The Guardian 2024-07-04 07:11:08


Amid growing calls for him to step away from his campaign, the US president will be meeting with nearly all of the nation’s Democratic governors.

Some, including California’s Gavin Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear – each of whom have been discussed as possible replacements if Biden steps down – will be there in person. Others will be joining virtually.

The meeting will be closed to press. Several governors have publicly said that they are attending in order to show support for Biden, and would not consider the presidential nomination should Biden decide to step down. “Joe Biden is not going to take himself out of this race, nor should he,” said Maryland governor Wes Moore to CBS.

Biden says ‘I’m not leaving’ as cracks appear in Democrats’ support

White House denies reports president is weighing whether his candidacy is viable or not with spate of interviews lined up

The White House insisted on Wednesday that Joe Biden is staying in the election as the presumptive Democratic nominee, while the US president reportedly told his campaign team “I’m in this race to the end” amid mounting pressure for him to step down over concerns he is not up to the job, at 81.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary, told reporters “the president is not dropping out”, even while he “owns” his dire performance in the first debate of the campaign against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump last week.

She repeatedly blamed him having a cold, brought on by overly-arduous foreign travel, despite incredulous scoffs and skeptical questions from some reporters at the daily briefing.

Biden separately told staffers on a call, according to multiple reports: “No one is pushing me out” and “I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win.”

He was joined on the call by his vice-president, Kamala Harris, reiterating to staffers that they are in this fight for re-election “together”, according to an Associated Press report. She is seen as a likely substitute if Biden drops out, although several Democratic governors are considered serious rivals in that scenario.

The White House earlier denied a report that Biden is weighing whether his candidacy is still viable, ahead of a key meeting with Democratic governors on Wednesday evening, radio interviews due to air on the Fourth of July holiday and a TV interview with ABC airing in parts on Friday evening and over the weekend as he tries to bolster plummeting confidence.

An ally of the president earlier told the New York Times that the president remained fully committed to his re-election effort, but that he knew his upcoming public appearances would have to be successful ones in order for his candidacy to remain viable.

“He knows if he has two more events like that, we’re in a different place,” the source said, referring to Biden’s disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump last week.

The article was published under the headline “Biden told ally that he is weighing whether to continue in the race”.The senior deputy press secretary and deputy assistant to the president, Andrew Bates, posted that: “That claim is absolutely false.”

The latest Siena College / NYT poll shows Trump has widened his lead on Biden since the TV debate, opening up a 6-point advantage, 49-43%, over Biden among likely voters. Only 49% of Democrats say Biden should remain the nominee.

Later on Wednesday Biden made his first public appearance of the day at a White House ceremony to award posthumous Medals of Honor to two Union soldiers for acts of bravery in the civil war. The president spoke mainly clearly, aided by a teleprompter.

Cracks in support among Democratic leaders had multiplied late Tuesday into Wednesday.

Barack Obama reportedly expressed concerns about Biden’s path to re-election and

House Democrat Jim Clyburn, known as a kingmaker of sorts within the Democratic party, told CNN that the party should hold a “mini-primary” if Biden steps aside, despite supporting his candidacy.

Almost all elected Democrats continue to back Biden in public.

On Tuesday congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first House Democrat to publicly urge the president to step aside. A second one joined on Wednesday afternoon when Raúl Grijalva of Arizona told the New York Times: “If he’s the candidate, I’m going to support him but I think that this is an opportunity to look elsewhere … What he really needs to do is shoulder the responsibility for keeping that seat – and part of that responsibility is to get out of this race.”

At a Virginia campaign event on Tuesday evening, Biden blamed the debate debacle on his prior international trips, saying: “I wasn’t very smart. I decided to travel around the world a couple times, going through around 100 time zones … before … the debate. Didn’t listen to my staff and came back and nearly fell asleep on stage. That’s no excuse but it is an explanation.”

Obama, who served two terms with Biden as his vice president, has reportedly shared in private with Democratic allies who sought his counsel that Biden was already on a tough road to re-election and that road was now more rocky after the debate, the Washington Post reported late on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the former president’s remarks, despite his public support for Biden’s candidacy.

And dozens of House Democrats are considering signing a letter calling for Biden to withdraw from the presidential race, Bloomberg reported, citing an unnamed ‘senior party official’.

A post-debate survey commissioned by Puck news showed that 40% of voters who backed Biden in 2020 now believe he should withdraw. It also showed him now under threat from Trump in states previously considered safe by Democrats, including Virginia, New Mexico and New Hampshire.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday also found that one in three Democrats said Biden should end his re-election campaign.

The former first lady, Michelle Obama, who has never held elected office, also led Trump 50% to 39% in a poll about a hypothetical match-up, Reuters reported.

Also, California congresswoman and former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told MSNBC of Biden’s debate performance – and Trump’s: “I think it’s a legitimate question to say, is this an episode or is this a condition? When people ask that question, it’s completely legitimate – of both candidates.”

Harris is the top alternative to replace Biden if he quits, according to seven senior sources at the Biden campaign, the White House and the Democratic National Committee with knowledge of current discussions on the topic, Reuters reported.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Tuesday, Harris trailed Trump by one percentage point, a showing as strong as Biden’s, within polling margins.

Democrats have been privately scathing both about the White House’s lack of transparency about the president’s apparent recent decline, and about his failure to rebound fully from the debate. All eyes will now be on the ABC interview.

Two House Democrats, Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, have predicted publicly since the debate that they believed Trump would win November’s election.

Anger has also been voiced at the White House and campaign aides for shielding Biden from public and covering up evidence of his supposedly fading powers amid reports that this has been visible for months.

The presidential physician, Kevin O’Connor, has previously said that Biden is in excellent condition.

Sam Levin and Reuters contributed reporting

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Analysis

White House efforts to shield Biden’s missteps are unraveling

Robert Tait

Reducing press conferences, interviews and meetings with Congress members exposed as damage control measures

For three and a half years, Joe Biden was wrapped in a metaphorical ball of cotton wool by an anxious White House staff eager to protect him from the worst of himself.

Worried about signs of ageing and an increasing propensity for verbal missteps, they cut press conferences and media interviews to a minimum.

Meetings with members of Congress, frequent enough in his first year – despite it coinciding with part of the Covid-19 pandemic – were whittled down by two-thirds by year three.

Public appearances were tightly rationed and controlled, with the president speaking predominantly from an autocue.

Unscripted exchanges with journalists were deemed too hazardous, resulting in 81-year-old Biden staging fewer presidential news conferences than any US chief executive since Ronald Reagan. Even the traditional pre-Super Bowl television interview – a chance to reach the biggest audience ever likely to tune for a political broadcast – was given a wide berth for the past two years.

Now the approach has unravelled spectacularly, seemingly exposed as a desperate damage limitation exercise by last week’s floundering performance in a televised debate with Donald Trump that has left Biden’s presidential candidacy in dire jeopardy.

Democrats considering replacing him on the ticket accuse his handlers of putting up a wall of denial to counteract a years-long low murmur of talk about his age-related decline, only for the truth to burst into the open in a manner that greatly increases the chances of a second Trump presidency.

“We kind of just feel lied to,” an unnamed Democratic senator told Punchbowl website. “They’ve been shielding him from those types of settings for months and even after it became undeniable, they’re still lying to us.”

The complaint reflected a deep discontent with White House efforts to dismiss the abject debate display as an unrepresentative one-off.

