The Guardian 2024-07-07 00:12:41


Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian wins Iran presidential election

Victory reflects deep dissatisfaction with direction of country and could bring greater cooperation with west

The reformist Masoud Pezeshkian has pulled off a stunning victory in the Iranian presidential runoff, reflecting deep dissatisfaction with the direction of the country in recent years and opening potential new avenues of cooperation with the west.

Pezeshkian won 16,384,403 votes to defeat the ultra-conservative Saeed Jalili, who received 13,538,179 votes, on a final turnout of 49.8% – a big increase on the record low turnout of 39% recorded in the first round. In the first round, Pezeshkian came top, defeating three Conservative rivals. The turnout included more than 1m invalid votes.

Pezeshkian has been an advocate of letting women choose whether to wear the hijab and ending internet restrictions that require the population to use VPN connections to avoid government censorship. He said after his victory: “The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy and trust.”

Under the slogan “For Iran”, Pezeshkian had promised to be a voice of the voiceless, saying protests must not be met with the police baton. Although some regard him as naive in high politics, a large part of his campaign was deliberately framed around his personal integrity, as well as his absence from ministerial office for the past decade. There were immediate calls from his backers to release political prisoners from jails, a symbol of the pent-up demands he may struggle to satisfy.

Pezeshkian faces a minefield in trying to bring about change, and although he has said he is loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he has also said he will resign if he feels he is being thwarted, and will then call on the population to withdraw from the political process.

The precise powers of the president in the field of foreign policy are disputed, but Pezeshkian argued in successive, often acrimonious TV debates that he could not bring about change, including the lowering of 40% inflation, unless he could secure the lifting of some sanctions, which would require a less confrontational approach to international relations.

During the campaign, he said Iran had found itself inside an economic cage as a result of its foreign policy, and needed to be more cooperative to see if sanctions could be lifted.

His in effect running mate in the campaign had been the former foreign minister Javad Zarif, who negotiated the nuclear deal in 2015 that led to a lifting of sanctions before Donald Trump pulled the US out of the plan in 2018.

Zarif said sanctions meant Iran had been bypassed. The stock market rose on the news of the reformist victory.

Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator close to the supreme leader, had claimed Iran could thrive by building stronger economic ties away from the west. Far from Iran being a cage, he said, Iran was a sanctuary.

Pezeshkian’s victory is all the more remarkable since no reformist was allowed to stand in the last presidential election in 2021, and it was thought the high tide of Iranian reformism had long passed, with many voters convinced there was no point going to the polls since a “shadow government” took all the decisions.

The repression of the “women, life, freedom” protests in 2022 only added to a sense that the path to change through the ballot box was closed. Many senior reformists from the green movement as well as political prisoners inside Evin jail had called for a boycott.

But after Pezeshkian topped the first round – defying the rule of Iranian politics that reformists lose if turnout is low – his campaign team grew in confidence that he could win if more voters took part in the runoff.

It also became clear that supporters of the more centrist conservative Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf were not going to transfer their votes to Jalili, with whom they had sharp ideological differences. Zarif urged the abstentionists to vote, saying: “Those who did not participate in the first round, you sent your message in the first period, now you must complete your message with your presence.”

Another leading Pezeshkian backer, the former communications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, said: “We must prove the people are the people, not those who consider themselves guardians of the people.”

On Saturday evening, reformists became nervous that a sudden surge in late votes was a sign of the regime seeking to rig the result, something it has been accused of doing before. There were reports that government funds were being used to send clerics into rural villages to solidify support in Jalili heartlands.

But then late on Saturday, government news channels leaked that Pezeshkian had won before the Iranian election headquarters declared him the official victor, sending his supporters into the streets of Tehran.

About 5,000 had attended his final election rally in a football stadium in Tehran, suggesting his campaign might not have sparked the support he needed among abstentionists. After a quiet campaign in the capital, his jubilant supporters poured on to the streets of Tehran to celebrate a victory that few saw coming.

In parliamentary elections earlier this year marked by low turnout, the conservatives trounced reformists. Ghalibaf’s authority as speaker of the parliament has, meanwhile, been weakened by his defeat in the presidential elections. The political complexion of the parliament will be one of the many obstacles facing the new president since it has the power to impeach ministers.

The first round of voting on 28 June had the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. Iranian officials have long pointed to turnout as a symbol of the legitimacy for the country’s Shia theocracy, but Khamenei said those who stayed away from the polls had not done so due to opposition to the regime.

The snap presidential election was caused by the death of Ebrahim Raisi, the incumbent, in a helicopter crash in May. Raisi had been seen as a potential successor to the 85-year-old supreme leader, and his death has thrown that succession into disarray. The decision is taken by an 88-strong body, the assembly of experts.

The west will now have to make a judgment on whether to help Pezeshkian or maintain the blanket of sanctions due to the continued escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme, and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Iran is enriching uranium at near weapons-grade levels and maintains a stockpile large enough to build several nuclear weapons, but does not yet have the warheads or missile technology.

