The Guardian 2024-07-05 00:13:31


People across the UK have begun casting votes in a general election expected to sweep Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives out of power and usher in Labour’s Keir Starmer as prime minister.

Sunak’s messaging on the day of polling remained about encouraging Tory voters out to “stop the Labour supermajority” rather than positioning himself to continue in Downing Street.

Starmer’s Labour were pushing people to go out and vote for change. Opinion polls suggest Labour is on course to secure a big majority, but last night Starmer told supporters to “imagine a Britain moving forward together with a Labour government. That’s what we are fighting for, let’s continue that fight. If you want change, you have to vote for it.”

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, Scotland’s first minister John Swinney, and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth have all also voted. Davey, whose campaign has been marked by a series of extreme stunts, said “It’s a beautiful day. I hope lots of people come out to vote.”

An exit poll, published shortly after polls close at 10pm on Thursday, will provide the first indication of how the election has gone on a national level. These take place at polling stations across the country, with tens of thousands of people asked to privately fill in a replica ballot as they leave, to get an indication of how they voted.

If Starmer were to become prime minister, it would be the first time the UK’s leader has changed as a result of a general election since 2010, when David Cameron succeeded Gordon Brown. Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Sunak himself all became prime minister after internal Conservative party mechanism rather than through a general election.

  • You can tell us what is happening where you are on polling day – details of how to contact the team can be found here.

Keir Starmer hails ‘new age of hope’ as Rishi Sunak fears losing seat

Final polls predict unprecedented Labour victory, with Starmer declaring Britain a ‘great nation, with boundless potential’

  • UK general election live: latest updates

Keir Starmer has hailed a “new age of hope and opportunity” as millions of people prepare to vote in a general election that could deliver the biggest shake-up of British politics in a generation.

The Labour leader said he was “ready for government” and that his intended cabinet would “hit the ground running” if it wins Thursday’s election.

With Rishi Sunak’s closest allies appearing to concede defeat for the Conservatives, and the final opinion polls predicting an unprecedented Labour victory, Starmer said he hoped Britain was about to enter a new chapter.

On the last day of a fractious six-week campaign, the Guardian was told Sunak had confided to members of his inner circle that he was fearful of losing his own seat, and a new YouGov poll predicted 16 cabinet ministers would lose their seats – potentially handing Starmer the biggest majority for any single party since 1832.

Speaking at a campaign stop in Scotland, which will be one of the key battlegrounds on Thursday, Starmer told his activists they were “on the final few yards towards the start of a historic day”.

“This is a great nation, with boundless potential. The British people deserve a government that matches their ambition. Today is the chance to begin the work of rebuilding Britain with Labour.”

He promised a flurry of activity should he enter No 10, saying he would push back the parliamentary recess to get his legislative programme under way.

Starmer said he had told his shadow cabinet they will not be forgiven if did not show results immediately. He said he had told them: “I don’t want you having a phone call or a meeting the day after the election that you could have had six months before the election.”

In a rare sign that he was mentally preparing for victory at the end of a deeply cautious campaign, Starmer said: “I’m really pleased that four and a half years of work is being vindicated because this has not been an easy gig.”

Sunak spent the day campaigning in safe Conservative seats in the south of England. Sources told the Guardian he had privately confided his own 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.”

Leading Tories, including the sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman and the work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, also made clear that election defeat appeared inevitable.

However, Sunak brushed aside the idea that the Conservatives had already accepted defeat, as he campaigned in ultra-safe Tory seats such as Hamble Valley on the final day before polls opened.

He claimed that “millions and millions” of voters had still not made up their minds, saying people should “separate the frustrations which they understandably have about me, the party and the past” from their ultimate decision.

Quizzed at a school about his highlight as prime minister, Sunak dodged the question, while arguing that much of his time in office had been spent struggling with outside events.

“There are lots of things that you’d like to do but the reality is that you’re dealing with the situation in front of you. That’s very much been the story of my political career in the last few years. That’s just reality. You’ve got to play the cards that you’ve been dealt,” he said.

Asked if he would take full responsibility for whatever the election result was, he replied: “Yes.”

The Tories experienced yet another blow on Wednesday night as the Sun newspaper made an abrupt volte-face, putting its support behind the Labour party for the first time since 2005.

After years of fiercely critical coverage of Labour and personal attacks on the leader it called “Sir Softie”, the Sun endorsed Starmer on Wednesday, saying: “It is time for a change … Which means that it is time for Labour.”

In Essex, where Reform UK’s leader, Nigel Farage, is making an eighth attempt to enter parliament, the Tory candidate standing in his way made a last-ditch appeal to stop what he described as “the populist juggernaut”.

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.

“How are you getting on for dentists in Clacton? Well then you should have come by dinghy,” he said, after arriving on a military-style vehicle to the sound of Without Me by Eminem.

Giles Watling, who is defending his Clacton seat, said the atmosphere in the constituency had changed since the arrival en masse of Farage supporters. He described the Reform leader’s rallies as “chilling” and alleged that people had been intimidated by canvassers for the populist party, including a shop owner who, he said, had been told “it wouldn’t be a good idea” if she put up a Tory placard in her window.

