improvement from the win over Mexican lucky loser Renata Zarazua.

Raducanu produced a nervy return and a double fault in the opening two points of the match but quickly settled down to assert her authority.

Serving strongly and overpowering Mertens with her power from the baseline was the key.

Now ranked 135th in the world, Raducanu raced through the opening set to the delight of the home fans on Court One and maintained her level in an equally impressive second set.

Missing the clay-court French Open in order to be better prepared for the Wimbledon grass has proved to be a wise decision.

After reaching the Nottingham semi-finals and beating world number five Jessica Pegula on her way to the Eastbourne quarter-finals, Raducanu arrived at Wimbledon in encouraging form.

The way she dismantled Mertens has further excited the British crowd.

Asked in her on-court interview if it was the best she had played in the past few years, several fans in a boisterous crowd shouted ‘yes’.

A laughing Raducanu replied: “Well, everyone else said yes!”

“I played really good tennis and I knew all the hard yards would lead to something and I am just happy I can reap some of the rewards here in Wimbledon.”

Raducanu will play Greek ninth seed Maria Sakkari – who she memorably beat to reach the US Open final almost three years ago – in the last 32 on Friday.

Kartal’s ‘special day’ as dream run continues

A memorable week for Kartal continued as she became the second British woman to reach the third round as a qualifier in the Open era, and the first since Karen Cross in 1997.

Kartal previously said she thought she would not be able to take to the tennis court for the rest of this year after a serious health scare, but recovered to come through qualifying.

The Brighton-born player powered through the first set and led by a break in the second. However, Burel – ranked 253 places above Kartal – fought back to force a decider, her confidence rising as she unleashed some brilliant backhand passes.

Kartal composed herself and broke in the fifth game of the final set when a forehand clipped the net cord and landed on Burel’s side, with a volley sealing another break and the victory.

“Today is a really special day for me,” Kartal said. “Monday was a high but I’ve topped that today.”

Evans unhappy with ‘fancy jackets’

Britain’s Dan Evans complained about “fancy jackets” allowing his first-round match to continue late on Tuesday night after he lost when it resumed on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old was beaten 6-2 7-5 6-3 by Chilean 24th seed Alejandro Tabilo.

Evans, ranked 60 in the world, wore heavy strapping on his knee after slipping at the back of the court on the grass at Queen’s Club on 18 June.

Initially Evans feared he would miss Wimbledon, but the injury was a “bad strain” and he recovered in time for his home Grand Slam.

After losing to Tabilo, Evans expressed his displeasure at playing on a court at Wimbledon that he did not deem to be “safe”.

“It’s sort of the second time it’s happened over the grass where I’ve ended up going on pretty late because of the weather, which has been frustrating. It’s just part and parcel of it,” said Evans.

“Obviously, my first concern is to be safe after what happened. Obviously, that grass court wasn’t safe where I slipped I don’t think.

“I didn’t think the court was playable last night for the large majority of the time we were on court.

“The powers that be in the fancy jackets didn’t agree with me and we carried on.”

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Third ODI, Bristol

New Zealand 211-8 (42 overs): Kerr 57 (82); Bell 5-37

England 212-5 (38.4 overs): Sciver-Brunt 76* (84), Jones 50 (50); Rowe 2-38

Scorecard

Lauren Bell’s career-best 5-37 set up England’s five-wicket win over New Zealand in the third one-day international at Bristol.

After afternoon rain delayed the start and reduced the game to 42 overs a side, the White Ferns were restricted to 211-8.

England slipped to 33-3 in reply but were rescued by Nat Sciver-Brunt and Amy Jones’ fifth-wicket stand of 90.

Sciver-Brunt finished with 76 not out and Jones made a run-a-ball 50 as England got over the line with 20 balls remaining.

The win secures a series clean sweep for England, with a five-match T20 series to follow, starting at Southampton on Saturday.

