BBC 2024-07-07 12:07:09


French far right seeks vote win but deadlock looms

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

France votes in one of its most significant elections in years on Sunday, with the far right hoping for a historic victory, but political stalemate the more likely result.

This is the first time the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella has had a realistic chance of running the government and taking outright control of the National Assembly.

But after the RN’s first-round victory in snap parliamentary elections last Sunday, hundreds of rival candidates dropped out to give others a better chance of defeating the far right.

Voting begins in mainland France at 08:00 (06:00 GMT) and the first exit polls will be released 12 hours later.

Whatever the result, it is difficult to see President Emmanuel Macron coming out of this well.

Four weeks ago, he said it was the responsible solution to call a snap vote in response to the RN’s victory in European elections, minutes after the party’s 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella challenged him to do so.

The two-round election came as a shock to a country gearing up for the start of the Paris Olympics on 26 July. Security was already tight and now 30,000 police have been deployed for a period of heightened political tension.

There are fears of violence in Paris and other French cities, whatever the outcome of the vote, and a planned protest outside the National Assembly on Sunday evening has been banned.

In Dreux, a historic old town on the road to Normandy, Sunday’s vote falls on the day the Olympic flame is passing through. “For us it’s a massive thing, bigger than the election,” says Pauline in the tourist office.

The flame has been travelling around France for almost two months, and Dreux has planned a weekend of festivities to mark its arrival.

“Macron should have waited until after the Olympics,” Dreux resident Antoine told the BBC.

Veteran commentator Nicolas Baverez believes the president has not just blown up his term in office and opened the gates of power wide for the far right. “He’s compromised the running of the Paris 2024 Olympics, which could deliver a final blow to France’s credit and its image,” he wrote in Le Point on the eve of the vote.

The constituency that includes Dreux is one of the races to watch in the second round of this election.

Candidates such as Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella have already won their seats, by winning more than half the vote. But another 500 contests are being decided in run-offs, mostly involving either two or three candidates.

Former conservative cabinet minister Olivier Marleix was beaten in the first round by far-right candidate Olivier Dubois. They both qualified for the run-off, along with a candidate from the left-wing New Popular Front, which is in second place nationally.

But because Nadia Faveris was narrowly beaten into third by her conservative rival, she pulled out of the race “to block National Rally”.

One voter, Morgan, was sceptical that anything would change in the town, whoever won.

BBC
For 10 years, our governments have been making promises but they’ve never delivered. If RN wins I don’t think anything would change either

There have been 217 of these withdrawals across France, including 130 Popular Front candidates and 81 from the president’s Ensemble alliance.

And that has dramatically changed the balance of this pivotal general election.

Projections after Sunday’s first round gave the RN a fighting chance of securing an outright majority of 289 seats, but final opinion polls on Friday suggest that is now out of reach, with 205 to 210 seats as a potential maximum.

The parties trying to block an RN victory range from the radical left, Communists and Greens to the Macron centrists and conservatives. They say they are defending the Fifth Republic from the extreme policies of the far right.

National Rally has watered down many of its policies but still wants to give French citizens “national preference” over immigrants for jobs and housing. It aims to abolish the right of automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who have spent five years aged 11 to 18 in France. It also wants to bar dual nationals from dozens of sensitive jobs.

Opinion polls are not necessarily reliable. Each of the 500 races is a local contest and voters do not follow recommendations from political parties.

If the RN managed upwards of 250 seats, it might seek out allies to form a minority government. President Macron’s party had to make do with similar numbers until he became frustrated with his limited ability to pass reforms in parliament.

That kind of RN government is unlikely, believes Prof Armin Steinbach of HEC business school in Paris. It would soon face a vote of no confidence, he believes, and under the constitution, France cannot have another general election for at least another year.

Another potential scenario is a “grand coalition” that would involve most of the other parties, except for the radical France Unbowed (LFI) party, which the Macron alliance and conservatives reject as extremists.

This idea has gained some momentum in recent days, but Greens leader Marine Tondelier has made clear “there’ll be no Macronist prime minister”, whatever happens.

There is also talk of a technocrat government, similar to those that ran Italy during the eurozone debt crisis. But instead of choosing experts from outside politics, it might include politicians with proven expertise in particular fields.

In any case, France is entering uncharted territory, says Jean-Yves Dormagen of the Cluster 17 institute.

President Macron himself has said he is not about to resign and will continue to serve out his final three years in office.

“We will have Macron as a lame duck president who created this mess without having to do so,” Prof Steinbach told the BBC. “And he’s losing legitimacy.”

The immediate concern for France is to have some kind of government in place during the Olympic Games.

Constitutional expert Benjamin Morel believes the president could form a national unity government until the end of the Paris Games.

“That would give the parties time to to reach an agreement between now and the start of the school year and the next budget,” he told Le Figaro.

The far right is close to power in France. Will the rest of Europe follow?

By Katya AdlerEurope editor

How likely is France to wake up on Monday morning to a new far-right dawn?

That was the garishly painted, hotly debated scenario in media headlines, the EU in Brussels and seats of government across Europe following the first round of France’s parliamentary vote last week.

But despite the spectacular showing by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, the short answer is: an RN majority is possible. Not probable.

French centrist and leftist parties have strategically withdrawn candidates to bolster each other’s contenders ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round.

But the impact of this election will be seismic, whether or not the RN wins an outright majority – or whether Jordan Bardella, its social media-savvy young president, becomes France’s new prime minister.

Polls predict RN is all but guaranteed to win more seats than any other political grouping.

That means a decades-old taboo will have been shattered in France, a core EU nation.

The EU was born out of the ashes of World War Two. It was originally designed as a peace project, with wartime enemies, France and Germany, at its core.

Far-right parties were banished to the outer fringes of European politics.

Last month, world leaders gathered in northern France to mark 80 years since D-Day, the allied amphibious assault in Normandy that helped secure the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But now, “far-right” or “hard-right” or “populist nationalist” parties are part of coalition governments in a number of EU countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Finland.

There are challenges in labelling these parties. Their policies frequently change. They also vary from country to country.

And their normalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon. Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a centre-right politician, was the first EU leader to take the plunge. He formed a government with the post-fascist political group, Movimento Sociale Italiano, back in 1994.

Six years later, Austria’s conservatives went into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. At the time, the EU was so outraged that it blocked official bilateral contacts with Austria for several months.

Post-war political etiquette dictated the political mainstream must form a , a “health barrier”, at election time to keep the extreme right out of European governments.

The universally recognised term for that practice is French, which gives you a sense how passionately many in France felt about it.

In the 2002 Presidential election, some French voters clipped a clothes peg to their noses on their way to polling stations – a way of showing they’d vote for a candidate they didn’t really like, just to keep out the far right.

This was a far right that for years was led by Marine Le Pen’s father, with French former members of a Nazi-led Waffen SS unit in his party ranks.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Marine Le Pen’s ambition, 10 years in the making, to detoxify her father’s party – changing its name and trying hard to clean up its image – appears to have been a roaring success.

The now has a searing gash in it, after the leader of France’s centre-right Les Républicains struck a deal with the RN not to compete against each other this Sunday in specific constituencies. This was an earthquake in French politics.

Crucially for Marine Le Pen, those who support her aren’t embarrassed to admit it any more. The RN is no longer viewed as an extremist protest movement. For many, it offers a credible political programme, whatever its detractors claim.

French voters trust the RN more than any other party to manage their economy and (currently poor) public finances, according to an Ipsos poll for the Financial Times newspaper. This is despite the party’s lack of government experience and its largely unfunded tax-cutting and spending plans.

  • Ugly campaign ends and France draws breath before election
  • In Marseille, pétanque masks political divides
  • Analysis: Le Pen’s party now dominant force in France

Which begs the question, when you observe the angst-ridden despair in liberal circles in Europe at the growing success of the so-called “New Right”: if traditional lawmakers had served their electorates better, perhaps there’d be less of an opening for European populists to walk into?

By populists, I mean politicians like Ms Le Pen who claim to listen to and speak on behalf of “ordinary people”, defending them against “the establishment”.

This “them and us” argument is extremely effective when voters feel anxious and ignored by governing powers. Just look at Donald Trump in the US, the sudden unexpected breakthrough of Reform UK in Thursday’s UK election and the huge success of Germany’s controversial anti-migration AfD party.

In France, many perceive President Macron – a former merchant banker – as arrogant, privileged and remote from the everyday cares of ordinary people outside the Paris bubble. A man who made difficult lives even tougher, they say, by raising the national pension age and trying to put up fuel prices, citing environmental concerns.

It must be a source of frustration for France’s president that his success at lowering unemployment rates and the billions of euros he spent trying to soften the economic effects of the Covid and energy crises seem largely forgotten.

Meanwhile, the RN concentrated much of its campaign on the cost-of-living crisis.

The party has pledged to cut taxes on gas and electricity and to raise the minimum wage for low earners.

Priorities like these mean the RN should no longer be labelled a far-right movement, its supporters insist. They point to a widening support base and say the party shouldn’t be forever tarnished by its racist roots under Le Pen senior.

A similar argument echoes out of Rome. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, once used to praise fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Her Brothers of Italy party has post-fascist roots but she now heads one of the EU’s most stable governments.

She recently censured a meeting of her party’s youth wing. Members had been filmed giving fascist salutes. There was no room in her party for nostalgia for the totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century, she said.

While critics at home warn of attempts to influence Italy’s media landscape and Ms Meloni’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, her concrete proposals to tackle irregular migration have won plaudits from the European mainstream, including the EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK’s recently ousted prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Frankly, on hot-button issues like migration, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the political rhetoric of the far right in Europe and traditional mainstream politicians intentionally sharpening their speeches to try to hold on to voters.

Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was a prime example of this, and Emmanuel Macron too, the more he’s felt the heat of Marine Le Pen’s popularity.

More from InDepth

One of the inadvertent effects of mainstream politicians aping parties further to their right on migration is that it makes the original anti-immigration parties seem more respectable, acceptable and electable.

Witness the recent stellar performance in the Netherlands’ general election of anti-migration politician Geert Wilders, who has been regularly accused of hate speech.

The label “far right” is one that needs to be debated. Much depends on the make-up of each party.

But the kind of acceptance now enjoyed by Ms Meloni in wider international circles is still a remote dream for Ms Le Pen.

The RN insists a parliamentary majority is still within reach this Sunday. More likely, polls suggest, is a paralysed hung parliament or an unruly coalition government of non-Le Pen parties.

Any and all of these scenarios reduce Emmanuel Macron to a pretty lame-duck president.

Political instability at home means big EU powers, France and also Germany, are turning inwards at a time of great global uncertainty.

Wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine. EU and Nato-sceptic Donald Trump is poised to possibly return to the White House.

It’s a precarious moment for Europe to be without leadership. Voters feel exposed.

Even if not this Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s followers firmly believe their time is coming. Soon.

Titanic and Avatar producer Jon Landau dies aged 63

By Kathryn ArmstrongBBC News

Jon Landau – the Oscar-winning producer of some of the world’s highest-grossing movies of all time, including Titanic and Avatar – has died aged 63.

Landau, who was the long-time producing partner of filmmaker James Cameron, reportedly died on Friday after living with cancer for more than a year.

His sister Tina confirmed his death on social media, calling him “the best brother a girl could ever dream of”.

“My heart is broken but also bursting with pride & gratitude for his most extraordinary life, and the love and gifts he gave me – and all who knew him or his films,” she wrote.

Landau was the son of Hollywood producers Ely and Edie Landau and for a time was an executive at the film production company 20th Century Fox, overseeing films including The Last Of The Mohicans and Die Hard 2.

Alongside Cameron, he helped to create the 1997 hit Titanic, which was the first film to make it past the $1bn mark at the global box office.

Later films Avatar and its sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, which were released in 2009 and 2022 respectively, went on to break Titanic’s record.

Landau also co-produced other hit films including Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Dick Tracy, and held a management position in Cameron’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment.

Following news of Landau’s death, Cameron told The Hollywood Reporter that “a great producer and a great human being has left us”.

“Jon Landau believed in the dream of cinema. He believed that film is the ultimate human art form, and to make films you have to first be human yourself,” he said.

“He will be remembered as much for his vast generosity of spirit as for the movies themselves.”

Director Sir Peter Jackson and his screenwriter wife Fran Walsh, whose visual effects company was used for the Avatar films, said in a statement that they were “devastated by the loss of Jon Landau”.

“Jon brought unparalleled passion to the projects he worked on and his influence will continue to inspire for years to come.”

The actor Zoe Saldaña, who starred in the Avatar films, wrote a message to Landau on Instagram, saying that his death was “hitting really hard”.

“Your wisdom and support shaped so many of us in ways we will always be grateful for.”

Air strike leaves 100,000 without power in Ukraine

By Vitaly Shevchenko and Tom McArthurBBC Monitoring and BBC News

A Russian attack on a power facility in Ukraine has left 100,000 people without power in the north-western region of Sumy.

Work is under way to restore power, National grid operator Ukrenergo said, following the strikes, which caused emergency shut-offs for consumers in the city and region of Sumy, which borders Russia.

There were no reports of casualties or damage apart from the energy facility, Reuters reports.

Russia continues to pummel energy facilities across Ukraine, often plunging the country into extended blackouts with people enduring sweltering summer conditions without running water, air conditioning, or life-saving medical equipment.

Over the past three months alone, Ukraine has lost nine gigawatts of generating capacity, the national energy company Ukrenergo says, losing all of its thermal power plants to enemy action and seeing all hydroelectric sites damaged by drones or missile strikes.

This is enough to power the whole of the Netherlands during peak hours of consumption, and more than a third of the capacity Ukraine had before Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022, according to the national grid operator.

Poland has been diverting surplus electricity to Ukraine to help it cope with the Russian strikes, but Ukrenego has scheduled cut-offs of electricity throughout the day across the country as domestic generation and electricity imports could not cover the deficit.

Maria Tsaturian from Ukrenergo told the BBC she is aware that a lot of anger is directed at her company for cutting electricity so often, for so long and for so many customers. But, she says, there’s no other option.

“We are at war. The energy sector is one of the goals for the Russian terrorists. And it is obvious why: all our life, all our civilisation, is built on electricity,” she says.

“This is the price we pay for freedom.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian air defences shot down 24 out of 27 Shahed kamikaze drones Russia launched on the night of 5-6 July, the Air Force Command has reported on Telegram.

The drones were intercepted over areas including the Sumy region, using electronic jamming and anti-air defences, it said.

Israeli air strike on Gaza school kills at least 16

By Rushdi Aboualouf and Tom McArthurBBC News
Shock and horror at scene of Gaza blast

At least 16 people have been killed in an Israeli air strike on a school in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials have said. Dozens more have been injured.

The building was sheltering thousands of displaced people at Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) said it struck several “terrorists operating in structures located in the area of Al-Jaouni School”.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that 10 people were killed in a separate airstrike on a house at the camp.

Video from the scene of the Nuseirat school strike shows adults and children screaming in a smoke-filled street covered in dust and rubble, as they run to help the wounded.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the attack targeted the upper floors of the school, which is located near a busy market.

The BBC understands that up to 7,000 people were using the building as shelter.

One woman told the AFP news agency how some children were killed as they were reading the Koran when the building was hit.

“This is the fourth time they have targeted the school without warning,” she said.

A local source said the target was a room allegedly used by Hamas police. The BBC is unable to verify this claim.

Hamas said five local journalists were among those killed in Israeli attacks on Saturday. Members of their family were also reportedly targeted.

More than 100 journalists have lost their lives in Gaza since the 7 October attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Hamas said the five latest fatalities brings the number to 158.

In a statement posted to X – formerly known as Twitter – the IDF confirmed it had hit the school buildings, saying it had taken “numerous steps” to “mitigate the risk of harming civilians, including the use of precise aerial surveillance and additional intelligence”.

Hamas militants were using the location as a “hideout” to carry out attacks against IDF troops, it said.

“Hamas continues to systematically violate international law by exploiting civilian structures and the civilian population as human shields for its terrorist attacks against the State of Israel,” it added.

Hamas called the attack a “massacre” on “defenceless displaced civilians”.

Many of the dead and wounded were women, children and the elderly, the group claimed via its English language Telegram channel.

Hopes have once again been rising in recent days that a deal between Israel and Hamas was on the horizon, following months of false starts.

Israel has announced it will send a team of negotiators next week to discuss a hostage release deal with Hamas.

It comes after a senior US administration official said Hamas had agreed to “pretty significant adjustments” to its position regarding a potential ceasefire.

A senior Hamas source told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that the group had agreed to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages 16 days after the proposed first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war.

Many schools and other UN facilities have been used as shelters by the 1.7 million people who have fled their homes during the war, which has lasted almost eight months.

A previous attack in June on another packed UN-run school in Nuseirat killed at least 35 people.

Local journalists told the BBC at the time that a warplane fired two missiles at classrooms on the top floor of the school.

After that attack, Israel’s military said it had “conducted a precise strike on a Hamas compound” in the school and killed many of the 20 to 30 fighters it believed were inside.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which runs the school, described the June incident as “horrific” and said the claim that armed groups might have been inside a shelter was “shocking” but could not be confirmed.

Israel’s war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October in which Hamas-led gunmen killed about 1,200 people and took 251 others back to Gaza as hostages.

At least 38,098 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s offensive, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Fake police scammers convinced me I was on China’s ‘most wanted’ list

By Elaine Chong and Ed MainBBC Trending

Chinese people around the world are being targeted by an elaborate scam in which criminals pretend to be Chinese police. A British-Chinese woman has told the BBC that she handed over her life savings to con men who wore uniforms in video calls and gave her a virtual tour of what appeared to be a police station.

Helen Young still has nightmares about the fortnight that she was made to believe she was on China’s most wanted list.

Scammers posing as Chinese police manipulated the London-based accountant into believing she was under investigation for a massive fraud back in her homeland.

Helen was presented with a mountain of fabricated evidence which appeared to implicate her in a crime she knew nothing about.

When the fake police then threatened her with extradition to a jail cell in China, Helen sent them her £29,000 life savings as “bail money”, in a desperate attempt to stay in Britain.

“I feel a bit stupid right now,” she says. “But there’s no chance I can know that’s not real. It’s so convincing”.

Helen’s story may sound extraordinary but there have been numerous similar cases in the Chinese diaspora.

China’s embassies around the world have issued public warnings about police impersonation scams, as has the FBI after a number of cases in the US. One elderly woman in Los Angeles reportedly handed over $3m, believing it would stop her extradition.

Typically these scams begin with the target receiving a relatively innocuous phone call. In Helen’s case it was somebody claiming to be a Chinese customs officer who told her they had stopped an illegal parcel sent in her name.

Helen hadn’t sent anything, and she was told she must file a police report if she believed someone had stolen her identity. Although she was sceptical, Helen didn’t hang up.

“Chinese people like myself because we were born and bred in China, we were taught obedience,” she says. “So when the party asked me to do something or my parents asked me it’s very rare that I will say no.”

Helen was transferred to a man who said he was a policeman in Shenzhen called “Officer Fang”. Helen asked for proof and he suggested they went on a video call. When they connected, Helen saw a uniformed man whose face matched the police ID he flashed.

Officer Fang then used his phone to give her a tour of what looked like a fully functioning police station with several uniformed officers and a desk with a large police logo.

“That moment all my suspicions are gone. So I say: ‘I’m sorry, I just have to be careful nowadays, there are a lot of criminals out there’,” Helen says.

While they were talking, Helen heard a message on the tannoy in the background, telling Officer Fang to take a call about her.

Officer Fang put her on hold and when he returned he was no longer interested in the illegal parcel. He said he had been informed that Helen was suspected of involvement in a large financial fraud.

“I said: ‘That’s nonsense’. He said: ‘Nobody says they’re guilty. So it’s the evidence that counts’.”