Farage was in a bullish mood as he appeared alongside the former boxer Derek Chisora, predicting that Labour would win as much as 37% of the vote and that his party would be “challenging for government” at the next election.

Labour strategists are tense about the prospect for shocks in some unpredictable constituencies, including those where the Reform vote is surging and where Labour is facing a challenge from the Greens or independent candidates campaigning on Gaza.

The party is braced for a number of upsets that go against the grain, including in the shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire’s Bristol Central seat to the Greens and in seats with large Muslim populations, including Birmingham Ladywood, Bethnal Green and Bow, and Dewsbury and Batley. Islington North, where the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is running as an independent, is said by party insiders to be too close to call.

On his final day of a gruelling campaign, Starmer spent time in Wales, Scotland and England, culminating in a rally in the Midlands – another area of the UK where Labour is hoping to take multiple seats from the Conservatives.

In Glasgow, he mocked the Scottish National party for urging voters to vote for them to “send a message” to Westminster. “I don’t want Scotland to send a message, I want Scotland to send a government,” he said. Labour is on course to regain dozens of seats in Scotland from the SNP.

On Wednesday night, the first minister, John Swinney, said it was a foregone conclusion Labour would win. “The only story left in this election is in Scotland, where seats across the country are on a knife-edge,” he said.

But Starmer also warned during the course of the day against paying too much attention to Tories downplaying their own prospects. “You can see what the Tories are up to – they are trying to invite people not to exercise their democratic right to go out and vote, trying to dissuade people from voting,” he said.

“A once-respected party is now saying with 24 hours to go nothing that is positive, everything is negative, effectively, to run a campaign to suppress the vote.”

Writing in the Guardian, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, promised “change will begin immediately” if Starmer enters No 10 and called on voters to help deliver a significant majority. “We will need a clear mandate for change – don’t doubt that.”

The Liberal Democrats also look as if they will regain the party’s strength of the coalition years, capitalising on Tory decline and tactical voting.

The party’s leader, Ed Davey, whose campaign has been dominated by outlandish stunts, wrote in the Guardian on Wednesday that his mission was “beating as many Conservative MPs as possible … More and more people are focusing on how best to use their vote to bring an end to Conservative rule and start a more progressive, more positive era.”

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Explainer

What do governments abroad want from the UK election?

Despite both Labour and the Tories sidelining foreign policy in their campaigns, some foreign leaders are following the outcome keenly

  • UK election live – latest updates

The UK is not the diplomatic powerhouse it once was, with Brexit leaving it looking inward and years of economic failures meaning the Conservatives and Labour are both sidelining foreign policy in their campaign messaging. Still, leaders around the world (some more than others) will be taking an interest in the 4 July election. Here are some of the key issues:

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UK political parties on track to spend £1m on election day online ads

Digital campaigning gets round media blackout rule restricting broadcasters’ coverage while polls are open

  • UK election live – latest updates

The UK’s political parties are on track to spend more than a million pounds on online adverts on Thursday, circumventing a media blackout rule that forces television and radio stations to stop their election coverage when polls open.

British parties have traditionally ceased top-level campaign activity when voting began as they had no way to get out their message out. This is because of a longstanding broadcasting rule, enforced by the media regulator Ofcom, that states: “Discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues must finish when the poll opens.”

The switch to online campaigning over the past two decades has increasingly made a mockery of this rule, with early indications suggesting political parties are viewing Thursday as an incredibly important campaign day for pushing their core messages to wavering voters.

Sam Jeffers of WhoTargetsMe, which has monitored election advertising in the UK for the last decade, said substantial funds had been released for Thursday. “The parties are on track to spend a million pounds today on Meta and probably another £250,000 on Google,” he said.

If these figures are correct, it could mean that more money is spent by political parties buying online political advertising on polling day than was spent online during the entire 2015 general election campaign.

Labour has bought adverts on the homepages of more than 50 websites, including the Sun’s, urging people to vote for change. The party is also continuing to run adverts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the free version of Spotify, with the theme of reassuring people that it is safe to back the party.

The Conservatives are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds pushing localised Facebook adverts warning about the risks of a Labour “supermajority”, while Nigel Farage is campaigning for Reform UK by tweeting out policies and uploading TikToks of him having a pint of beer.

By comparison, broadcasters have been limited to factual reporting of politicians, including Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, posing in front of their local polling stations, along with information about how to vote.

This means that a voter who listens to podcasts and watches YouTube will feel the election is still being fought hard. But a voter who tunes in to the lunchtime television news or switches on the radio will get a different impression, with more analysis of the US presidential election than the UK contest.

Michael Crick, the former Channel 4 News political correspondent, said the ban on election day coverage was “a relic from the dinosaur age of the 1950s”, especially because a quarter of voters were likely to have already returned their ballot by post.

He said the rule should be abolished on the principle of media freedom, because it was a hangover from 70 years ago. “It was the broadcasters who imposed the rules on themselves, because they were worried they would be accused of bias. Up until 1958 they could not even cover an election campaign,” he said.