That narrative has been starkly contradicted by a wave of fresh reports depicting an elderly president whose verbal and behavioural lapses have become more frequent in recent months.

Carl Bernstein – one of Washington’s most celebrated journalists for his work on the Watergate scandal 50 years ago – told CNN this week how multiple well-placed sources had disclosed to him that Biden’s debate appearance was not atypical but increasingly representative.

“These are people, several of them who are very close to President Biden, who love him,” he said. “They are adamant that what we saw the other night … is not a one off, that there have been 15 to 20, occasions in the last year-and-a-half, when the president has appeared somewhat as he did in that horror show that we witnessed.”

That view is supported by a catalogue of recent episodes in which the president either misspoke or appeared confused, and which the New York Times this week reported have been happening with greater frequency recently.

Last month, Biden seemed to momentarily forget the name of his homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, at a gala White House event to celebrate granting citizenship rights to 500,000 undocumented migrants married to Americans. “I’m not sure I’m going to introduce you all the way,” the president stammered awkwardly, before seeming to recover and remembering Mayorkas name.

In May, at a Rose Garden celebration of Jewish American Heritage month, the president tried to introduce a US citizen currently being held hostage in Gaza as a guest at the event, before again correcting himself.

At two separate fundraisers in February, he described, on the first occasion, meeting the former German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl at the G7 summit in 2021, and on the other, talking to the Francois Mitterand, the ex-French president, at the same gathering. Both leaders left office and died years before the summit.

At last month’s G7 meeting in Italy, European observers were said to be “shocked” at Biden’s state, according to the New York Times report, which cited an unnamed official who said the president appeared “out of it.”

One of the few recent occasions when Biden spontaneously interacted with journalists came after the special counsel, Robert Hur, called him a “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory” in his report into Biden’s improper withholding of classified documents.

The president tried to defend himself at a White House news conference but instead reinforced the depiction by referring to Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, “the president of Mexico”.

Now he will try to erase the image of over-shielded seclusion by granting an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos tomorrow, an overture to the media that critics in his own party say should have immediately followed the debate fiasco.

Biden and his team hope that the event will effectively counter the impression of an addled president too vulnerable to face the outside world unprotected, thereby saving his candidacy.

But the offensive may have been complicated by the surprising role played in recent days by Biden’s son Hunter, who was convicted last month of three felony charges relating to illegal gun ownership and who, against all precedent, has begun attending White House meetings since week.

His appearance has drawn a less-than-welcoming response from some senior White House staff, according to NBC, which broke the story. “What the hell is happening?” one reportedly said.

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Explainer

Who could replace Joe Biden as Democratic nominee? Here are six possibilities

After his catastrophic debate against Trump and reports that some Democrats are calling for Biden to step aside, here’s who could run against Trump instead

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Joe Biden’s catastrophic showing at the debate with Donald Trump has sparked waves of speculation about whether he could be replaced as the Democratic nominee for president – and, if so, who would run against Trump instead.

Biden won the Democratic primaries earlier this year but would not officially become the party’s candidate for president until endorsed at the 2024 Democratic national convention in Chicago, which takes place from 19-22 August.

There is no formal mechanism to replace him as the presumptive nominee, and such a move would be the first time a US political party has attempted to do so in modern times.

In effect, Biden would have to agree to step aside and allow the delegates he won in the primaries – who vote to nominate a candidate at the Chicago convention – to choose someone else.

There is no legal requirement for delegates to vote for the person who won in the primaries, but they are asked to vote in a way that “in all good conscience reflects the sentiments of those who elected them”.

Were Biden to step aside, he may try to name someone – most likely his vice-president, Kamala Harris – as his preferred candidate, which would carry some weight with delegates but would not be binding.

The most drastic course of action open to Biden – resigning the presidency – would make Harris president. But that would not automatically make her the Democratic nominee for 2024.

If a candidate were to be chosen at the Chicago convention that would make what is conventionally a highly choreographed event, where a party presents its nominee to the public over several days, into a much more volatile open, or contested, convention – a rarity in modern US politics. About 700 party insiders, who may not be united, would have the choice of picking a new candidate. They would then have only three months to unite behind and campaign for them before the November election.

There is no clear frontrunner, but here are some possible options:

Kamala Harris

The most obvious pick would be Biden’s vice-president. She has been widely criticised for not carving out her own role in the Biden administration and has poor polling approval ratings, suggesting she would struggle against Donald Trump in the glare of an election campaign. The 59-year-old was backing Biden after the debate, but may be the easiest for the party to install as a replacement. Moreover, if Biden should choose to resign now, Harris would automatically become president.

Gavin Newsom

The 56-year-old California governor was in the spin room on Thursday night talking down any alternatives to Biden as nominee, saying it was “nonsensical speculation”. He had a primetime debate last year with the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, which could be a presidential match-up of the future, and has made a point of supporting Democrats in elections away from his home state, which looked, at times, like a shadow White House campaign.

J B Pritzker

The 59-year-old governor of Illinois would be one of the wealthiest of possible picks. He can flourish his credentials of having codified the right to abortion in Illinois and declaring it a “sanctuary state” for women seeking abortions. He has also been strong on gun control, and legalised recreational marijuana.

Gretchen Whitmer

The Michigan governor, 52, was on the shortlist for VP pick for Biden in 2020, and a strong showing in the midterms for the Democratic party was in part attributed to her governership. She has been in favour of stricter gun laws, repealing abortion bans and backing universal preschool.

Sherrod Brown

The 71-year-old would be the oldest of the alternate picks, but is still seven years younger than Trump. It was considered a surprise when he did not have a tilt for the Democratic nomination for 2020, at the time saying remaining as Ohio’s senator was “the best place for me to make that fight” on behalf of working people. A strong voice on labour rights and protections, he has also spoken defending IVF and abortion.

Dean Phillips

A candidate during the Democratic primaries earlier this year, he picked some backers but failed to appeal to the broader party, winning no contests, and so is unlikely to be a factor if Biden steps down.

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Hurricane Beryl draws close to Jamaica after leaving ‘Armageddon-like’ trail in Grenada

Residents urged to shelter and those in flood-prone areas to prepare to evacuate after at least seven deaths in region

  • Why Hurricane Beryl foretells a scary storm season

Hurricane Beryl has drawn close to Jamaica after leaving an “Armageddon-like” trail of devastation in Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and killing at least seven people across the region.

Residents in Jamaica reported high winds, heavy rainfall flooding and interruption to communication services as the storm loomed with category 4 strength.

On Wednesday afternoon, the US National Hurricane Center reported that the storms eye wall was brushing Jamaica’s southern coast, with winds of around 140mph (225km/h).

Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management warned of dangerous storm surges potentially raising water levels to as high as 2.75 metres (9ft).

Officials encouraged vulnerable residents to go to shelters and warned those in flood-prone areas to prepare for evacuation.

“I am encouraging all Jamaicans to take the hurricane as a serious threat,” the prime minister, Andrew Holness, said in a public address. “It is, however, not a time to panic.”

At least three people have been reported dead amid floods in Venezuela, three in Grenada, and one in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

A hurricane warning was issued for Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. A hurricane watch was also in effect for Haiti’s southern coast and the Yucatan’s east coast. Belize issued a tropical storm watch stretching south from its border with Mexico to Belize City.

The US National Hurricane Center director, Michael Brennan, said Jamaica appeared to be in the direct path of Beryl.