Helen was shown what looked like a bank statement for a vast amount of money in her name. Officer Fang told her that if she was innocent she must help them catch the real crooks. He made her sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell anyone about the investigation. Helen was warned that if she did, she would get an extra six months in prison

“He said: ‘If you tell anyone you have been interviewed by the Chinese police, your life will be in danger’.”

The scammers also made Helen download an app so they could listen in to what she was doing day and night.

Over the next few days, Helen tried to act normally at work. She spent her evenings working on a personal statement that she was ordered to write, detailing every aspect of her life.

Then Officer Fang called back with the news that several suspects were now in custody. He showed her written statements in which several people accused her.

Helen was sent a video which appeared to show a male prisoner confessing to police, and naming her as his boss in the fraud.

We have taken a closer look at the video, and because the suspect is wearing a large Covid mask, it’s impossible to tell if what you’re hearing matches his lip movements. It would be easy to add a fake soundtrack that mentions Helen’s name or another victim.

But for Helen – who had been convinced she was dealing with genuine police officers – the effect was devastating: “After I heard my name like that I was vomiting. It convinced me I was in deep, deep trouble.”

Helen believed Officer Fang when he then told her she would be extradited to China – even though she’s a British citizen.

“He told me: ‘So you got 24 hours, you pack your bags. The police are coming to take you to the airport’.”

Helen was told she could halt her extradition if she could raise bail. After sending over her bank statements for inspection, she was told to transfer £29,000.

“I felt terrible, because I promised my daughter to give her money for her first flat,” Helen says.

But a few days later the fake police were back. Helen was ordered to find another £250,000 or be extradited: “I was fighting for my life – if I go back to China, I may never come back.”

After Helen tried to borrow the money from a friend, he alerted her daughter. Helen broke down and revealed everything. But not before she had put her phone in a kitchen drawer and taken her daughter into a bedroom, and put a duvet over their heads so the scammers couldn’t listen in.

Her daughter listened patiently and explained it was a scam. Helen’s bank eventually refunded her money, but her ordeal could easily have had a bleaker ending: “For two weeks I hardly slept. How can you sleep when somebody is monitoring your phone?”

In her sleep-deprived state, she crashed her car twice. On the second occasion, she wrecked it entirely: “I didn’t kill anyone, but I could have. These types of criminal scam could kill people.”

Other victims of police impersonation scams have been pushed to even greater extremes.

In some extraordinary cases, some Chinese foreign students who can’t meet the financial demands of the fake police have been persuaded to fake their own kidnappings in order to seek a ransom from their families.

Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi of New South Wales Police fronted a publicity campaign to warn about so-called virtual or cyber-kidnappings, after a series of cases in Australia.

“Victims are coerced into making their own video of them being in a vulnerable position, to appear as if they’ve been kidnapped – tied up with tomato sauce on their body to make it look like they’ve been bleeding, and calling for help from their loved ones,” he says.

The students are then ordered to isolate themselves while the scammers send these images to families back in China, with a ransom demand.

The scam victims may also find themselves being manipulated into helping to scam others.

“Scammers will trick a victim into believing that they are working for the Chinese government. They will send them documentation and swear them in as a Chinese police officer,” Det Supt Doueihi says.

He says the victim – who may have already handed over money to the criminals – is sent to monitor or intimidate other Chinese students in Australia.

Many of these frauds are thought by experts to be run by Chinese organised crime groups operating from compounds in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Chinese state media has reported that tens of thousands of suspects have been returned to China over the last year.

Awareness of these types of scams is growing. We spoke to a student in Japan who realised he was being targeted by criminals, and recorded their conversation.

He asked not to be named, but shared the recording with the BBC. In it, the scammers tell him that if he revealed anything about the call to anyone, then he would be jeopardising the “investigation”. He refused to hand over any money and they stopped pursuing him.

He’s aware that he had a lucky escape: “I never thought it would happen to me. Just be really careful when you get a call from a number that you don’t recognise.”

For more on this story:

Watch BBC Trending: Scammed by the fake Chinese Police – now on YouTube

BBC World Service tells the story of scammers posing as Chinese police.

Biden interview fails to quell Democrat concerns over fitness

By Rachel Looker and Courtney SubramanianBBC News, Washington
Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos

President Joe Biden’s Friday night TV interview does not seem to have quelled an uprising within his own party to end his re-election campaign after a halting debate performance against Donald Trump.

A fifth House Democrat, Angie Craig of Minnesota, on Saturday joined colleagues in calling for the president to step aside, and reports suggest more could follow.

In his rare prime-time ABC News interview, Mr Biden dismissed his debate performance as just a “bad episode” and said only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to end his bid for re-election.

Mr Biden, 81, is spending Saturday at his family home in Delaware before two public events on Sunday.

There is growing unease among Democrats, although no senior members of the party have called for him to quit.

Some polls show Trump’s lead over Mr Biden widening, and many are concerned about losing the presidency and House seats, along with the Senate majority, if he leads the ticket.

Ms Craig, who is running in a competitive district in Minnesota, said on Saturday that she did not believe Mr Biden could “effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump”.

She said that while she respected his decades of service, “there is simply too much at stake to risk a second Donald Trump presidency”.

Minutes after the ABC interview, Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett, the first House Democrat to call for Mr Biden to drop out, said on CNN that the need “is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it”.

He said the longer it took Mr Biden to make a decision to withdraw, the “more difficult for a new person to come on board who can defeat Donald Trump”.

Other House Democrats including congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts called on Mr Biden to withdraw on Friday.

They join Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva’s call on Wednesday.

In his interview, Mr Biden declined to take a cognitive test and make the results public to prove he was fit to serve another term.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test – everything I do [is a test],” he told George Stephanopoulos.

This response did not resonate with Democratic congresswoman Judy Chu of California, who told Politico that his answer was “unsettling and not particularly convincing” and that she would “be watching closely… especially in spontaneous situations”.

During the 22-minute ABC interview, Mr Biden rejected suggestions allies may ask him to stand aside, saying “it’s not going to happen”.

Mr Stephanopoulos pressed the president on his capacity to serve another term.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden, who is due to speak at a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday, thanked Vice-President Kamala Harris for her support during the ABC News interview.

Ms Harris has emerged as a top contender to replace him if he were to step down.

In an interview on Saturday at the Essence black culture festival in New Orleans, the vice-president said that November’s election was crucial to American democracy, but made no mention of Democratic disquiet about Mr Biden.

“Understand what we all know – in 122 days, we each have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in,” she said.

She said Trump “has openly talked about his admiration of dictators and his intention to be a dictator”.

Essence was the first of a number events in July that appear to target female black voters, a key constituency for Democrats in November.

However, questions around Mr Biden’s candidacy and the potential for Ms Harris to take his place will be difficult to avoid.

Ms Harris has spent the last week close to the president, flying from Los Angeles to attend the White House 4 July celebration, sitting in a meeting with governors and Mr Biden, and also being involved in his call with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Vice-presidents have the delicate balancing act of projecting unequivocal support for their bosses while also tacitly proving they are up to the main job. That has been more so for Ms Harris as questions swirl around Mr Biden’s re-election bid.

However, some Democrats acknowledge concerns about Ms Harris as a presidential candidate. She struggled to gain her footing early in her vice-presidency as she was given responsibility for issues including immigration, student debt and voting rights.

Low approval ratings have dogged her in office, although they have improved in recent months. She has since refocused her attention on issues such as abortion rights, which Democrats believe will be crucial in November.

More on President Biden:

She accused Assange of sexual assault, but is glad he’s now free

By Phelan ChatterjeeBBC News

Swedish human rights activist Anna Ardin is glad Julian Assange is free.

But the claims she has made about him suggest she would have every reason not to wish him well.

She is one of two women who accused the WikiLeaks founder of sexual assault 14 years ago.

The allegations – which Assange has always denied – were explosive, and made headlines across the world. They set off a chain of events which saw him trying to avoid extradition to Sweden by seeking asylum in a London embassy for seven years.

In 2019 the Swedish authorities ended their investigation into Assange and dropped their extradition bid. However, he spent the next five years in a British prison fighting extraditon to the US, where he faced prosecution over massive leaks of confidential information.

These include US army footage showing Iraqi civilians being killed, and documents suggesting the US military killed hundreds of Afghan civilians in unreported incidents.

Assange was eventually freed last month, after a plea deal with the US.

Ardin is fiercely proud of Assange’s work for WikiLeaks, and insists that it should never have landed him behind bars.

“We have the right to know about the wars that are fought in our name,” she says.

“I’m sincerely happy for him and his family, that they can be together. The punishment he’s got has been very unproportionate.”

Speaking to Ardin over Zoom in Stockholm, it quickly becomes clear that she has no problem keeping what she sees as the two Assanges apart in her head – the visionary activist and the man who she says does not treat women well.

She is at pains to describe him neither as a hero nor a monster, but a complicated man.

The 45-year-old activist is also a Christian deacon, with a belief in forgiveness, and she uses the words “truth” and “transparency” again and again throughout the interview. It might explain why she is in awe of what WikiLeaks accomplished but, at the same time, bitterly disappointed that the assault allegations she made against Assange were never formally tested.

Ardin describes her encounter with Assange in her book, No Heroes, No Monsters: What I Learned Being The Most Hated Woman On The Internet.

In 2010, just three weeks after WikiLeaks’ release of the Afghan war logs, she invited him to Stockholm to take part in a seminar organised by the religious wing of Sweden’s Social Democrats.

Assange did not want to stay at a hotel for security reasons and Ardin was due to be away, so she offered him her flat. But she returned early.

After an evening of discussing politics and human rights, they ended up having what she describes as uncomfortable sex during which she says he humiliated her.

Ardin says she agreed to have sex with Assange as long as he used a condom, but the condom broke and he continued.

Ardin suspects he broke it deliberately. If this was the case, he probably would have committed an offence under Swedish law.

Later, Ardin writes that she heard from another woman – named in legal papers as SW – who had attended the seminar. SW apparently said that Assange had penetrated her without her consent when she was asleep.

In a 2016 statement to Swedish prosecutors, Assange maintained that his sexual relationship with SW was entirely consensual, and that in texts seen by his lawyers, she told a friend that she had been “half asleep”.

Both women filed police reports – Ardin’s case was categorised as alleged sexual misconduct, and SW’s as alleged rape.

The press got hold of the reports, setting off an extraordinary series of events.

Assange denied the allegations, and suggested that they were a US set-up. WikiLeaks had just leaked 76,000 US military documents – sparking massive global attention and scrutiny of US foreign policy.

On 21 August, 2010, WikiLeaks tweeted: “We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks’. Now we have the first one.”

Another post followed the next day: “Reminder: US intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks as far back as 2008.”

Assange’s UK lawyer Mark Stephens claimed that a “honeytrap” had been sprung and that “dark forces” were at work.

A social media furore erupted which Ardin describes as “hell” – she tells me the amount of harassment and death threats forced her to leave Sweden at one point.

“I couldn’t work. My life passed me by for two years.”

To this day, many believe Ardin is part of a US conspiracy, and that her allegations are false. Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, a long-time supporter of Assange, last week described her claims as “mud” and “innuendo”.

No evidence has ever been found to link Ardin with US intelligence. She concedes that the narratives spread by Assange had an air of plausibility, because he had been “messing with the Pentagon”, but says the claims were nothing but “lies” and a “smear campaign”.

Months after the incidents, an international arrest warrant was issued for Assange, who was in London at that point.

In December 2010, he admitted to the BBC that it was “not probable” he was part of a classic honey-trap operation – but he still denied any wrongdoing.

Assange was convinced that if he went to Sweden he would then be extradited to the US – where he feared the death penalty awaited. In 2012, he took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Sweden refused to guarantee he would not be extradited to the US, but said any move to do so would need to be approved by the UK too. Both countries also said they would not extradite him if they thought he might face the death penalty.

In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into Ardin’s allegations as time had run out.

In 2019, prosecutors abandoned their investigation into SW’s claims, saying the evidence had “weakened considerably due to the long period of time since the events in question”.

By this time, Assange was being held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, facing extradition to the US on espionage charges. If convicted there, he could have faced 170 years behind bars.

Assange finally won his freedom in 2024, after agreeing to plead guilty to a single charge under the US Espionage Act.

Ardin still wishes he had faced trial for the alleged assault against her. “But he won’t. So I have to let it go.”

She says some of her doubters don’t take her seriously because they don’t think the details of her experience, or reaction, were dramatic enough.

She suggests there’s an expectation of sexual assault to always be brutal, involve a lot of violence, and leave the victim heavily traumatised – and if that doesn’t happen you can’t be a real victim, or a real offender.

But that doesn’t align with what Ardin describes as the reality of her experience. She stresses that doesn’t make it any less serious or unacceptable.

She slams many of Assange’s supporters – and journalists – for seeking a “one-sided narrative” which turns him into a hero, and her into an evil CIA agent.

“I think that we have a problem that we have to have these heroes that are flawless… I don’t think heroes exist outside fairytales.”

Ardin says her intention was never to write off Assange as a one-dimensional villain, to be “kicked out of society”.

Offenders are seen as “monsters, completely different from all other men”, she says. And this means the “system goes on”, she argues, as “normal” men don’t realise that they, too, can be prone to violence – so they don’t interrogate themselves.

“I want him to be seen as a normal guy. That’s what normal guys do sometimes. They cross other people’s boundaries.”

She thinks that progressive movements often have problems calling out leaders, fearing any criticism delegitimises the entire cause. “You can’t be a leader and abuse the people who are active in your movement, because the movement will not survive.”

People should not be able to get away with sexual crimes, or any crimes just because they’re influential, she adds.

The BBC contacted Assange’s lawyers for comment on the claims repeated by Ardin in our interview with her, but they said he was “not in a position to respond”.

I ask what justice would have looked like for her at the end of this saga.

Ardin tells me she is only interested in getting to what she describes as the truth. She is less interested in punishment.

“Justice for me would have been to have transparency. I was not happy that he was locked up because he was [locked up] for the wrong reason.”

Ardin is a left-wing Christian who attaches great importance to reconciliation and transformation.

But for that to be possible, she says that perpetrators need to own up and genuinely commit to change.

After all this contemplation, I wonder what she would say to Assange, if face to face with him now.

Ardin tells me she would urge him to work on himself.

She would ask him to admit that he “did not have the right to do what he did to me, and he doesn’t have that right towards other women either”.

“He has to admit that for himself… He has to reflect on what he did.”

BBC Action Line

Cyclist fined for kissing wife during Tour de France

By Michael Sheils McNameeBBC News

French cyclist Julien Bernard has given a light-hearted apology after being fined for kissing his wife during a Tour de France time trial.

The Lidl-Trek rider was made to pay 200 Swiss francs ($223; £174) by the International Cycling Union (UCI) for stopping briefly during stage seven of the race.

The governing body said the fine was for “unseemly or inappropriate behaviour during the race and damage to the image of the sport”.

Writing on social media, Bernard apologised to the UCI for “having damaged the image of sport” but said he was willing to pay the fine “every day and relive this moment”.

Stage seven of the Tour de France is a short course of 23.3km (14.5 miles) and is one of two time trials in the race – where cyclists race against the clock for the best time.

The climb takes place in the famous wine region of Burgundy. According to Cycling News, Bernard was just 30 minutes from where he lives when he was met by his supporters.

As he reached the top of a climb, friends ran towards him holding signs and his wife stepped forward – at which point she gave him a quick kiss, holding their son who was dressed in a replica cycling kit.

A fine for the same amount and for breaking the same rule was given earlier in the race to Italian cyclist Davide Ballerini, after he stopped to watch Britain’s Mark Cavendish sprint to a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage victory.

In a television interview following the stage, Bernard said the encounter with his loved ones had been a unique moment in his career and he had pushed hard earlier in the stage so he would have enough time to do so.

“It was really incredible. My wife has been organising this with some friends for a few weeks now and she did a really, really good job,” he said.

“On a time trial, you have time to enjoy yourself. It’s these moments that keep me going and cycling.”

Rob Delaney says he wants to die in same room as his son

The US actor and comedian Rob Delaney has said he wants to buy the home his son died in so he can also experience his last moments there.

Delaney’s two-year-old child Henry died in 2018 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Delaney told Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he asked the landlord when he moved out: “Listen, if you ever go to sell this place, let me know first because I would like to buy it.

“So when I’m 81 I can crawl in here and die. In the same room that my son died in, that my other son was born in.”

Before Henry died, his parents told him they were expecting another child.

The Catastrophe and Deadpool 2 star said: “He had to know that this family that loved him was alive and was growing and that there was somebody that we were going to tell about him.

“We knew that they would not overlap corporally on this Earth, even though Henry’s younger brother was born in the same room that Henry died in, our living room.”

Delaney, 47, told the programme that he and his wife, Leah, had considered leaving London but had continued to live in the city because of memories of Henry.

“For so many reasons, we’ve stayed, one of which is I like to go put my hands on slides at the playground that Henry slid down.”

He added that he sometimes bumps into the nurses that looked after his son and said London and the NHS had taken very good care of his child.

Delaney has previously described the NHS as “the pinnacle of human achievement” and that his family received “truly unbelievable” care while Henry was sick.

Heart was ‘torn into pieces and dissolved in salt’

Delaney thought he would struggle with the birth of his new son, saying his heart had “been torn into pieces and dissolved in salt” and was just “garbage”.

But he told host Lauren Laverne that the “nanosecond he exited my wife’s body, I looked at him and just you know, started weeping and was so in love with him and just wanted to sniff them and eat them and put them into my shirt and squeeze them and I love him desperately.

“And then you have to feel and honour your pain. You have to let it hurt and you can’t run away from it. When the feelings come it’s best to let them.”

Delaney also spoke about his recovery from alcoholism, saying he has been sober for more than two decades after a car crash prompted him to stop drinking.

He added: “It’s nothing more interesting than garden variety alcoholism, you know, I found that drinking just made me just feel better, complete, happier, relaxed.

“You know, anytime I took a drink, it was just like, ‘this is it’. I first got drunk at 12 and then began to drink with more regularity at 14.

“I had alcoholism on both sides of my family. And so then I got it too and… it doesn’t really care where you come from.”

We have too many prisoners, says new PM Starmer

By Paul SeddonPolitical reporter • Sam FrancisPolitical reporter
‘Change won’t happen overnight’ – Starmer on broken prison system

Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to reduce the number of people going to prison through renewed efforts to cut reoffending.

In his first press conference as prime minister, Sir Keir said too many people found themselves back in jail “relatively quickly” after being sent there.

He added that intervening to prevent young people committing knife crime would be an early priority for his new government.

But he said there would be no “overnight solution” to prison overcrowding, adding: “We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons.”

It comes after he appointed a businessman as his prisons minister who has previously said only a third of prisoners should be there.

James Timpson, boss of the shoe repair chain which has a policy of recruiting ex-offenders, said in an interview with Channel 4 earlier this year that “we’re addicted to punishment”.

Labour, which won a landslide general election victory on Thursday, has promised to review sentencing after regaining office for the first time since 2010.

It has also inherited a ballooning crisis in Britain’s jails, and has already committed to keeping the previous Conservative government’s early release scheme in place to ease current levels of overcrowding.

Last week the Prison Governors’ Association, which represents 95% of prison governors in England and Wales, warned that jails were due to run out of space within days.

Tory ex-justice secretary Alex Chalk first announced plans to release prisoners early in October 2023.

Mr Chalk, who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in the general election, told MPs at the time the “prison population is greater than it has ever been” and the UK “must use prison better”.

However, he added: “We must do whatever it takes to always ensure there are always enough prison places to lock up the most dangerous offenders to keep the British public safe.”

Details of Labour’s review are yet to be unveiled, but Mr Timpson’s appointment has offered an early signal that a change of approach may be on the cards in this area.

Sir Keir has appointed him a member of the House of Lords, allowing him to take up a post as prisons minister at the Ministry of Justice.