Because the rules were written before newspapers transitioned from print to the internet, there is also a two-tier system for online coverage which heavily restricts what can be put on broadcasters’ websites. While most news outlets, such as the Guardian, are free to run analysis and campaign coverage throughout polling day, the BBC’s online offering is restricted to telling people how to vote – and sharing pictures of them voting with their dogs.

It remains illegal for any individual or news outlet, punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, to publish exit polls based on how people said they voted before the polls have closed.

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Israel has approved ‘largest West Bank land grab in 30 years’, watchdog says

Peace Now says approval of more than 12 sq km is biggest since peace process began in 1993

  • Israel-Gaza war – live updates

Israel has approved the largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades, according to a report released by an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, a move that will exacerbate the escalating tensions surrounding the conflict in Gaza.

Peace Now said authorities recently approved the appropriation of 12.7 sq km (nearly 5 sq miles) of land in the Jordan valley, indicating it was “the largest single appropriation approved since the 1993 Oslo accords”, referring to the start of the peace process.

Settlement monitors say the recent land acquisition links Israeli settlements along a crucial corridor adjacent to Jordan, a development they say threatens the formation of a future Palestinian state.

Israel occupied the West Bank, capturing it from Jordan, in the six-day war of 1967. Since then, successive governments have made efforts to permanently cement Israeli control over the land, in part by declaring large swathes as “state lands”, which prevents private Palestinian ownership.

The recent land seizure, which was approved late last month but only publicised on Wednesday, comes after the seizure of 8 sq km of land in the West Bank in March and 2.6 sq km in February.

Peace Now says the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, “are determined to fight against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers”.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” the group added. “Still, the Israeli government chooses to actually make it difficult.”

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric called it “a step in the wrong direction,” adding that “the direction we want to be heading is to find a negotiated two-state solution”.

In a leaked recording captured by Peace Now, Smotrich, during a conference for his National Religious Party-Religious Zionism, disclosed that the land confiscations in 2024 surpassed previous years’ averages by approximately tenfold.

“This thing is mega-strategic and we are investing a lot in it,” Smotrich said. “This is something that will change the map dramatically.”

In May 2023, Smotrich, who said his “life’s mission is to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state”, had instructed Israeli government ministries to prepare for 500,000 more Israeli settlers to move into the occupied West Bank.

On 20 June, the Guardian revealed how the Israeli military has quietly handed over significant legal powers in the West Bank to pro-settler civil servants working for Smotrich.

An order posted by the Israel Defense Forces on its website on 29 May transfers responsibility for dozens of bylaws at the Civil Administration – the Israeli body governing in the West Bank – from the military to officials led by Smotrich at the defence ministry.

Since 7 October, settlers have stepped up beatings and attacks, forcing Palestinians to flee to nearby towns, and there has been an increase in army home demolitions.

Late in June, Israeli soldiers have destroyed 11 homes and other structures in Umm al-Kheir, a village in the occupied West Bank, leaving 50 people homeless, while early in July they fired live ammunition and teargas at six Palestinian villagers, including four women and a five-year-old girl.

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Trump calls Biden ‘broken-down’ and claims he quit 2024 race in leaked video

Clip obtained by Daily Beast shows ex-president sitting in golf cart, holding cash, as he discusses presidential debate

“A broken-down pile of crap” on the verge of “quitting the race” was Donald Trump’s summation of Joe Biden in a surreptitiously filmed video leaked on Wednesday.

The clip, obtained by the Daily Beast, shows the 78-year-old former president sitting in a golf cart, holding a pile of cash, and with son Barron alongside, as he offers an analysis of the 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump asked a group off-camera: “How did I do with the debate the other night?” before predicting that Biden would not seek re-election.

“He just quit, you know – he’s quitting the race”, Trump said. “I got him out of the – and that means we have Kamala.”

The White House and most Democrats maintain Biden will remain the party nominee, though voter polls suggest that he has slipped six points behind Trump and that the vice-president, Kamala Harris, could be a stronger Democrat candidate in November.

“I think she’s gonna be better” as an opponent, Trump continued in the video, but added: “She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic” and appeared to say: “She’s so fucking bad.”

Biden’s campaign has denied he is stepping down. “Absolutely not,” said the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, on Wednesday. Several Democratic governors repeated the phrase “in it to win it” after meeting with Biden.

The Trump campaign has not commented directly on the video but on Wednesday predicted the “total collapse” of the Democratic party following Biden’s poor debate performance and mounting calls for him to step aside.

The Biden-Harris campaign responded to the video in a statement: “The American people have already seen low after low from Donald Trump,” it said, described the video as a “new rock bottom” for him.

The clip was leaked hours after the Trump campaign released its first attack ads against Harris, who is the most likely candidate to replace Biden if he decides to quit the race.

Leaked video and audio clips have previously been a source of embarrassment for Trump, including in 2016 with the notorious Access Hollywood tape in which he described women in vulgar terms and bragged about sexually harassing them.

