BBC 2024-07-04 16:07:09


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 that 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”, according 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.

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.

Body found in search for child missing in croc attack

By Katy WatsonBBC Australia Correspondent

Australian police have found human remains while searching for a 12-year-old they believe was the victim of a crocodile attack.

The child was last seen on Tuesday, swimming with family near the remote Aboriginal town of Nganmarriyanga – about a seven-hour drive southwest of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT).

“This is devastating news for the family, the community and everyone involved in the search,” said Senior Sgt Erica Gibson, adding that police would provide support to everyone impacted.

Earlier Sgt Gibson had told ABC News that a black crocodile had been seen in the immediate area.

As many as 40 members of the community helped police officers in their search for the child, which started shortly after the 12-year-old was reported missing.

They scoured the area by foot, by boat and with the use of helicopters, covering challenging terrain with thick vegetation and a narrow, winding waterway.

No details were given on whether the crocodile suspected to have attacked the child had been found.

Earlier on Wednesday NT Police Minister Brent Potter said wildlife officers had been authorised to “remove” the crocodile from the area once it was 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.

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

There have been at least two other crocodile attacks in the NT in the past year – a nine-year-old boy was injured in January while swimming in Kakadu National Park, and a farmer 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.

India’s X alternative Koo to shut down services

By Zoya MateenBBC News, Delhi

Millions of social media users in India are stranded after homegrown microblogging platform Koo, which had branded itself as an alternative to X, announced it was shutting services.

The platform’s founders said a shortage of funding along with high costs for technology had led to the decision.

Launched in 2020, Koo offered messaging in more than 10 Indian languages.

It gained prominence in 2021 after several ministers endorsed it amid a row between the Indian government and X, which was then known as Twitter.

The spat began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government asked the US-based platform to block a list of accounts it claimed were spreading fake news. The list included journalists, news organisations and opposition politicians.

  • The Indian government’s war with Twitter
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X complied initially but then restored the accounts, citing “insufficient justification”.

The face-off continued as the government threatened legal action against the company’s employees in India.

Amid the row, a flurry of supporters, cabinet ministers and officials from Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) migrated to Koo overnight. Many of them shared hashtags calling for X to be banned in India.

By the end of 2021, the app had touched 20 million downloads in the country.

However, the platform has struggled to get funding in the last few years.

On Wednesday, founders Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka said that Koo was “just months away” from beating X in India in 2022, but a “prolonged funder winter” had forced them to tone down their ambitions.

“We explored partnerships with multiple larger internet companies, conglomerates and media houses but these talks didn’t yield the outcome we wanted,” they wrote on LinkedIn.

“Most of them didn’t want to deal with user-generated content and the wild nature of a social media company. A couple of them changed priority almost close to signing.”

In February, Indian news websites had reported that Koo was in talks to be acquired by news aggregator Dailyhunt. But the talks did not succeed.

In April 2023, Koo fired 30% of its 260-member workforce as the company faced severe losses and a lack of funding.

The founders said they would have liked to keep the app running – but the cost of technology services for that was high and so, they “had to take this tough decision”.

An iconic wildlife park has banned koala cuddles. Will others follow?

By Tiffanie TurnbullBBC News, Sydney

For what seems like time immemorial, giving a fluffy little koala a cuddle has been an Australian rite of passage for visiting celebrities, tourists and locals alike.

And for many of them, a wildlife park in a leafy pocket of Queensland has been the place making dreams come true.

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary has entertained everyone from pop giant Taylor Swift to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But as of this month, the small zoo – a Brisbane icon which bills itself as the world’s first koala sanctuary – has decided it will no longer offer “koala hold experiences”.

Lone Pine said the move is in response to increasingly strong visitor feedback.

“We love that there is a shift among both local and international guests to experience Australian wildlife up close, but not necessarily personal, just doing what they do best – eating, sleeping and relaxing within their own space,” said General Manager Lyndon Discombe.

Animal rights groups say they hope this is a sign that the practice – which they argue is “cruel” – will be phased out nation-wide.

They quote studies which have found that such encounters stress koalas out – especially given that the creatures are solitary, mostly nocturnal animals who sleep most of the day.

To have or to hold?

Koalas are a much beloved national icon – priceless in biodiversity terms, but also a golden goose for the tourism industry, with one study from 2014 estimating they’re worth A$3.2bn ($2.14bn; £1.68bn) each year and support up to 30,000 jobs.

However the once-thriving marsupial is in dramatic decline, having been ravaged by land clearing, bushfires, drought, disease and other threats.

With as few as 50,000 of the animals left in the wild and the species officially listed as endangered along much of the east coast, there are now fears the animals will be extinct in some states within a generation.

And so protecting koalas, both in the wild and in captivity, is an emotional and complex topic in Australia.

All states have strict environmental protections for the species, and many of them have already outlawed koala “holding”.

For example, New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – banned it in 1997. There, the rules state that a koala cannot be “placed directly on… or [be] directly held by any visitor for any purpose”.

But in Queensland – and a select few places in South Australia and Western Australia – the practice continues.

For those willing to fork out, they can snap a picture cuddling a koala, from Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld for A$29.95 to the internationally renowned Australia Zoo for A$124.

But the Queensland government say there are clear rules around this. For starters, the koalas cannot be used for photography for more than three days in a row before they’re required to have a day off.

They can only be on duty for 30 minutes a day, and a total of 180 minutes each week. And females with joeys must not be handled by the public.

“I used to joke, as the environment minister, that our koalas have the best union around,” said Queensland Premier Steven Miles.

Right groups have welcomed the decision – but some have called for such attractions to be removed altogether eventually.

“The future of wildlife tourism is seeing wild animals in the wild where they belong,” said Suzanne Milthorpe of the World Animal Protection (WAP).

Wild koalas avoid interactions with humans, but at these attractions have no choice but to be exposed to unfamiliar visitors, sights and noises, says WAP – a London-based group which campaigns to end the use of captive wild animals in entertainment venues.

“Tourists are increasingly moving away from outdated, stressful selfie encounters.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Australia also says that “in the ideal world, koalas would never have contact with humans”, adding that they would “like to see this adopted across the board”.

“As cute as they are, koalas are still wild animals in captivity and are extremely susceptible to stress,” Oceania director Rebecca Keeble told the BBC.

“Their welfare is paramount and as they are an endangered species we need to do all we can to protect them.”

But the hope that Lone Pine’s move would add momentum towards a state-wide ban appears to have been scuppered.

A government spokesperson told the BBC there is no intention of changing the law.

However WAP says it will keep piling pressure on other venues to leave the koalas on their trees.

“Ultimately, we need the Queensland Government to consign this cruel practice to the history books.”

Australian Senator resigns after Gaza vote backlash

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

Senator Fatima Payman has resigned from Australia’s ruling Labor Party, days after voting against it to support a motion on Palestinian statehood.

Labor has strict penalties for those who undermine its policy positions, and Ms Payman was already “indefinitely suspended” from the party’s caucus after vowing to do it again.

“This is a matter I cannot compromise on,” the 29-year-old said on Thursday, adding that she was “deeply torn” over the decision.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ms Payman had thanked him for his leadership and denied allegations she had been intimidated into quitting.

Ms Payman will now join the crossbench as an independent senator.

The 29-year-old Muslim lawmaker, whose family fled Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban in 1996, is Australia’s first and only hijab-wearing federal politician.

“Unlike my colleagues, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of injustice. My family did not flee a war-torn country to come here as refugees for me to remain silent when I see atrocities inflicted on innocent people,” she said during a press conference on her resignation.

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

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

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 28 over the past 24 hours, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Ms Payman said that since crossing the Senate floor to vote with the Greens party last Tuesday she had received “immense support” from some colleagues, and “pressure… to toe the party line” from others. She also reported receiving “death threats and emails that were quite confronting” from members of the public.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who handed down the indefinite suspension on Sunday, had repeatedly said Ms Payman could rejoin the caucus – where MPs discuss the government’s agenda – if she was willing to participate “as a team player”.