The businessman told a Channel 4 podcast in February that prison was a “disaster” for around a third of prisoners, and another third “probably shouldn’t be there”.

He said too many people being in prison for “far too long” was an example of “evidence being ignored because there is this sentiment around punish and punish”.

“We’re addicted to sentencing, we’re addicted to punishment,” he added.

Prison ‘escalator’

Asked about his comments at a Downing Street press conference, Sir Keir did not offer a view on whether he agreed with those estimates.

But he added: “We do need to be clear about the way in which we use prisons.

“For so many people [who] come out of prison, they’re back in prison relatively quickly afterwards.

“That is a massive problem that we have in this country, that we do need to break.”

He said his party wanted to cut knife crime in particular, and cited his plan to set up a network of “youth hubs”.

Sir Keir, a former lawyer, added: “I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts and watched people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison.

“I’ve often reflected that many of them could have been taken out of that system earlier if they’d had support”.

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Labour says it wants to create 20,000 prison places by enabling ministers to override local councils on planning decisions.

But it also plans to keep in place the scheme implemented by the last government under which some lower-level offenders can be released up to 70 days early.

Sir Keir said Conservative ministers had created a “mess” by failing to build enough prisons and mismanaging the prisons budget.

Defending his decision to keep the early-release scheme in place, he added: “We don’t have the prisons we need, and I can’t build a prison within 24 hours.”

The latest official figures, published on Friday, put the prison population of England and Wales at 87,453 out of a “useable operational capacity” of 88,864.

The SNP-run Scottish government, responsible for prisons in Scotland, plans to release between 500 and 550 inmates in the coming months.

It comes as Sir Keir convened the first Labour cabinet meeting in 14 years, telling his top team he expects them to hold themselves and their departments to the “highest standards of integrity and honesty”.

A Downing Street readout from the meeting said the prime minister told ministers “the whole country was looking to the government to deliver on their priorities”.

Following the cabinet, Sir Keir was grilled by journalists at his first press conference as PM.

Asked about tax hikes, Sir Keir said he would take “tough decisions” and face challenges with “raw honesty”.

The new Labour government faces tough choices on public finances, with forecasts suggesting major spending cuts.

But Thursday’s landslide victory in the General Election has given Labour “a clear mandate to govern for all four corners of the United Kingdom,” Sir Keir said as he set out plans to tour all four UK nations in the coming days.

Saturday also saw the final result of the general election, with the Lib Dems winning the Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire constituency.

The outcome had originally been expected at about 05:00 BST on Friday, but a recount meant the results were delayed until Saturday afternoon.

Candidate Angus MacDonald gained a majority of 2,160 over the SNP’s Drew Hendry.

It means the Lib Dems have won 72 Westminster seats. Six of these are in Scotland, meaning the Lib Dems overtake the Scottish Conservatives as Scotland’s third largest party in Westminster.

Across the UK, Labour won 412 seats while the Conservatives were on 121.

Ukraine lorry collides with minibus killing 14

Fourteen people have been killed in a serious road accident in western Ukraine.

A senior regional official said the fatalities resulted from a lorry driving into oncoming traffic and colliding with a minibus.

Twelve passengers, including a six-year-old child, and the two drivers were killed, while one woman survived with serious injuries, officials said.

Criminal proceedings have been opened into the incident.

It happened near the village of Verkhiv, in Rivne region at about 15:45 local time (12:45 GMT), the head of the regional military administration, Oleksandr Koval, said on his Telegram channel.

Possible reasons for what happened are being investigated.

Pictures posted by the Emergencies Ministry showed wreckage of a vehicle in a field and a child’s toy lying on the ground.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned it in his evening video address and sent his condolences to the loved ones of those who died.

Kimchi blamed for mass sickness in South Korea

By Aleks PhillipsBBC News

About 1,000 people in South Korea are suffering from food poisoning linked to kimchi contaminated with norovirus.

Officials in Namwon City, in the south-west of the country, announced on Friday morning that there had been 996 confirmed cases – although local media reports say that number had climbed to 1,024 by early Saturday afternoon.

Authorities said the popular fermented cabbage dish had been distributed to those now sick through school meals in the city.

They added that students and staff from 24 schools were among the patients with vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pains.

Norovirus is very contagious and can be caught through touching contaminated surfaces – such as toilet flush handles – and from people who are already infected.

Most people recover in a few days without needing hospital treatment, but some become very ill.

  • What gives kimchi its unusual flavour?

Namwon City officials said it began an epidemiological investigation to uncover the source of the illness on Wednesday, after the first case was reported the previous day.

Since then, the number of cases grew rapidly – rising from 153 on Wednesday to 745 on Thursday.

In a social media post on Thursday, the city’s Mayor, Choi Kyung-sik, said that health officials had adopted a “pre-emptive and excessive response” in an attempt to prevent further spread of the illness.

“We will ensure the safety of our citizens,” he added.

City officials said norovirus had been detected among patients, through environmental samples and in some of the kimchi regularly delivered to schools.

As a result, its disaster and safety department had temporarily suspended the production and sale of any products from the company that made the kimchi – which is also in the process of voluntarily recalling products that have already been distributed.

The firm that produced the kimchi has not yet been officially named.

What can we learn from Starmer’s first day as PM?

By Chris Mason@ChrisMasonBBCPolitical editor

The last time I recall a cabinet meeting on a Saturday was during the Brexit years and the time before that was due to the Falklands War.

In other words, they are rare.

This one was about cracking on, and being seen to crack on, with the job of government with a momentum and energy.

Standing in Downing Street and watching and talking to ministers – as we will get used to calling them – there was a first day at school vibe.

Easy smiles, time to chat with the security staff, an excitement to clutch a red ministerial folder.

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The novelty will no doubt wear off for them, and the slog of governing kick in. But this time, at least, there was a knowing awareness of the magnitude of this moment for them.

It is 14 years since Labour ministers wandered around in Downing Street.

And it is 27 years since they last kicked the Conservatives out of office.

A couple of hours later Sir Keir Starmer looked comfortable, even relaxed, in the role of prime minister in his first news conference.

Us reporters were led to the State Dining Room in the heart of No10, rather than the specially designed room in No9 built by the last government and associated in particular with rows about parties during the pandemic.

These kinds of things do not happen by accident and who knows if this government will use the newer room on camera in future, but it was a visual marker of change.

Sir Keir claimed to us that his government would confront the challenges it confronts with what he called a “raw honesty”.

He and his ministers have already described prisons and the NHS in England as “broken”.

How long there will be a patience with them blaming their predecessors, let’s see.

What we will see next – and has been telegraphed in advance – is a blitz of activity and travel from the prime minister.

It turns out that when you win a general election the meeting, greeting, dashing and smiling roadshow doesn’t end with a trip to the polling station.

Sir Keir will travel to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff in the next day or so and will meet England’s mayors on Tuesday.

After that it will be a flight to Washington DC for the annual summit of the Nato defence alliance.

A chance for the prime minister to meet fellow world leaders – and to be on a stage only presidents and prime ministers get an invite to.

The week after (in other words, inside the next fortnight) there will be a King’s Speech – the State Opening of Parliament – where the government will set out its planned new laws.

And then Keir Starmer will welcome around 50 fellow European leaders to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire the day after, for a meeting of what is known as the European Political Community, a new-ish body separate from the European Union.

A whopping majority after offering “change” – coupled with a low turnout and a share of the vote lower than any other single-party post-war government – may afford this administration little time to demonstrate, if it can, that it is capable of delivery.

There are determined not to waste any time.

Keir Starmer: From indie kid to prime minister

By Nick Eardley@nickeardleybbcPolitical correspondent

Three years ago Sir Keir Starmer seriously considered quitting as Labour leader.

It was 2021 and his party had just lost the Hartlepool by-election to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

It was the first time Labour had ever lost the seat. Three short years feel like a political lifetime ago now.

Sir Keir has become only the fifth person in British history to take Labour from opposition to power.

His party has gone from a historic thumping at the general election in 2019 – to victory in 2024.

The Hartlepool result though, is a reminder that Sir Keir’s journey to Downing Street was far from straightforward. In fact, for a long time his life and career were on a very different path.

Keir Starmer, one of four children, was brought up in the town of Oxted on the Kent-Surrey border.

He was raised by his toolmaker father and nurse mother, who suffered from a debilitating form of arthritis known as Still’s disease.

Sir Keir has spoken about the challenges of growing up at a time of high inflation in the 1970s.

“If you’re working class, you’re scared of debt,” he said during the election campaign.

“My mum and dad were scared of debt, so they would choose the bill that they wouldn’t pay.” The choice was the phone bill.

Sir Keir had a lot going on in his younger years.

He was obsessed with football (on the centre-left of midfield, of course). He was a talented musician and learnt violin with Norman Cook, who went on to become chart-topping DJ Fatboy Slim.

Sir Keir also had a rebellious streak. He and his friends were once caught by police illegally selling ice-cream on a French beach to raise cash.

But what about politics? There were always clues, including his name which was given to him as a tribute to the first leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie.

Sir Keir dabbled in left-wing politics over the course of his pre-parliamentary life.

That started at school, when he joined the Young Socialists, Labour’s youth movement.

After school, Sir Keir became the first person in his family to go to university, studying law at Leeds University and later at Oxford.

At Leeds, he was influenced by the indie music of the 1980s, from The Smiths and The Wedding Present to Orange Juice and Aztec Camera.

His biographer, Tom Baldwin, notes his favourite drink as a student was a mix of beer and cider – or Snakebite – and he had a taste for curry and chips.

For a while after graduating, Sir Keir lived above a brothel in north London.

More importantly, he was building a reputation as a workaholic that would see him go on to become a successful and prominent human rights lawyer.

At the same time, Sir Keir continued his left-wing activism, as a prominent contributor to the magazine Socialist Lawyer.

But politics was a side interest and, for much of the next 20 years, his legal career was his focus.

In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions, the chief prosecutor for England and Wales.

Sir Keir likes to talk about this period in life as an example of his dedication to public service, and often recalls his role in prosecuting terrorist gangs. But what else?

Under the 2010-15 coalition government, he had to implement significant cuts, with the Crown Prosecution Service’s budget reduced by more than a quarter.

He also oversaw high-profile decisions including the prosecution of MPs over their parliamentary expenses following the 2009 scandal and prosecuting the then Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne for asking his wife to take speeding points for him.

Sir Keir’s legal work was rewarded with a knighthood in 2014. But how successful was his leadership?

Towards the end of his tenure, Sir Keir admitted in a BBC interview that vulnerable victims were still being let down by the justice system.

A late career change

It wasn’t until the age of 52 that the career change came.

Sir Keir was selected for a safe Labour seat in north London, winning comfortably. He and his predecessor Rishi Sunak became MPs on the same day.

But it wasn’t a happy time for the Labour Party.

The Conservatives had just won the general election and a bitter factional battle loomed after Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

Much has been said and written about Sir Keir’s journey from backbencher to the Labour leadership – and now to Downing Street. But some things are worth highlighting.

When he became leader, Jeremy Corbyn made Sir Keir shadow immigration minister but it didn’t last long.

He resigned after less than a year, one of dozens of frontbenchers who quit after the Brexit referendum in an attempt to force Mr Corbyn out.

When that failed, and Mr Corbyn saw off a leadership challenge, Sir Keir returned to the fold as shadow Brexit secretary.

Labour in the doldrums

Sir Keir’s position on Mr Corbyn has evolved over time.

In 2019, he was asked on BBC Breakfast to repeat the sentence “Jeremy Corbyn would make a great prime minister”. He did.

A few months later, he would tell the BBC he was “100%” behind Mr Corbyn and working with him to win a general election.

While others refused to serve under Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir stayed in the tent and helped persuade the leader to back a second Brexit referendum at the 2019 election.

That election was a disaster for Labour. Mr Corbyn quit and Sir Keir won the race to replace him.

But when he took over, a lot of people thought Boris Johnson was destined to govern for some time.

Many saw Sir Keir as a leader who could help rebuild – but few thought he was the man who would take them back to power.

When did that change? The polls give us a good indication.

Sir Keir’s Labour trailed Mr Johnson’s Conservatives in the polls for much of 2020 and 2021 when the Hartlepool by-election was held.

But that started to change after the first reports of Downing Street parties during the pandemic, when strict restrictions were in place around social gatherings.

There is a clear point in the polls where Labour overtakes the Conservatives in November 2021.

Its lead increased significantly after the Liz Truss mini budget and has been consistent and significant ever since.

A ‘ruthless’ leader

Sir Keir’s allies argue that wouldn’t have happened without big changes in the Labour Party. Sir Keir has sometimes been ruthless.

Jeremy Corbyn was thrown out of the parliamentary party and ultimately barred from standing as a Labour candidate.

Economic policy was tightened; meaning policies were junked if they weren’t seen as affordable.

Sir Keir embraced British patriotism, using the union jack as a backdrop for speeches and getting his conference to sing God Save the King.

All of that has contributed to Sir Keir’s message of change. He spent the campaign arguing he had changed Labour and could change the country too.

The election result will also mean change for the Starmer family.

Sir Keir, now 61, married his wife Victoria in 2007. Her intention is to keep working for the NHS in occupational health as he serves as prime minister.

Lady Starmer has been seen at some high-profile events like conference speeches, a rally last week – and at a Taylor Swift gig. But she is unlikely to play as prominent a role in public life as some partners have in the past.

Sir Keir though has been candid about the impact high office could have, particularly on his teenage son and daughter.

He told the BBC in 2021: “I am worried about my children. That is probably the single thing that does keep me awake – as to how we will protect them through this.”

It’s a challenge the Starmers will now face as they move into Downing Street at the end of a testing, far from straightforward, journey.

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Labour manifesto: What they plan to do in government

By the Visual Journalism teamBBC News

Labour has won a big majority in the general election. That means it should be able to pass the new laws it wants easily. But what are those likely to be?

During the election campaign, Labour released a manifesto – a list of pledges explaining to voters what it would do if elected.

Use our interactive guide below to find out what the party said it would do on key issues that interest you – whether that’s the economy, the environment or immigration.

Because of devolution, the UK parliament has limited powers over some of the issues highlighted in the guide. For example, health policy is devolved to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

If you want to find out what was promised by other parties around the UK during the election campaign, you can find out in our full manifesto guide.

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  • General election 2024: All BBC stories and analysis

Sam Carling: Meet the new youngest MP, born in 2002

By Louise ParryLouise HullandBBC News, Peterborough

A 22-year-old elected as an MP with a razor-thin majority has said he does not want his age to be the focus as he heads to Westminster.

Labour’s Sam Carling is likely to be the “baby of the House” – the unofficial title given to the youngest member of the House of Commons – after narrowly winning North West Cambridgeshire.

The Cambridge University science graduate student beat veteran Conservative MP Shailesh Vara by 39 votes to take the seat.

Mr Carling called his victory a “political earthquake”, and said he hoped more young people would stand for public office.

“Then they will see themselves represented, both in Parliament and local councils. It will help tackle apathy,” he said.

The previous “baby of the House” was Oxford University graduate and fellow Labour MP Keir Mather, who won the Selby and Ainsty by-election in 2023.

Mr Carling, who has been a councillor in Cambridge, said many voters were surprised to discover he was running for office, but that “people on the doorstep were very positive”.

“They said ‘That’s good, we need more young people’.

“There is a lot of abuse aimed at younger people online, but face-to-face, people are generally thrilled to find out.”

However, he doesn’t want his age to be a focus.

“I want us to get away from this strange mindset towards younger people’s age. As far as I’m concerned we’re just the same as anyone else. I just want to get on with the job.”

He only recently became interested in politics, saying he saw a connection between social and economic decline and “decisions made in Westminster”.

Mr Carling grew up in a rural town in the north-east of England, which he described as “a very deprived area”.

“I saw a lot of things getting worse around me. I was concerned about shops closing on local high streets that used to be a thriving hub and are basically now a wasteland.

“And the sixth form closed, but I didn’t make the connection to politics until later.”

In his constituency, largely based in the city of Peterborough, he said the new Labour government had “a whole host of issues to deal with – it’s a microcosm of the country”.

He wants his party to “get to grips with” a lack of dentists and NHS staff “who are dreadfully overworked”, as well as “fixing rural transport”.

Mr Carling said it would be “interesting to see” what his generation makes of a new era of politics.

“I think a lot of people have only ever been conscious of a Conservative government.

“I would argue we can make significant changes and offer a better alternative, and hopefully engage more young people in politics,” he added.

  • LIVE: Follow all the latest general election results news
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Holly Jackson: ‘Obviously, I love murder – fictional murder’

By Shola LeeBBC News

Bestselling author Holly Jackson shares her secrets for plotting a modern murder mystery – and explains how true crime has influenced her.

For the author of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, the process of writing a whodunnit is as meticulous as investigating a crime.

“I am obsessive about it,” she says. “I don’t quite have a ‘murder board’ because it’s not on the wall, but it is on the floor.”

Each scene in one of Holly’s books corresponds to an index card, which is then carefully placed into columns for each act in the story. The author admits this “does rather take over the room”.

While this is great for planning a storyline, Holly says opening her office door a “bit too ferociously” can literally blow her plot out of place.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder follows plucky heroine Pip Fitz-Amobi as she investigates a closed murder case. Pip soon finds a co-detective in Ravi Singh, whose brother was implicated in the crime.

Each clue, twist and turn in the story has been thoroughly discussed by Holly’s fans on TikTok; the hashtag for A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – #agggtm – has more than 58,000 posts.

And the story has now been turned into a BBC drama by lead writer Poppy Cogan, with Holly serving as executive producer.

The Guardian called the series a “very modern Nancy Drew,” with fans on TikTok praising the show, stitching their reactions with clips from the new series.

The BBC spoke to Holly about the process of writing her hit novel. “Obviously, I love murder,” she says, “fictional murder.”

‘I need true crime in my ears’

Holly, 31, from Buckinghamshire, published her debut in 2019. She won a British Book Award the following year and has sold millions of copies around the world.

While her fiction fits into the young adult category, Holly does not shy away from heavier topics, like crime. Her first novel, for example, follows the disappearance and apparent murder of a school girl.

And Holly says true crime content – like the podcast Serial – became a “very useful” tool when writing A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. The structure of the book feels like a podcast, Holly says, adding: “We have transcripts of dialogue the whole time.”

In the sequel to Holly’s first book – called Good Girl, Bad Blood – Pip even creates a true crime podcast herself.

And Holly says this research tool soon seeped into her real-life. “I can’t really do anything without a true crime podcast,” she says. “If I’m walking the dog or washing the dishes, I need true crime in my ears.”

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In the last ten years, true crime series have won international acclaim: Serial won a Peabody Award in 2015 and In The Dark– a long-form investigative journalism series – became the first podcast to win a George Polk Award in 2019. And, according to The New York Times, Serial has had more 705m downloads.

Even Holly is curious why crime is such a popular source of entertainment.

“Especially with young women,” she wonders, “is that like, an instinct in us that’s trying to protect ourselves?”

Georgia Hardstark is the co-host of My Favorite Murder, a US podcast that looks into historic and modern cases, with one episode covering the Dancing Plague of 1518 and the Paper Bag Killer.

For Georgia, part of the reason she is so interested in true crime is that it helps her feel less “paranoid” and validates her anxieties about life, she explains.

“That is at the forefront of my mind, constantly, you know, ‘What’s around the next corner? Are my doors locked?'”

‘I know who the murderer is’

For Holly, the line between fact and fiction is clearly drawn: unlike true crime cases, she always knows “the ending before I even write the first sentence”.

“I knew from the get-go who the murderer was going to be, this whole setup,” she says. “The slightly more complicated thing is not working out the mystery – it’s working out how Pip is going to solve the mystery.”