In the latest video Trump expressed disdain for Biden’s ability to deal with foreign adversaries, including Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and China’s president, Xi Jinping.

“Can you imagine that guy dealing with Putin?” Trump asked. “And the president of China – who’s a fierce person. He’s a fierce man, very tough guy. And they see him.”

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Biden says he ‘screwed up’ but vows to continue as polls show six-point lead for Trump

President gives interviews with stations in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, calling on voters to look at his record

Joe Biden has told a radio show he “screwed up” and made a “mistake” in last week’s debate against Donald Trump, but vowed to stay in the election race, even as a series of polls show him now trailing the ex-president by about six points.

In two interviews with local radio stations in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the president urged voters to judge him on his time in the White House.

“I had a bad night,” Biden told Milwaukee radio host Earl Ingram. “And the fact of the matter is that I screwed up. I made a mistake. That’s 90 minutes on stage – look at what I’ve done in three and a half years.”

To Ingram’s largely Black audience, Biden pointed to achievements during his presidency that increased representation.

“I picked a Black woman to be my vice-president. I’ve appointed the first Black woman to be a supreme court justice,” Biden said. “I’ve appointed more Black judges, more Black women judges, than every other president in American history combined.”

Biden also attacked Trump for comments the former president made about Black workers during their TV debate a week ago, when Trump said migrant workers could be taking as many as 20m Black jobs.

“He’s done terrible things in the community, and he has about as much interest and concern for Black, minority communities as the man on the moon does,” Biden said.

A gathering number of opinion polls conducted after last week’s debate, in which Biden appeared at times to lose his train of thought or blank out entirely, appear to show that it has hurt Biden with voters.

According to a Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday, on Trump has opened a six-point lead nationally, at 48% to 42%, with 80% of respondents saying the president is too old to run for a second term – an increase of seven points since February.

It also found that Biden is viewed favorably by 34% of voters, and unfavorably by 63%. Less than 40% approved of his handling of the economy, immigration or his time in office overall.

Another poll, from the New York Times/Siena, released on Wednesday also showed a six-point advantage to Trump, up from three a week earlier. Among registered voters, Trump led by eight points.

According to the Journal poll, one-third of respondents, including 31% of independents – a key bloc of US voters on whom the election may turn – said the debate made them more likely to vote for Trump, while just 10% said Biden.

A similar percentage of Democrats and Republicans – roughly three-quarters – said they considered Biden too old to run. Two-thirds of Democrats said they would replace Biden with another candidate.

Biden will hold rallies in both states over the weekend. He will also give an another interview on Friday to ABC News, then to Good Morning America over the weekend.

The president himself reportedly told a key ally that the next few days of public appearances will be major tests of whether he can successfully make a case for his re-election to the public, though the White House has disputed the report.

The interview and event push comes amid intensifying speculation about whether more elected Democrats will call for him to step aside: only two congressmen have so far done so. Potential replacement candidates, including Kamala Harris, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and California governor Gavin Newsom, have strongly stated their support for Biden’s re-election.

In a call to campaign workers on Wednesday, he is reported to have said: “I’m the nominee of the Democratic party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving.” In a fundraising email after the call, Biden said: “Let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running.”

Trump had been running a roughly two-point lead in the polls earlier in the year, though his lead appeared to narrow and the candidates seemed to be running neck-and-neck before the debate.

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Hurricane Beryl barrels through Cayman Islands after battering Jamaica

Category 3 storm with wind speeds of up to 120mph continues to wreak ‘utter devastation’ in Caribbean

  • Why Hurricane Beryl foretells a scary storm season

Hurricane Beryl is barrelling through the Cayman Islands after causing death and destruction in Jamaica.

The British overseas territory is bearing the brunt of the hurricane, which has been causing “utter devastation” in the Caribbean since Monday, when it almost destroyed parts of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Now a category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 120mph (193km/h), Beryl has brought thunderstorms and gale forces winds to the Cayman Islands.

Earlier on Thursday, meteorologists said the hurricane was 50 miles south-west of Grand Cayman and moving away from the island. However, they issued strong reminders to stay sheltered until the all-clear was given.

On Wednesday, Beryl touched down in Jamaica, forcing airports to close and sending nearly 1,000 people into government-designated shelters.

The hurricane’s eyewall skirted Jamaica’s southern coast as a powerful category 4 storm, ripping off roofs, uprooting electric poles and trees and causing widespread flooding.

“It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and scared,” said Amoy Wellington, a 51-year-old cashier who lives in Top Hill, a rural farming community in southern St Elizabeth parish. “It’s a disaster.”

According to the most recent reports, many people in the country are without water, and on Wednesday night, officials said 60% of the population was without electricity.

On Wednesday evening, there were reports of a man who went missing after being washed away, and confirmation that a woman had died in the parish of Hanover after a tree toppled on her house, bringing the death toll to at least nine across the countries affected by the hurricane.

But officials in the multi-island countries of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have warned that the death toll could increase as they struggle to assess the damage on some islands.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro told state television three people had died, four were missing, and more than 8,000 homes were damaged.