But in a statement earlier this week, Ms Payman said she had been “exiled” by Labor – explaining that she had been removed from meetings, group chats and all committees.

Japan declares victory in ‘war’ on floppy disks

By Kelly NgBBC News

It’s taken until 2024, but Japan has finally said goodbye to floppy disks.

Up until last month, people were still asked to submit documents to the government using the outdated storage devices, with more than 1,000 regulations requiring their use.

But these rules have now finally been scrapped, said Digital Minister Taro Kono.

In 2021, Mr Kono had “declared war” on floppy disks. On Wednesday, almost three years later, he announced: “We have won the war on floppy disks!”

Mr Kano has made it his goal to eliminate old technology since he was appointed to the job. He had earlier also said he would “get rid of the fax machine”.

Once seen as a tech powerhouse, Japan has in recent years lagged in the global wave of digital transformation because of a deep resistance to change.

For instance, workplaces have continued to favour fax machines over emails – earlier plans to remove these machines from government offices were scrapped because of pushback.

The announcement was widely-discussed on Japanese social media, with one user on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling floppy disks a “symbol of an anachronistic administration”.

“The government still uses floppy disks? That’s so outdated… I guess they’re just full of old people,” read another comment on X.

Others comments were more nostalgic. “I wonder if floppy disks will start appearing on auction sites,” one user wrote.

Created in the 1960s, the square-shaped devices fell out of fashion in the 1990s as more efficient storage solutions were invented.

A three-and-a-half inch floppy disk could accommodate up to just 1.44MB of data. More than 22,000 such disks would be needed to replicate a memory stick storing 32GB of information.

Sony, the last manufacturer of the disks, ended its production in 2011.

As part of its belated campaign to digitise its bureaucracy, Japan launched a Digital Agency in September 2021, which Mr Kono leads.

But Japan’s efforts to digitise may be easier said than done.

Many Japan businesses still require official documents to be endorsed using carved personal stamps called hanko, despite the government’s efforts to phase them out.

People are moving away from those stamps at a “glacial pace”, said local newspaper The Japan Times.

And it was not until 2019 that the country’s last pager provider closed its service, with the final private subscriber explaining that it was the preferred method of communication for his elderly mother.

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.

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.”

How to follow the election on the BBC

BBC News is on hand with a wealth of coverage for election night on 4 July.

The latest news, analysis and results will be available from 22:00 BST on Thursday, across all platforms and whether you are in the UK or overseas.

Online

Follow all the election developments and the results as they come in on the BBC News website and app.

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You can follow General election 2024 for simple explainers and in-depth analysis from BBC News political correspondents and experts.

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Television and streaming

Why does Laura Kuenssberg love election night?

Laura Kuenssberg and Clive Myrie will host BBC News’ election night coverage, along with BBC political editor Chris Mason and other experts.

The programme will be on BBC One in England, BBC Two in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the BBC News channel for audiences in Scotland and overseas.

Dedicated election results programmes on BBC One in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be presented by Martin Geissler, Mark Carruthers, and Nick Servini respectively, with Anne McAlpine hosting a Gaelic-language election round-up on BBC Alba.

You can also keep up to date through the BBC News Channel and the Election 2024 livestream on BBC iPlayer.

News Channel coverage will be signed from from 21:55 BST on Thursday night to 16:30 on Friday.

Sign up for our Election Essential newsletter to bring all the latest news and analysis straight to your inbox.

Radio and Sounds

The BBC News flagship Newscast programme, rebranded Electioncast for the election period, will be running an all-nighter overnight on Thursday into Friday with Adam Fleming and the BBC News political team.

It will transform the BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House into the biggest living room in the country, getting live reaction from 150 audience members as results come in.

BBC Radio 4’s election-night coverage will be hosted by Rachel Burden and Nick Robinson.

For analysis, they will be joined by BBC News chief political correspondent Henry Zeffman.

Audio-only political coverage will also be available on the “Election 24” stream on BBC Sounds and on smart speakers.

Global audiences can follow events, with a mix of dedicated UK-election coverage and international news, through the BBC World Service.

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How to pull off an election all-nighter

By James Gallagher@JamesTGallagherHealth and science correspondent

Hello there election enthusiasts!

I love the idea of a full night of election drama – sitting up in front of the television, the BBC News live page updating on my laptop, slowly converting a mountain of snacks into a wasteland of empty wrappers and mainlining unseemly quantities of tea.

But we’re fighting biology here, fellow election-night crew.

So I’ve been chatting to sleep experts to come up with the definitive guide to getting through the night and not becoming a sleep-deprived monster the next day.

I’m going for the hardcore plan – we’ve got to be up all day Thursday whether that’s for work or childcare, then we’re watching the whole thing overnight and we’re back in the office on Friday.

There’s a milder plan too (that we’ll discuss at the end) but all the tips here will help you see democracy in action.

The four-nap plan

In an ideal world you need to be well-rested before you even get to Thursday night.

There’s no such thing as “sleep banking” ahead of time but if you’re already wrecked then it’s going to be a struggle.

The core of our plan is going to involve a solid nap strategy.

Napping cannot replace the remarkable restorative power of a night’s sleep but it is scientifically proven to boost to alertness and concentration levels – essential for keeping up with the results.

“If you’re staying up all night, I’d have a pre-emptive nap before it starts and have another in the middle of the night,” says Dr Allie Hare, a sleep medicine consultant at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

Nap three is on Friday morning, pre-work or pre-school-run, to get us out of the door, and number four is in the middle of the day.

“There’s a natural lull after lunch so that’s a good time to do it,” says Dr Hare.

She thinks the “push through Friday” approach is best for most people in order to avoid completely disrupting their usual sleeping pattern.

  • A simple guide to the UK general election
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Pro tip: Pre-loaded naps

Nap technique is a delicate art. You’re aiming for 20-30 minutes in order to get a restorative boost, but go any longer and you’ll mess yourself up.

“If you drop into a deeper sleep, coming out of that can leave you really groggy,” says Professor Russell Foster from the University of Oxford.

It’s called sleep inertia – that feeling when you wake up worse than when you nodded off.

Nap-pros have perfected the art of “pre-loading” and this comes expert-recommended.

The idea is if you have a coffee immediately before your 20-minute nap (set a timer on your phone) and then the caffeine hits its peak just as the nap ends, you’re perky and ready to go as soon as you wake up.

“It’s a good idea,” says Prof Foster.

So I’m thinking naps at 21:00 on Thursday, then 02:00, 06:00 and 14:00 on Friday – but make that pattern work for you.

You are still going to feel tired, so bright lights are your friends.

During the night, keep the lights on full-whack, and during the day, spend your time outside to trick your brain into thinking you’re supposed to be awake.

The caffeine plan

If you want to stay wired throughout the night then the odds are you’re going to need a performance-enhancing drug – hello caffeine!

The drug is a stimulant so it makes you feel less tired and more alert.

But again, we need a plan and we don’t want too much.

Prof Foster argues for the judicious use of tea and coffee, but would “personally avoid” energy drinks as they are packed with sugar.

“You will crash afterwards and go in completely the opposite direction,” he says.

However, energy drinks do give you a bigger caffeine hit. You could hunt out a zero-sugar option, but don’t go overboard.

“Don’t overdose on the caffeine and have palpitations and anxiety,” says Dr Hare.

You’re also going to want to leave several hours for the caffeine to wear off so it doesn’t disrupt Friday night’s sleep. Put the kettle down by mid-afternoon on Friday.

Oh, and remember to keep yourself well-hydrated overnight in order to keep that brain ticking over. Not just coffee – water too.

And whether you’re celebrating, commiserating or just along for the ride, booze could be fun. It is not, however, an elite strategy.