“We are most concerned about Jamaica, where we are expecting the core of a major hurricane to pass near or over the island,” he said in an online briefing. “You want to be in a safe place where you can ride out the storm by nightfall [on Tuesday]. Be prepared to stay in that location through Wednesday.”

“This is a big hazard in the Caribbean, especially with the mountainous islands,” Brennan said. “This could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in some of these areas.”

The storm has also affected South America: three people died and four were missing amid intense floods in Venezuela, where the vice-president, Delcy Rodríguez, was injured by a fallen tree as she inspected the Manzanares River, which overflowed in Sucre state.

Beryl became the earliest storm to develop into a category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, peaking on Tuesday with winds of 165 mph before weakening to a still-destructive category 4. It strengthened at a record pace, thanks in part to unseasonably warm sea temperatures which scientists ascribe to global heating.

In Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines where the monster hurricane has already demonstrated its destructive power, the focus is now on relief, recovery and rebuilding.

After visiting the island of Carriacou, the prime minister of Grenada, Dickon Mitchell, described “Armageddon-like” scenes of “almost total destruction”, with approximately 98% of building structures damaged or destroyed and an almost complete wipeout of the electrical grid and communications systems.

“Having seen it myself, there is really nothing that could prepare you to see this level of destruction. It is almost Armageddon-like. Almost total damage or destruction of all buildings, whether they be public buildings, homes or private facilities. Complete devastation and destruction of agriculture, complete and total destruction of the natural environment. There is literally no vegetation left anywhere on the island of Carriacou,” he said.

People were also evacuated from Union Island, where about 90% of housing was destroyed, arriving in the St Vincent and the Grenadines capital, Kingstown, by ferry.

One evacuee, Sharon DeRoche, said she and her family had taken shelter in her bathroom during the hurricane. “It was a hard four hours battling with six of us in that little area,” she said.

The last strong hurricane to hit the south-east Caribbean was Hurricane Ivan 20 years ago, which killed dozens of people in Grenada.

Roy O’Neale, a 77-year-old Grenadian resident who was forced to rebuild his home after Ivan, said: “I felt the wind whistling, and then for about two hours straight, it was really, really terrifying at times. Branches of trees were flying all over the place.”

Hundreds of people hunkered in shelters across the south-east Caribbean, including 50 adults and 20 children who huddled inside a school in Grenada.

“Maybe some of them thought they could have survived in their homes, but when they realised the severity of it … they came for cover,” said Urban Mason, a retired teacher who served as the shelter’s manager. “People tend to be complacent.”

Scientists say the human-caused climate crisis has increased the intensity, frequency and destructive powers of tropical storms, because hotter oceans provide more energy.

One of the homes that Beryl damaged belongs to the parents of the UN climate change executive secretary, Simon Stiell, who is from Carriacou. The storm also destroyed the home of his late grandmother.

In a statement, Stiell said the climate crisis was worsening faster than expected.

“Whether in my homeland of Carriacou … hammered by Hurricane Beryl, or in the heatwaves and floods crippling communities in some of the world’s largest economies, it’s clear that the climate crisis is pushing disasters to record-breaking new levels of destruction,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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Britain will not rejoin EU in my lifetime, says Starmer

Labour leader also says he cannot foresee circumstances where UK would re-enter single market or customs union

Keir Starmer has insisted the UK will not rejoin either the EU, the single market or the customs union within his lifetime, in his firmest pledge yet that Labour will not seek much closer relations with Europe for as long as he is prime minister.

The Labour leader told reporters on Wednesday he did not think Britain would go back into any of the three blocs while he was alive, all but ruling out rejoining even if he wins a second term in office.

In recent days, the Labour leader has begun talking more freely about what his party would do in power, as polls continue to suggest it is heading for a landslide victory. He also said on Wednesday, for example, that he would seek to extend the parliamentary timetable immediately after the election to allow more time to legislate before the summer.

With less than 24 hours to go until polls open, Starmer has largely avoided talking about relations with the EU during the campaign, as Labour seeks to avoid the mistakes it made in 2019 when it alienated leave voters by promising a second referendum.

Some have suggested this reluctance to talk about the issue masked a desire to pursue re-entry to the customs union or single market during a second Labour term, something other senior figures in the party have failed to rule out. Starmer insisted on Wednesday, however, this was not the case.

Asked whether he could see any circumstances where the UK rejoined the single market or customs union within his lifetime, Starmer said: “No. I don’t think that that is going to happen. I’ve been really clear about not rejoining the EU, the single market or the customs union – or [allowing a] return to freedom of movement.”

He repeated, however, his view that Labour could achieve better trading arrangements with the EU in certain industries. “I do think we could get a better deal than the botched deal we got under Boris Johnson on the trading front, in research and development and on security,” he said.

Starmer spent his final day on the campaign trail travelling around the UK, starting with a stop in south Wales attended by dozens of Labour activists and candidates.

On the subject of a legislative programme, he said: “How much legislation we will be through by the end of July I think is questionable, because the timetable is very tight, although it seems obvious to me that we’ll have to extend the timetable. We will be working very hard.”

Starmer’s first days in office are likely to be spent battling various crises, including one in Britain’s full-up prisons, which the Institute for Government suggested on Wednesday could be alleviated by cutting average sentences.

Starmer indicated he was open to such an idea, saying: “In terms of the specific things that we will do, we’ll have to wait and see what that is, but I can’t stand here and pretend to you or everybody else that we can build a prison in 24 hours after the election result is called.

“We have to get on with the hard yards of sorting this mess out, but it is one massive mess.”

As well as the immediate crises with which he will be grappling, Starmer has also begun to talk about the long-term challenges facing a Labour government, including taking on the threat of rightwing populism.

He told reporters he saw it as part of his job as a progressive leader to combat the appeal of parties such as Reform UK, and even suggested he would be willing to work across party lines to do so. Such a scenario is playing out in France, where candidates from centre-left and centre-right parties are dropping out of the legislative election to make sure they do not stand in the way of others defeating the hard-right National Rally.

Starmer said: “The very many challenges here in Europe and across the world will have to be met, in my view, by progressive answers. And it falls to us to make that argument – and to work with others to make that argument.”

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Farage says he is part of ‘similar phenomenon’ to Andrew Tate among young men

Reform UK leader claims rise of misogynist influencer has been due to a society that creates feelings of ‘emasculation’

Nigel Farage has said he is part of a “similar phenomenon” to the misogynist influencer Andrew Tate, as he claimed that there were forces in society trying to “stop young men from being young men”.

The Reform UK leader used the last day of campaigning before the general election to appear alongside Derek Chisora, the controversial boxer and Reform UK supporter, in a boxing gym in Clacton, where Farage is making his eighth bid to be elected as an MP.

Farage used the visit to speak about what he described as the feelings of “emasculation” among young men, saying: “Look at the football. You know, they’re told: Go to Germany. Please don’t drink more than two pints of beer. You what? Don’t chant at the football matches. You what? Oh, and don’t tell jokes that might offend the Germans. I mean, come on. We are trying to stop young men being young men.

“That’s why Tate got the following he got. So maybe I’m part of a similar phenomenon,” he said. Since December 2022, Tate has been facing charges in Romania of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women, which he denies.

Farage led a rally in the centre of Clacton in chants of “we want our country back” as he once again sought to make immigration the centrepiece of his campaign after arriving at the rally on a military-style vehicle to the sound of Eminem’s Without Me.

“How are you getting on for dentists in Clacton?” he asked. “Well, then you should have come by dinghy.”