Mexico’s tourist centres of Cancún and the wider Yucatán peninsula lie in Beryl’s predicted path. Cancún’s airport was thronged with tourists hoping to catch the last flights out before the storm arrived. Workers filled bags with sand and boarded up doors and windows of businesses for protection.

Mexico’s defence ministry opened about 120 storm shelters and asked visitors to heed instructions on evacuation or other measures.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane. At its peak earlier this week was the earliest category 5 storm on record. The prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has decried a lack of political will in western Europe and the US to tackle the global climate crisis.

Scientists say human-caused climate breakdown has increased the occurrence of the most intense and destructive tropical storms, because warming oceans provide more energy and increase their strength.

As the storm charts its deadly course through the region, leaders are seeking support for what they described as the “herculean effort to rebuild”.

The SVG prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, expressed his concern about accessing grants to rebuild, while his Grenadian counterpart, Dickon Mitchell, told reporters he was hoping to trigger his country’s catastrophic risk insurance policy.

Since Monday, individuals, groups, countries and regional and international organisations, including the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the UN, and the Commonwealth, have pledged support to the devastated islands.

On Thursday, the Royal Navy said it would deploy its warship HMS Trent to deliver aid, including bottled water, basic emergency supplies, and equipment to the Cayman Islands.

King Charles has asked to be kept closely informed of the developing situation, and it is understood he will be making a substantial donation to the disaster recovery and relief efforts.

In a message to the people of the Caribbean who had been affected by Beryl, he said: “My family and I have been profoundly saddened to learn of the dreadful destruction caused by Hurricane Beryl across the Caribbean. Above all, we send our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who have so cruelly lost their lives.

“I have seen the extraordinary spirit of resilience and solidarity that people across the Caribbean have shown in response to such destruction – a spirit which has been called upon too often – and so I also send my particular gratitude to the emergency services and volunteers who are supporting the rescue and recovery efforts.

“At this most difficult of times, please know that our most special thoughts and prayers are with all those whose lives, livelihoods and property have been so utterly devastated.”

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France to deploy 30,000 police after election runoff amid fears of violence

Move comes after attacks on government spokesperson and RN candidate in buildup to Sunday’s poll

  • Europe live – latest updates

About 30,000 police will be deployed across France on Sunday night amid fears of violence after the final results of a snap election in which the far right hopes to gain a majority in parliament.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said 5,000 police would be on duty in Paris and its surrounding areas to “ensure that the radical right and radical left do not take advantage of the situation to cause mayhem”.

Four people, including one under 18, were arrested after the government spokesperson, Prisca Thevenot, said she and her team had been attacked on Wednesday evening while putting up campaign posters in Meudon, outside Paris.

Her deputy and a party activist were injured after the team told a group of about 10 youths to stop defacing campaign posters. “We said to them, without being aggressive, that [defacing posters] was not allowed,” Thevenot told Le Parisien. She said police arrived less than five minutes after the attack.

“Violence is never the answer. I’ll continue my on-the-ground campaigning,” Thevenot wrote on X.

A few hours before being targeted, she had shared her anxiety as a person of colour in a “complicated” political climate with French broadcaster TF1.

“I don’t say this only as spokesperson of the government, but more as the daughter of immigrants and mother of mixed-race children,” Thevenot said, citing repeated and intensified racist attacks. “They no longer do it anonymously, but with uncovered faces and even with a certain pride.”

A candidate for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party (RN) in Savoie, Marie Dauchy, also said she had been attacked, by a shopkeeper at a market on Wednesday.

Nicolas Conquer, a candidate for The Republicans, said on social media that he had been assaulted while distributing election flyers in the city of Cherbourg on Tuesday.

“Let’s reject the climate of violence and hatred that is taking hold,” prime minister Gabriel Attal wrote on Thursday on X, adding that violence and intimidation had “no place in our democracy.”

Sunday’s decisive second round is expected to result in the far-right, anti-immigration RN becoming the biggest party in parliament, whether or not it reaches the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority to form the next government.

Both the centrist grouping of the president, Emmanuel Macron, and a broadleftwing coalition, have withdrawn more than 200 candidates from the final runoff in a joint effort to limit the far right’s seats. The exact number of seats the far right RN and its allies could win in the 577-seat national assembly is hard to predict, but Harris Interactive polling for Challenges magazine on Wednesday suggested they could take up to 220.

Le Pen on Thursday claimed the party could reach an absolute majority if voter turnout was high.

“I think there is still the capacity to have an absolute majority with the electorate turning out in a final effort to get what they want,” she told BFM TV. “I say turn out to vote, as it’s a really important moment to get a change in politics in all the areas that are making you suffer right now.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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France to deploy 30,000 police after election runoff amid fears of violence

Move comes after attacks on government spokesperson and RN candidate in buildup to Sunday’s poll

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About 30,000 police will be deployed across France on Sunday night amid fears of violence after the final results of a snap election in which the far right hopes to gain a majority in parliament.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said 5,000 police would be on duty in Paris and its surrounding areas to “ensure that the radical right and radical left do not take advantage of the situation to cause mayhem”.