In A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, for example, Pip uses her Extended Project Qualification – an accreditation where a student independently researches a given topic – to interview suspects and keep track of clues for the case.

While Holly uses true crime as a “jumping off” point for research, she notes the content, often used as a source of entertainment, is “obviously, about real life people’s trauma”.

Jessica Jarlvi – a “Scandi-noir” writer and lecturer on the University of Cambridge’s Crime and Thriller Writing course – says things like true crime podcasts risk sensationalising these events.

“It just puts me off,” she says, “whereas in fiction, you don’t have to worry about that.”

In Georgia’s view, however, ignoring real-life crime – often with women victims – “is to sweep it under the rug”.

‘I don’t have passive readers’

Modern crime readers are “becoming more and more demanding”, Jessica adds.

Holly agrees: “I don’t have those passive readers, I have the really active ones who are looking to solve the mystery.”

On TikTok, fans of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder share videos with their predictions and suspect lists as they read along with the book.

In one video, a reader guides people on how to annotate the book to keep track, colour co-ordinating sections into “clues” and “conflicts”.

“It makes me have to up my game a bit more,” Holly says.

Wondering how to watch A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder? You can stream the series on BBC iPlayer.

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Fake police scammers convinced me I was on China’s ‘most wanted’ list

By Elaine Chong and Ed MainBBC Trending

Chinese people around the world are being targeted by an elaborate scam in which criminals pretend to be Chinese police. A British-Chinese woman has told the BBC that she handed over her life savings to con men who wore uniforms in video calls and gave her a virtual tour of what appeared to be a police station.

Helen Young still has nightmares about the fortnight that she was made to believe she was on China’s most wanted list.

Scammers posing as Chinese police manipulated the London-based accountant into believing she was under investigation for a massive fraud back in her homeland.

Helen was presented with a mountain of fabricated evidence which appeared to implicate her in a crime she knew nothing about.

When the fake police then threatened her with extradition to a jail cell in China, Helen sent them her £29,000 life savings as “bail money”, in a desperate attempt to stay in Britain.

“I feel a bit stupid right now,” she says. “But there’s no chance I can know that’s not real. It’s so convincing”.

Helen’s story may sound extraordinary but there have been numerous similar cases in the Chinese diaspora.

China’s embassies around the world have issued public warnings about police impersonation scams, as has the FBI after a number of cases in the US. One elderly woman in Los Angeles reportedly handed over $3m, believing it would stop her extradition.

Typically these scams begin with the target receiving a relatively innocuous phone call. In Helen’s case it was somebody claiming to be a Chinese customs officer who told her they had stopped an illegal parcel sent in her name.

Helen hadn’t sent anything, and she was told she must file a police report if she believed someone had stolen her identity. Although she was sceptical, Helen didn’t hang up.

“Chinese people like myself because we were born and bred in China, we were taught obedience,” she says. “So when the party asked me to do something or my parents asked me it’s very rare that I will say no.”

Helen was transferred to a man who said he was a policeman in Shenzhen called “Officer Fang”. Helen asked for proof and he suggested they went on a video call. When they connected, Helen saw a uniformed man whose face matched the police ID he flashed.

Officer Fang then used his phone to give her a tour of what looked like a fully functioning police station with several uniformed officers and a desk with a large police logo.

“That moment all my suspicions are gone. So I say: ‘I’m sorry, I just have to be careful nowadays, there are a lot of criminals out there’,” Helen says.

While they were talking, Helen heard a message on the tannoy in the background, telling Officer Fang to take a call about her.

Officer Fang put her on hold and when he returned he was no longer interested in the illegal parcel. He said he had been informed that Helen was suspected of involvement in a large financial fraud.

“I said: ‘That’s nonsense’. He said: ‘Nobody says they’re guilty. So it’s the evidence that counts’.”

Helen was shown what looked like a bank statement for a vast amount of money in her name. Officer Fang told her that if she was innocent she must help them catch the real crooks. He made her sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell anyone about the investigation. Helen was warned that if she did, she would get an extra six months in prison

“He said: ‘If you tell anyone you have been interviewed by the Chinese police, your life will be in danger’.”

The scammers also made Helen download an app so they could listen in to what she was doing day and night.

Over the next few days, Helen tried to act normally at work. She spent her evenings working on a personal statement that she was ordered to write, detailing every aspect of her life.

Then Officer Fang called back with the news that several suspects were now in custody. He showed her written statements in which several people accused her.

Helen was sent a video which appeared to show a male prisoner confessing to police, and naming her as his boss in the fraud.

We have taken a closer look at the video, and because the suspect is wearing a large Covid mask, it’s impossible to tell if what you’re hearing matches his lip movements. It would be easy to add a fake soundtrack that mentions Helen’s name or another victim.

But for Helen – who had been convinced she was dealing with genuine police officers – the effect was devastating: “After I heard my name like that I was vomiting. It convinced me I was in deep, deep trouble.”

Helen believed Officer Fang when he then told her she would be extradited to China – even though she’s a British citizen.

“He told me: ‘So you got 24 hours, you pack your bags. The police are coming to take you to the airport’.”

Helen was told she could halt her extradition if she could raise bail. After sending over her bank statements for inspection, she was told to transfer £29,000.

“I felt terrible, because I promised my daughter to give her money for her first flat,” Helen says.

But a few days later the fake police were back. Helen was ordered to find another £250,000 or be extradited: “I was fighting for my life – if I go back to China, I may never come back.”

After Helen tried to borrow the money from a friend, he alerted her daughter. Helen broke down and revealed everything. But not before she had put her phone in a kitchen drawer and taken her daughter into a bedroom, and put a duvet over their heads so the scammers couldn’t listen in.

Her daughter listened patiently and explained it was a scam. Helen’s bank eventually refunded her money, but her ordeal could easily have had a bleaker ending: “For two weeks I hardly slept. How can you sleep when somebody is monitoring your phone?”

In her sleep-deprived state, she crashed her car twice. On the second occasion, she wrecked it entirely: “I didn’t kill anyone, but I could have. These types of criminal scam could kill people.”

Other victims of police impersonation scams have been pushed to even greater extremes.

In some extraordinary cases, some Chinese foreign students who can’t meet the financial demands of the fake police have been persuaded to fake their own kidnappings in order to seek a ransom from their families.

Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi of New South Wales Police fronted a publicity campaign to warn about so-called virtual or cyber-kidnappings, after a series of cases in Australia.

“Victims are coerced into making their own video of them being in a vulnerable position, to appear as if they’ve been kidnapped – tied up with tomato sauce on their body to make it look like they’ve been bleeding, and calling for help from their loved ones,” he says.

The students are then ordered to isolate themselves while the scammers send these images to families back in China, with a ransom demand.

The scam victims may also find themselves being manipulated into helping to scam others.

“Scammers will trick a victim into believing that they are working for the Chinese government. They will send them documentation and swear them in as a Chinese police officer,” Det Supt Doueihi says.

He says the victim – who may have already handed over money to the criminals – is sent to monitor or intimidate other Chinese students in Australia.

Many of these frauds are thought by experts to be run by Chinese organised crime groups operating from compounds in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Chinese state media has reported that tens of thousands of suspects have been returned to China over the last year.

Awareness of these types of scams is growing. We spoke to a student in Japan who realised he was being targeted by criminals, and recorded their conversation.

He asked not to be named, but shared the recording with the BBC. In it, the scammers tell him that if he revealed anything about the call to anyone, then he would be jeopardising the “investigation”. He refused to hand over any money and they stopped pursuing him.

He’s aware that he had a lucky escape: “I never thought it would happen to me. Just be really careful when you get a call from a number that you don’t recognise.”

For more on this story:

Watch BBC Trending: Scammed by the fake Chinese Police – now on YouTube

BBC World Service tells the story of scammers posing as Chinese police.

‘I’m worried’ – Democrats at Biden rally open to change

By Mike WendlingBBC News, Madison, Wisconsin
Democratic voters chime in on Biden’s ability to run for office

The hundreds of die-hard Democrats who turned out to see Joe Biden in Wisconsin on Friday didn’t need much convincing.

The US president received an enthusiastic response to his loudly delivered remarks at the rally in Madison, especially when he attacked his Republican rival Donald Trump.

But as some major Democratic donors and lawmakers call on Mr Biden to exit the presidential race, even some of his most ardent supporters here in Madison are keeping an open mind about whether he might be replaced – and what might come next.

“It’s OK to change our minds,” said Catherine Emmanuelle, 44, who paused and considered her thoughts carefully before outlining her opinion.

She stressed that she was impressed with Mr Biden’s 17-minute speech, which she called a “presidential litmus test”.

“But if something happens in three days or a week or three weeks, we shouldn’t be afraid of having a conversation about change,” she told BBC News.

Mr Biden is under tremendous scrutiny after a disastrous debate performance last week, marked by a hoarse voice and several instances where he lost his train of thought.

The president, 81, is facing a tide of doubts about his mental acuity and ability to beat Trump, 78, in November’s election.

  • Listen: Americast – I’m still standing: Biden strikes back

Friday’s rally, held in this reliably Democratic town in a critical swing state, was an indication of the support Mr Biden still has in many parts of the country.

But the raucous crowd, which waited through several opening speakers and a hour-long delay from the planned start time, was also shot through with low-grade anxiety.

“I’m worried about his capacity to beat Trump,” said Thomas Leffler, a 33-year-old health researcher.

“As he gets older, I think it’s going to increasingly be an issue. But I’ll vote blue no matter what,” he said – a reference to the Democratic Party’s signature colour.

Mr Leffler suggested that picking a new candidate might have unexpected benefits.

“If you go through some sort of open process, you can re-energise people, and show that there’s a process better than what Republicans have, which is basically just to bow down to Donald Trump,” he said.

Earlier this year, both the president and Trump secured the delegates needed to be their party’s respective presumptive candidates.

The Democrats’ nominee will officially be chosen at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago from 19-22 August.

On Friday, Mr Biden was defiant about staying in the race, telling the crowd: “I am running and going to win again.”

Some of the biggest cheers on Friday came when the president directly went after his predecessor.

“Trump is not just a convicted criminal,” he said. “He’s a one man crime wave.”

The prospect of a second Trump administration was an animating factor for many who came to the rally.

“During the debate, he told a bunch of lies,” said Greg Hovel, 67. “How is that any worse than what Biden did?”

Mr Hovel said he believed the country was in a “great place” and that Mr Biden didn’t get enough credit for his economic and pandemic recovery policies.

“At this point, in the next six weeks, the Democratic Party is going to have to make up its mind” whether to retain Mr Biden as their candidate or pick someone new, he said.

But the president’s performance on Friday further bolstered something he strongly believed, even before the speech.

“I think Biden can win,” he said.

More on the election

  • Where Biden and Trump stand on key issues
  • What’s in Trump’s second term wish list, Project 2025
  • What Moscow, Delhi and Beijing make of rematch
  • Who will be Trump’s vice-president?

Iran’s new president gives hope to some women and younger voters

By Kasra NajiSpecial Correspondent, BBC Persian • Caroline HawleyBBC Diplomatic Correspondent

A relatively moderate member of the Iranian parliament, Masoud Pezeshkian, has been declared the next president of Iran after beating his hardline conservative rival by a decisive margin in Friday’s run-off presidential elections.

The 69-year-old will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.

Dr Pezeshkian’s mostly young supporters took to the streets of the capital, Tehran, and other cities to celebrate – even before the final results were declared, singing, dancing and waving his campaign’s signature green flags.

He has given some of the nation’s younger generation hope at a time when many were despondent about their future. Some were even planning to leave the country to seek a better life elsewhere.

Representing the city of Tabriz in the Iranian parliament since 2008, he has previously served as the country’s heath minister.

In the 1990s, he lost his wife and one of his children in a car accident. He never remarried and raised his other three children – two sons and a daughter – alone.

His win has upset the plans of the Islamic hardliners, who hoped to install another conservative to replace Raisi and – alongside supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – control all of Iran’s levers of power.

At a polling station in Tehran, 48-year-old Fatemeh told the AFP news agency she had voted for the moderate as his “priorities include women and young people’s rights”.

Afarin, 37, who owns a beauty salon in Isfahan, told Reuters: “I know Pezeshkian will be a lame-duck president, but still he is better than a hardliner.”

Many voters boycotted the first round of voting last week, angry at repression at home and international confrontation which have brought Iran increased sanctions and expanding poverty.

They were also frustrated by the lack of choice in the elections. Of the six candidates who were allowed to run, five were hardline Islamists.

And there was a sense of despair that – with Ayatollah Khamenei having final say over government policy – there is little chance of real change.

One of those who refused to cast a ballot was Azad, a 35-year-old HR manager and activist in Tehran who has been jailed twice for criticising the Iranian government.

Azad, whose name has been changed for her own safety, says she is still traumatised from being kept in solitary confinement and enduring exhausting interrogations.

She told the BBC that regardless of Dr Pezeshkian’s win, the supreme leader remains the “puppeteer” in Iran.

“The reformists have had 45 years and they have made no effort to reform the political structure,” she said, referring to the time since the Islamic Revolution.

But in the run-off election on Friday, some seem to have changed their mind and turned out at polling stations, many voting tactically for Dr Pezeshkian in order to block victory for Mr Jalili.

He would have reaffirmed many policies that have been the subject of both domestic and international discontent, such as Iran’s controversial morality police patrols.

Mr Jalili took an anti-Western stance during his campaign and criticised the 2015 deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear programme in exchange for eased sanctions. Voters were concerned that if he won, his presidency could have antagonised the US and its regional allies – and worsened Iran’s economic situation.

  • Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian elected Iran’s president
  • Raisi’s death leaves Iranians with mixed feelings

By comparison, Dr Pezeshkian has called for “constructive relations” with Western nations, and to revive the nuclear deal to “get Iran out of its isolation”. He has said that Iran’s economy cannot function with the crippling sanctions currently placed on it.

A win for Mr Jalili would have also signalled a shift to a potentially harsher domestic policy, reinforcing the requirement for women to wear a headscarf.

Dr Pezeshkian is against using force to impose the compulsory hijab rule – a major issue in the past few years.

He has previously lamented the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who had been arrested for an alleged violation of the law. Her death sparked massive nationwide protests, unlike any the country had ever seen.

The president-elect is expected to take the reins of power in a matter of days to fill the void in government left by Raisi’s sudden death.

As well as pushing to revive the nuclear deal and ease sanctions, Dr Pezeshkian has promised to see Iran join international banking conventions. Conservatives have been reluctant to do so, depriving Iran of normal banking relations with other nations.

He has also said he will remove Iran’s extensive internet censors.

But it is unclear how much political freedom he will be given to bring about meaningful change.

He will have to “work across the conservative-dominated Iranian system to try and build support” for his more moderate agenda, said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London.

“He won’t have too much independent room for manoeuvre except on the economic portfolio that sits squarely with the president,” Dr Vakil told the BBC, adding that even there, “meaningful progress can only be achieved through negotiations with the US to obtain sanctions relief”.

Forget Ethiopia’s Spice Girls – this singer salutes the true queens

By Penny DaleJournalist

Gabriella Ghermandi recalls with laughter the annoyance she felt about the so-called Ethiopian Spice Girls – charity-backed pop group Yegna that hoped to change narratives and empower girls and women through music.

The all-female group sparked controversy in the UK because it was partly funded by British aid and some say it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. But for Ghermandi, assumptions that Ethiopian women had to be taught by outsiders was the issue.

“I was like, what?” Ghermandi tells the BBC. “They want to teach us how to empower women? Ethiopia? With all its epics of women?”

So, Ghermandi – an Ethiopian-Italian author, singer, producer and ethno-musicologist – also turned to music as a way of “saying to the world that we have a huge history about brave women who had as much power as men”.

The result is a nine-track album called Maqeda – the Amharic name for the Queen of Sheba, a hugely important figure in Ethiopian history.

Every song is an homage to female figures, communities, rituals and musical styles.

Many would label this album Ethio-jazz but it encompasses so much more, says Ghermandi.

“It’s a very rooted Ethiopian music, but at the same time, there are very prog sounds, very rocky and punk sounds. You can find everything”.

Maqeda was lovingly developed over four years, bringing together the Ethiopian and Italian musicians she has worked with since 2010 as the Atse Tewodros Project – plus Senegalese guest musicians, as well as a beat-boxer and a body music performer.

“We wanted to digest the music,” says Ghermandi of the collaboration, adding that every musician had a role in the arrangements “because I really wanted my two countries to be one”.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1965, to a father from Italy and an Ethiopian-Italian mother, Ghermandi recalls the international feel of the capital city where she spent her early years.

“Every place, every corner was [filled] with music and dance. And I think I learned the rhythm that has stayed in my blood,” she says.

On the same street as her mother’s clothes shop was a record store run by a Greek woman which blasted out an array of sound from Congolese music to the Beatles.

Fela Kuti and other African greats played at the nightclubs where Ghermandi would tag along with her older brothers, while on Sundays there were tea-dancing parties at an Italian expat club.

Although Ghermandi had no formal music training, a thorough immersion in Ethiopian musical styles came from the many wedding and church ceremonies that were part of family life.

Travel was another constant in Ghermandi’s childhood – thanks to her father.

In 1935 he left Italy to work in Eritrea, then an Italian colony. In 1955 he moved to Ethiopia and met her mother, who was 17 years younger.

His jobs in construction took him to remote areas, and Ghermandi would often visit.

She was only three months old when she was taken to the Rift Valley of southern Ethiopia. Her father wanted her to be given a moytse – or “sound name” – by the local Oyda people.

For girls, a cow horn is blown – and whatever sound is heard by a very old and very young woman waiting together underneath a tree in the forest becomes the sound name. Ghermandi’s moytse is tumlele, tumlele, tumlelela.

Her father died in 1978. By then, the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled Ethiopia and so, in the early 1980s, by then a teenager, she moved to Italy. Ghermandi now lives between Italy and Ethiopia.

But those cherished early experiences have stayed with her, and this latest album draws on childhood visits to Ethiopia’s remote communities as well as meticulous research as adult.

Ghermandi says she started with the community she grew up with – the Dorze people originally from the southern highlands of Ethiopia, whose women head villages and sing in powerful polyphonic choirs.

You can hear that way of singing – with up to six voices or parts, each with an independent but harmonising melody – in the song Boncho, which means “respect” in the Gamo language.

Ghermandi worked with an Ethiopian female poet to create Set Nat (She is a Female), to counter a common saying in Ethiopia that when a woman achieves something it is because she is as brave as a man.

“I hate this saying, because it used to tell me that it’s not enough to be a woman,” Ghermandi says with passion in her voice. “And I want to say to the world that being a woman is more than enough!”

The song is led by a choir whose call-and-response has a distinct, rhythmic feel in a 7/4 time signature. “This is very typical of a part of Ethiopia – and it is a memory of my childhood,” she explains.

Another track, Kotilidda, honours the matrilineal society of the Kunama people who live close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan. It showcases the avangala, a two-stringed instrument which sounds like a bass guitar – played only by the Kunama people.

“I really wanted to mix the Ethiopian traditional instruments with modern instruments because Ethiopia does not promote enough its traditional instruments outside the country,” says Ghermandi.

“I also want to show to Ethiopian artists that these instruments can have a dialogue with modern instruments – and be very modern at the same time, even if they are traditional.”

Saba, meanwhile, sings of the legendary Queen of Sheba’s camel journey to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon.

The masinqo – a one-stringed fiddle – plays an ancient Hebrew melody at the end, in recognition of the belief that Ethiopia’s Jewish community is descended from those who followed the son of Sheba when she returned home from what is now Israel.

Ghermandi points out the parallels between that ancient, likely mythical, journey and the very real journeys taken today by many thousands of Ethiopians who have fled conflict, oppression, drought and poverty for a new life elsewhere.

“In the song there’s the idea of walking – and the idea of facing all the things that you find during your journey.”