“Do not have alcohol involved in any of this – I realise everyone will but the sleep advice is don’t, it’s just a sedative and it’ll make it harder,” says Dr Hare.

Manage your sugar levels

You’re going to have to accept that disrupting your sleep is going to have a knock-on effect on your hunger hormones.

Your brain will sense levels of the hormone leptin dropping and ghrelin shooting up, and the combined effect is that you will feel the urge to binge.

“You will have cravings and be tempted to send out for pizza and grab the Twixes,” says Prof Foster. “So beware, you’ll be more hungry.”

You can’t really dodge this but you can plan for it, surrounding yourself with food focused on protein and slow-release carbohydrates.

Prof Foster suggests protein drinks or unsalted nuts to provide energy without sending blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster of highs and crashes.

“As a treat, you could throw some raisins in,” he chuckles.

But don’t rely on that box of chocolates.

Dr Hare’s advice is: “Don’t eat crap all night.”

If you try, she says you will feel “absolutely dreadful”.

Beware, you’re now cognitively and emotionally impaired!

Well done! You’ve made it through the night.

I hate to break it to you – you might not be a very nice person right now.

Even one night without sleep alters the brain’s ability to process information and emotions.

Classic signs are increased irritability and anxiety, and a loss of empathy. Frustration is also a classic, as well as increased impulsivity.

Prof Foster says: “You are just not the normal, nice, measured individual you would otherwise be.”

You’re going to suffer from negative salience too.

This is where your world-view becomes warped and negative comments and experiences hit harder.

A tired brain also leads to increased risk-taking. Prof Foster says this can make you “more likely to drift into illegal drug use… that’s what your brain does when tired and emotional”.

So yeah, watch out for that.

Pro tip: Some conversations can wait until next week

I hope it’s clear that you’re not really you right now, so you might want to take things easy and avoid any difficult conversations.

“You might be thrilled with the result and be disinhibited, or less than happy and more reactive to being provoked,” says Prof Foster.

So think twice about having ‘that’ conversation and save life-changing decisions until later.

“You certainly need to be sensitive to those difficult conversations,” says Prof Foster.

Also – do not drive.

After an all-nighter, if you need to get somewhere, then walk, take a taxi or use public transport.

By four or five in the morning your brain is as impaired as if you had enough booze to be over the drink-drive limit.

“Big decisions, meaningful marital conversations and driving – do not do any of these things,” says Dr Hare.

Have you got anything a bit easier for me?

Shift workers may be laughing their way through this piece thinking, “What a bunch of lightweights!”

If you had a long run-up you could try shifting your body clock so you’re awake at night and asleep for the day, but it’s probably too late for that now.

Some people do attempt a different strategy to the all-nighter, though.

The idea is to stay up to watch the exit-poll projections, which give you the first hint of the result when it is released at 22:00.

Then have a sleep for a few hours while the ballots are being counted, and wake up early in the morning to catch the peak of the action.

This does hit the problem of sleep inertia we mentioned earlier, but Prof Foster says older people will find this easier to pull off.

Sleep patterns change as we age and older people will “have more fragmented sleep” so it is easier for them to wake and feel okay.

On the other hand, young people who are woken by an alarm “feel groggy and crap”.

“People will know what works for them,” he says.

The other idea is to sleep on Friday morning if you don’t have any commitments.

Just be careful you don’t KO all day and then can’t sleep on Friday night, throwing your whole weekend out of kilter.

Dr Hare says: “If you do have to make major decisions then get whatever sleep you can, even if it messes up your following night’s sleep, otherwise power-nap through it.”

So good luck, brave election adventurers – whatever you do, you should be fine by Monday. See you on the other side!

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.

Chickens, lost rings and other strange polling day stories

By Kate WhannelPolitical reporter

On election day, millions of us will be casting our votes.

Around 150,000 polling station staff will be running 40,000 polling stations across the UK.

Electoral service managers will have woken up at the crack of dawn knowing they won’t get anymore sleep until well into Friday after the counting is done.

It is a big job and a serious business – but here are a few stories from the lighter side of running elections.

We’ve got used to seeing dogs in polling stations.

Poultry, less so.

Council workers Sara Chane and Lindsey Carroll were at the polling station in Skelmersdale, Lancashire in May 2021 for the local elections when a chicken wandered in.

With no accompanying human – and no valid voter ID – Sara and Lindsey began trying to track down the chicken’s owner, including enlisting the help of a nearby florists, all while continuing to run the polling station.

“Come in, don’t mind the chicken, we told voters,” says Lindsey.

“She was very lovely, very friendly,” adds Sara.

Eventually a family of farmers offered to take the chicken away while it’s rightful owner was tracked down.

But minutes later, a five-year-old boy turned up to looking for his pet, who he said was named Matilda.

‘What have we done?’

Lindsey says that began a frantic hunt to reunite the boy with Matilda, amid fears the wayward bird had inadvertently been handed to chicken farmers.

“We were panicking at this point,” says Lindsey. “Have we given this chicken to someone who is just going to kill her?”

Eventually Matilda was tracked down and reunited with her rightful owners – but not before a little more trauma for the bird.

Matilda, it transpired had been placed in a pen with a number of other chickens who had rounded on her and given her a literal hen-pecking.

The relieved owners took their pet chicken home and gave her a bath, while Lindsey and Sara carried on with their democratic duties.

A few hours later, Matilda’s family returned to the polling station with chocolates and a tray of eggs as a thank you for helping them retrieve their fugitive feathered friend.

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Chickens aren’t the only unexpected polling station visitors.

Peter Stanyon, chief executive of Association of Electoral Administrators, recalled one incident from the south-west of England when a voter was on a hunt.

Seeing the polling station, they decided the pursuit of democracy was more urgent and rode their horse straight into the polling station.

At other times, polling stations can get quiet.

Nevertheless clerks find ways of passing the time.

Peter remembers one worker in Merseyside who got in trouble when, during a lull, he volunteered to be a last-minute stand-in Santa Claus for a children’s Christmas party in the room above the polling station.

He thought he had got away with it but got a shock when the next person to sit on his knee was a council inspector who had come by the polling station to see how things were getting on.

Fire, fire

In Wakefield, one woman accidentally dropped her £40,000 engagement ring into the ballot box, along with her ballot paper.

Once sealed, a ballot box cannot be reopened until the election count.

It meant the unfortunate bride-to-be had to turn up at the count hours later and wait for the box to be opened.

“It was a valuable ring,” says Peter, but “not more valuable than democracy.”

The rule stating that a ballot box cannot be reopened has unfortunate consequences for polling station workers as well as the affianced.

Until about 15 years ago, ballot boxes were closed shut with sealing wax. Occasionally the heat from the wax could lead to smouldering.

Polling station workers couldn’t open the box to put out the potential flames so instead had to find a way to get liquid into the box to put out the fire without causing too much damage to the votes.

‘We are the elves’

Often, the ballot papers aren’t damaged by flames, but the voters themselves.

Tom Lynan has been an electoral services manager in West Lancashire for nine years.

He says rude words and anatomical drawings on ballot papers are common.

During elections for police and crime commissioners, Tom says voters used to like to add Batman or Commissioner Gordon as their second preferences.

He also says his sister-in-law once threatened to write spoilers for Game of Thrones episodes on her ballot paper, knowing that he would likely have to read it overnight.

Despite that particular challenge, Tom still enjoys his job. He says there is “pride in being able to facilitate democracy for the people of the borough”.

He says: “People have protested and fought over the right to vote, and we are the custodians of the process that is the foundation of this country and its values.

“The day before polling day is like Christmas Eve and we are the elves, but rather than presents being delivered it is an election being delivered.”

A Bugatti car, a first lady and the fake stories aimed at Americans

By Paul Myers, Olga Robinson, Shayan Sardarizadeh and Mike WendlingBBC Verify and BBC News

A network of Russia-based websites masquerading as local American newspapers is pumping out fake stories as part of an AI-powered operation that is increasingly targeting the US election, a BBC investigation can reveal.