Four people, including one under 18, were arrested after the government spokesperson, Prisca Thevenot, said she and her team had been attacked on Wednesday evening while putting up campaign posters in Meudon, outside Paris.

Her deputy and a party activist were injured after the team told a group of about 10 youths to stop defacing campaign posters. “We said to them, without being aggressive, that [defacing posters] was not allowed,” Thevenot told Le Parisien. She said police arrived less than five minutes after the attack.

“Violence is never the answer. I’ll continue my on-the-ground campaigning,” Thevenot wrote on X.

A few hours before being targeted, she had shared her anxiety as a person of colour in a “complicated” political climate with French broadcaster TF1.

“I don’t say this only as spokesperson of the government, but more as the daughter of immigrants and mother of mixed-race children,” Thevenot said, citing repeated and intensified racist attacks. “They no longer do it anonymously, but with uncovered faces and even with a certain pride.”

A candidate for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party (RN) in Savoie, Marie Dauchy, also said she had been attacked, by a shopkeeper at a market on Wednesday.

Nicolas Conquer, a candidate for The Republicans, said on social media that he had been assaulted while distributing election flyers in the city of Cherbourg on Tuesday.

“Let’s reject the climate of violence and hatred that is taking hold,” prime minister Gabriel Attal wrote on Thursday on X, adding that violence and intimidation had “no place in our democracy.”

Sunday’s decisive second round is expected to result in the far-right, anti-immigration RN becoming the biggest party in parliament, whether or not it reaches the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority to form the next government.

Both the centrist grouping of the president, Emmanuel Macron, and a broadleftwing coalition, have withdrawn more than 200 candidates from the final runoff in a joint effort to limit the far right’s seats. The exact number of seats the far right RN and its allies could win in the 577-seat national assembly is hard to predict, but Harris Interactive polling for Challenges magazine on Wednesday suggested they could take up to 220.

Le Pen on Thursday claimed the party could reach an absolute majority if voter turnout was high.

“I think there is still the capacity to have an absolute majority with the electorate turning out in a final effort to get what they want,” she told BFM TV. “I say turn out to vote, as it’s a really important moment to get a change in politics in all the areas that are making you suffer right now.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Japan introduces enormous humanoid robot to maintain train lines

The 12-metre high machine has coke bottle eyes and a crude Wall-E-like head, as well as large arms that can be fitted with blades or paint brushes

It resembles an enormous, malevolent robot from 1980s sci-fi but West Japan Railway’s new humanoid employee was designed with nothing more sinister than a spot of painting and gardening in mind.

Starting this month, the large machine with enormous arms, a crude, disproportionately small Wall-E-like head and coke-bottle eyes mounted on a truck – which can drive on rails – will be put to use for maintenance work on the company’s network.

Its operator sits in a cockpit on the truck, “seeing” through the robot’s eyes via cameras and operating its powerful limbs and hands remotely.

With a vertical reach of 12 metres (40ft), the machine can use various attachments for its arms to carry objects as heavy as 40kg (88lb), hold a brush to paint or use a chainsaw.

For now, the robot’s primary task will focus on trimming tree branches along rails and painting metal frames that hold cables above trains, the company said.

The technology will help fill worker shortages in ageing Japan as well as reduce accidents such as workers falling from high places or suffering electric shocks, the company said.

“In the future, we hope to use machines for all kinds of maintenance operations of our infrastructure,” and this should provide a case study for how to deal with the labour shortage, company president Kazuaki Hasegawa told a recent press conference.

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Germany summons Turkish ambassador over ‘wolf’ goal celebration

Diplomat urged to explain gesture by Turkey footballer Merih Demiral and take measures to prevent a repeat

Turkey’s ambassador to Germany has been summoned to the foreign ministry in Berlin over the rightwing extremist “wolf salute” displayed by the Turkish footballer Merih Demiral, as his goal celebration at the European Championship became the subject of diplomatic exchange.

Ahmet Başar Şen was urged to explain the gesture and take measures to prevent its further use, a ministry spokesperson said, the day after Germany’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara as Turkey’s government accused Berlin of “xenophobia” over its criticism of the symbol associated with the Grey Wolves group.

The Grey Wolves are classified as a rightwing extremist group with 18,500 to 20,000 members in Germany, making it the second-biggest rightwing extremist organisation after Alternative für Deutschland, according to the domestic intelligence agency, the federal office for the protection of the constitution (BfV).

However, neither the group nor the symbol are banned in Germany, unlike in neighbouring Austria and France, despite years of debate about doing so.

Demiral displayed the wolf salute after scoring in Turkey’s round of 16 match against Austria, which his team won 2-1.

Turks make up the largest single ethnic minority in Germany – 1.54 million in addition to 1.4 million German citizens who are of Turkish descent – the largest single Turkish diaspora. The national team’s success in the Euros has triggered a rapturous response by Turks across the country.

Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, condemned the gesture, writing on X: “To use the football championships as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable.”

She called on the European football governing body, Uefa, to investigate and consider imposing sanctions on the Turkish team. Uefa has said it is investigating but by Thursday afternoon had yet to make a decision.

According to reports on Thursday lunchtime in German and Turkish media, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has made a last-minute adjustment to his travel plans to allow him to fly to Berlin en route to Azerbaijan, to attend the national team’s quarter-final against the Netherlands on Saturday evening. Erdoğan was said by insiders to have made the decision in reaction to the fallout from the Demiral salute, telling his advisers he wanted to give the team his backing.

The wolf salute is the symbol and identifying logo of the Grey Wolves, representing the head of a wolf: forefinger and little finger forming the ears, the thumb, middle and ring fingers forming the snout.

Experts in extremism say the worldview of the Grey Wolves is hardline nationalist and Islamist, with hatred shown to Kurds, Jews, Christians, Armenians, Greeks, the EU and the US. The group, which has a long history of terrorism going back to the 1970s, has been blamed for bomb attacks in Paris and Bangkok and the 1981 attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II.

Its founder, Alparslan Türkes, said of the salute: “The little finger symbolises the Turks, the index finger symbolises Islam, the ring – or snout – symbolises the world. The point where the remaining three fingers join is a stamp. It means: we will put the Turkish-Islamic stamp on the world.”

Türkes founded the Nationalist Movement party, which governs Turkey with Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party.

Demiral said of the gesture: “Of course I was very happy to have scored two goals. How I celebrated has something to do with my Turkish identity. I had seen members of the audience making this gesture. We are all Turks. I’m very proud to be a Turk. That is the meaning of the gesture.

“I hope I’ll have more opportunities to make this gesture. There is no hidden message in it, I simply wanted to show how joyful I was and how happy I am.”

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Coffee, eggs and white rice linked to higher levels of PFAS in human body

Study that researchers say highlights chemicals’ ubiquity also shows PFAS association with seafood and red meat

New research aimed at identifying foods that contain higher levels of PFAS found people who eat more white rice, coffee, eggs and seafood typically showed more of the toxic chemicals in their plasma and breast milk.

The study checked samples from 3,000 pregnant mothers, and is among the first research to suggest coffee and white rice may be contaminated at higher rates than other foods. It also identified an association between red meat consumption and levels of PFOS, one of the most common and dangerous PFAS compounds.

The authors said the findings highlight the chemicals’ ubiquity and the many ways they can end up in the food supply.

“The results definitely point toward the need for environmental stewardship, and keeping PFAS out of the environment and food chain,” said Megan Romano, a Dartmouth researcher and lead author. “Now we’re in a situation where they’re everywhere and are going to stick around even if we do aggressive remediation.”

PFAS are a class of about 16,000 compounds used to make products that resist water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans. The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts and a range of other serious health problems.

Though regulators have focused on reining in pollution in water, food is thought to be the most common exposure route. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has drawn criticism for what some say is a failure to protect the nation’s food supply. Among other controversies, it altered its testing methods to make it appear as if the food it tests does not have PFAS in it when it actually does contain what many advocates say are concerning levels.

PFAS can end up contaminating food through a number of routes. In rice, the researchers suspect it stems from contaminated soil or agricultural water. Non-stick cookware also often contains the chemicals, or it could be in water used for cooking.

Researchers found higher levels of PFAS associated with eggs from backyard chickens, which Romano said could be attributed to the birds more commonly being fed with table scraps. PFAS-fouled sewage sludge, which is used as a cheap alternative to fertilizer, may also contaminate the soil from which chickens feed, and has been found to contaminate beef. The chemicals also could be in the birds’ feed.

In coffee, researchers suspect that the beans, water used for brewing, or soil could be contaminated. Previous research has also found coffee filters to be treated with PFAS, and paper cups or other food packaging also commonly contain the chemicals.

Seafood, meanwhile, has regularly been found to be contaminated with PFAS because water pollution is so widespread.

Public health advocates say a ban on the chemicals except for essential uses is the only way to begin addressing the problem broadly. Romano said the research found diets high in fruit, whole grain and higher dietary fiber were associated with lower levels of some PFAS, and eating a varied diet so no one protein source comprises too large of a proportion of intake is beneficial.

“That helps you not only reduce your exposure to PFAS but other contaminants we might anticipate are in food,” Romano said.

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Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs accused of grooming and coercing woman into sex work

Rapper denies allegations in eighth such lawsuit in recent months, with lawyer saying Combs has ‘never sexually assaulted or sex trafficked anyone’

The rapper and business mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is facing another sexual assault lawsuit, the eighth in a series filed against him since November 2023.

Adria English, a former adult film actor, alleges that Combs groomed then coerced her into sexual intercourse with guests at parties he hosted, as well as making her consume alcohol and ecstasy.

Combs has denied the allegations. His lawyer Jonathan Davis said in a statement: “No matter how many lawsuits are filed it won’t change the fact that Mr Combs has never sexually assaulted or sex trafficked anyone. We live in a world where anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason and without any proof. Fortunately, a fair and impartial judicial process exists to find the truth and Mr Combs is confident he will prevail against these and other baseless claims in court.”