The Reform UK leader’s comments come against the backdrop of concerns about the rise of role models and influencers associated with a model of toxic masculinity.

A poll of 200 people by JLP found earlier this week that Reform UK was the top choice of political party among 23% of those aged 16 to 17. However, among young men it was on level pegging with Labour, on 35%.

Farage’s appearance came a day after a second Reform candidate defected to the Conservatives. Georgie David, who had been Reform’s candidate for West Ham and Beckton, said the vast majority of people standing for the hard-right party were “racist, misogynistic and bigoted”.

Liam Booth-Isherwood, who had been the candidate for the Erewash constituency in Derbyshire, also cited “reports of widespread racism and sexism in Reform” as his reason for defecting to the Tories last week.

Farage defended his appearance alongside Chisora, who was given a 12-week suspended prison sentence in 2010 after being found guilty of assaulting his then girlfriend.

Asked if Chisora was a good role model, he replied: “You show me someone who has lived a perfect life and never been in trouble. For these young kids he’s a fantastic role model. He’s got a huge following in the country. And yeah, he is a good role model. Imperfect as we all are.”

After taking part in some mock sparring with Farage for the cameras, Chisora reluctantly answered questions about his own past, but insisted he was “born again”.

Young men who spoke to the Guardian at the gym – which was run by a supporter of Farage and had Reform UK banners hung up on the walls – cited the Reform UK leader’s social media presence as one of the reasons why he had a prominent following.

“Everything is not the same in the country and you feel there has been a massive decline, so maybe he’s the change we need,” said one who cited Farage’s position on immigration and the supposed idea of a “woke” culture.

“I think the world is way too woke and it’s past the point of repair. You have to be careful about anything you say. Even supporting him can cause you to be labelled a racist.”

But in a sign that other policies had cut through, another approvingly cited – in some detail – Reform UK’s proposals to lift the income tax personal allowance to £20,000.

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Rishi Sunak fearful of losing his seat, sources say

PM would become first sitting British leader to be voted out of his constituency if his fears are realised

  • How boundary changes may affect key constituencies

Rishi Sunak has confided to members of his inner circle that he is fearful of losing his Yorkshire constituency at the general election, the Guardian has been told.

The prime minister, who would be the first sitting leader of the country to lose his seat, told confidants before a Conservative rally on Tuesday that he thought the vote in Richmond and Northallerton was too close to call.

In 2019, he won the seat with a majority of more than 27,000 and 63% of the vote.

One source said: “He is genuinely fearful of a defeat in Richmond: the risk that it could be tight has hit him hard. He’s rattled – he can’t quite believe it’s coming so close.” Another source added: “He’s taken so much friendly fire from his own side I’m amazed he’s had the strength to keep going.”

A Conservative source flatly denied Sunak feared losing in his constituency, saying: “The PM is confident he will hold his seat.”

Mel Stride, a close ally of the prime minister, said on Wednesday that Labour was likely to win “the largest majority any party has ever achieved”.

Sunak is weighing a return to the financial services industry, whether or not he stays on as an MP, the Guardian understands. A former colleague has offered him office space in Mayfair in London – a hotspot for hedge funds. He has also discussed spending a greater share of his time in California, where he has a home, although he had no immediate plans to relocate there full time, sources said.

A Conservative source said Sunak had “no interest” in going back into financial services and planned to stay in Yorkshire “come what may”.

No incumbent prime minister has ever lost their seat, and only 12 serving cabinet ministers have lost their seats since 1974, according to the Institute for Government.

Polls have varied, with most suggesting Sunak should retain his seat even amid a landslide victory for Labour across the country. Savanta and Electoral Calculus analysis for the Telegraph suggested he could lose it, however.

Conservative activists working in Sunak’s constituency had been particularly alarmed by a drop-off in support among the farming community, some of whom had cited challenges arising from Brexit to their businesses and a failure to control illegal immigration, sources said.

Sunak was a supporter of Britain’s exit from the EU, and his government has struggled in its efforts to discourage small-boat crossings in the Channel.

Activists fear that low turnout for the Tories, rather than just a swing to Labour or a groundswell for Reform, may prove to be the greatest risk for the prime minister.

Last month, the Guardian reported four sources’ claims that activists in Yorkshire had been diverted to campaign in Sunak’s seat. At that time, Conservative sources denied they had redeployed resources to try to bolster support in the prime minister’s constituency.

Broader efforts to support cabinet members’ campaigns are also under way, with activists diverted to the home secretary James Cleverly’s seat of Braintree, the deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden’s Hertsmere constituency, and the environment secretary Steve Barclay’s seat in North East Cambridgeshire. All were won, like Sunak’s, with majorities of more than 20,000 at the last general election.

Sunak has denied suggestions he would move to California after an election defeat. In June, speaking on the fringes of the G7 Summit in Italy, he said he would stay on as an MP for the full five years of a new parliament, even if the Tories lost the election.

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About 90% of people in Gaza displaced since war began, says UN agency

Many have moved more than once, with estimated 1.9m Palestinians relocating since Israel’s invasion, says OCHA

About 90% of the population of the Gaza Strip have been displaced at least once since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.

Andrea De Domenico, head of the UN’s OCHA agency in the Palestinian territories, said on Wednesday that about 1.9 million people are thought to be displaced in Gaza.

“We estimate that nine in every 10 people in the Gaza Strip have been internally displaced at least once, if not up to 10 times, unfortunately, since October,” he told reporters.

“Before we were estimating 1.7 (million) but since that number, we had the operation in Rafah, and we had additional displacement from Rafah,” he said, explaining the increase.

“Then we had also operations in the north that [have] also moved people,” he added.

He said such military operations had forced people to reset their lives, over and over again.

“Behind these numbers, there are people … that have fears and grievances. And they had probably dreams and hopes; the less and less, I fear today, unfortunately,” De Domenico said.

“People who in the last nine months have been moved around like pawns in a board game.”

He said the Gaza Strip had been cut in two by Israel’s military operations, with OCHA estimating that there were 300,000-350,000 people living in the north of the besieged territory who were unable to go to the south.

Meanwhile, he added that since the war began, an estimated 110,000 people had managed to leave the Gaza Strip before the Rafah crossing into Egypt was closed in early May.

De Domenico said some had remained in Egypt while others had since moved onwards.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then has killed at least 37,953 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

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About 90% of people in Gaza displaced since war began, says UN agency

Many have moved more than once, with estimated 1.9m Palestinians relocating since Israel’s invasion, says OCHA

About 90% of the population of the Gaza Strip have been displaced at least once since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.

Andrea De Domenico, head of the UN’s OCHA agency in the Palestinian territories, said on Wednesday that about 1.9 million people are thought to be displaced in Gaza.

“We estimate that nine in every 10 people in the Gaza Strip have been internally displaced at least once, if not up to 10 times, unfortunately, since October,” he told reporters.

“Before we were estimating 1.7 (million) but since that number, we had the operation in Rafah, and we had additional displacement from Rafah,” he said, explaining the increase.

“Then we had also operations in the north that [have] also moved people,” he added.

He said such military operations had forced people to reset their lives, over and over again.

“Behind these numbers, there are people … that have fears and grievances. And they had probably dreams and hopes; the less and less, I fear today, unfortunately,” De Domenico said.

“People who in the last nine months have been moved around like pawns in a board game.”

He said the Gaza Strip had been cut in two by Israel’s military operations, with OCHA estimating that there were 300,000-350,000 people living in the north of the besieged territory who were unable to go to the south.