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Inside Keir Starmer’s preparations for power

By Laura Kuenssberg@bbclaurakSunday with Laura Kuenssberg

“A face of thunder.” As opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer would go back to his office after the State Opening of Parliament deeply frustrated after witnessing the Conservatives’ plans laid out year after year. He carried the curse of the leader of the opposition – irrelevance.

He formally became prime minister at lunchtime on Friday, but for a number of months now, he has also known that the British state has been quietly preparing for his arrival in Downing Street.

“We have every hour of his first day, every day of his first week, every week of his first month, mapped out,” is how one Whitehall source put it. What promise this victory holds is not going to fail because of a lack of homework or planning.

Such is the level of preparation that the Treasury, in anticipation of the arrival of the first female chancellor, has apparently boxed in the urinal that has long been a feature of the chancellor’s private bathroom. Not exactly bog standard stuff, you could say (sorry!).

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Rachel Reeves is one of the prominent figures in Sir Keir’s team, among them also Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson, who have been deeply involved for months in getting ready to govern. Senior civil servants and their shadow ministers have been talking for some time and Sir Keir and some of his team have been regular attendees at Cobra meetings, and security briefings.

One, now a cabinet minister, told me: “We have got personal relationships with the permanent secretary and the senior officials already.“

The former civil servant Sue Gray, who will now be the PM’s chief of staff, has been in regular contact with Cabinet Secretary Sir Simon Case, since the turn of the year. After the headlines of the Labour leader’s missions had been turned into policies, they were then made into “implementation plans” for government. The calls between Ms Gray and Sir Simon became almost daily.

There has been some perhaps less obvious assistance, too. At least two former Conservative ministers have been helping them prepare, including one recent cabinet minister who told me: “It’s ridiculous we just hand over a trillion pound budget” without the kind of transition that an American president, for example, enjoys.

The plan for government

Despite the scale of victory, the Labour manifesto, based on Sir Keir’s mission, is not about to be usurped with a huge bold unknown move.

“There are no secrets,” one senior figure told me. Another source told me the election result is a vindication of the PM’s cautious approach and it is not a “vote for a more radical, bold approach”.

Expect strong resistance to any calls from the left that the scale of the change “proves” Labour could have been more radical in what they put forward. Some in his party may demand a rapid cessation of arm sales to Israel. Labour losing seats and nearly losing others to opponents standing on a pro-Gaza platform will only make those calls more urgent.

Other demands may include an overt commitment to safeguard public services, a longer-term promise to remove the two-child benefit cap and even regular trade union access to No 10. But with a massive majority, there is no suggestion that Sir Keir will feel he is in the mood to redraft his carefully worked out plans.

Instead the new prime minister has held up the result as a rejection of the Tory Party and a vote for a different type of leadership, and frankly, less drama.

But his style, and the gradual way in which his plans were built over a period of many months, belies some very significant changes Labour wants. These include an expansion of rights for workers, a rapid overhaul of the planning system and a state energy company.

In the short-term, new ministers are likely to do everything they can to talk up how they want to get the economy to grow. It won’t be entirely coincidental if within a few weeks, companies start writing cheques for the UK, or that pent -up investments that were waiting for a change of government start to come through.

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And it’s likely that before long there will be new draft laws to give more powers to the government’s independent economic watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility. One of the big first decisions the new chancellor needs to make is when to hold a huge review of the public finances with the teeth clenching decisions it might involve.

The so-called spending review, which portions out cash between departments, expires at the end of the year. It sounds like a dull decision but it is massively important. Ms Reeves will have to decide whether to roll over the existing Tory spending plans for a year, to give her more space to work out a longer-term plan, or crack on with her own review by the end of 2024. Watch this space.

Beware of drift

The Labour mantra in public, and in private has been not just to win, but to be ready to get things done. In their mind are what they see as the lessons of New Labour and Tony Blair’s frustration with the slow pace of change. One new minister tells of a meeting where they briefed the former PM about their plans and he warned them: “I so deeply regret that we didn’t hit the ground running on reform.”

“Keir has taken this incredibly seriously,” the minister told me.

Appointing the cabinet’s been done, but there are dozens of other MPs to receive government jobs, with advisers and new members of the House of Lords. They include the former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance who has been appointed as a minister of state at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

I’m told the former health secretary, Alan Milburn, is likely to take a senior, though not ministerial, role at the Department of Health to help drive waiting lists down. Other departments and other appointments might throw up some interesting names.

But for all the preparation and experience, the receipt of power and responsibility is huge.

One official said of incoming prime ministers: “They come in exhausted from this now-seemingly endless campaign, they come in elated, they appoint their cabinet – that is a great moment for them. And then sour-faced people like me say, ‘now, can I talk to you about the end of the world!’”

Sir Keir is in a hurry not just to show the public that his government can actually get things done after years of visible political shambles. But he’s also been counselled to make the most of the early goodwill from his vast ranks of new victors, before, inevitably in time, however long, the Parliamentary Labour Party starts to flex its muscles.

One former Labour adviser told me, he should “Go quick! Go fast, before they find the loos!”

It is true that his team has tried very hard to control the quality of candidates, and many loyalists will be picking up their pass for the first day in the big palace soon. But as former prime ministers have found, bright-eyed new recruits don’t stay eager forever.

Problems and Pitfalls

Labour’s scale of victory is something they could have hardly dreamed of not so long ago. But their elation this weekend doesn’t make some of the very tricky realities of governing go away.

Whenever she’s been near a microphone in recent months, Ms Reeves has been warning of what she calls the “worst economic inheritance since the Second World War” or as she said at her election count in Leeds “there is not a huge amount of money”.

Waiting lists are sky high. Prisons are overcrowded. Millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. This was an election result driven partly by voters’ clear feeling that nothing works.

That sense is not confined to public perception. As one senior Whitehall official told me: “Things really are worse on the inside than you can see from outside.”

Labour’s ministerial teams have been discussing how to tell the public how bad, in their view, things really are. No sooner had Mr Streeting been appointed health secretary than he said: “From today the policy of this department is that the NHS is broken.”

A sceptic might also say Labour will be keen to brand the problems once and for all as the Tories’ fault.

The mission

What of the new PM himself? It’s not lost on the public, or his political critics, that he has been willing to junk old promises, and indeed, to junk old colleagues if need be. His backers say it’s a sign of strength, and was a lesson he had to learn – ditching what one source described as “nauseating” pleas for party unity for a clearer priority, the desire to win.

It is no easier now to get to the bottom of what Sir Keir believes in than it was when I first sat down with him. Back then he was pitching for the leadership of his party, when his aim to get them back into power looked fanciful.

He and his team had come up with the phrase “moral socialism”. Then, as now, it sounded like a slogan designed for a Guardian newspaper headline rather than something the public could latch on to. He told me he wanted to persuade people that Labour and politicians could be a “force for good and a force for change“. That’s a line that could feature in one of his many interviews or speeches four years later, where still, you might be searching for a grand ideological mantra.

But perhaps to hunt for an ideology is to miss the point. He is not a factional politician who’s been in the trade, man and boy, not a product of student union elections, decades of party conferences, fevered debates about the purity of particular policies.

For his backers, that arguable absence of an ideology is his huge advantage. “He’ll be the most normal PM we’ve ever had,” says one insider. One minister tells me he belongs not to any faction but to the party. “He is theirs,” the new minister says. Whether Sir Keir can make the public feel that kind of direct connection with him as a leader seems ambitious and highly uncertain.

He sometimes apes Tony Blair, saying he’ll return politics to serve the people through what he terms national renewal. But despite the size of the majority, there is little sign at this moment that he could achieve that kind of incredible personal popularity the 1997 victor saw.

A second term?

It was Sir Keir’s belief that the modern electorate could be incredibly volatile that led him to have faith that he could turn the 2019 disaster round.

The willingness of so many voters to change their minds has been Keir Starmer’s friend at this election but if that volatility is here to stay, it could become his foe.

In time, and perhaps soon, Labour will start plotting privately how this term in office can be extended into what Starmer has already set out as his goal of a “decade of renewal“. Just before polling day, one insider joked: “I’m never not thinking about winning the next election.”

By any traditional measure, a majority on this scale would see a prime minister securely locked into two terms of office. But in 2024 that feels less certain.

For now for Labour, there is a moment of profound celebration. No more the impotence of opposition. No more the pain of losing yet again. No more “face of thunder” for the new prime minister, or the frustration of being irrelevant.

As we saw in Downing Street yesterday, after all the waiting, he can allow himself a smile.

  • LIVE: Follow all the latest general election results news
  • Who’s in Keir Starmer’s new cabinet?
  • Laura Kuenssberg analysis: After impotence of opposition, Starmer prepares to wield power
  • Who is my MP now? The election in maps and charts
  • General election 2024: All BBC stories and analysis

Flames, chains and grains: Africa’s top shots

A selection of the week’s best photos from across the African continent:

On the eve of Mauritania’s presidential election, a man arrives at the Grand Mosque in Nouakchott for Friday prayers…

Days later supporters of the incumbent president celebrate his re-election. The runner-up, an anti-slavery campaigner, alleges that the vote was stolen.

On Saturday, Ayra Starr becomes the first Afrobeats artist to perform on the Pyramid stage at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival…

Followed the next day by fellow Nigerian star Burna Boy.

Also on Sunday, South African singer Tyla appears at the BET awards in the US and takes home two trophies – for best Best New Artist and Best International Act.

Angola’s Silvio de Sousa and Spain’s Willy Hernangomez vie for the ball during an Olympic basketball qualifier on Wednesday.

Eritrean cyclist Biniam Girmay takes in the moment after winning the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday. He becomes the first black African competitor to win one of the 21 stages in this yearly feat of endurance.

Fishermen bring their catch to shore in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Saturday.

The next day, Nigerian golfer Georgia Oboh lines up her putt at the Dow Championship in the US.

Protests continue in Kenya on Tuesday even though an unpopular draft law to raise tax is dropped…

Young people have been at the forefront of these demonstrations in cities and towns across the country.

And on Friday in the Tunisian town of Nabeul, a woman spreads couscous out to dry in the sun.

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Andrew Tate free to leave Romania but not the EU

By Ruth ComerfordBBC News

Controversial influencer Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan are free to leave Romania but not the EU, a Bucharest court has ruled.

They had previously been banned from leaving the country where they are awaiting trial, indicted on charges of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women. They deny all allegations against them.

The decision to allow freedom of movement in the EU is not final and can be appealed.

The brothers said the move represented a “significant victory and major step forward” in their ongoing case.

The brothers’ lawyer, Eugene Vidineac, called the ruling a “reflection of the exemplary behaviour and assistance of my clients.

“Andrew and Tristan are still determined to clear their name and reputation; however, they are grateful to the courts for placing this trust in them.”

Posting on X, a platform from which he was previously banned, Andrew Tate said: “The sham case is falling apart.”

The Tate brothers, former kickboxers who are dual UK-US nationals, are accused of exploiting women via an adult content business, which prosecutors allege operated as a criminal group.

Two female Romanian associates were also named alongside the brothers in an indictment published in June last year, and seven alleged victims were identified.

Andrew Tate is a self-described misogynist and was previously banned from social media platforms for expressing misogynistic views.

He has repeatedly claimed Romanian prosecutors have no evidence against him and there is a conspiracy to silence him.

The internet personalities are also wanted in the UK over sexual offences allegedly committed there.

The brothers have had restrictions on their movement for the past two years.

They were held in police custody during the criminal investigation from late December 2022 until April 2023, before being placed under house arrest until August, when courts put them under judicial control.

Pope Francis critic excommunicated by the Vatican

By Ian AikmanBBC News

An Italian archbishop and staunch critic of Pope Francis has been excommunicated by the Vatican, its doctrinal office has said.

Carlo Maria Vigano was found guilty of schism – meaning he has split from the Catholic Church – after years of fierce disagreement with the pontiff.

The 83-year-old ultra-conservative has previously called on the Pope to resign, accusing him of heresy and criticising his stances on immigration, climate change and same-sex couples.

Archbishop Vigano was a senior figure in the Church, serving as papal envoy to Washington from 2011 to 2016.

In 2018 he went into hiding after alleging that the Pope had known about sexual abuse by an American cardinal and failed to act. The Vatican rejected the accusation.

Over time, the archbishop became associated with US conspiracy theorists, criticising Covid vaccines and alleging a “globalist” and “anti-Christian” project by the UN and other groups – both familiar conspiratorial themes.

On Friday the Vatican’s doctrinal office said his refusal to submit to Pope Francis was clear from his public statements.

“The Most Reverend Carlo Maria Vigano was found guilty of the reserved delict [violation of the law] of schism,” the statement said, adding that he had been excommunicated – or banished from the church.

Responding by a post on X, the archbishop linked to the decree that was emailed to him and said:

“What was attributed to me as guilt for my conviction is now put on record, confirming the Catholic Faith that I fully profess.”

Archbishop Vigano was charged with schism and denying the pope’s legitimacy last month. At the time, he write on X that he regarded the accusations against him as “an honour”.

“I repudiate, reject, and condemn the scandals, errors, and heresies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio,” he said, using Argentine Pope’s given name.

Pope Francis has put himself at odds with traditionalist Catholics by making overtures towards the LGBTQ+ community, championing migrant rights and condemning the excesses of capitalism.

Last year, he took action against another ultra-conservative critic, dismissing Bishop Joseph E Strickland of Texas when he refused to resign after an investigation.

Mexico’s coast battered by Hurricane Beryl

By Ian AikmanBBC News
Hurricane Beryl due to strengthen again after making landfall in Yucatan Peninsula

Hurricane Beryl has lashed Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula after wreaking havoc across the Caribbean, causing at least 10 deaths.

It made landfall as a category-two hurricane early on Friday, bringing winds of up to 175km/h (108mph).

It was later downgraded to a tropical storm, but is expected to re-intensify over the Gulf the Mexico at the weekend.

Beryl brought heavy rain to tourist hotspots of Cancún and Tulum. No major damage was reported but the high winds felled trees and caused power outages.

Civil protection chief Laura Velazquez said power would be fully restored to those still without it by Sunday.

Tulum resident Carolina Vazquez was among those to be affected by the outages, speaking to the Reuters news agency as she queued at a soup kitchen organised by the Mexican army on Friday.

“In my little house a tree fell down, half of the house cracked, the roof tiles,” she said.

Fernando Trevino, an employee at a local business, said: “We are evaluating, but so far it seems that everything is in order with the protections that were put in place, the preparations and so.”

Ahead of Beryl’s arrival, Schools were closed, hotel windows boarded up, and emergency shelters were set up in areas facing the brunt of the impact.

More than 8,000 troops from the army, air force and national guard were deployed in the Yucatán Peninsula to provide support.

Hundreds of tourists were evacuated from hotels, and more than 3,000 fled from Holbox Island off the coast, according to local authorities.

More than 300 flights were cancelled or delayed.

On Thursday, many homes and businesses were badly damaged in the Cayman Islands, particularly along the coastline, where entire neighbourhoods were inundated.

Hurricane Beryl battered Jamaica on Wednesday after causing huge devastation across other Caribbean nations.

Hurricanes frequently occur near the peninsula, with the official storm season running from June to late November.

Where will Hurricane Beryl go next?

The storm is projected to travel over the Gulf of Mexico, moving towards north-eastern Mexico and southern Texas by the end of the weekend.

By the time it makes landfall again on Sunday evening, the storm is expected to have strengthened back to a hurricane.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told people near the state’s Gulf coast to “have an emergency plan to take care of yourself and your loved ones”.

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

Tennis, flags and fire: Photos of the week

A selection of striking news photographs taken around the world this week.

French far right seeks vote win but deadlock looms

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

France votes in one of its most significant elections in years on Sunday, with the far right hoping for a historic victory, but political stalemate the more likely result.

This is the first time the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella has had a realistic chance of running the government and taking outright control of the National Assembly.

But after the RN’s first-round victory in snap parliamentary elections last Sunday, hundreds of rival candidates dropped out to give others a better chance of defeating the far right.

Voting begins in mainland France at 08:00 (06:00 GMT) and the first exit polls will be released 12 hours later.

Whatever the result, it is difficult to see President Emmanuel Macron coming out of this well.

Four weeks ago, he said it was the responsible solution to call a snap vote in response to the RN’s victory in European elections, minutes after the party’s 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella challenged him to do so.

The two-round election came as a shock to a country gearing up for the start of the Paris Olympics on 26 July. Security was already tight and now 30,000 police have been deployed for a period of heightened political tension.

There are fears of violence in Paris and other French cities, whatever the outcome of the vote, and a planned protest outside the National Assembly on Sunday evening has been banned.

In Dreux, a historic old town on the road to Normandy, Sunday’s vote falls on the day the Olympic flame is passing through. “For us it’s a massive thing, bigger than the election,” says Pauline in the tourist office.

The flame has been travelling around France for almost two months, and Dreux has planned a weekend of festivities to mark its arrival.

“Macron should have waited until after the Olympics,” Dreux resident Antoine told the BBC.

Veteran commentator Nicolas Baverez believes the president has not just blown up his term in office and opened the gates of power wide for the far right. “He’s compromised the running of the Paris 2024 Olympics, which could deliver a final blow to France’s credit and its image,” he wrote in Le Point on the eve of the vote.

The constituency that includes Dreux is one of the races to watch in the second round of this election.

Candidates such as Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella have already won their seats, by winning more than half the vote. But another 500 contests are being decided in run-offs, mostly involving either two or three candidates.

Former conservative cabinet minister Olivier Marleix was beaten in the first round by far-right candidate Olivier Dubois. They both qualified for the run-off, along with a candidate from the left-wing New Popular Front, which is in second place nationally.

But because Nadia Faveris was narrowly beaten into third by her conservative rival, she pulled out of the race “to block National Rally”.

One voter, Morgan, was sceptical that anything would change in the town, whoever won.

BBC
For 10 years, our governments have been making promises but they’ve never delivered. If RN wins I don’t think anything would change either

There have been 217 of these withdrawals across France, including 130 Popular Front candidates and 81 from the president’s Ensemble alliance.

And that has dramatically changed the balance of this pivotal general election.

Projections after Sunday’s first round gave the RN a fighting chance of securing an outright majority of 289 seats, but final opinion polls on Friday suggest that is now out of reach, with 205 to 210 seats as a potential maximum.

The parties trying to block an RN victory range from the radical left, Communists and Greens to the Macron centrists and conservatives. They say they are defending the Fifth Republic from the extreme policies of the far right.

National Rally has watered down many of its policies but still wants to give French citizens “national preference” over immigrants for jobs and housing. It aims to abolish the right of automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who have spent five years aged 11 to 18 in France. It also wants to bar dual nationals from dozens of sensitive jobs.

Opinion polls are not necessarily reliable. Each of the 500 races is a local contest and voters do not follow recommendations from political parties.

If the RN managed upwards of 250 seats, it might seek out allies to form a minority government. President Macron’s party had to make do with similar numbers until he became frustrated with his limited ability to pass reforms in parliament.

That kind of RN government is unlikely, believes Prof Armin Steinbach of HEC business school in Paris. It would soon face a vote of no confidence, he believes, and under the constitution, France cannot have another general election for at least another year.

Another potential scenario is a “grand coalition” that would involve most of the other parties, except for the radical France Unbowed (LFI) party, which the Macron alliance and conservatives reject as extremists.

This idea has gained some momentum in recent days, but Greens leader Marine Tondelier has made clear “there’ll be no Macronist prime minister”, whatever happens.

There is also talk of a technocrat government, similar to those that ran Italy during the eurozone debt crisis. But instead of choosing experts from outside politics, it might include politicians with proven expertise in particular fields.

In any case, France is entering uncharted territory, says Jean-Yves Dormagen of the Cluster 17 institute.

President Macron himself has said he is not about to resign and will continue to serve out his final three years in office.