England’s triumph was instigated by Bell, 23, who bowled Sophie Devine for 43 for her first wicket, breaking a crucial third-wicket stand of 68 between the New Zealand captain and Amelia Kerr.

Kerr was then pinned lbw for 57, New Zealand’s only half-century of the series, before Brooke Halliday was caught behind for 31 and both Izzy Gaze and Lauren Down were caught at mid-on.

It was the visitors’ highest total of the series after being skittled for 156 and 141, but they still lost a flurry of wickets with four for 27 falling at the end of the innings.

An impressive powerplay with the ball then saw England’s middle order exposed for the first time this series, with Tammy Beaumont trapped lbw for a duck, Heather Knight caught and bowled for nine and Maia Bouchier falling for 19.

Sciver-Brunt was dropped on 63 shortly after Jones’ departure in the 31st over which added a few nerves, but she eventually paced her innings to perfection with Alice Capsey, unbeaten on 35, to calmly steer them to victory.

Bell’s best keeps New Zealand at bay

With the partnership between Kerr and Devine accelerating after the early departures of openers Suzie Bates and Georgia Plimmer, it seemed like it was proving to be third time lucky for New Zealand in terms of batting first in the series.

After two poor displays that had visibly frustrated Devine, the experienced campaigner was leading from the front with an aggressive, run-a-ball 43 before Bell’s reintroduction in the middle overs changed the course of the game.

Bell’s early career saw her sharp in-swing take most of the attention but she has matured impressively, her variations evident in this match-winning spell where she stepped up in the absence of the world’s best spinner Sophie Ecclestone, who was rested.

Devine played on to a short ball, which forced Kerr into taking the aggressive role and she was trapped in front after swinging across the line following another important stand of 65 with Halliday.

Halliday was a little unlucky to glove a short ball behind to Jones, but both Gaze and Down were deceived by canny slower balls as England squeezed the pressure on the White Ferns’ out-of-sorts middle to lower order.

The slip from 181-4 to 211-8, though an improvement, mirrored New Zealand’s series so far which has consisted of some solid starts, glimpses of resistance from Kerr, Devine and Halliday, before wilting without one of those three at the crease.

But Bell’s form has come at a great time for England – she may not play all five of the T20s, depending on her workload, but they will be grateful for the time she has to continue gathering momentum and confidence before October’s World Cup in that format.

Experienced duo guide England to victory

Finally, with a decent total to defend, New Zealand’s bowlers produced an opening burst of intent and aggression that troubled England’s top order for the first time.

Beaumont was unlucky to be given lbw to one that was missing leg stump, but it was a well-earned wicket for seamer Hannah Rowe, who had the opener dropped off the first ball of the innings and bowled with threatening swing and pace.

Rowe also drew a leading edge from England skipper Knight for a scratchy nine from 21 balls, while fellow seamer Molly Penfold used her pace and bounce efficiently to have Bouchier caught behind for 19 after previous scores of 67 and 100 in the series.

But their attack was thwarted by the experience and class of Sciver-Brunt and Jones, who calmly settled the nerves after the top-order wobble with sensible rotation of strike and patiently waiting for the bad ball once the opening bowlers had been removed.

With Bouchier’s stunning form and England chasing such low totals in the previous two games, there was potential for more trouble with the middle order so unused, but with the equation staying at around four an over for most of the chase, they could bat with few risks and New Zealand’s spinners offered little threat in the middle.

England were cruising, but Sciver-Brunt’s crucial drop by Plimmer at cover after Jones’ dismissal meant the finish was rather more subdued in the end.

But Capsey’s valuable knock from 30 balls at number seven, her first in the series, added to a fine all-round effort which sees England go into the T20 series as strong favourites.

‘We have evolved as a team’ – reaction

England captain Heather Knight: “I’m really happy. We were put under pressure today. We had to find a way to claw back momentum and we did that brilliantly.

“We have evolved as a team, trying to dominate when we can but when conditions aren’t right making sure we adapt, wrestle back momentum and put the pressure back on. So that is a really pleasing thing.”