Meanwhile, he added that since the war began, an estimated 110,000 people had managed to leave the Gaza Strip before the Rafah crossing into Egypt was closed in early May.

De Domenico said some had remained in Egypt while others had since moved onwards.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then has killed at least 37,953 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

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Gretchen Whitmer wants to meet far-right plotters who tried to kill her, book reveals

Exclusive: Michigan governor and potential Biden replacement writes in memoir True Gretch of desire for ‘face-to-face’ talks

Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan widely spoken of as a possible Democratic candidate for president should Joe Biden cede to growing pressure and leave the race, wants to meet members of a far-right militia who plotted to kidnap and kill her.

“I asked whether I could meet with one of the handful of plotters who’d pleaded guilty and taken responsibility for their actions, just to talk,” Whitmer writes in a new book, of the plot motivated by resistance to Covid public health measures and revealed with 13 arrests in late 2020.

The attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel, said it might be possible to talk to the plotters, Whitmer writes, though it has not happened, due to “all the various trials and appeals.

“But I do look forward to being able to sit and talk, face-to-face. To ask the questions and really hear the answers. And hopefully to take some small step toward understanding.”

As described by Nessel’s office, the affair of the “Wolverine Watchmen” resulted in “20 state felonies against eight individuals alleged to have engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol and kidnap government officials.” Five men were convicted.

Federal charges were filed against six more men, four of whom were convicted. Two pled guilty to conspiracy charges and co-operated with prosecutors.

Whitmer describes the plot, and how she coped with it and other threats from the armed pro-Trump far right, in True Gretch: What I’ve Learned About Life, Leadership, and Everything in Between. The book will be published in the US next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

Given Whitmer’s presence in the ranks of proposed replacements for Biden after the president’s disastrous debate against Donald Trump escalated Democratic panic last week, the governor’s book will be eagerly read.

Whitmer has said she does not want to replace Biden but that has not stopped speculation. On Wednesday, she was due to be among Democratic governors meeting Biden at the White House.

Though True Gretch is a standard campaign-oriented biography – perhaps intended as a marker for a run in 2028 – Whitmer does not shy from describing the violent plot against her.

Describing plotters’ threats such as “Grab the fuckin’ governor, just grab the bitch” and “Just cap her”, she considers the toll taken on her husband and daughters as well as on herself.

She describes how her husband was forced by threats to close his dental practice; how her two daughters have refused to go back to a family cottage the plotters were revealed to have “scoped out”; and her own disappointment when two men were acquitted.

Despite it all, showing willingness to bridge the sort of jagged partisan divide that affects the battleground state of Michigan, and the US as a whole, Whitmer insists she wants to talk to those who wanted to kill her.

Elsewhere in the book, the governor does shy away from one thing: open discussion of any ambitions for national office.

In fairness, True Gretch was written before Biden’s hold on the presidency began to be seriously questioned by Democratic politicians, pundits and strategists, concerned that at 81 the former senator and vice-president is proving himself too old to beat Trump and serve a second term.

Whitmer’s readers, however, may spot allusions to higher ambitions now thrown into sharp relief.

Chapter four, describing Whitmer’s first steps as governor of Michigan and the challenge of dealing with extreme cold weather, is titled “Surround Yourself with Great People – and Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help”.

In Chapter 10, Whitmer describes how she prepares for campaign debates, the sort of challenge Biden failed so starkly.

Whitmer’s chapter title is “Be a Happy Warrior” – a label defined by dictionary.com as “a person … undiscouraged by difficulties or opposition” and in US politics perennially linked to Alfred E Smith, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and others who ran for president with a determinedly optimistic message.

In her epilogue, Whitmer moves from Reagan to another Republican: Theodore Roosevelt. In “every campaign, and during every term I serve”, she writes, she shares the 26th president’s “Man in the Arena” speech.

In that speech, given in Paris in April 1910, Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Whitmer’s use of the quote may strike a chord with Democrats panicked by Biden and now looking the governor’s way. So might what Whitmer writes next.

“Though these words were written more than a hundred years ago, they’re just as true today – except for two things. The “man” may be a woman. And she may just be wearing fuchsia.”

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French PM says efforts to prevent far-right majority can succeed

Gabriel Attal urges on campaign to peg back rise of National Rally as candidates pull out to avoid splitting vote

France’s prime minister has said nationwide efforts to prevent Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) winning an outright majority in parliament could succeed, after more than 200 candidates pulled out of Sunday’s legislative election runoff to avoid splitting the anti-far-right vote.

“We can avoid an absolute majority for the far right,” Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday, adding that 90% of candidates from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist camp had quit three-way races if they were in third with an RN candidate ahead of them.

RN and its potential future prime minister, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, finished a comfortable first in last Sunday’s first-round election with 33% of the vote, followed by the New Popular Front (NFP) alliance on 28% and the president’s Together alliance on 20%.

A historically high turnout dramatically boosted the number of second-round contests featuring three candidates to more than 300, increasing the anti-immigrant party’s chances of securing the 289 seats it would need for an absolute majority.

Although accurate seat projections are difficult before the shape of each constituency contest is known, pollsters’ initial estimates suggested RN could return as many as 300 deputies.

The high number of runoff withdrawals makes that less likely, and one poll released on Wednesday predicted the RN would fall short of a majority on Sunday, with between 190 and 220 seats. The Harris Interactive poll had the NPF in second place, with 159-183, and Macron’s centrist camp in third with 110-135.

Attal said centrist candidates were right to stand down even in favour of a rival from the radical-left France Unbowed (LFI), part of the NFP leftwing alliance. “Neither LFI or NFP can win an absolute majority,” he said. “RN can.”

He added: “What’s at stake is to do everything so that the extreme right does not have an absolute majority. It is not nice for some French to have to block … by voting in a way they did not want to. I say it’s our responsibility to do this.”

According to Le Monde, 221 candidates, including 132 from NFP and 83 from Macron’s camp and its allies, had withdrawn from potential three-way runoffs by the Tuesday evening deadline, leaving 94 so-called “triangular” contests.

The “republican front”, aimed at shutting the far right out of power, has long been a feature of French politics but had shown signs of fraying in recent elections as voters tired of having to vote against candidates they disliked rather than for those they backed.

While the parties have largely swung behind it, this time there is no guarantee centrist voters will be prepared to vote for candidates from the far-left LFI, or that leftwing voters angry with Macron will be happy to cast their ballots for candidates from his camp.

Asked about calls for the creation of a provisional cross-party government in the event of a hung parliament, Attal repeated his proposal for a range of mainstream parties to cooperate on individual pieces of legislation. “I hope the Together camp is as big as possible. After that, we will seek to secure majorities on a project-by-project basis,” he said.

The former prime minister Édouard Philippe called on Wednesday for a more formal broad-based coalition. He said such an alliance could run from “the conservative right to social democrats”, but would exclude the far left, saying there could be “no discussion about a coalition with LFI”. Many centrists argue the radical-left party, which believes traditional parties no longer serve democracy, does not share “republican values”.

Le Pen said on Tuesday that she could try to form a rightwing coalition with MPs from other parties if RN fell short of an absolute majority. Bardella had previously said he would only form a government with a sufficiently strong mandate.

She said her party would seek to form a government with “for example, 270 MPs”, which would require it to find support from a further 19 to govern. “If we then have a majority, then yes, of course, we’ll go and do what the voters elected us to do,” she said.