“We will have Macron as a lame duck president who created this mess without having to do so,” Prof Steinbach told the BBC. “And he’s losing legitimacy.”

The immediate concern for France is to have some kind of government in place during the Olympic Games.

Constitutional expert Benjamin Morel believes the president could form a national unity government until the end of the Paris Games.

“That would give the parties time to to reach an agreement between now and the start of the school year and the next budget,” he told Le Figaro.

She accused Assange of sexual assault, but is glad he’s now free

By Phelan ChatterjeeBBC News

Swedish human rights activist Anna Ardin is glad Julian Assange is free.

But the claims she has made about him suggest she would have every reason not to wish him well.

She is one of two women who accused the WikiLeaks founder of sexual assault 14 years ago.

The allegations – which Assange has always denied – were explosive, and made headlines across the world. They set off a chain of events which saw him trying to avoid extradition to Sweden by seeking asylum in a London embassy for seven years.

In 2019 the Swedish authorities ended their investigation into Assange and dropped their extradition bid. However, he spent the next five years in a British prison fighting extraditon to the US, where he faced prosecution over massive leaks of confidential information.

These include US army footage showing Iraqi civilians being killed, and documents suggesting the US military killed hundreds of Afghan civilians in unreported incidents.

Assange was eventually freed last month, after a plea deal with the US.

Ardin is fiercely proud of Assange’s work for WikiLeaks, and insists that it should never have landed him behind bars.

“We have the right to know about the wars that are fought in our name,” she says.

“I’m sincerely happy for him and his family, that they can be together. The punishment he’s got has been very unproportionate.”

Speaking to Ardin over Zoom in Stockholm, it quickly becomes clear that she has no problem keeping what she sees as the two Assanges apart in her head – the visionary activist and the man who she says does not treat women well.

She is at pains to describe him neither as a hero nor a monster, but a complicated man.

The 45-year-old activist is also a Christian deacon, with a belief in forgiveness, and she uses the words “truth” and “transparency” again and again throughout the interview. It might explain why she is in awe of what WikiLeaks accomplished but, at the same time, bitterly disappointed that the assault allegations she made against Assange were never formally tested.

Ardin describes her encounter with Assange in her book, No Heroes, No Monsters: What I Learned Being The Most Hated Woman On The Internet.

In 2010, just three weeks after WikiLeaks’ release of the Afghan war logs, she invited him to Stockholm to take part in a seminar organised by the religious wing of Sweden’s Social Democrats.

Assange did not want to stay at a hotel for security reasons and Ardin was due to be away, so she offered him her flat. But she returned early.

After an evening of discussing politics and human rights, they ended up having what she describes as uncomfortable sex during which she says he humiliated her.

Ardin says she agreed to have sex with Assange as long as he used a condom, but the condom broke and he continued.

Ardin suspects he broke it deliberately. If this was the case, he probably would have committed an offence under Swedish law.

Later, Ardin writes that she heard from another woman – named in legal papers as SW – who had attended the seminar. SW apparently said that Assange had penetrated her without her consent when she was asleep.

In a 2016 statement to Swedish prosecutors, Assange maintained that his sexual relationship with SW was entirely consensual, and that in texts seen by his lawyers, she told a friend that she had been “half asleep”.

Both women filed police reports – Ardin’s case was categorised as alleged sexual misconduct, and SW’s as alleged rape.

The press got hold of the reports, setting off an extraordinary series of events.

Assange denied the allegations, and suggested that they were a US set-up. WikiLeaks had just leaked 76,000 US military documents – sparking massive global attention and scrutiny of US foreign policy.

On 21 August, 2010, WikiLeaks tweeted: “We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks’. Now we have the first one.”

Another post followed the next day: “Reminder: US intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks as far back as 2008.”

Assange’s UK lawyer Mark Stephens claimed that a “honeytrap” had been sprung and that “dark forces” were at work.

A social media furore erupted which Ardin describes as “hell” – she tells me the amount of harassment and death threats forced her to leave Sweden at one point.

“I couldn’t work. My life passed me by for two years.”

To this day, many believe Ardin is part of a US conspiracy, and that her allegations are false. Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, a long-time supporter of Assange, last week described her claims as “mud” and “innuendo”.

No evidence has ever been found to link Ardin with US intelligence. She concedes that the narratives spread by Assange had an air of plausibility, because he had been “messing with the Pentagon”, but says the claims were nothing but “lies” and a “smear campaign”.

Months after the incidents, an international arrest warrant was issued for Assange, who was in London at that point.

In December 2010, he admitted to the BBC that it was “not probable” he was part of a classic honey-trap operation – but he still denied any wrongdoing.

Assange was convinced that if he went to Sweden he would then be extradited to the US – where he feared the death penalty awaited. In 2012, he took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Sweden refused to guarantee he would not be extradited to the US, but said any move to do so would need to be approved by the UK too. Both countries also said they would not extradite him if they thought he might face the death penalty.

In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into Ardin’s allegations as time had run out.

In 2019, prosecutors abandoned their investigation into SW’s claims, saying the evidence had “weakened considerably due to the long period of time since the events in question”.

By this time, Assange was being held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, facing extradition to the US on espionage charges. If convicted there, he could have faced 170 years behind bars.

Assange finally won his freedom in 2024, after agreeing to plead guilty to a single charge under the US Espionage Act.

Ardin still wishes he had faced trial for the alleged assault against her. “But he won’t. So I have to let it go.”

She says some of her doubters don’t take her seriously because they don’t think the details of her experience, or reaction, were dramatic enough.

She suggests there’s an expectation of sexual assault to always be brutal, involve a lot of violence, and leave the victim heavily traumatised – and if that doesn’t happen you can’t be a real victim, or a real offender.

But that doesn’t align with what Ardin describes as the reality of her experience. She stresses that doesn’t make it any less serious or unacceptable.

She slams many of Assange’s supporters – and journalists – for seeking a “one-sided narrative” which turns him into a hero, and her into an evil CIA agent.

“I think that we have a problem that we have to have these heroes that are flawless… I don’t think heroes exist outside fairytales.”

Ardin says her intention was never to write off Assange as a one-dimensional villain, to be “kicked out of society”.

Offenders are seen as “monsters, completely different from all other men”, she says. And this means the “system goes on”, she argues, as “normal” men don’t realise that they, too, can be prone to violence – so they don’t interrogate themselves.

“I want him to be seen as a normal guy. That’s what normal guys do sometimes. They cross other people’s boundaries.”

She thinks that progressive movements often have problems calling out leaders, fearing any criticism delegitimises the entire cause. “You can’t be a leader and abuse the people who are active in your movement, because the movement will not survive.”

People should not be able to get away with sexual crimes, or any crimes just because they’re influential, she adds.

The BBC contacted Assange’s lawyers for comment on the claims repeated by Ardin in our interview with her, but they said he was “not in a position to respond”.

I ask what justice would have looked like for her at the end of this saga.

Ardin tells me she is only interested in getting to what she describes as the truth. She is less interested in punishment.

“Justice for me would have been to have transparency. I was not happy that he was locked up because he was [locked up] for the wrong reason.”

Ardin is a left-wing Christian who attaches great importance to reconciliation and transformation.

But for that to be possible, she says that perpetrators need to own up and genuinely commit to change.

After all this contemplation, I wonder what she would say to Assange, if face to face with him now.

Ardin tells me she would urge him to work on himself.

She would ask him to admit that he “did not have the right to do what he did to me, and he doesn’t have that right towards other women either”.

“He has to admit that for himself… He has to reflect on what he did.”

BBC Action Line

Rob Delaney says he wants to die in same room as his son

The US actor and comedian Rob Delaney has said he wants to buy the home his son died in so he can also experience his last moments there.

Delaney’s two-year-old child Henry died in 2018 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Delaney told Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he asked the landlord when he moved out: “Listen, if you ever go to sell this place, let me know first because I would like to buy it.

“So when I’m 81 I can crawl in here and die. In the same room that my son died in, that my other son was born in.”

Before Henry died, his parents told him they were expecting another child.

The Catastrophe and Deadpool 2 star said: “He had to know that this family that loved him was alive and was growing and that there was somebody that we were going to tell about him.

“We knew that they would not overlap corporally on this Earth, even though Henry’s younger brother was born in the same room that Henry died in, our living room.”

Delaney, 47, told the programme that he and his wife, Leah, had considered leaving London but had continued to live in the city because of memories of Henry.

“For so many reasons, we’ve stayed, one of which is I like to go put my hands on slides at the playground that Henry slid down.”

He added that he sometimes bumps into the nurses that looked after his son and said London and the NHS had taken very good care of his child.

Delaney has previously described the NHS as “the pinnacle of human achievement” and that his family received “truly unbelievable” care while Henry was sick.

Heart was ‘torn into pieces and dissolved in salt’

Delaney thought he would struggle with the birth of his new son, saying his heart had “been torn into pieces and dissolved in salt” and was just “garbage”.

But he told host Lauren Laverne that the “nanosecond he exited my wife’s body, I looked at him and just you know, started weeping and was so in love with him and just wanted to sniff them and eat them and put them into my shirt and squeeze them and I love him desperately.

“And then you have to feel and honour your pain. You have to let it hurt and you can’t run away from it. When the feelings come it’s best to let them.”

Delaney also spoke about his recovery from alcoholism, saying he has been sober for more than two decades after a car crash prompted him to stop drinking.

He added: “It’s nothing more interesting than garden variety alcoholism, you know, I found that drinking just made me just feel better, complete, happier, relaxed.

“You know, anytime I took a drink, it was just like, ‘this is it’. I first got drunk at 12 and then began to drink with more regularity at 14.

“I had alcoholism on both sides of my family. And so then I got it too and… it doesn’t really care where you come from.”

Biden interview fails to quell Democrat concerns over fitness

By Rachel Looker and Courtney SubramanianBBC News, Washington
Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos

President Joe Biden’s Friday night TV interview does not seem to have quelled an uprising within his own party to end his re-election campaign after a halting debate performance against Donald Trump.

A fifth House Democrat, Angie Craig of Minnesota, on Saturday joined colleagues in calling for the president to step aside, and reports suggest more could follow.

In his rare prime-time ABC News interview, Mr Biden dismissed his debate performance as just a “bad episode” and said only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to end his bid for re-election.

Mr Biden, 81, is spending Saturday at his family home in Delaware before two public events on Sunday.

There is growing unease among Democrats, although no senior members of the party have called for him to quit.

Some polls show Trump’s lead over Mr Biden widening, and many are concerned about losing the presidency and House seats, along with the Senate majority, if he leads the ticket.

Ms Craig, who is running in a competitive district in Minnesota, said on Saturday that she did not believe Mr Biden could “effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump”.

She said that while she respected his decades of service, “there is simply too much at stake to risk a second Donald Trump presidency”.

Minutes after the ABC interview, Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett, the first House Democrat to call for Mr Biden to drop out, said on CNN that the need “is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it”.

He said the longer it took Mr Biden to make a decision to withdraw, the “more difficult for a new person to come on board who can defeat Donald Trump”.

Other House Democrats including congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts called on Mr Biden to withdraw on Friday.

They join Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva’s call on Wednesday.

In his interview, Mr Biden declined to take a cognitive test and make the results public to prove he was fit to serve another term.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test – everything I do [is a test],” he told George Stephanopoulos.

This response did not resonate with Democratic congresswoman Judy Chu of California, who told Politico that his answer was “unsettling and not particularly convincing” and that she would “be watching closely… especially in spontaneous situations”.

During the 22-minute ABC interview, Mr Biden rejected suggestions allies may ask him to stand aside, saying “it’s not going to happen”.

Mr Stephanopoulos pressed the president on his capacity to serve another term.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden, who is due to speak at a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday, thanked Vice-President Kamala Harris for her support during the ABC News interview.

Ms Harris has emerged as a top contender to replace him if he were to step down.

In an interview on Saturday at the Essence black culture festival in New Orleans, the vice-president said that November’s election was crucial to American democracy, but made no mention of Democratic disquiet about Mr Biden.

“Understand what we all know – in 122 days, we each have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in,” she said.

She said Trump “has openly talked about his admiration of dictators and his intention to be a dictator”.

Essence was the first of a number events in July that appear to target female black voters, a key constituency for Democrats in November.

However, questions around Mr Biden’s candidacy and the potential for Ms Harris to take his place will be difficult to avoid.

Ms Harris has spent the last week close to the president, flying from Los Angeles to attend the White House 4 July celebration, sitting in a meeting with governors and Mr Biden, and also being involved in his call with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Vice-presidents have the delicate balancing act of projecting unequivocal support for their bosses while also tacitly proving they are up to the main job. That has been more so for Ms Harris as questions swirl around Mr Biden’s re-election bid.

However, some Democrats acknowledge concerns about Ms Harris as a presidential candidate. She struggled to gain her footing early in her vice-presidency as she was given responsibility for issues including immigration, student debt and voting rights.

Low approval ratings have dogged her in office, although they have improved in recent months. She has since refocused her attention on issues such as abortion rights, which Democrats believe will be crucial in November.

More on President Biden:

We have too many prisoners, says new PM Starmer

By Paul SeddonPolitical reporter • Sam FrancisPolitical reporter
‘Change won’t happen overnight’ – Starmer on broken prison system

Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to reduce the number of people going to prison through renewed efforts to cut reoffending.

In his first press conference as prime minister, Sir Keir said too many people found themselves back in jail “relatively quickly” after being sent there.

He added that intervening to prevent young people committing knife crime would be an early priority for his new government.

But he said there would be no “overnight solution” to prison overcrowding, adding: “We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons.”

It comes after he appointed a businessman as his prisons minister who has previously said only a third of prisoners should be there.

James Timpson, boss of the shoe repair chain which has a policy of recruiting ex-offenders, said in an interview with Channel 4 earlier this year that “we’re addicted to punishment”.

Labour, which won a landslide general election victory on Thursday, has promised to review sentencing after regaining office for the first time since 2010.

It has also inherited a ballooning crisis in Britain’s jails, and has already committed to keeping the previous Conservative government’s early release scheme in place to ease current levels of overcrowding.

Last week the Prison Governors’ Association, which represents 95% of prison governors in England and Wales, warned that jails were due to run out of space within days.

Tory ex-justice secretary Alex Chalk first announced plans to release prisoners early in October 2023.

Mr Chalk, who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in the general election, told MPs at the time the “prison population is greater than it has ever been” and the UK “must use prison better”.

However, he added: “We must do whatever it takes to always ensure there are always enough prison places to lock up the most dangerous offenders to keep the British public safe.”

Details of Labour’s review are yet to be unveiled, but Mr Timpson’s appointment has offered an early signal that a change of approach may be on the cards in this area.

Sir Keir has appointed him a member of the House of Lords, allowing him to take up a post as prisons minister at the Ministry of Justice.

The businessman told a Channel 4 podcast in February that prison was a “disaster” for around a third of prisoners, and another third “probably shouldn’t be there”.

He said too many people being in prison for “far too long” was an example of “evidence being ignored because there is this sentiment around punish and punish”.

“We’re addicted to sentencing, we’re addicted to punishment,” he added.

Prison ‘escalator’

Asked about his comments at a Downing Street press conference, Sir Keir did not offer a view on whether he agreed with those estimates.

But he added: “We do need to be clear about the way in which we use prisons.

“For so many people [who] come out of prison, they’re back in prison relatively quickly afterwards.

“That is a massive problem that we have in this country, that we do need to break.”

He said his party wanted to cut knife crime in particular, and cited his plan to set up a network of “youth hubs”.

Sir Keir, a former lawyer, added: “I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts and watched people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison.

“I’ve often reflected that many of them could have been taken out of that system earlier if they’d had support”.

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Labour says it wants to create 20,000 prison places by enabling ministers to override local councils on planning decisions.

But it also plans to keep in place the scheme implemented by the last government under which some lower-level offenders can be released up to 70 days early.

Sir Keir said Conservative ministers had created a “mess” by failing to build enough prisons and mismanaging the prisons budget.

Defending his decision to keep the early-release scheme in place, he added: “We don’t have the prisons we need, and I can’t build a prison within 24 hours.”

The latest official figures, published on Friday, put the prison population of England and Wales at 87,453 out of a “useable operational capacity” of 88,864.

The SNP-run Scottish government, responsible for prisons in Scotland, plans to release between 500 and 550 inmates in the coming months.

It comes as Sir Keir convened the first Labour cabinet meeting in 14 years, telling his top team he expects them to hold themselves and their departments to the “highest standards of integrity and honesty”.

A Downing Street readout from the meeting said the prime minister told ministers “the whole country was looking to the government to deliver on their priorities”.

Following the cabinet, Sir Keir was grilled by journalists at his first press conference as PM.

Asked about tax hikes, Sir Keir said he would take “tough decisions” and face challenges with “raw honesty”.

The new Labour government faces tough choices on public finances, with forecasts suggesting major spending cuts.

But Thursday’s landslide victory in the General Election has given Labour “a clear mandate to govern for all four corners of the United Kingdom,” Sir Keir said as he set out plans to tour all four UK nations in the coming days.

Saturday also saw the final result of the general election, with the Lib Dems winning the Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire constituency.

The outcome had originally been expected at about 05:00 BST on Friday, but a recount meant the results were delayed until Saturday afternoon.

Candidate Angus MacDonald gained a majority of 2,160 over the SNP’s Drew Hendry.

It means the Lib Dems have won 72 Westminster seats. Six of these are in Scotland, meaning the Lib Dems overtake the Scottish Conservatives as Scotland’s third largest party in Westminster.

Across the UK, Labour won 412 seats while the Conservatives were on 121.

Cyclist fined for kissing wife during Tour de France

By Michael Sheils McNameeBBC News

French cyclist Julien Bernard has given a light-hearted apology after being fined for kissing his wife during a Tour de France time trial.

The Lidl-Trek rider was made to pay 200 Swiss francs ($223; £174) by the International Cycling Union (UCI) for stopping briefly during stage seven of the race.

The governing body said the fine was for “unseemly or inappropriate behaviour during the race and damage to the image of the sport”.

Writing on social media, Bernard apologised to the UCI for “having damaged the image of sport” but said he was willing to pay the fine “every day and relive this moment”.

Stage seven of the Tour de France is a short course of 23.3km (14.5 miles) and is one of two time trials in the race – where cyclists race against the clock for the best time.

The climb takes place in the famous wine region of Burgundy. According to Cycling News, Bernard was just 30 minutes from where he lives when he was met by his supporters.

As he reached the top of a climb, friends ran towards him holding signs and his wife stepped forward – at which point she gave him a quick kiss, holding their son who was dressed in a replica cycling kit.

A fine for the same amount and for breaking the same rule was given earlier in the race to Italian cyclist Davide Ballerini, after he stopped to watch Britain’s Mark Cavendish sprint to a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage victory.

In a television interview following the stage, Bernard said the encounter with his loved ones had been a unique moment in his career and he had pushed hard earlier in the stage so he would have enough time to do so.

“It was really incredible. My wife has been organising this with some friends for a few weeks now and she did a really, really good job,” he said.

“On a time trial, you have time to enjoy yourself. It’s these moments that keep me going and cycling.”

The far right is close to power in France. Will the rest of Europe follow?

By Katya AdlerEurope editor

How likely is France to wake up on Monday morning to a new far-right dawn?

That was the garishly painted, hotly debated scenario in media headlines, the EU in Brussels and seats of government across Europe following the first round of France’s parliamentary vote last week.

But despite the spectacular showing by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, the short answer is: an RN majority is possible. Not probable.

French centrist and leftist parties have strategically withdrawn candidates to bolster each other’s contenders ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round.

But the impact of this election will be seismic, whether or not the RN wins an outright majority – or whether Jordan Bardella, its social media-savvy young president, becomes France’s new prime minister.

Polls predict RN is all but guaranteed to win more seats than any other political grouping.