A former Florida police officer who relocated to Moscow is one of the key figures behind it.

The following would have been a bombshell report – if it were true.

Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, allegedly bought a rare Bugatti Tourbillon sports car for 4.5m euros ($4.8m; £3.8m) while visiting Paris for D-Day commemorations in June. The source of the funds was supposedly American military aid money.

The story appeared on an obscure French website just days ago – and was swiftly debunked.

Experts pointed out strange anomalies on the invoice posted online. A whistleblower cited in the story appeared only in an oddly edited video that may have been artificially created. Bugatti issued a sharp denial, calling it “fake news”, and its Paris dealership threatened legal action against the people behind the false story.

But before the truth could even get its shoes on, the lie had gone viral. Influencers had already picked up the false story and spread it widely.

One X user, the pro-Russia, pro-Donald Trump activist Jackson Hinkle, posted a link seen by more than 6.5m people. Several other accounts spread the story to millions more X users – at least 12m in total, according to the site’s metrics.

It was a fake story, on a fake news website, designed to spread widely online, with its origins in a Russia-based disinformation operation BBC Verify first revealed last year – at which point the operation appeared to be trying to undermine Ukraine’s government.

Our latest investigation, carried out over more than six months and involving the examination of hundreds of articles across dozens of websites, found that the operation has a new target – American voters.

Dozens of bogus stories tracked by the BBC appear aimed at influencing US voters and sowing distrust ahead of November’s election. Some have been roundly ignored but others have been shared by influencers and members of the US Congress.

The story of the Bugatti hit many of the top themes of the operation – Ukrainian corruption, US aid spending, and the inner workings of French high society.

Another fake which went viral earlier this year was more directly aimed at American politics.

It was published on a website called The Houston Post – one of dozens of sites with American-sounding names which are in reality run from Moscow – and alleged that the FBI illegally wiretapped Donald Trump’s Florida resort.

It played neatly into Trump’s allegations that the legal system is unfairly stacked against him, that there is a conspiracy to thwart his campaign, and that his opponents are using dirty tricks to undermine him. Mr Trump himself has accused the FBI of snooping on his conversations.

Experts say that the operation is just one part of a much larger ongoing effort, led from Moscow, to spread disinformation during the US election campaign.

While no hard evidence has emerged that these particular fake news websites are run by the Russian state, researchers say the scale and sophistication of the operation is broadly similar to previous Kremlin-backed efforts to spread disinformation in the West.

“Russia will be involved in the US 2024 election, as will others,” said Chris Krebs, who as the director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was responsible for ensuring the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

“We’re already seeing them – from a broader information operations perspective on social media and elsewhere – enter the fray, pushing against already contentious points in US politics,” he said.

The BBC contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russia’s US and UK embassies, but received no response. We also attempted to contact Mr Hinkle for comment.

How the fakes spread

Since state-backed disinformation campaigns and money-making “fake news” operations attracted attention during the 2016 US election campaign, disinformation merchants have had to get more creative both in spreading their content and making it seem credible.

The operation investigated by BBC Verify uses artificial intelligence to generate thousands of news articles, posted to dozens of sites with names meant to sound quintessentially American – Houston Post, Chicago Crier, Boston Times, DC Weekly and others. Some use the names of real newspapers that went out of business years or decades ago.

Most of the stories on these sites are not outright fakes. Instead, they are based on real news stories from other sites apparently rewritten by artificial intelligence software.

In some instances, instructions to the AI engines were visible on the finished stories, such as: “Please rewrite this article taking a conservative stance”.

The stories are attributed to hundreds of fake journalists with made-up names and in some cases, profile pictures taken from elsewhere on the internet.

For instance, a photo of best-selling writer Judy Batalion was used on multiple stories on a website called DC Weekly, “written” by an online persona called “Jessica Devlin”.

“I was totally confused,” Ms Batalion told the BBC. “I still don’t really understand what my photo was doing on this website.”

Ms Batalion said she assumed the photo had been copied and pasted from her LinkedIn profile.

“I had no contact with this website,” she said. “It’s made me more self-conscious about the fact that any photo of yourself online can be used by someone else.”

The sheer number of stories – thousands each week – along with their repetition across different websites, indicates that the process of posting AI-generated content is automated. Casual browsers could easily come away with the impression that the sites are thriving sources of legitimate news about politics and hot-button social issues.

However, interspersed within this tsunami of content is the real meat of the operation – fake stories aimed increasingly at American audiences.

The stories often blend American and Ukrainian political issues – for instance one claimed that a worker for a Ukrainian propaganda outfit was dismayed to find that she was assigned tasks designed to knock down Donald Trump and bolster President Biden.

Another report invented a New York shopping trip made by Ukraine’s first lady, and alleged she was racist towards staff at a jewellery store.

The BBC has found that forged documents and fake YouTube videos were used to bolster both false stories.

Some of the fakes break out and get high rates of engagement on social media, said Clement Briens, senior threat intelligence analyst at cybersecurity company Recorded Future.

His company says that 120 websites were registered by the operation – which it calls CopyCop – over just three days in May. And the network is just one of a number of Russia-based disinformation operations.

Other experts – at Microsoft, Clemson University, and at Newsguard, a company that tracks misinformation sites – have also been tracking the network. Newsguard says it has counted at least 170 sites connected to the operation.

“Initially, the operation seemed small,” said McKenzie Sadeghi, Newsguard’s AI and foreign influence editor. “As each week passed it seemed to be growing significantly in terms of size and reach. People in Russia would regularly cite and boost these narratives, via Russian state TV, Kremlin officials and Kremlin influencers.

“There’s about a new narrative originating from this network almost every week or two,” she said.

Making the fake appear real

To further bolster the credibility of the fake stories, operatives create YouTube videos, often featuring people who claim to be “whistleblowers” or “independent journalists”.

In some cases the videos are narrated by actors – in others it appears they are AI-generated voices.

Several of the videos appear to be shot against a similar-looking background, further suggesting a co-ordinated effort to spread fake news stories.

The videos aren’t themselves meant to go viral, and have very few views on YouTube. Instead, the videos are quoted as “sources” and cited in text stories on the fake newspaper websites.

For instance, the story about the Ukrainian information operation allegedly targeting the Trump campaign cited a YouTube video which purported to include shots from an office in Kyiv, where fake campaign posters were visible on the walls.

Links to the stories are then posted on Telegram channels and other social media accounts.

Eventually, the sensational “scoops” – which, like the Trump wiretap story and a slew of earlier stories about Ukrainian corruption, often repeat themes already popular among patriotic Russians and some supporters of Donald Trump – can reach both Russian influencers and audiences in the West.

Although only a few rise to the highest levels of prominence, some have spread to millions – and to powerful people.

A story which originated on DC Weekly, claiming that Ukrainian officials bought yachts with US military aid, was repeated by several members of Congress, including Senator J D Vance and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Mr Vance is one of a handful of politicians mentioned as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Donald Trump.

The former US cop

One of the key people involved in the operation is John Mark Dougan, a former US Marine who worked as a police officer in Florida and Maine in the 2000s.

Mr Dougan later set up a website designed to collect leaked information about his former employer, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

In a harbinger of his activities in Russia, Mr Dougan’s site published authentic information including the home addresses of police officers, alongside fake stories and rumours. The FBI raided his apartment in 2016, at which point he fled to Moscow.

He has since written books, reported from occupied parts of Ukraine and has made appearances on Russian think tank panels, at military events and on a TV station owned by Russia’s ministry of defence.

In text message conversations with the BBC, Mr Dougan has flatly denied being involved with the websites. On Tuesday, he denied any knowledge of the story about the Bugatti sports car.

But at other times he has bragged about his prowess in spreading fake news.

At one point he also implied that his activities are a form of revenge against American authorities.

“For me it’s a game,” he said. “And a little payback.”