With RN already supporting dozens of dissident candidates from the divided centre-right Les Républicains party, however, most analysts believe the far-right party will have difficulty recruiting more than a handful more supporters in parliament.

The government spokesperson, Priscille Thevenot, on Wednesday dismissed claims by Le Pen of an “administrative coup d’état” by Macron after the president made a number of senior public sector appointments between the two rounds of voting.

“We knew that Marine Le Pen lies, now we know she also manipulates information,” Thevenot said after a cabinet meeting. She said a similar number of nominations were made every week and these had been “completely routine” and “nothing specific”.

The UN human rights chief on Wednesday warned of a hardening of rhetoric in recent months, including hate speech and dehumanising language against immigrants and other minorities, linked to elections in Europe and elsewhere.

“This is an alarm bell,” Volker Turk said. Turk refused to comment on specific elections but said: “Narratives that denigrate the other, that dehumanise, that make scapegoats of migrants or refugees or asylum seekers or minority groups” are on the rise.

Several RN candidates have been deselected or are the target of judicial investigations after media revelations of allegedly racist or discriminatory remarks and social media posts. Bardella said on Wednesday it “could happen” that there were “black sheep” among the party’s candidates but added that he was dealing with them firmly.

Analysts say the most likely outcome of the second-round vote is a hung parliament that could lead to months of political paralysis. The chaos also risks damaging the international credibility of Macron, who has not spoken in public since last week.

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Video appears to show gang-rape of Afghan woman in a Taliban jail

Exclusive: Activist claims she was threatened with release of the footage in order to silence her, amid multiple reports of sexual violence inflicted upon imprisoned Afghan women

The Guardian has seen video evidence of a female Afghan human rights activist being gang-raped and tortured in a Taliban jail by armed men.

There have been mounting reports that sexual violence is being inflicted on women and girls being held in detention in Afghanistan, but this video is believed to be the first direct evidence of these crimes occurring.

According to the activist, the mobile phone footage was later sent to her as a threat that it would be shared more widely if she continued to speak out against the Taliban regime.

In the video recording viewed by the Guardian and Rukhshana Media, the young woman is filmed being told to take off her clothes and is then raped multiple times by two men.

The woman in the video – recorded on a phone by one of the armed men – tries to cover her face with her hands. One of the men pushes her hard when she hesitates as he gives her orders.

At one point she is told, “You’ve been fucked by Americans all these years and now it’s our turn.”

The woman has said that she was arrested for taking part in a public protest against the Taliban and was raped while being held in detention in a Taliban prison. She has since fled Afghanistan. She said that after she spoke out against the Taliban in exile, she was sent the video and told that if she continued to criticise the regime the video would be sent to her family and released on social media.

“If you continue saying anything bad against the Islamic Emirate, we will publish your video,” she said she was told.

She believes that the attack was deliberately recorded to be used to silence and shame her. The person filming the assault captures her standing naked with her face visible and she is identifiable during the attacks.

Last week the Guardian published accounts of teenage girls and young women who said that they were sexually assaulted and beaten after being detained under Afghanistan’s draconian hijab laws.

In one case, a woman’s body was allegedly found in a canal a few weeks after she had been taken into custody by Taliban militants, with a source close to her family saying she had been sexually abused before her death.

The UN’s special rapporteur on Afghanistan has recently reported that women were thought to be facing sexual violence in detention.

Since they took power in August 2021, the Taliban have imposed what human rights groups are calling a “gender apartheid” on Afghanistan’s 14 million women and girls, excluding them from almost every aspect of public life. Women and girls are blocked from attending secondary school, banned from almost every form of paid employment, prevented them from walking in public parks, attending gyms or beauty salons and told to comply with a strict dress code.

The Taliban have also announced the reintroduction of the public flogging and stoning of women for adultery.

The Guardian and Rukhshana Media spoke with multiple other female protestors and activists who have also come forward to allege that they have been tortured and beaten after being arrested for calling for women’s rights.

Zarifa Yaqubi, 30, said she was imprisoned for 41 days in November 2022, after attempting to organise a movement for Afghan women.

“They gave electric shocks and hit parts of my body with cables so that I would not be able to show in front of the camera tomorrow,” she said, adding that she had been tortured into admitting to taking money from foreigners to protest against the Taliban.

Parwana Nejarabi, 23, said she was beaten and given electric shocks after being detained by Taliban forces when protesting for women’s rights in early 2022. She said she spent a month in solitary confinement and was shown a letter with an order for her to be stoned to death. “I could hear them saying, ‘She should be killed,’” she said. She was released after a forced confession and fled Afghanistan to live in exile.

Despite the huge risks to their safety, women inside Afghanistan are still staging public protests and criticising the Taliban regime, with Rukhshana Media recording at least 221 acts of protest by women and girls over the past two years.

A spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabhullah Mujahid, denied the allegations of the widespread sexual assaults on women in prison.

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch said the Taliban continue to act with “complete impunity for abuses, particularly behind the prison walls.”

“The Taliban are aware of how much stigma is involved around the issue of sexual violence in Afghanistan and how incredibly difficult – and usually impossible – it is for victims of sexual violence to come forward and tell their stories, even sometimes to their own families, because there is a risk of shame and potentially ‘honour’ violence,” said Barr.

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said: “I am alarmed by reports of torture and ill-treatment in Afghanistan, including allegations of sexual violence in detention, especially of women. We are continuing to look into these reports and to establish the facts.”

Earlier this week, Taliban officials took part in a special meeting on Afghanistan hosted by the UN in Doha to discuss the country’s future. No Afghan women were present at the meeting and women’s rights were not included on the agenda.

Published in partnership with Rukhshana Media

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Video appears to show gang-rape of Afghan woman in a Taliban jail

Exclusive: Activist claims she was threatened with release of the footage in order to silence her, amid multiple reports of sexual violence inflicted upon imprisoned Afghan women

The Guardian has seen video evidence of a female Afghan human rights activist being gang-raped and tortured in a Taliban jail by armed men.

There have been mounting reports that sexual violence is being inflicted on women and girls being held in detention in Afghanistan, but this video is believed to be the first direct evidence of these crimes occurring.

According to the activist, the mobile phone footage was later sent to her as a threat that it would be shared more widely if she continued to speak out against the Taliban regime.

In the video recording viewed by the Guardian and Rukhshana Media, the young woman is filmed being told to take off her clothes and is then raped multiple times by two men.

The woman in the video – recorded on a phone by one of the armed men – tries to cover her face with her hands. One of the men pushes her hard when she hesitates as he gives her orders.

At one point she is told, “You’ve been fucked by Americans all these years and now it’s our turn.”

The woman has said that she was arrested for taking part in a public protest against the Taliban and was raped while being held in detention in a Taliban prison. She has since fled Afghanistan. She said that after she spoke out against the Taliban in exile, she was sent the video and told that if she continued to criticise the regime the video would be sent to her family and released on social media.

“If you continue saying anything bad against the Islamic Emirate, we will publish your video,” she said she was told.

She believes that the attack was deliberately recorded to be used to silence and shame her. The person filming the assault captures her standing naked with her face visible and she is identifiable during the attacks.

Last week the Guardian published accounts of teenage girls and young women who said that they were sexually assaulted and beaten after being detained under Afghanistan’s draconian hijab laws.

In one case, a woman’s body was allegedly found in a canal a few weeks after she had been taken into custody by Taliban militants, with a source close to her family saying she had been sexually abused before her death.