That means a decades-old taboo will have been shattered in France, a core EU nation.

The EU was born out of the ashes of World War Two. It was originally designed as a peace project, with wartime enemies, France and Germany, at its core.

Far-right parties were banished to the outer fringes of European politics.

Last month, world leaders gathered in northern France to mark 80 years since D-Day, the allied amphibious assault in Normandy that helped secure the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But now, “far-right” or “hard-right” or “populist nationalist” parties are part of coalition governments in a number of EU countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Finland.

There are challenges in labelling these parties. Their policies frequently change. They also vary from country to country.

And their normalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon. Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a centre-right politician, was the first EU leader to take the plunge. He formed a government with the post-fascist political group, Movimento Sociale Italiano, back in 1994.

Six years later, Austria’s conservatives went into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. At the time, the EU was so outraged that it blocked official bilateral contacts with Austria for several months.

Post-war political etiquette dictated the political mainstream must form a , a “health barrier”, at election time to keep the extreme right out of European governments.

The universally recognised term for that practice is French, which gives you a sense how passionately many in France felt about it.

In the 2002 Presidential election, some French voters clipped a clothes peg to their noses on their way to polling stations – a way of showing they’d vote for a candidate they didn’t really like, just to keep out the far right.

This was a far right that for years was led by Marine Le Pen’s father, with French former members of a Nazi-led Waffen SS unit in his party ranks.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Marine Le Pen’s ambition, 10 years in the making, to detoxify her father’s party – changing its name and trying hard to clean up its image – appears to have been a roaring success.

The now has a searing gash in it, after the leader of France’s centre-right Les Républicains struck a deal with the RN not to compete against each other this Sunday in specific constituencies. This was an earthquake in French politics.

Crucially for Marine Le Pen, those who support her aren’t embarrassed to admit it any more. The RN is no longer viewed as an extremist protest movement. For many, it offers a credible political programme, whatever its detractors claim.

French voters trust the RN more than any other party to manage their economy and (currently poor) public finances, according to an Ipsos poll for the Financial Times newspaper. This is despite the party’s lack of government experience and its largely unfunded tax-cutting and spending plans.

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Which begs the question, when you observe the angst-ridden despair in liberal circles in Europe at the growing success of the so-called “New Right”: if traditional lawmakers had served their electorates better, perhaps there’d be less of an opening for European populists to walk into?

By populists, I mean politicians like Ms Le Pen who claim to listen to and speak on behalf of “ordinary people”, defending them against “the establishment”.

This “them and us” argument is extremely effective when voters feel anxious and ignored by governing powers. Just look at Donald Trump in the US, the sudden unexpected breakthrough of Reform UK in Thursday’s UK election and the huge success of Germany’s controversial anti-migration AfD party.

In France, many perceive President Macron – a former merchant banker – as arrogant, privileged and remote from the everyday cares of ordinary people outside the Paris bubble. A man who made difficult lives even tougher, they say, by raising the national pension age and trying to put up fuel prices, citing environmental concerns.

It must be a source of frustration for France’s president that his success at lowering unemployment rates and the billions of euros he spent trying to soften the economic effects of the Covid and energy crises seem largely forgotten.

Meanwhile, the RN concentrated much of its campaign on the cost-of-living crisis.

The party has pledged to cut taxes on gas and electricity and to raise the minimum wage for low earners.

Priorities like these mean the RN should no longer be labelled a far-right movement, its supporters insist. They point to a widening support base and say the party shouldn’t be forever tarnished by its racist roots under Le Pen senior.

A similar argument echoes out of Rome. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, once used to praise fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Her Brothers of Italy party has post-fascist roots but she now heads one of the EU’s most stable governments.

She recently censured a meeting of her party’s youth wing. Members had been filmed giving fascist salutes. There was no room in her party for nostalgia for the totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century, she said.

While critics at home warn of attempts to influence Italy’s media landscape and Ms Meloni’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, her concrete proposals to tackle irregular migration have won plaudits from the European mainstream, including the EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK’s recently ousted prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Frankly, on hot-button issues like migration, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the political rhetoric of the far right in Europe and traditional mainstream politicians intentionally sharpening their speeches to try to hold on to voters.

Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was a prime example of this, and Emmanuel Macron too, the more he’s felt the heat of Marine Le Pen’s popularity.

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One of the inadvertent effects of mainstream politicians aping parties further to their right on migration is that it makes the original anti-immigration parties seem more respectable, acceptable and electable.

Witness the recent stellar performance in the Netherlands’ general election of anti-migration politician Geert Wilders, who has been regularly accused of hate speech.

The label “far right” is one that needs to be debated. Much depends on the make-up of each party.

But the kind of acceptance now enjoyed by Ms Meloni in wider international circles is still a remote dream for Ms Le Pen.

The RN insists a parliamentary majority is still within reach this Sunday. More likely, polls suggest, is a paralysed hung parliament or an unruly coalition government of non-Le Pen parties.

Any and all of these scenarios reduce Emmanuel Macron to a pretty lame-duck president.

Political instability at home means big EU powers, France and also Germany, are turning inwards at a time of great global uncertainty.

Wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine. EU and Nato-sceptic Donald Trump is poised to possibly return to the White House.

It’s a precarious moment for Europe to be without leadership. Voters feel exposed.

Even if not this Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s followers firmly believe their time is coming. Soon.

Israeli air strike on Gaza school kills at least 16

By Rushdi Aboualouf and Tom McArthurBBC News
Shock and horror at scene of Gaza blast

At least 16 people have been killed in an Israeli air strike on a school in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials have said. Dozens more have been injured.

The building was sheltering thousands of displaced people at Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) said it struck several “terrorists operating in structures located in the area of Al-Jaouni School”.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that 10 people were killed in a separate airstrike on a house at the camp.

Video from the scene of the Nuseirat school strike shows adults and children screaming in a smoke-filled street covered in dust and rubble, as they run to help the wounded.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the attack targeted the upper floors of the school, which is located near a busy market.

The BBC understands that up to 7,000 people were using the building as shelter.

One woman told the AFP news agency how some children were killed as they were reading the Koran when the building was hit.

“This is the fourth time they have targeted the school without warning,” she said.

A local source said the target was a room allegedly used by Hamas police. The BBC is unable to verify this claim.

Hamas said five local journalists were among those killed in Israeli attacks on Saturday. Members of their family were also reportedly targeted.

More than 100 journalists have lost their lives in Gaza since the 7 October attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Hamas said the five latest fatalities brings the number to 158.

In a statement posted to X – formerly known as Twitter – the IDF confirmed it had hit the school buildings, saying it had taken “numerous steps” to “mitigate the risk of harming civilians, including the use of precise aerial surveillance and additional intelligence”.

Hamas militants were using the location as a “hideout” to carry out attacks against IDF troops, it said.

“Hamas continues to systematically violate international law by exploiting civilian structures and the civilian population as human shields for its terrorist attacks against the State of Israel,” it added.

Hamas called the attack a “massacre” on “defenceless displaced civilians”.

Many of the dead and wounded were women, children and the elderly, the group claimed via its English language Telegram channel.

Hopes have once again been rising in recent days that a deal between Israel and Hamas was on the horizon, following months of false starts.

Israel has announced it will send a team of negotiators next week to discuss a hostage release deal with Hamas.

It comes after a senior US administration official said Hamas had agreed to “pretty significant adjustments” to its position regarding a potential ceasefire.

A senior Hamas source told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that the group had agreed to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages 16 days after the proposed first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war.

Many schools and other UN facilities have been used as shelters by the 1.7 million people who have fled their homes during the war, which has lasted almost eight months.

A previous attack in June on another packed UN-run school in Nuseirat killed at least 35 people.

Local journalists told the BBC at the time that a warplane fired two missiles at classrooms on the top floor of the school.

After that attack, Israel’s military said it had “conducted a precise strike on a Hamas compound” in the school and killed many of the 20 to 30 fighters it believed were inside.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which runs the school, described the June incident as “horrific” and said the claim that armed groups might have been inside a shelter was “shocking” but could not be confirmed.

Israel’s war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October in which Hamas-led gunmen killed about 1,200 people and took 251 others back to Gaza as hostages.

At least 38,098 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s offensive, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Kimchi blamed for mass sickness in South Korea

By Aleks PhillipsBBC News

About 1,000 people in South Korea are suffering from food poisoning linked to kimchi contaminated with norovirus.

Officials in Namwon City, in the south-west of the country, announced on Friday morning that there had been 996 confirmed cases – although local media reports say that number had climbed to 1,024 by early Saturday afternoon.

Authorities said the popular fermented cabbage dish had been distributed to those now sick through school meals in the city.

They added that students and staff from 24 schools were among the patients with vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pains.

Norovirus is very contagious and can be caught through touching contaminated surfaces – such as toilet flush handles – and from people who are already infected.

Most people recover in a few days without needing hospital treatment, but some become very ill.

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Namwon City officials said it began an epidemiological investigation to uncover the source of the illness on Wednesday, after the first case was reported the previous day.

Since then, the number of cases grew rapidly – rising from 153 on Wednesday to 745 on Thursday.

In a social media post on Thursday, the city’s Mayor, Choi Kyung-sik, said that health officials had adopted a “pre-emptive and excessive response” in an attempt to prevent further spread of the illness.

“We will ensure the safety of our citizens,” he added.

City officials said norovirus had been detected among patients, through environmental samples and in some of the kimchi regularly delivered to schools.

As a result, its disaster and safety department had temporarily suspended the production and sale of any products from the company that made the kimchi – which is also in the process of voluntarily recalling products that have already been distributed.

The firm that produced the kimchi has not yet been officially named.

Election fallout: deep shifts in Muslim and Jewish voting

By Aleem MaqboolReligion editor

However big the headline change in the vote between the past two elections, drill down into two demographic pockets of Britain and you find staggering shifts.

It all centres around the relationships between the Labour Party and not just Muslim voters, but Jewish voters too.

It leaves a party in government that has made progress in winning back trust among people from one faith group while suddenly finding itself with a lot of work to do to win back many members of the other.

The drop in the Labour vote share among British Muslims between 2019 and 2024 very obviously played out in several constituencies. This happened most dramatically in Leicester South, with a Muslim population close to 30%, where Shadow Paymaster General Jon Ashworth lost his seat to independent Shockat Adam.

In the seat of Dewsbury and Batley, in Birmingham Perry Barr and in Blackburn, there were wins for independents in what had been safe Labour seats with large numbers of Muslim voters.

In places like Bradford West and the seat of Bethnal Green and Stepney in east London, sitting Labour MPs clung on with startling reductions in their majorities.

Mish Rahman, from Wolverhampton, is not just any Muslim voter. He currently sits on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party, a body of fewer than 40 members.

He is furious with the party’s response to the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there.

“In my community it has got to the point where I am now embarrassed about my affiliation with Labour,” he says.

“It was hard even to tell members of my own extended family to go and knock on doors to tell people to vote for a party that originally gave Israel carte blanche in its response to the horrific 7 October attacks,” says Mr Rahman.

He lays the blame for the decline in Muslim voting for Labour squarely at the door of the Labour leader.

Sir Keir Starmer was criticised by many in his party, including councillors, for an interview with LBC in October in which he suggested that Israel “had the right” to withhold power and water in Gaza. His spokesman subsequently suggested the Labour leader had only meant to say Israel had a general right to self-defence.

Then when Labour MPs were told by the party leadership in November to abstain from voting on an SNP-led motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, some Labour councillors resigned and, for many Muslims, trust in their Labour MP was lost.

Faith communities are far from homogenous, of course. There are myriad factors that govern how a person will cast their vote, but faith does throw up a unique set of considerations that plays out in broad voting patterns.

Muslims are estimated to form around 6.5% of the population of England and Wales, with around 2% in Scotland and 1% in Northern Ireland.

Well over 80% of Muslims are believed to have voted for Labour in 2019. Research just ahead of the 2024 election suggested that had dropped nationally by up to 20 percentage points, and in some constituencies the Muslim vote for Labour clearly fell further.

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The contrast with Jewish voting data could not be more stark. In 2019, the proportion of British Jews (about 0.5% of the population) who voted for a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn is thought to have collapsed to just single figures. Research suggests that figure could have climbed back to above 40%.

“What we have seen is a huge bounce-back for Labour among Jewish voters,” says Adam Langleben, who was until recently the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Mr Langleben, a former Labour councillor and now director of Progressive Britain (formerly Progress), points to Labour wins in London in the Finchley and Golders Green seat and also Hendon as well as Bury South in Greater Manchester, all constituencies with large Jewish populations.

“Jewish voters returning to the party has undoubtedly delivered seats to the Labour Party,” says Mr Langleben.

“You don’t need a majority of Jewish voters to win in these constituencies, but you also can’t only have 7% of them voting for you and expect to win,” he says.

Mr Langleben had been a senior member of the Jewish Labour Movement but was one of many Jewish members of the party to give up their membership during the Corbyn era. When he left in 2019, he said it was on account of the party being “led by antisemites”, an accusation always strongly denied by those leading the party at the time.

“It was a situation that was all-consuming. I would be canvassing for the Labour Party in a Jewish area and had people in tears on the doorstep saying there was no way they could vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and I was trying to juggle this huge personal tension,” he says.

Mr Langleben puts Mr Corbyn’s problems down to both a lack of personal reflection about who he was associating with, and what he says was the party’s inability to deal with extreme elements in its base and tolerance of the use of antisemitic tropes.

“From day one, Keir Starmer pledged to work with the Jewish community to try to deal with the issues inside the Labour Party. For him, fixing what went wrong was a personal mission,” he says.

But given that Keir Starmer supported Jeremy Corbyn throughout his leadership, Jewish voters at hustings in synagogues and community centres around the country had been grilling Labour candidates as to why they should trust the current leader now.

“The Jewish vote is now split and that’s how it should be. The results show there wasn’t a dominant party of choice, and that’s healthy, and still represents a huge transformation for Labour,” says Mr Langleben.

So while mistrust clearly still remains, what is responsible for the transformation in the perception of the Labour Party among some British Jews?

The fact that the current leadership’s criticism of Israel’s response to the 7 October attacks has been more tempered than it may have been under the previous leadership may have contributed.

But long before that, Mr Langleben cites a change in the way complaints around “protected characteristics” like faith are dealt with by the party, but also refers to one thing that convinced him he was right to re-join the party.

“The fundamental moment was Jeremy Corbyn being suspended from the Labour Party and then subsequently having the whip removed, because it showed Keir Starmer’s determination and his willingness to take on parts of the party that previously he had not been willing to take on,” he says.

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is precisely identified by Mr Rahman too as the first major showdown between different wings of the party under Keir Starmer.

Except, as someone who had been inspired by Mr Corbyn from the days of Stop the War protests in the lead-up to the UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mr Rahman was on the other side, saying that was the moment when the alarm bells started ringing for him that the party leaders were not safeguarding the values he believed in.

Mr Rahman does not see the party’s anti-Muslim slant as being limited to its response to events in Gaza. He does not question there have been serious cases of antisemitism but does not believe all accusations of racism are treated equally.

“There is a clear hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party. Some instances of racism, including Islamophobia, aren’t taken as seriously as they should,” he says.

Mr Rahman cites the case of Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the EHRC, who was suspended for alleged Islamophobia.

Mr Phillips had said British Muslims were “a nation within a nation” and previously that their opinion was “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”, though later he suggested this had not necessarily been meant as a criticism.

Mr Phillips was readmitted to the party in 2021 without it going to a panel inquiry.

Mr Rahman, like many other Muslims, also points to Keir Starmer’s own comments, like those made in a Sun livestream during the election campaign, when he talked of migrants being sent back to the countries they came from.

“At the moment, people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they’re not being processed,” the Labour leader said.

“Can you imagine the Labour Party saying that about people of any other ethnicity? Saying they’re going to deport people to Israel or Ukraine or Hong Kong? It wouldn’t happen and neither should it,” says Mr Rahman.

Such is his disenchantment with Labour’s response that, coupled with wider concerns regarding the treatment of Muslims, he lays a serious charge against the party.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that Labour is currently institutionally Islamophobic,” says Mr Rahman.

Mr Rahman wants to use his voice to call out hypocrisy in the party while in government, in the hope that it will learn what he says is a lesson of this election – that no voter can be taken for granted.

Mr Rahman did give up his membership of the Labour Party once before, in protest at Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War.

He, and other Muslims, felt persuaded to come back to the party in 2014 when the then-leader Ed Miliband condemned the scale of an Israeli operation in Gaza and the hundreds of civilian deaths.

Once again, at the same moment, Mr Langleben was seeing things very differently on the doorsteps of Jewish voters.

Even though Mr Miliband was himself Jewish, it was a time when polls were showing a rapid decline in Jewish support for Labour, particularly when the party’s 2015 manifesto talked about a parliamentary vote to recognise a Palestinian state.

“There were sometimes quite horrible conversations with Jewish voters who really cared about the issue of Israel,” says Mr Langleben.

“People in 2015 were accusing the Labour Party of antisemitism, but I think it fundamentally misread what antisemitism is. Then, it was a primarily about a foreign policy issue, Israel. That changed by 2019 when conversations were around a particular strain of far-left anti-Jewish racism,” says Mr Langleben.

For some of those supportive of the Corbyn-era leadership, that sense that criticism of Israel was being conflated with antisemitism was also something they felt occurred while he was leader.

The Hamas attacks of the 7 October 2023 happened during the week of the Labour Party conference and Mr Langleben says it was strange to see normal political business go on while he and other Jewish delegates were going through a difficult and upsetting period.

Ultimately, Mr Langleben says he has been pleased with the way Keir Starmer has handled the crisis, seeing it as Labour realigning itself with UK and US government policy on Israel.

This is precisely why during this election campaign, Mr Rahman had the hardest conversations on the doorsteps of Muslim voters he had ever had, with anger and frustration boiling over about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“If you look back at the history of the relationship between our communities and the Labour Party, it’s always been a one-sided affair of loyalty from our communities,” Mr Rahman says. The Labour Party’s roots in his own family go back to his grandfather, who was a factory worker in the 1950s and 60s. Mr Rahman talks of feeling “betrayed”.

Gaza of course is not just a Muslim issue, and not all Muslims ranked it is one of the key considerations on which they voted, but it had an impact.

Similarly, Israel policy is not necessarily a major consideration for all Jewish voters, and even for those for whom it is, there are those who are highly critical of the Israeli government and are at odds with the response of Labour under Starmer.

But while over the decades the Jewish vote has swung between the two main parties broadly in line with the general population, it would appear that if one puts to one side all of the rows over antisemitism, the party’s outlook on Israel does impact voting intention.

Separately, both Mish Rahman and Adam Langleben are very clear that their accusations of discrimination levelled at the party in different eras do not just relate to party policy on the Middle East.

Even if everyone can be satisfied that accusations of discrimination are dealt with equally, such are the modern tensions around Middle East policy that political parties may struggle to find a position that does not alienate some members of one of these faith communities.

Labour has achieved much in winning back the levels of Jewish voters it has, but it has also left huge swathes of loyal Muslim voters in Britain feeling politically adrift, and large swings in culture and policy over recent years leave many in each community needing convincing of the true nature of the party.

More from InDepth

  • Published

England manager Gareth Southgate said “if I can’t enjoy this moment then it’s a waste of time” after his side reached the Euro 2024 semi-finals by beating Switzerland 5-3 on penalties.

The Three Lions’ moment of jubilation was made even sweeter for Southgate as he celebrated with supporters following the recent “difficult personal” criticism he has faced in Germany.

“Every now and then surely there has to be some enjoyment in this job,” said the England manager. “I love the players and sharing that moment with them.

“I can’t deny when things get as personal as it has it does hurt. I don’t think it is normal to have beer thrown at you. But we are in a third semi-final in four tournaments. We will keep grinding, keep fighting and keep enjoying this journey.”