English’s lawsuit alleges that “Combs groomed Plaintiff into sex trafficking over time”, in events between 2004 and 2009.

She claims that she was employed to attend one of Combs’ “white parties” in 2004, an event which had “no sinister intent or requirements for physical sexual contact”, so she accepted invitations to further parties. But at the third event, Combs allegedly demanded she have sex with guests, “as they had learned about her past in adult entertainment and used it forcefully to coerce Plaintiff into sex work”. The lawsuit names a number of other individuals and companies as defendants.

Numerous other allegations of sexual assault have been made against Combs, beginning in November when his former girlfriend, R&B singer Cassie, accused him of rape and physical abuse. That lawsuit was settled the following day, though Combs was forced to apologise after footage of him physically assaulting Cassie in 2016 was leaked in May.

Plaintiffs Joi Dickerson-Neal, Rodney Jones Jr, April Lampros and Crystal McKinney have each since filed lawsuits alleging sexual assault, along with two others from unnamed women. Combs has denied all of those allegations. Combs is also named in a lawsuit against his son Christian “King” Combs, described as a “lewd and meritless claim” by a lawyer for both men.

Combs was once one of the most successful rappers in the US, with a string of hit tracks including US No 1 singles Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, I’ll Be Missing You and Shake Ya Tailfeather. His label Bad Boy Records was home to popular artists including Notorious BIG and Mase, and he had success with other business ventures such as clothing brand Sean John and vodka brand Cîroc.

But his reputation has been damaged since the allegations. In recent weeks New York mayor Eric Adams has demanded Combs return the ceremonial key to the city he was awarded in September 2023, while Howard University rescinded Combs’ honorary degree, discontinued a scholarship programme in his name and returned a $1m donation.

Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 500 2222 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html

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‘Once in a lifetime event’: rare chance to see explosion on dwarf star 3,000 light years away

T Coronae Borealis, or the Blaze Star, was last seen in 1946 and will be visible again some time between now and September

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In what is being called a “once-in-a-lifetime event”, light from a thermonuclear explosion on a star has been travelling towards Earth for thousands of years and it will be here any day.

T Coronae Borealis (also known as T Cor Bor, T CrB, and the Blaze Star) will be as bright as the North Star (for those in the northern hemisphere).

Dr Laura Driessen, from the University of Sydney’s school of physics, said the Blaze Star will be as bright as Orion’s right foot for those in the southern hemisphere.

A recurrent nova, T CrB becomes visible about every 80 years after a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf about 3,000 light years away.

The dwarf sucks up hydrogen from a neighbouring red giant, and that causes a build up of pressure and heat that eventually triggers the explosion.

Known as a nova (for “new”), it is expected to become visible anytime from now until September.

In the Corona Borealis, there is a dark spot. Astronomers and non-astronomers everywhere are monitoring that spot, which is where the “new” star will appear. It will stay visible to the naked eye for about a week.

Nasa has called it a “once-in-a-lifetime event”.

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Driessen said the two stars are close enough that a gravitational pull results in the white dwarf sucking in material.

“It’s a binary system and every now and then it has an outburst, so it’s a nova,” she said.

“When we think nova we often think supernova, which is when they explode at the end of their life … there’s no coming back from that. But a nova has smaller surface explosion, based on this accretion, this gathering of material.”

The first recorded sighting of the Blaze Star was in 1217, when the abbot of Ursberg, in Germany, saw “a faint star that for a time shone with great light”, Nasa says.

It was last seen in 1946.

Driessen said the star is always variable, getting brighter and fainter. But about 10 years before an explosion it starts to get a bit brighter, before fading again in the months before the explosion.

“It’s not really going to be like clockwork, it’s to do with the build up of material. So it’s not an exact number, but we’ve got this early warning,” she said.

While the spectacular phenomenon has been observed before, Driessen said this is the first time it will be studied with modern technology.

“That’s why it’s so exciting. It’ll be the first one where we get the information we can access now, we have all these telescopes we didn’t have 80 years ago,” she said.

Nasa’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array in New Mexico are just some of the instruments that will track the Blaze.

Fermi project scientist Dr Elizabeth Hays, who is also chief of Nasa’s Astroparticle Physics Laboratory, said typical nova events were far away.

“This one will be really close, with a lot of eyes on it, studying the various wavelengths and hopefully giving us data to start unlocking the structure and specific processes involved,” she said.

“We can’t wait to get the full picture of what’s going on.”

Nasa has a map of the Corona Borealis to help people pinpoint where to look, and Driessen said software such as Stellarium is also useful. There are several free apps to view maps of the night sky.

Driessen said people should find the darkest area they can, as far away from a city or town as possible, and take binoculars for an even better view.

“Let your eyes adjust for the dark,” she said. “And it’s good to have a red torch. Put a bit of cellophane over it, so it doesn’t ruin your night vision. And don’t look at your phone.”

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