At another point he said: “My YouTube channel received many strikes for misinformation” for his reporting from Ukraine, raising the prospect of his channel being taken offline.

“So if they want to say misinformation, well, let’s do it right,” he texted.

A large body of digital evidence also shows connections between the former police officer and the Russia-based websites.

The BBC and experts we consulted traced IP addresses and other digital information back to websites run by Dougan.

At one point a story on the DC Weekly site, written in response to a New York Times piece which mentioned Dougan, was attributed to “An American Citizen, the owner of these sites,” and stated: “I am the owner, an American citizen, a US military veteran, born and raised in the United States.”

The article signed off with Dougan’s email address.

Shortly after we reported on Mr Dougan’s activities in a previous story, a fake version of the BBC website briefly appeared online. It was linked through digital markers to his network.

Mr Dougan is most likely not the only person working on the influence operation and who funds it remains unclear.

“I think it’s important not to overplay his role in this campaign,” said Darren Linvill, co-director of Clemson University’s Media Forensic Hub, which has been tracking the network. “He may be just a bit of a bit player and a useful dupe, because he’s an American.”

Despite his appearances on state-run media and at government-linked think tanks, Mr Dougan denies he is being paid by the Kremlin.

“I have never been paid a single dime by the Russian government,” he said via text message.

Targeting the US election

The operation that Dougan is involved in has increasingly shifted its focus from stories about the war in Ukraine to stories about American and British politics.

The false article about the FBI and the alleged wiretap at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort was one of the first stories produced by the network that was entirely about US politics, with no mention of Ukraine or Russia.

Clint Watts, who leads Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center, said that the operation often blends together issues with salience both in Ukraine and the West.

Mr Watts said that the volume of content being posted and the increasing sophistication of Russia-based efforts could potentially pose a significant problem in the run-up to November’s election.

“They’re not getting mass distribution every single time,” he said, but noted that several attempts made each week could lead to false narratives taking hold in the “information ocean” of a major election campaign.

“It can have an outsized impact”, and stories from the network can take off very quickly, he said.

“Gone are the days of Russia purchasing ads in roubles, or having pretty obvious trolls that are sitting in a factory in St. Petersburg,” said Nina Jankowicz, head of the American Sunlight Project, a non-profit organisation attempting to combat the spread of disinformation.

Ms Jankowicz was briefly director of the short-lived US Disinformation Governance Board, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security designed to tackle false information.

“Now we’re seeing a lot more information laundering,” she said – using a term referring to the recycling of fake or misleading stories into the mainstream in order to obscure their ultimate source.

Where it goes next

Microsoft researchers also say the operation is attempting to spread stories about UK politics – with an eye on Thursday’s general election – and the Paris Olympics.

One fake story – which appeared on the website called the London Crier – claimed that Mr Zelensky bought a mansion owned by King Charles III at a bargain price.

It was seen by hundreds of thousands of users on X, and shared by an official Russian embassy account. YouTube removed an AI-narrated video posted by an obscure channel that was used as the source of the false story after it was flagged by BBC Verify.

And Mr Dougan hinted at even bigger plans when asked whether increased attention on his activities would slow the spread of his false stories.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “the game is being upped.”

What do you want BBC Verify to investigate?

What we know about the India crush that killed 121

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

Officials said the event was massively overcrowded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others expressed anger over the incident.

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

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

Who is Bhole Baba?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.

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

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.”

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.

Chess star, 9, to become youngest England player

By Will VernonBBC News

A nine-year-old chess prodigy is set to make history as the youngest person ever to represent England internationally in any sport.

Bodhana Sivanandan, from Harrow, north-west London, will join the England Women’s Team at the Chess Olympiad in Hungary later this year.

She is almost 15 years younger than the next-youngest teammate, 23-year-old Lan Yao.

“I found out yesterday after I came back from school, when my dad told me,” Bodhana told the BBC. “I was happy. I hope I’ll do well, and I’ll get another title.”

Malcolm Pein, manager of the England chess team, says the schoolgirl is the most remarkable prodigy British Chess has ever seen.

“It’s exciting – she’s on course to be one of the best British players ever,” he said.

However the nine-year-old’s father, Siva, says he is mystified as to where his daughter got her talent from.

“I’m an engineering graduate, as is my wife, but I’m not good at chess,” he told the BBC. “I tried a couple of league games, but I was very poor.”

Bodhana first picked up a pawn during the pandemic.

“When one of my dad’s friends was going back to India, he gave us a few bags [of possessions],” Bodhana said. “There was a chess board, and I was interested in the pieces so I started playing.”

She says chess makes her feel “good” and helps her with “lots of other things like maths, how to calculate”.

Two years ago, Bodhana won all three chess world championships for the under eight age group – in the classical game, where a match lasts several hours, the rapid game, which lasts up to an hour, and the blitz game, which can be as short as three minutes.

As for preparation for Hungary, Bodhana is taking it very seriously.

“On school days I practice for around one hour every day,” she said. “On the weekends, I usually play tournaments, but when I don’t I practice for more than an hour.”

While some of her teammates are old enough to be her grandparents, Bodhana is not the only upcoming young talent.

The game is seeing a surge of interest among young people, according to Mr Pein, which he attributes to two factors – the legacy of the lockdowns and the impact of smash-hit Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit, which is about a gifted female chess player.

Mr Pein says he feels “very confident” that his prodigy will achieve her ultimate goal and become a grandmaster, the highest title in international chess.

Abhimanyu Mishra, from the US, holds the record for the youngest person to reach grandmaster in 2021, when he was just 12.

But Bodhana says she intends to clinch the title at the tender age of 10. One year, she is keen to point out, before she finishes primary school.

Gazans seek shelter as Khan Younis exodus continues

By David GrittenBBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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 that 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”, according 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.

Australian Senator resigns after Gaza vote backlash

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

Senator Fatima Payman has resigned from Australia’s ruling Labor Party, days after voting against it to support a motion on Palestinian statehood.

Labor has strict penalties for those who undermine its policy positions, and Ms Payman was already “indefinitely suspended” from the party’s caucus after vowing to do it again.

“This is a matter I cannot compromise on,” the 29-year-old said on Thursday, adding that she was “deeply torn” over the decision.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ms Payman had thanked him for his leadership and denied allegations she had been intimidated into quitting.

Ms Payman will now join the crossbench as an independent senator.

The 29-year-old Muslim lawmaker, whose family fled Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban in 1996, is Australia’s first and only hijab-wearing federal politician.

“Unlike my colleagues, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of injustice. My family did not flee a war-torn country to come here as refugees for me to remain silent when I see atrocities inflicted on innocent people,” she said during a press conference on her resignation.

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

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

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 28 over the past 24 hours, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Ms Payman said that since crossing the Senate floor to vote with the Greens party last Tuesday she had received “immense support” from some colleagues, and “pressure… to toe the party line” from others. She also reported receiving “death threats and emails that were quite confronting” from members of the public.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who handed down the indefinite suspension on Sunday, had repeatedly said Ms Payman could rejoin the caucus – where MPs discuss the government’s agenda – if she was willing to participate “as a team player”.

But in a statement earlier this week, Ms Payman said she had been “exiled” by Labor – explaining that she had been removed from meetings, group chats and all committees.

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.”

Body found in search for child missing in croc attack

By Katy WatsonBBC Australia Correspondent

Australian police have found human remains while searching for a 12-year-old they believe was the victim of a crocodile attack.

The child was last seen on Tuesday, swimming with family near the remote Aboriginal town of Nganmarriyanga – about a seven-hour drive southwest of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT).

“This is devastating news for the family, the community and everyone involved in the search,” said Senior Sgt Erica Gibson, adding that police would provide support to everyone impacted.

Earlier Sgt Gibson had told ABC News that a black crocodile had been seen in the immediate area.

As many as 40 members of the community helped police officers in their search for the child, which started shortly after the 12-year-old was reported missing.