The UN’s special rapporteur on Afghanistan has recently reported that women were thought to be facing sexual violence in detention.

Since they took power in August 2021, the Taliban have imposed what human rights groups are calling a “gender apartheid” on Afghanistan’s 14 million women and girls, excluding them from almost every aspect of public life. Women and girls are blocked from attending secondary school, banned from almost every form of paid employment, prevented them from walking in public parks, attending gyms or beauty salons and told to comply with a strict dress code.

The Taliban have also announced the reintroduction of the public flogging and stoning of women for adultery.

The Guardian and Rukhshana Media spoke with multiple other female protestors and activists who have also come forward to allege that they have been tortured and beaten after being arrested for calling for women’s rights.

Zarifa Yaqubi, 30, said she was imprisoned for 41 days in November 2022, after attempting to organise a movement for Afghan women.

“They gave electric shocks and hit parts of my body with cables so that I would not be able to show in front of the camera tomorrow,” she said, adding that she had been tortured into admitting to taking money from foreigners to protest against the Taliban.

Parwana Nejarabi, 23, said she was beaten and given electric shocks after being detained by Taliban forces when protesting for women’s rights in early 2022. She said she spent a month in solitary confinement and was shown a letter with an order for her to be stoned to death. “I could hear them saying, ‘She should be killed,’” she said. She was released after a forced confession and fled Afghanistan to live in exile.

Despite the huge risks to their safety, women inside Afghanistan are still staging public protests and criticising the Taliban regime, with Rukhshana Media recording at least 221 acts of protest by women and girls over the past two years.

A spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabhullah Mujahid, denied the allegations of the widespread sexual assaults on women in prison.

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch said the Taliban continue to act with “complete impunity for abuses, particularly behind the prison walls.”

“The Taliban are aware of how much stigma is involved around the issue of sexual violence in Afghanistan and how incredibly difficult – and usually impossible – it is for victims of sexual violence to come forward and tell their stories, even sometimes to their own families, because there is a risk of shame and potentially ‘honour’ violence,” said Barr.

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said: “I am alarmed by reports of torture and ill-treatment in Afghanistan, including allegations of sexual violence in detention, especially of women. We are continuing to look into these reports and to establish the facts.”

Earlier this week, Taliban officials took part in a special meeting on Afghanistan hosted by the UN in Doha to discuss the country’s future. No Afghan women were present at the meeting and women’s rights were not included on the agenda.

Published in partnership with Rukhshana Media

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Germany’s first African-born MP to stand down after racist abuse

Karamba Diaby’s announcement he wants to spend time with family comes after bullet and arson attacks on his office

The first African-born MP to enter the German parliament has announced he will not be standing in next year’s federal election, weeks after he revealed the hate mail, including racist slurs and death threats, he and his staff had received.

Karamba Diaby, 62, who entered the Bundestag in 2013 in a moment hailed as historic by equality campaigners, said he wanted to spend more time with his family and to make room for younger politicians.

But his announcement comes just weeks after he laid out a litany of hate messages he and his parliamentary staff had received.

Diaby said the racist slurs and death threats were “not the main reasons” for his decision, having frequently emphasised he would not be cowed by threats. But they are widely believed they have played a part.

In interviews, Diaby has emphasised an increasingly hostile mood in parliament and society, blaming the 2017 entry of the far-right populist AfD to the Bundestag.

“Since 2017, the tone in the German parliament has become harsher,” he told the Berlin Playbook podcast of the news magazine Politico. “We hear aggressive speeches from colleagues of the AfD.

“We hear derogatory and hurtful content in these contributions. That is truly a totally new situation compared to the period between 2013 and 2017. This aggressive style of talking is fertile breeding ground for the violence and aggression on the streets.”

Diaby, of the Social Democrats (SPD), entered parliament alongside Charles M Huber, who sat for the Christian Democrats for just one parliamentary term. They were the first black members of the Bundestag and their entry was hailed as groundbreaking and historic by equal rights campaigners.

Diaby, who has a PhD in chemistry, was born in Senegal and moved to the then East Germany in 1985.

He has increasingly faced racist abuse in recent years. His constituency office in Halle, Saxony Anhalt, has been an arson target, and has had bullets fired through the window. Some staff have faced blackmail attempts to stop them working for him and have been subjected to and threats, Diaby said.

“In the last few years I’ve faced several murder threats. This has now overstepped the mark,” he said. “The hatred that the AfD sows every day with its misanthropic narratives is reflected in concrete psychological and physical violence. This endangers the cohesion of our society. We cannot simply accept this.”

Writing to party colleagues on Tuesday, Diaby promised to remain active in the SPD, especially in the 15 months leading to the election, saying: “We face big challenges and hard work.”

He added: “At the same time, I’m looking forward to having more time for my family and friends and our allotment.”

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Nearly 30,000 people in northern California evacuated as raging wildfire spreads

Thompson fire near Oroville destroys homes and vehicles as state simmers in brutal and potentially historic heatwave

Thousands of homes are under threat from a raging wildfire that erupted in northern California on Tuesday, as the state simmers in a brutal and potentially historic heatwave.

Roughly 28,000 residents have been forced to evacuate as the Thompson fire quickly swept across more than 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) near the city of Oroville, about an hour outside Sacramento, California’s capital.

Photojournalists captured intense scenes on Tuesday night as the blaze tore through homes and vehicles in the rural enclave in Butte county. Officials confirmed that at least four structures have been destroyed.

More than 1,400 fire personnel from across the state have deployed to battle the blaze, which was at 0% containment Wednesday morning. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries, officials said, as dangerously high temperatures continue to threaten their health and safety.

The California governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to ensure resources are readily available to support response and recovery to the fire.

Newsom said on Tuesday that California had secured a fire management assistance grant (FMAG) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to cover some of the costs associated with firefighting. Earlier in the week, Newsom had activated the state 0perations center to coordinate the response to wildfires and excessive heat across the state.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The blaze comes as California was on high alert for wildfires, with high temperatures and gusty winds exacerbating fire risks that rise on the Fourth of July, when hot dry weather aligns with explosive celebrations. Across the country, more than 18,500 fires ignite on average due to Independence Day celebrations, whether from errant fireworks or badly tended campfires.

Fire crews are battling more than a dozen blazes that have erupted since Monday, as the state braces for intensifying conditions. Fire activity and fire behavior this week are likely to be extreme, and new ignitions may become difficult to contain.

“It’s going to be a challenge both day and night – so the message is prevention,” said the Cal Fire deputy director Nick Schuler. The agency is at peak staffing levels to prepare for what is expected to be an extremely busy week, extending into an extremely busy summer.

As the temperatures rise, so do the dangers.

Starting on Wednesday, parts of the state will be subject to “extreme” levels of heat risk – the highest level on the National Weather Service’s index. The extreme conditions could last until Sunday or longer, authorities warned. In some areas, life-threatening triple-digit temperatures could linger for longer than a week.

Temperatures in the state capital, Sacramento, were forecasted to reach between 105F and 115F (40.5C and 46.1C) – conditions that could last until Sunday.

“This is going to be a severe, prolonged, potentially record-breaking heatwave that may have large impacts for much of California,” said climate scientist Dr Daniel Swain during a broadcast discussion of the heat event on Monday. The long duration will only add to the potential impacts and intensity, especially because little relief can be expected even after the sun sets. “It just isn’t going to cool off – even at night,” Swain said.