Player of the match Lauren Bell: “I have made a few changes to the mental side of the game. The skill is there, it is just applying it in a game which I managed to do today.

“With Sophie [Ecclestone] having a rest today meant a few of us had a big job to do. But we came together and it was a group effort.”

New Zealand captain Sophie Devine: “I thought we showed a bit of resilience, we’ve been absolutely trounced the last two matches and we came back with a bit of ticker.

“I think T20 brings teams closer together. We’re looking forward to parking this ODI series and moving into the T20s.”

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It is almost eight years since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as USA national coach.

The axe fell on the German superstar coach after a wretched start to qualification for the 2018 World Cup and brought to an end a five-year tenure most notable for getting out of a group containing heavyweights Germany, Portugal and Ghana to reach the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup.

Now, after a desperate Copa America campaign when they became the first host nation to be eliminated from the group phase, US Soccer must decide whether to stick with lesser-known current coach Gregg Berhalter or make a change.

And if it is a change, then who next?

Pep Guardiola has cast doubt over his future beyond next season at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp has already left Liverpool.

Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino are free agents after missing out on the Manchester United job and Klinsmann’s fellow German Joachim Low has not coached since quitting the national team job in 2021.

Would any of those stellar names fit the bill? Or will US Soccer look further down the food chain at a less expensive option?

Either way, the stakes are high. It is a decision they must get right.

In 2018, the US Soccer Federation predicted hosting the World Cup in 2026 would generate $5bn (£3.94bn), external in short-term funding.

The impact on those watching on TV is incalculable.

“If you are a kid watching at home, you want a hero,” Michael Lahoud, a former Major League Soccer player who now works in the United States for CBS and ESPN, told BBC Sport. “The furthest we have ever been in the World Cup was 2002. I watched that tournament and saw black players who were my role models. I said I wanted to be the next Eddie Pope and DaMarcus Beasley.

“Yes, [hosting] the World Cup is amazing but we have to have success to make an impact.”

It is against this backdrop that US Soccer finds itself staring into the abyss.

Hosting an expanded Copa America this summer was supposed to be a dry run for what is to follow in two years’ time.

For the United States, their interest is over, eliminated from what appeared to be a straightforward group, thanks largely to their defeat by Panama in Atlanta on 26 June.

Follow the women’s Emma Hayes route?

US Soccer were quick to confirm a ‘comprehensive review’ of their Copa performance would take place in the aftermath of their exit.

“We must do better,” the organisation said in a statement.

The review will be led by technical director Matt Crocker, a Welshman whose background is at the Football Association and Southampton. He was appointed in April 2023 and his biggest decision on the men’s side of the organisation so far was confirming Berhalter would return to the coaching role he relinquished following the 2022 World Cup pending an investigation into his conduct and a row with the family of Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna, who was part of the Copa America squad.

No timescale has been put on the review and the United States do not play again until friendlies against Canada and New Zealand in September.

“If Gregg Berhalter wants to fulfil this mission of changing the way the world thinks about us, and how we think about ourselves as a soccer playing nation he has to prove it to us,” said former USA defender and now TV analyst Alexi Lalas in his pre-tournament post. “There are people rooting for him but there are people who think there is someone else who could do better with this group of players.”

And that is the crux of the matter.

When USA crashed out early from the Women’s World Cup last year and coach Vlatko Andonovski stepped down, Crocker was bold in naming all-conquering Chelsea coach Emma Hayes as his replacement.

It is estimated Hayes is earning $1.6m (£1.26m) a year, the same as Berhalter, although his salary in 2022 was boosted by a $900,000 (£709,780) World Cup qualification bonus. That is a significant sum – but compared to big-name European-based bosses it is miniscule.

So the dilemma Crocker must wrestle with as he conducts his review is if it is not to be Berhalter, who gets his job?