They scoured the area by foot, by boat and with the use of helicopters, covering challenging terrain with thick vegetation and a narrow, winding waterway.

No details were given on whether the crocodile suspected to have attacked the child had been found.

Earlier on Wednesday NT Police Minister Brent Potter said wildlife officers had been authorised to “remove” the crocodile from the area once it was 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.

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

There have been at least two other crocodile attacks in the NT in the past year – a nine-year-old boy was injured in January while swimming in Kakadu National Park, and a farmer 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.

Japan declares victory in ‘war’ on floppy disks

By Kelly NgBBC News

It’s taken until 2024, but Japan has finally said goodbye to floppy disks.

Up until last month, people were still asked to submit documents to the government using the outdated storage devices, with more than 1,000 regulations requiring their use.

But these rules have now finally been scrapped, said Digital Minister Taro Kono.

In 2021, Mr Kono had “declared war” on floppy disks. On Wednesday, almost three years later, he announced: “We have won the war on floppy disks!”

Mr Kano has made it his goal to eliminate old technology since he was appointed to the job. He had earlier also said he would “get rid of the fax machine”.

Once seen as a tech powerhouse, Japan has in recent years lagged in the global wave of digital transformation because of a deep resistance to change.

For instance, workplaces have continued to favour fax machines over emails – earlier plans to remove these machines from government offices were scrapped because of pushback.

The announcement was widely-discussed on Japanese social media, with one user on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling floppy disks a “symbol of an anachronistic administration”.

“The government still uses floppy disks? That’s so outdated… I guess they’re just full of old people,” read another comment on X.

Others comments were more nostalgic. “I wonder if floppy disks will start appearing on auction sites,” one user wrote.

Created in the 1960s, the square-shaped devices fell out of fashion in the 1990s as more efficient storage solutions were invented.

A three-and-a-half inch floppy disk could accommodate up to just 1.44MB of data. More than 22,000 such disks would be needed to replicate a memory stick storing 32GB of information.

Sony, the last manufacturer of the disks, ended its production in 2011.

As part of its belated campaign to digitise its bureaucracy, Japan launched a Digital Agency in September 2021, which Mr Kono leads.

But Japan’s efforts to digitise may be easier said than done.

Many Japan businesses still require official documents to be endorsed using carved personal stamps called hanko, despite the government’s efforts to phase them out.

People are moving away from those stamps at a “glacial pace”, said local newspaper The Japan Times.

And it was not until 2019 that the country’s last pager provider closed its service, with the final private subscriber explaining that it was the preferred method of communication for his elderly mother.

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.

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.

‘It’s a disaster’: Hurricane Beryl batters Jamaica

By Vanessa Buschschlüter and Jaroslav LukivBBC News

Powerful Hurricane Beryl has hit Jamaica with heavy winds and rain, damaging buildings and felling trees on the Caribbean island.

The category four storm brought winds of up to 130mph (215km/h) on Jamaica’s southern coast.

Social media photos show floodwater pouring down streets, with roofs ripped off by the wind.

The storm has killed at least seven people so far as it sweeps across the Caribbean. It has now been downgraded to a category three storm, and is due to make landfall in Mexico later on Friday.

“It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and scared,” Amoy Wellington, resident of a rural farming community in the southern St Elizabeth parish, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“It’s a disaster.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness earlier urged people to “take this hurricane seriously”.

“If you live in a low-lying area, an area historically prone to flooding and landslide, or if you live on the banks of a river or a gully, I implore you to evacuate to a shelter or to safer ground,” he said.

Watch: Union Island resident explains impact of Hurricane Beryl

Three people died in Grenada, where it first made landfall on Monday, one in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and another three in northern Venezuela, which was hit by strong winds and flooding.

About 90% of homes were destroyed or severely damaged on Union Island, which is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

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

Parts of Jamaica earlier experienced disruption to power and electricity supplies, with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) saying it was forced to pause restoration of power lines in some locations for the safety of their workers.

In a news briefing, the NHC’s director, Dr Michael Brennan, said Jamaica would experience “devastating hurricane force winds”.

Rainfall in some parts of the country could hit 12in (30cm), potentially leading to flooding and mudslides, the director explained, while life-threatening storm surges as high as 9ft (2.7m) above tide level are also expected.

“Everybody in Jamaica needs to be in their safe place and be prepared to stay there for at least the next 12 hours,” Dr Brennan warned.

The BBC’s Nick Davis said Jamaicans had been rushing to supermarkets earlier in the week to get “as much as they could as quickly as they could”.

Jamaica’s Information Minister Dana Morris Dixon said the island had 900 shelters to house people who needed to leave their homes.

In Venezuela, Hurricane Beryl brought heavy rains which caused a river to overflow in the northern state of Sucre. Three people died and several are still missing.

A government delegation was hit by a falling tree while inspecting damage.

President Nicolás Maduro said Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez was among those injured. He said she was “very bruised but conscious”.

In Mexico, where Hurricane Beryl is expected in the coming days, residents in Cancún have rushed to supermarkets to stock up on supplies. Some have encountered empty shelves.

The NHC said that Hurricane Beryl had formed much earlier in the hurricane season than usual.

Meteorologists have also remarked on how quickly Beryl developed.

The storm strengthened from a tropical depression into a major hurricane in 42 hours, hurricane expert Sam Lillo told the Associated Press news agency.

Predicted path of Hurricane Beryl

In Texas, officials warned residents to prepare for the possibility of Beryl’s arrival this weekend.

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott told resident’s near the state’s Atlantic coast to “keep an eye on the gulf” and “have an emergency plan to take care of yourself and your loved ones”.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that the North Atlantic could get as many as seven major hurricanes this year – up from an average of three in a season.

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Jeff Bezos to sell another $5bn of Amazon shares

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says he will sell another 25 million shares in the technology giant, worth nearly $5bn (£3.9bn).

It comes after the company’s stock market value hit a record high on Wednesday.

In February, he announced that he would sell Amazon shares worth around $8.5bn.

That marked the first time since 2021 that Mr Bezos had sold Amazon shares.

The company’s shares have risen by more than 30% this year on expectations that growing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) technology will boost earnings at its cloud computing business.

Last month, Amazon’s stock market valuation topped the $2tn for the first time.

However, that is still behind other major technology firms Nvidia, Apple and Microsoft, all of which have crossed the $3tn mark.

Amazon reported robust quarterly earnings at the end of the April, that showed the company’s bet on AI was paying off.

Mr Bezos stepped down as the company’s chief executive in 2021 and is currently its executive chair and remains its largest shareholder.

He founded Amazon in 1994 in a garage in Bellevue, Washington, when the internet was still in its infancy.

The company started out as an online bookseller, touting the world’s largest collection of ebooks.

Since then Amazon has become one of the world’s leading online retail and cloud computing companies.

He also founded the rocket company Blue Origin, which in May sent six customers to the edge of space.

Mr Bezos is the world’s second richest person, according to the Forbes Billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of around $214bn.

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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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Growing up, Kylian Mbappe had pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo on his wall. On Friday, Mbappe will be up against Ronaldo in the flesh.

France and Portugal face-off in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024. While multiple world-class players will be in action for both sides, it is hard to escape this being a gladiatorial duel between Ronaldo and Mbappe.

This is not the first time the two icons have shared a pitch. They met in the 2017-18 Champions League last 16, when Real Madrid comfortably beat Mbappe’s PSG 5-2 on aggregate – on Ronaldo’s way to a fourth and final Champions League trophy in Spain.

But they have never previously met at a major international tournament, with Mbappe yet to break into the senior France squad when they were beaten by Ronaldo’s Portugal in the Euro 2016 final.

And this game in Hamburg has a totally different context to the Champions League meeting six years ago. Back then, Mbappe was a 19-year-old on loan from Monaco – full of potential and the subject of hype, but far from the finished product.