The heat was expected to linger through the holiday weekend, and hit inland areas like Sacramento, the San Joaquin valley and the southern deserts the worst.

The torrid conditions were being caused by a ridge of high pressure just off the west coast and a separate ridge that spawned heat warnings and advisories from Kansas and Missouri to the Gulf coast states, according to the National Weather Service. By Wednesday morning, more than 129 million people across the country were under heat alerts.

Extreme heat is the most deadly type of weather-related disaster, experts say. The dangerous weather conditions this week will pose health risks to large swaths of the population, forecasters cautioned, in particular to people unable to access cooling.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

More on extreme heat and wildfires in the US

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Mark Cavendish powers to record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win

  • Cavendish victorious on stage five of this year’s race
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Mark Cavendish broke new ground in the Tour de France, becoming the most prolific stage winner in the history of the French race, as he took a record-breaking 35th victory with a typically instinctive sprint finish in Saint-Vulbas.

It may not have been as grand as the Champs Élysées, but when the moment came on the Avenue des Bergeries, in a suburban town better known for its boulodromes than for its sprint spectacles, the 39-year-old from the Isle of Man kept his date with destiny.

“You have to go all in,” he said, “and we’ve done it. We worked out exactly what we wanted to do, how we built the team, the equipment. Every detail has gone ­specifically into today.”

The Cavendish who threaded his way expertly through a chaotic melee to eclipse Eddy Merckx’s longstanding record of 34 stage wins was a million miles from the rider who had sweated and vomited his way through the Tour’s first stage, five days earlier.

“You know when things are going right, you know when the team’s dialled in,” he said. “It’s more to do with the belief and confidence you have and I think you saw in the final half of the stage today, my boys were committed.”

Cavendish comebacks have become legendary but this was perhaps the greatest triumph over adversity of all, given how hard he had to battle to get through Saturday’s stage from Florence to Rimini. “It normally takes me days to get into it,” Cavendish said. “I’ve done 15 Tours now. I don’t like having bad days, I don’t like to suffer, but I know it’s just in the head and if you get through it, you can have an opportunity.

“Things have to go your way. It’s the Tour de France. You’re never going to feel fresh in this bike race. I think that’s the same for anyone.”

Even on the first sprint stage, into Turin on Monday, he was stymied by a crash in the last three kilometres. This time, however, the stars aligned once more for Cavendish, with both the peloton and the weather in south-eastern France playing ball.

He is one of the most hardened professionals in World Tour cycling, but he is also one of the most sentimental: a fearless sprinter who places huge value on loyalty, team spirit and togetherness. Cavendish has often insisted that he has not been obsessive about breaking Merckx’s record, but the joy evident on his face, and those of his colleagues in the peloton, revealed the truth.

“I just want to be with everyone,” he said after his win, referring to the many teammates, friends and helpers who have supported him through his 15 Tour appearances.

For win 35, he and his Astana Qazaqstan team were in the zone for much of the final 40km, shepherding him expertly into the closing moments. With 24km to go and the surfaces drying out after an earlier downpour, he and his teammates stubbornly hugged the right-hand side of the road and maintained the steady pace that had characterised much of an uneventful stage.

But with 5km to go, things got messy as the Lotto Dstny team took over the pace making. Suddenly, Cavendish faced a fight on his hands to regain a good position. Despite the expectations and the pressure building to succeed, he kept his cool and navigated his way to the front, before unleashing his sprint with perfect timing.

As he has shown in the past, he sprints as successfully using guile, nous and experience, as he does relying on his team. Fittingly, for his record-breaking win, this was a ­classic example of those instincts.

In the end it looked almost easy. The rival who frustrated him last year in Bordeaux, Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Deceuninck, experienced what so many others before him had in the Tour, as the Manx Missile, head down, crouched over his handlebars and left him behind.

“You know what you have to do,” Cavendish said. “I know the final, I go through it in my head. I stay calm, I trust in my boys and I know I’m in with the best shot.”

From a tearful teenager making his world championships debut in 2005 and winning a gold medal, to a similarly tearful father of five, Cavendish has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Most in the race convoy are familiar with his many moods, whether it’s been happy Cav, sentimental Cav, tetchy Cav or fired-up Cav. For his sprint rivals, calm Cav may be the most daunting of all.

As he celebrated his 35th Tour success in 16 seasons and repaid the faith shown in him by the team manager, Alexandre Vinokourov, the prospect of yet more wins came into view. Dijon’s Cours General de Gaulle, scene of the finish of Thursday’s flat sixth stage, awaits.

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Oldest known picture story is a 51,000-year-old Indonesian cave painting

New dating technique finds painting on island of Sulawesi is 6,000 years older than previous record holder

The world’s oldest known picture story is a cave painting almost 6,000 years older than the previous record holder, found about 10km away on the same island in Indonesia, an international team of archaeologists has said.

The painting, believed to be at least 51,200 years old, was found at Leang Karampuang cave on the east Indonesian island of Sulawesi, researchers from Griffith University, Southern Cross University and the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency wrote in the journal Nature.

Samples were collected in 2017, but weren’t dated until earlier this year.

The previous record holder was a lifesize picture of a wild pig believed to be created at least 45,500 years ago in a cave at Leang Tedongnge.

The recently discovered painting is of three therianthropes – or human-animal hybrids – and a wild pig.

Adhi Agus Oktaviana, the lead author and a PhD student at Griffith University, said the findings were “very surprising”.

He said the art was much older than famous European ice-age art, such as paintings in the Lascaux caves in France, which are believed to be about 20,000 years old.

The finding contradicts the academic view that early figurative cave art consisted of single figure panels rather than scenes where figures interacted with each other.

The researchers used uranium series dating to date the layers of calcium carbonate that had formed on top of the art. It involved extracting limestone samples that were then vaporised with a laser. The age of the sample was calculated by measuring the ratio of thorium to uranium.

The researchers said this method allowed the layers to be dated more accurately by ensuring younger and older materials were not mixed together.

The researchers also dated art at a nearby cave – Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 – that was previously believed to be the oldest cave art in the world. They found that the artwork, once believed to be at least 44,000 years old, was at least 48,000 years old.

However, the site of the former oldest known cave painting at Leang Tedongnge could not be dated using the newer method, as there was no calcium carbonate material remaining.

Dr Tristen Jones, a rock art expert at the University of Sydney, said the new method was “a major leap forward in tightening up the resolution and accuracy of dating”. Typically, she said, rock art is extremely difficult to date as the art is predominately made from minerals. It means that radiocarbon dating, which is commonly used to date coral reefs, does not work.

Adam Brumm, a professor from Griffith University who jointly led the study, said that in the hundreds of excavations he had conducted in the region, there were frequent depictions of the warty pig. “They were clearly economically important to these elite people,” he said. “We can see they were also important to them symbolically and perhaps even spiritually”.

However, the researchers said the events taking place in the artwork were “difficult to interpret”, and it was unclear what animals inspired the human-animal hybrids as they were drawn as “essentially stick figures”.

“For whatever reason … early humans … [are] rarely depicted any form that could be reasonably interpreted as a human,” Brumm said. “Animals were often drawn with incredible anatomical fidelity, but [early cave painters] put less effort into doing that.”

He said the researchers were fairly certain one of the human-animal hybrids was a human with the head of a bird, and another had a tail, believed to be that of a civet.

“Storytelling is a hugely important part of human evolution and possibly even helps to explain our success as a species, but finding evidence for it in art, especially in very early cave art, is exceptionally rare.”

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