England fell behind after 75 minutes, but Bukayo Saka levelled five minutes later to force extra time before victory in the penalty shootout.

Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I took this job to try and improve English football, to give us nights like this.

“We continue to give people fantastic memories.

“Now we want to deliver one more thing – we have never been to a final outside England, never won a Euros, so there are two bits of history we would love to create,” he said.

Southgate also expressed frustration as his switch to a three-man defence being revealed in the media three days before the game, describing it as “quite incredible”.

‘Resilient’ England have ‘attributes’ of winning sides

Southgate praised the “resilience” his team has shown at Euro 2024 to find a way to get results and keep progressing through the knockouts.

“There is what we ideally want to be and there is how we have found ways with all the obstacles, different challenges, all the way through,” he said.

Southgate added that the current group have continued to win in a way previous England teams haven’t.

“With England it was often start 25 minutes really well, go ahead in games and then out in the early knockout rounds. We weren’t savvy or tournament wise. This group are different. They keep possession for longer periods.”

The England boss added that his team have the “attributes” of a winning side.

He said: “We haven’t always got it right but in general we have shown the resilience that teams that win tournaments have had for years – Italy, France, Spain… it is not all pure football, it is other attributes they have had.”

‘Moving in an upwards direction’ – what the pundits said

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand, speaking on BBC One: “I am looking at the team and in tournament football we are doing the right thing – we are moving in an upwards direction.

“Today wasn’t perfect but it was such an improvement. Then it was nerves of steel when it mattered. I had no doubt in my mind.”

Former England midfielder Izzy Christiansen, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live: “England are getting incrementally better. There are so many questions this team have been asked.

“But imagine playing beautiful football and being beaten on penalties. It goes to nothing. There is character, resilience, a will to win and energy. These things can carry you a long way.

“You have got to be talking about them now to be in the final, perhaps, from what we have seen.”

Former England defender Micah Richards, speaking on BBC One: “We want to talk positively about England.

“We are on the front foot and everyone seems together – that is important.”

Former England striker Alan Shearer, speaking on BBC One: “The emotions the England team will be going through – they’ll be ecstatic and so they should. They’ve put an incredible shift in.

“A big shout-out to the manager – his preparation was absolutely key. The players he brought on to take penalties, they were just perfect.

“We know how pressurised that situation is and they made it look so easy.”

  • Published

Bukayo Saka is Stuart Pearce for the TikTok generation.

Young fans watching England reach a European Championship semi-final via a perfect penalty shootout might not know who Pearce is, but there were more than a few echoes of Euro 96 in Dusseldorf on Saturday night.

England have only scored all their penalties in a major tournament shootout twice – against Spain at Wembley in 1996, and versus Switzerland in 2024.

Against Spain, Pearce slammed home the third spot-kick and celebrated in trademark style with a fist pump and roar, the sinews in his neck straining to breaking point.

Against Switzerland, Saka slotted home the third spot-kick and celebrated in trademark style with a wide and beaming smile, the image of the star boy so loved by the new generation of England supporters.

For both men, shootout success brought redemption.

Pearce scored his penalty six years after missing in the 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat by West Germany. Saka scored his penalty three years after missing in a European Championship final defeat by Italy.

When Trent Alexander-Arnold scored the winning kick, Saka did not rush to celebrate with the bulk of team-mates, but sank to his knees with arms aloft in thanks.

This was redemption, Saka-style – done with class, abundant skill and with irresistible likeability.

“I think for me, it’s something I embrace,” Saka said of exorcising the demons of Euro 2020. “You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again and I’m a guy who is going to put myself in that position.

“I believed in myself and when the ball hit the net I was a very happy man.”

‘It was so brave from Bukayo’

The demons of Euro 2020 had been racist, disgusting and vile. Saka, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, was subjected to the most horrendous abuse after missing in the shootout against the Italians.

Saka, just 19 at the time, took the fifth kick for England and saw Gianluigi Donnarumma save his effort. He was left in tears on the pitch.

Three years later, and the circumstances could not be more contrasting.

Saka – no longer a teenage squad player, but key to England’s hopes – had dragged his team back into the game with a brilliant strike from 18 yards, just five minutes after Breel Embolo put Switzerland ahead.

And, at the end, after the penalty shootout, he was smiling and celebrating with his team-mates on the pitch amid joyous scenes.

“In that shootout, the smile on Saka’s face was brilliant,” former England defender Izzy Christiansen told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“You can’t help but be reminded of the [Euro] 2020 final and it was great to see him put it away.”

Southgate, who held the sobbing Saka tight on the sodden Wembley pitch in 2021, went through his own shootout pain as a player. His was the one kick saved in the Euro 1996 semi-final as Germany edged past England.

“It was so brave from Bukayo – he is one of our best and we were never in question he would take one,” Southgate said. “But we all knew what he went through.

“I love them all but I had to give him an extra-big hug. I know myself these experience shape you. He has come back stronger, still resilient and loved. Tonight his tournament ignited a little bit.”

It was not just the cool head in the shootout, of course. Saka was the most vibrant attacking outlet for England throughout the match, the high point being his brilliantly taken goal just as it looked like the Three Lions were down and out.

Swiss defender Michel Aebischer will never want to face Saka again. The England winger successfully dribbled past him four times in the first half, more than one player had beaten another in any Euro 2024 match until that point.

‘Big players step up in big moments’

“He is arguably the most important England player because he does something different. He beats players,” former England defender Rio Ferdinand told BBC One.

“He is like Arjen Robben. You know he is coming inside but you can’t stop him because he is so sharp. He is the one of best wingers in the world.

“Saka has come to England’s rescue again,” added ex-England captain Alan Shearer. “Big players step up in big moments.”

Saka’s stellar showing becomes even more impressive in the context of where he played. Southgate changed formation to a 3-4-2-1, with the Arsenal winger redeployed into a very unfamiliar role at right wing-back.

Saka, who was unhappy to be played as an emergency left-back against Slovakia in the last 16, took to this role with gusto. He provided England with threat and sparkle out wide, beating his markers inside and out – a quality the Three Lions have lacked throughout a Euros campaign that could charitably be described as stodgy at times.

“Unbelievable to play a new position compared to what he’s used to,” England captain Harry Kane told BBC One when asked about Saka.

“He has been eager to help the team and to play the way he did for 120-minutes – at the end he was knackered.”

Tired but beaming, Saka said this was “up there” with the best experiences of his England career.

“Last time we took a penalty shootout at the Euros, we know what happened,” he told BBC One.

“I believed. I felt like we dominated the whole game and the chance would come and I took it – I am proud of myself for that.”

Like Pearce, Saka has found England redemption in a Euros penalty shootout. But for the fans young and old who idolise him, who know what he had to go through three years ago, there is something extra sweet in the story of this remarkable young man.

  • Published

Seven-time champion Novak Djokovic came from a set down to book his place in the Wimbledon fourth round with victory over Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.

After a slow start on Centre Court, Djokovic, who has 24 Grand Slam titles, won 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

He will play Holger Rune next after the Danish 15th seed mounted a comeback of his own, prevailing over Frenchman Quentin Halys in five sets having trailed by two.

“A very challenging match, I think mentally as well, to hang in there,” said Djokovic.

“I was not allowed to have too big concentration lapses. I think I’ve done well in that regard. That was one of the best tie-breaks I’ve played this year, that’s for sure.”

Popyrin, who had never been beyond the second round in four previous visits to Wimbledon, came out with intent and took the first set with a break of serve in game seven.

But a lengthy break before the start of the second set as the roof was closed played into Djokovic’s hands, as the Serb started to find his rhythm.

The 37-year-old, still sporting a knee support on his right leg following surgery in June, broke Popyrin in the fourth game.

There was a brief interruption to play late in the set when fans on Centre Court burst into celebration as England beat Switzerland on penalties to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2024.

Fortunately, both players saw the funny side as Djokovic mimicked kicking a football and Popyrin raised his arms to imitate making a save.

Djokovic went on to wrap up the set with his 1,000th ace in the men’s singles at Wimbledon – just the sixth male player to achieve that feat.

Momentum remained with Djokovic in the third, breaking Popyrin in the first game, and he dropped just three points on serve before another ace sealed the set.

The fourth set proved a much tighter affair, with Djokovic missing three break points before a tie-break was required to settle the match.

“I didn’t expect anything less than what we experienced on the court today from Alexei,” Djokovic added.

“With that serve and powerful forehand, he’s dangerous on any surface.

“I knew he was in form and he was going to come out believing he can win. He was the better player in the first set. I think I played a good second and third and the fourth was anybody’s game.

Shelton ‘100% ready to go the distance’ again

Meanwhile Ben Shelton says he is “100% ready to go the distance” again after coming through a third successive five-set match to reach the Wimbledon fourth round.

The American 14th seed defeated 2021 semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-2 on Court One.

Up next for Shelton is world number one Jannik Sinner on Sunday.

It will be a huge task for the 21-year-old, who has played on five of the six days in the Championships so far.

However, Shelton said he is “really excited” about facing the Italian and “always confident in my abilities, no matter who is on the other side of the net”.

He has followed in the footsteps of his father and coach Bryan, who reached the last 16 at Wimbledon 30 years ago.

Resuming from Friday with Shelton leading 3-2 in the first set, both players held firm on their serve to set up a tie-break which the Canadian took.

Mistakes from Shelton put him on the back foot but he used an excitable crowd to take the next two sets with some fantastic serving.

However, Shapovalov fought back to force Shelton into another deciding set.

Buoyed by the American support in the crowd, Shelton produced a host of brilliant forehand winners to book his place in the last 16 in three hours and five minutes.

Elsewhere, fifth seed Daniil Medvedev set up a meeting with 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov after beating German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-3).

Frenchman Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard became the fifth lucky loser in the Open era to reach the fourth round with a 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 win over 87th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori.

Perricard’s reward is a meeting with Italian 25th seed Lorenzo Musetti, who beat Argentina’s Francisco Comesana 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3.

German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie, will face Taylor Fritz in the fourth round after the American 13th seed won 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 7-5 against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo.

Fellow Frenchman Ugo Humbert defeated American Brandon Nakashima 7-6 (11-9) 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (8-6) and will play defending champion Carlos Alcaraz.

Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut beat Italy’s Fabio Fognini in another five-setter, coming through 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 7-5 6-7 (1-7) 4-6. He will play American 12th seed Tommy Paul on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Australian ninth seed Alex de Minaur was handed a walkover when Frenchman Lucas Pouille withdrew with an abdominal injury before their third-round match.

De Minaur will meet Arthur Fils in round four after the unseeded Frenchman beat Russia’s Roman Safiullin 4-6 6-3 1-6 6-4 6-3.

  • Published

George Russell says he and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton expect a “good fight” for victory in the British Grand Prix with Lando Norris and Max Verstappen.

Russell beat Hamilton to secure an all-Mercedes front row, while Norris took third on the grid in his McLaren to secure the first all-British top three at a home race since 1962.

Russell said he believed Norris and Verstappen, who qualified fourth, had an edge on ultimate performance in the dry but that unpredictable weather could lead to a challenging race.

“Realistically, we know we’re probably a tenth or two behind Lando and Max,” Russell said. “But I think we’ve got a good fight on our hands.

“The weather’s going to play a huge part in that. It’s been raining and drying up throughout the last couple of days. There’s a bit of rain on the forecast.

“The crowd give us all so much energy, the three of us. I don’t think Silverstone could have dreamt of the three Brits in the top three. So, honestly, the support, we just absolutely love it and we can’t wait for the race.”

Hamilton said he was confident of a strong showing, having prepared his car with a view to the race rather than optimum performance over one lap.

“I was cautious with my set-up,” the seven-time champion said, “more thinking to have a nice balance in the race rather than all for one particular lap. So I do think that the car will be good tomorrow.”

Russell said that he expected a race similar to the one in Canada last month, when mixed conditions led to a race that ebbed and flowed between himself, Norris and Verstappen before the Dutchman eventually prevailed.

“We’re probably on course for another Montreal-style race where it’s going to be very changeable,” he said.

“So it’s going to be a long race. As I said, we’re riding this wave right now, but it doesn’t mean anything because tomorrow is where the points are scored. But we’re obviously in a great position to fight for victory.”

In Canada, Russell led the early laps but made a number of key errors that left him third at the end of the race behind Verstappen and Norris.

“I said after Montreal, my sort of risk-reward dial was turned up to the max and that sort of played against me at certain points,” Russell said.

“And just remembering that the race is won right at the end. It doesn’t matter what happens beforehand. So yeah, that was a good learning for me.”

Norris’ chance for a second win

Norris, who has been Verstappen’s most consistent challenger for victories since his own maiden win in Miami in May, said: “Even if you look at last year, Mercedes were probably one of the quickest in the race. If not potentially the quickest.

“So I expect them to be very quick tomorrow, especially as they can look after their front tyres very well.

“They have a very good front end. And I think that’s going to be a good saviour for them.

“Like George said, the conditions are going to be tricky. But we’re there. We’ve been very quick in the races over the last two months. It’s probably been one of our strengths. It’s been actually race pace over quali pace.

“This is a very different type of circuit. It’s a very different layout. But it’s still a strength. And hopefully it comes back towards us a little bit tomorrow.”

Norris missed out on a victory when he and Verstappen collided in the closing laps in Austria last weekend but believes he has a chance to come out on top on Sunday.

“I’m sure Max is going to be racing us,” Norris said, “but I’ve still got two other guys I’ve got to worry about, so I don’t care just about Red Bull.

“Our strategy has been very good over the last two months, so I’m happy. The team are doing a good job and therefore I’m confident we can execute a good race.

“We need good pace. We need to be able to race well. I need to pass two guys if that’s going to be on the cards. So, yeah, confident from what we know and what we’ve seen over the last few races that we can go forwards.”

Verstappen always a factor

The last time three British drivers occupied the entire podium at a grand prix was at the US race at Watkins Glen in 1968.

But Verstappen will be a significant threat after qualifying fourth.

The Red Bull driver said he believed he would have been in the fight for pole had he not damaged his car with a trip through the gravel trap at Copse when rain hit mid-way through the first qualifying session.

“If you look at the floor, it has a lot of damage,” he said. “At least we know can drive an attacking race and put them under pressure up front.”

  • Published

Emma Raducanu knows full well what it is like to be a little-known qualifier upsetting the odds at a Grand Slam tournament.

On Sunday, the boot will be on the other foot at Wimbledon.

The 21-year-old Briton famously won the US Open as a teenager qualifier three years ago, creating one of the most stunning shocks in sporting history.

Now Raducanu faces New Zealand qualifier Lulu Sun, a 23-year-old who had never played in the Wimbledon main draw until this year.

The pair meet in the fourth round at around 17:00 BST on Centre Court.

“Qualifiers are dangerous,” said Raducanu, who has not dropped a set in her opening three victories.

“She’s had three extra matches here at Wimbledon and she is not to be underestimated.”

Sun, ranked 123rd in the world, created one of the shocks of the tournament by beating Chinese eighth seed Zheng Qinwen in her first-round match.

She is the first woman representing New Zealand to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon in the Open era.

“The preparation doesn’t change I don’t think, you just take it opponent by opponent,” said Raducanu, who is ranked 135th in the world after injury issues last year.

“I’m expecting her to be really dangerous and come out swinging so it’s going to be a really tough match.”

Raducanu missed last year’s Wimbledon after having surgery on both of her wrists and has needed to be patient on her return to the WTA Tour this year.

Difficult decisions have also needed to be made.

On Saturday, she made the “very difficult” move to pull out of her mixed doubles partnership with Andy Murray – whose Wimbledon career is now over – because of stiffness in her wrist.

Raducanu has been cautious in her scheduling this year and opted to miss the clay-court French Open in order to ensure she was in peak condition for the British grass-court season.

The move has been fully justified.

After encouraging runs in Nottingham and Eastbourne, Raducanu has played some of her best tennis this week since winning the US Open.

“Honestly, I’m just obsessed with tennis right now,” said Raducanu.

“It’s all I want to do and all I want to think about.”

Raducanu needed to come through a first-set tie-break against Mexican lucky loser Renata Zarazua in round one, but has dropped just 11 games since after commanding wins over Belgium’s Elise Mertens and Greek ninth seed Maria Sakkari.

The excitement among the British fans at the All England Club has been further fuelled by Raducanu’s section of the draw opening up.

If the former British number one beats Sun, another unseeded opponent – Spanish former world number two Paula Badosa or Croatia’s Donna Vekic – waits in the quarter-finals.

“I just love playing on the big stages so much,” said Raducanu.

“It’s my favourite thing in the world, it’s the reason I play tennis, to play on these big courts and these big matches.

“It’s really special, you don’t get these opportunities often in life.

“When I look back later in my career, when I get much older and have retired, I want to be able to tell myself I savoured every moment.

“So I play each point as if it’s my last.”

What else is happening on Sunday?

Defending men’s champion Carlos Alcaraz opens the day’s play on Centre Court when he faces French 16th seed Ugo Humbert in the fourth round.

After Raducanu’s match, there is an all-American clash between second seed Coco Gauff and 19th seed Emma Navarro.

On Court One, Italian seventh seed Jasmine Paolini – who reached the French Open final last month – takes on American 12th seed Madison Keys.

One of that women’s quartet is a potential semi-final opponent for Raducanu should she get that far.

Italian men’s world number one Jannik Sinner, who is aiming for his first Wimbledon title, plays big-serving Ben Shelton of the United States.

That match is followed on the second show court by Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev taking on Bulgarian 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov.

  • Published

Andy Murray’s Wimbledon career is over after Emma Raducanu pulled out of their planned appearance in the mixed doubles.

Former world number one Murray, 37, was due to play alongside his fellow Briton on Saturday evening at the All England Club.

Raducanu, 21, said she has “some stiffness” in her right wrist.

She moved into the fourth round of the women’s singles with a dominant two-set win over Greek ninth seed Maria Sakkari on Friday.

“I have decided to make the very tough decision to withdraw from the mixed doubles,” she said.

“I’m disappointed as I was really looking forward to playing with Andy but I’ve got to take care.”

Murray, a two-time singles champion at Wimbledon, was playing at SW19 for the last time before retiring later this year.

The Scot is said to be “disappointed” that he is unable to play alongside 2021 US Open champion Raducanu, who missed Wimbledon last year after having surgery on both wrists.

Murray’s mother Judy, in response to a post on X from television presenter Marcus Buckland describing Raducanu’s decision as “astonishing”, wrote: “Yes, astonishing.”

Murray was not permitted to find a replacement partner for Raducanu under tournament rules because the draw had already been made.

Murray and Raducanu, who were set to play China’s Zhang Shuai and El Salvador’s Marcelo Arevalo, have been replaced by an alternate pairing.

It means Murray made his final appearance on Thursday when he lost alongside older brother Jamie in the men’s doubles.

A video montage of Murray’s career was played on the Centre Court big screen after the match, leaving the former world number one in tears as thousands of fans showed their appreciation.

Murray pulled out of the singles on Tuesday as he continues to recover from a back operation on 22 June.

The three-time major champion is planning to retire later this year, with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games set to be his final event.

‘Schedule put Raducanu in very awkward position’ – analysis

Saturday’s schedule played a major part in Emma Raducanu’s decision.

Being asked to play in the fourth match of the day on Court One is the same as being asked to play in a night session.

And given this Grand Slam is a predominantly daytime event, you can understand why a player would not want to spend all evening on site with a fourth-round singles match the following day.

The schedule put Raducanu in a very awkward position, and has led to a decision which will be very disappointing for Murray and everyone looking forward to what would have been a fun finale to his Wimbledon career.

This was no ordinary mixed doubles pairing, although players do regularly prioritise singles over doubles.

And there can be no change of partner once the draw is made. So instead of Murray teaming up with another British player, American alternates Rajeev Ram and Katie Volynets come into the draw.

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