Now he is 25, widely regarded as the world’s best player and the man on whose slim shoulders France’s hopes of a first European title since 2000 rest – at times in this tournament quite uneasily.

Mbappe will this summer move to Real Madrid, where he is expected to be the main man. The focal point and grand attraction. That was the role served by Ronaldo in his prime.

Six years on, Ronaldo – away from playing his club football in Saudi Arabia – is still a focal point who grabs attention.

The 39-year-old’s role in the Portugal team is the subject of great discussion after a last-16 display against Slovenia summarised by wayward free-kicks, a saved penalty and floods of tears.

Yet Ronaldo can still deliver when it counts, tucking away his spot-kick in the shootout – though it was goalkeeper Diogo Costa who took the spotlight with three successive saves.

Can Mbappe surpass Ronaldo in Madrid?

So that’s the plot to the showdown under the Friday night lights. A former Real Madrid legend against someone who hopes to achieve that status.

If this was a Hollywood script, the likely narrative would have this as the moment where the baton is passed, France beat Portugal and Mbappe fully assumes Ronaldo’s former mantle.

But football does not work to schedule, as Ronaldo knows. When he was 25, Portugal were dumped out in the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup by eventual winners Spain – and he would have to wait another six years to get his hands on an international trophy.

By 2010, Ronaldo had won three Premier League trophies, a Champions League and his first of five Ballons D’Or. Up against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side, his Real Madrid gold rush had yet to begin.

Mbappe in comparison has seven Ligue 1 titles, albeit six of them in a PSG side with vastly greater resources than their competitors in France, and no Champions League trophy yet.

He does, however, have something it looks increasingly like Ronaldo shall never possess – a World Cup winner’s medal, collected in 2018 aged just 19.

So might Mbappe surpass Ronaldo at Madrid if he follows a similar path? It seems likely. Barcelona are a reduced force compared to the one Ronaldo encountered in his early days. There is no Lionel Messi nor Guardiola.

Real Madrid are reigning champions both domestically and continentally, and will only be strengthened by Mbappe’s arrival.

Ronaldo scored 33 goals in 35 games during his first season at Madrid – a tally Mbappe surpassed in five of his seven campaigns at PSG, and which seems eminently reachable in 2024-25.

Mbappe has scored 287 goals in his club career to this point, while Ronaldo netted just 118 before joining Madrid. While Mbappe has sometimes played centrally for PSG, both men primarily occupied wide areas in their pre-Bernabeu days.

After below-par tournaments, a time to shine

Off the pitch, Mbappe has some catching up to do. Ronaldo remains an icon in Madrid, has a hotel bearing the CR7 branding in the city, attracts more than half a billion followers across his social media accounts and even has a galaxy named after him.

But Mbappe, having been the star attraction and huge selling point of PSG during his time there, will be placed on a similar pedestal once he arrives in Madrid.

Before all those bells, whistles and social media debates, the small matter of a Euro 2024 quarter-final.

Neither man has set the tournament alight so far. Mbappe looks hampered by a range of issues – including a broken nose from the opening game against Austria and having to play in the discomfort and distraction of a protective mask.

France’s style of play, as evidenced by their lacklustre last-16 win over Belgium, is characterised by stodginess and a need for everything promising in attack to go through Mbappe. When he is crowded out or out of form, the system does not work – leading to the pre-tournament favourites failing to score from open play in four matches in Germany.

Questions of Ronaldo, meanwhile, focus around whether he should even start after two below-par, goalless showings against relative minnows Georgia and Slovenia, where at times the bright attacking talent Portugal possess seemed actively hampered by the presence of a man more than a decade older than his team-mates.

Will such a grand occasion as this quarter-final bring the best out of one or both of these men? We wait with baited breath.

If it is Mbappe who comes out on top, the journey from doe-eyed child admiring posters of Ronaldo to being the sport’s undisputed poster boy will surely be complete.

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New Zealand v England first Test

Date: Saturday, 6 July Kick-off: 08:05 BST Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Full-back Stephen Perofeta will start for New Zealand against England in the first match of their two-Test series on Saturday in Dunedin.

Three-cap Perofeta, 27, is preferred to 2015 Rugby World Cup winner Beauden Barrett, who has been named on the bench.

Barrett, who has 123 caps, can also play at fly-half but new head coach Scott Robertson has named Damian McKenzie at 10.

McKenzie’s half-back partner is TJ Perenara, who returns after an Achilles injury.

Saturday’s match will also be Scott Barrett’s first as the new All Blacks captain.

The matchday squad selection is Robertson’s first since taking charge of the team.

He was appointed in November and replaced Ian Foster who steered the team to the 2023 World Cup final against South Africa. New Zealand lost by a single point to the Springboks.

“This was a very tough squad to pick, but we’ve selected the best 23 players to beat England on Saturday,” Robertson said.

“There is a lot of excitement in the group for our first Test and we’re walking together toward this opportunity to represent New Zealand and our families in Dunedin in front of a sold-out stadium. We’ve prepared well and we’re ready.”

The first Test against England will be followed by a second match on 13 July at Eden Park in Auckland.

Steve Borthwick’s England are looking to make history as they have never won a Test series in New Zealand.

New Zealand XV to face England: S Perofeta; S Reece, R Ioane, J Barrett, M Tele’a; D McKenzie, T Perenara; E de Groot, C Taylor, T Lomax, S Barrett (capt), P Tuipulotu, S Finau, D Papali’i, A Savea.

Replacements: A Aumua, O Tu’ungafasi, F Newell, T Vaa’i, L Jacobson, F Christie, A Lienert-Brown, B Barrett.

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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Mark Cavendish was determined – perhaps destined – to break the Tour de France stage wins record.

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

Already regarded as the best sprinter of all time, now the Manx Missile has earned the prize he desperately sought with his 35th victory in cycling’s greatest race at Saint Vulbas on Wednesday – his 165th career victory.

He will be immortalised in the race’s history after surpassing Eddy Merckx to become its greatest ever stage winner.

In a post on social media Belgian Merckx, who won the Tour five times between 1969-1974, wrote: “Congratulations Mark for this historic performance. A good guy who has beaten my record on the Tour.”

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

At the age of 39, surpassing a tally previously considered almost out of reach for any modern-day rider let alone a sprinter, is an achievement that speaks of the longevity and breadth of success of his career.

“The Tour de France is bigger than cycling. I love it, I love racing the Tour,” Cavendish said.

“Every little detail has been put towards today.”

Cavendish’s love affair with the Tour began on 7 July 2008 at Chateauroux – the first of four stage victories in that edition of the race.

His breakthrough moment arguably came on the track in 2005, with a world title in the madison, after springing to prominence in the newly-formed British Cycling academy under the supervision of Rod Ellingworth.

But his ability to read a finish, weave into position and produce devastating accelerations have all served to make him formidable in La Grande Boucle.

Cavendish like ‘a fine wine’ who gets better with age

Since drawing level with Belgian legend Merckx in 2021, Cavendish has had to deal with a knifepoint robbery and the uncertainty of finding a new team at the age of 37.

There was also the bitter disappointment of leaving the Tour with a broken collarbone 12 months ago, while injuries and depression contributed to him not winning once during 2019 and 2020.

Yet here he is in his 15th Tour, displaying the confidence of the rider who was virtually impossible to beat between 2008 and 2012 when he claimed 23 stage wins, including four on the Champs-Elysees.

“Without the Tour de France cycling does not exist,” Cavendish said in his 2023 Netflix documentary, Mark Cavendish: Never Enough.

With 35 victories out of 215 completed stages he also has a strike rate of almost one in six.

It is a remarkable feat for a rider who has been described as having a sharp tongue and fiery temper by former team-mates – and as a “pain in the ass” by the straight-talking Vasilis Anastopoulos, who worked with Cavendish at Quick Step and is now head of performance at the Manxman’s current Astana Qazaqstan team.