Guardiola, Klopp – ‘a big name has been missing’

Former Leeds boss Jesse Marsch, who worked for the Red Bull group in New York, Salzburg and Leipzig, would have been a strong contender were it not for the fact he was named Canada coach in May on a contract that runs to the 2026 World Cup Canada will co-host with the USA and Mexico.

Canada have reached the Copa America quarter-finals, where they will play Venezuela, having progressed from a group that included three South American sides in Argentina, Chile and Peru.

LAFC are currently top of the Western Conference in Major League Soccer, having reached the previous two finals. They are coached by Steve Cherundolo, a former USA World Cup player who said in 2020 he would ‘love’ to coach the national team.

But there are some who feel Crocker should look much further afield.

“A big name is what has been missing,” says Lahoud. “Our exposure to the game comes from the Premier League and the rest of Europe. Why not make a big splash and go for it?

“These players need to be pushed and have someone they respect, someone who can take them to the next level. US Soccer has the funds to go after a person like that.”

Guardiola is top of the wishlist for most managerial vacancies, and a ‘glamour’ job in the USA looks attractive on paper.

Whilst it seems unlikely Guardiola would quit Manchester City before his contract ends in 2025, he has already said he is unlikely to stay on beyond that.

Klopp is taking a break from the game after leaving Liverpool while Pochettino and Tuchel are both without a club, so all three can be deemed available right now, but they would all demand an annual salary significantly more than $3m (£2.37m).

With the biggest two international tournaments outside the World Cup currently taking place, it would be usual for more big names to become available as they leave their present positions.

Lahoud is clear about how he would approach the situation if he was in Crocker’s shoes.

“It is pulling at the heart strings with any of those big names,” he said. “The most respected managers are looking towards legacy.

“Where have they not been? It is an interesting project. USA is one of the last frontiers when it comes to developing the game. Can you make a statement? That would be my play.”

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England forward Phil Foden has said the players “need to take some of the blame” for the team’s performances at Euro 2024 and that he “feels sorry” for under-pressure manager Gareth Southgate.

Southgate’s side reached the knockout stages of the tournament by finishing top of their group before beating Slovakia after extra time in the last 16.

However, the manner of their play has been criticised with questions asked about team selection and tactics.

“The players have got to take some of the blame,” said Foden.

“There has to be some leaders to get together and find out a solution to why it is not working.

“There is only so much the manager can do. He sets you up in a system and tells you how to press. If it is not going like that, you have to [work it out].”

When asked about the pressure on Southgate during the tournament and going into Saturday’s quarter-final against Switzerland (17:00 BST), the Manchester City player added: “I feel sorry for Gareth.

“In training, he has been telling us to press and be high up on the pitch and I feel like sometimes, it has to come from the players.

“We have to be leaders. In games we could have got together a little bit more and worked out a solution.

“So yes, we have spoken about it more. If it happens again in a game, we can get together and find a solution, see where it is going wrong and adapt our press.”

Foden was the Premier League’s Player of the Season and was voted the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for the 2023-24 campaign as he helped City win the top-flight title.

However, he has yet to score at Euro 2024 and has struggled to replicate his Premier League form in Germany.

“I’ve not been the best player in the Premier League to come here and not show it,” the 24-year-old said.

“[But] every game I’m moving little steps forward and, hopefully, I can put in good performances for England. That’s always been my aim to show it for the national team.

“The first game was very quiet, in terms of how the game went I didn’t have much going forward for myself.

“The next games after that I grew. I came close a few times and I was offside [when seeming to score] in the last game [against Slovakia]. Against Denmark I hit the post.

“My performances have improved a lot and if [the efforts] go in no-one’s saying anything.”

Foden also rejected the view that when he drifts inside from the left he occupies too similar a position to midfielder Jude Bellingham.

“I don’t agree with that, I feel we do work good together,” he said.

“It’s just the way the games have gone sometimes and the way football works, [but] I feel like in the last game we did build on it really well, in terms of keeping the ball.

“We piled pressure on at the end and it can hopefully click together.”

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