The Greek coach has been credited by Cavendish for helping rejuvenate his career during their time together at the Belgian Quick Step team, and for playing a pivotal role in his 2021 and 2022 success at both the Tour and Giro d’Italia.

Cavendish’s former lead-out man Mark Renshaw is now Astana’s sporting director.

“He’s amazing. He’s just like a fine wine who gets better and better,” Renshaw said of the sprinter.

“The team had so much confidence in him and they had that all year. We’ve changed the team to look after him and he has been mega committed.

“I don’t know how many days he’s been with his family but this year it has not been many and that is the type of commitment you need.”

‘This was about much more than modern cycling’

It was notable to see the sheer number of riders waiting to embrace Cavendish at the conclusion of Wednesday’s 177.4 km route from Saint Jean de Maurienne to Saint Vulbas.

But when he was struggling in the heat on a brutal opening stage containing over 3,600m of climbing, there had been doubts as to whether this historic win would even be possible.

An emotional Anastopoulos said: “We spent three months in Greece from 2 April, every day believing. On the first day [of the Tour] he had heat stroke so we thought we had done something wrong, but he did it again.

“He was super strong at the end. He was the old Cavendish.”

Race leader Tadej Pogacar said at the finish line: “Incredible. A 35th victory for Mark. I used to watch him on television and we loved him. He came to me and said ‘don’t you break my record’ – but I don’t think I can.”

Speaking on ITV 4, Cavendish’s former Team Sky team-mate Peter Kennaugh also gave a glowing tribute to his childhood friend.

“You can never give up faith in Mark Cavendish. I know this will mean everything to Mark because he is so much more than a sprinter,” Kennaugh said.

“What he has achieved is not just going down in cycling history but sporting history. It is incredible.

“He thrives off people telling him he can’t do it and he’s had that his whole career until this very day.

“This was about much more than modern cycling and what we see every day. It was about passion, dedication and his love for the sport and willingness to never give up.”

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James Anderson will end his record-breaking England career after the first Test against West Indies at Lord’s next week.

In a special episode of the Tailenders podcast, Anderson spoke at length about his cricketing life for the first time since he announced he will retire from internationals.

This is James Anderson, in his own words.

Becoming Jimmy – ‘I broke some bats that winter’

I do remember the time I became able to bowl quicker, but not the specific moment it happened. At 15, I came back to winter nets at a school in Blackburn and it was coming out a lot quicker. I don’t really know why or how that happened, but it did. My best mate David Brown, his dad Peter – I can’t remember what shot he played – but I remember the bat breaking. I broke a couple of bats that winter and I felt horrific. I felt like something different had happened. I can’t put my finger on why.

People were excited. The captain at the time would say: “Just bowl as fast as you can.” Because it was such a change in pace and my body was still developing, I didn’t really know where the ball was going and I bowled the odd beamer. I beamed Australia batter Brad Hodge, who was playing for Ramsbottom. He sort of punched it off his face. I can’t repeat what he said and I was so apologetic.

In the first over of a game at Burnley I bowled four wides in a row and was thinking “oh my god, this is painful” – then the next ball went straight through the batter and bowled him. It was inconsistent and erratic, but fun.

The call-up – ‘Nasser had the biggest influence on me’

I’ve heard Nasser Hussain’s dad had seen me play Championship cricket and said I might be worth a look. I got a phone call and was told England wanted me to join them in Sydney. So many questions go through your head but, in reality, I was thinking: “Am I really going to play?” I didn’t play the first game in Sydney and then we went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and I got told on the outfield I was playing the next day by Nasser. I was thinking: “I’m just going enjoy this while I’m here, because it might not last. I might never play again.”

Nasser was quite intense as a captain and a lot of people didn’t like the way he went about things. But for me, as a 20-year-old, I needed that firmness and instruction. He would really tell you what was demanded of you.

He probably had the biggest influence on me, just because of the stage of my career I was at when I played under him.

We had most success under Andrew Strauss, but I don’t know whether that was down to his captaincy or just the group of players that we had. Probably more so the group of players.

The action – ‘They thought I could bowl 95mph’

Troy Cooley, the bowling coach at the time, was into biomechanics. We had a net session with dots put on us, cameras filming in order to see what the bones were doing in the bowling action. My spine was like an S shape.

They thought I was going to get injured and I could bowl quicker, even though I was bowling 90mph when I first came into the team. They reckon they could have got me up to 95 if I just changed my action a little bit.

I got injured after changing my action and I didn’t bowl great for 12 months straight after that period. They weren’t trying to damage me, they did it for the best of me and the team.

I was at the point where I didn’t think I would play for England again. My wife Danielle was amazing. She said: “Snap out of it, you are definitely good enough.”

When I got fit again, I went to Mike Watkinson at Lancashire and Kevin Shine, who was the new England bowling coach, and they said I should go back to my old action. The rest is history.

Favourite Test – ‘We charged off like a flock of geese’

It’s the best game I’ve had for England. An Ashes Test, the close nature and I bowled a 13-over spell on the last day trying to bowl them out.

I used all the skills I could possibly think of, everything I had in my armoury. The last wicket, Brad Haddin, was an off-cutter. I didn’t actually hear the nick, but Alastair Cook and Matt Prior behind the stumps heard it and then the umpire gave it not out. We had to review it and I asked Haddin if he hit it and he said he did, so we all knew it was going to be given out, but there’s still that moment when the decision comes up on the big screen and the umpire puts his finger up.

It was just incredible. There’s a great photo of all 11 of us, starting to charge off like a like a flock of geese, running around the ground. It was amazing. The wickets that matter are the ones where you influence games. Contributing to a win like that is the best feeling.

The skills – ‘I wish I’d taken a Test hat-trick’

In Test cricket, when you have to bowl in so many different conditions around the world, you need so many different skills and I’ve tried to develop as many as I can. The biggest one that helped me was being able to bowl an in-swinger to a right-hander and an out-swinger to a left-hander.

My record when I couldn’t bowl that to left-handers is really poor, but I started learning the in-swinger and it took me about four years to feel confident to bowl it in a game. It just gave me a completely different approach to left-handers, in particular bowling round the wicket.

Just for bragging rights in the pub, I wish I had taken a Test hat-trick. Stuart Broad bangs on about his two quite a lot and he’ll always have that on me. I never got a Test hundred either and I was so close at Trent Bridge. I made 81 against India in 2014. I thought I was getting one there, but I didn’t make it.

Building a bowler – ‘I’m going to copy Pat Cummins’

You would pick Glenn McGrath’s accuracy and Dale Steyn’s wrist position. Being a Lancashire fan, I always loved Wasim Akram’s action. He was an insane bowler. He swung it both ways and reversed it really well.

I really like Pat Cummins’ action. There was a Test match in Galle in Sri Lanka where I was feeling really stiff after lunch. Mark Wood was at mid-off and I said: “I’m going to copy Pat Cummins’ action now and try to bowl like him.” I got a wicket in that over and Woody said: “You should bowl like him all the time.”

He’s got an amazing snap. When he gets to the top of his action, everything seems to go really quick. When he bowls the ball, he just snaps through the crease. Because I was feeling stiff and a bit sluggish, I was trying to recreate that speed and it worked.

What’s next – ‘I thought about asking a careers adviser’

I’ve loved doing Tailenders. It definitely made me fall back in love with the game because at some points it has become just a job. There are some days when you turn up, it’s raining and the covers are on and I wasn’t actually that bothered.

I honestly don’t know what will happen next. I love talking about the game. I love talking about bowling and delving into the technical side of it. I’ve done a bit of punditry on TV and on the radio, so I will maybe balance that and a bit of coaching.

It’s a weird feeling when you’ve done something for 20 years and then all of a sudden you’ve got to find something else to do. We went to see a school for my eldest daughter the other day. There was a careers adviser there and I did wonder about asking him some questions.

I’d like a bit of time just to try a few things and see if something sticks.

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