It is also providing Russia with drones for use in Ukraine. Pezeshkian’s second foreign policy adviser alongside Zarif was a former ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanei.

The US state department said the election would not lead to any change in the US approach to Iran. The US officials pointed to the boycott of the elections by a large part of Iranian voters and wrote: “The elections in Iran were not free and fair. As a result, a significant number of Iranians chose not to participate at all.”

The statement added: “We have no expectation that these elections will lead to a fundamental change in Iran’s path or greater respect for the human rights of citizens. As the candidates themselves have said, Iran’s policy is determined by the leader.”

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Profile

Masoud Pezeshkian: the former heart surgeon who became president of Iran

The reformist’s life has been shaped by conscription duty in a deprived city and great personal tragedy

The shock election of Masoud Pezeshkian as Iran’s new president is as much a testimony to his personality as to his politics.

A former heart surgeon and health minister, he came across in the many presidential TV debates as a man of great personal integrity and humility, desperate to bring the country together after it had been divided domestically and abroad.

In the end, it will only be his opponents’ fear of his continued popularity that will help Pezeshkian wield influence in the warren that is Iran’s notoriously multi-level and factional politics.

It is an uphill task since, although the turnout in the runoff was higher than in the first round, it is the second lowest in Iranian presidential campaigns, showing many Iranians remain sceptical about politicians.

Pezeshkian’s life has been marked by personal tragedy, which has shaped him.

His wife, who he met as a fellow medical student, and youngest son died in a crash 30 years ago after his car hit a rock returning from a family trip to Tabriz. She was a trained gynaecologist and her loss affected him deeply, bringing him to tears even now.

He never married again, bringing up his remaining three children largely alone, learning to cook and teach them. His daughter, Zahra, accompanied him, wearing the hijab and holding his hand, when he registered to stand for the presidency this time. She has a master’s degree in chemistry and is regarded as a political adviser.

He reportedly speaks many languages including, apart from Farsi, Azeri, as well as some Kurdish and Arabic. His father was Azeri and his mother Kurdish. During one TV discussion he broke into good English to quote Einstein’s famous saying: “The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Pezeshkian’s 2024 campaign was his second full attempt to run for the presidency.

He first entered politics in 2006 as MP for Tabriz, building his popular base over successive elections.

Although he has a sharp tongue when he lashes out against corruption and the merchants of sanctions, his overall demeanour is suited to the role of a cooperator, often saying he will defer to experts on how to solve the country’s economic problems. He often left some of the sharpest attacks on his “Taliban opponents” to be made by his supporters.

But he faces an uphill task uniting the country, since his conservative opponents deeply resented being described as the Taliban by the reformists and viewed him as an agent of the west and his supporters, people that had succumbed to the western internet filter breakers.

He will also have to decide whether or how to reconcile himself with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Pezeshkian was born in September 1954 in Mahabad, a city in West Azerbaijan province known for having a large population of Azeri and Kurdish ethnic minorities.

He repeatedly reflects on his Azeri heritage, even though Mahabad is a predominantly Kurdish city, although he stresses he sees Iran as a unitary state. He is an advocate of ethnic rights as a way of keeping the country united.

At the age of 19, during the era of the Shah, he served his conscription duty in Zabul – one of the most deprived cities in Sistan and Balochistan province, an experience that was said to be his political awakening.

He returned to his home town to start his medical training and served as a doctor and fighter during the Iran-Iraq war.

After the war, he specialised in cardiology and heart surgery at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences. In 1994, he rose to the level of the university’s chief administrator and then became an MP for Tabriz. It was there, he admits in a video circulated by his opponents, that he enforced the hijab, and threatened those who did not comply with being sent home.

He says his views have developed since then and he is on record as opposing the suppression of the 2019 oil price protests and the 2022 protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.

He has said: “Girls and women are our own and not foreigners. We have no right to force girls and women regarding citizenship rights. We will not be able to cover women’s heads through coercion.”

The “morality police” are once again seeking to enforce the hijab, with varying degrees of success judging by the streets of Tehran, and, once inaugurated, Pezeshkian will face an early test to see if he can change the enforcement climate.

Despite efforts by his opponents to portray him as a continuation of the unpopular government of President Hassan Rouhani, he never served in the eight years of his administration, instead only acting as health minister between 2001 and 2005 under the government of Mohammad Khatami.

He ran for the presidency in 2013 and 2021 but in his second attempt he was blocked by the 12-strong guardian council that vets candidates, an exclusion for which he demanded an explanation.

The appointment of Javad Zarif as an adviser gave him an analytical framework in which to argue the link between the state of the economy and the need for better relations with the west, portraying his opponent, Saeed Jalili, as an advocate of a siege economy. To achieve the target 6% growth he said: “We would need £200bn annually in investment, which is impossible under current conditions, therefore solving our international issues is crucial.”

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Gavin Newsom, the California governor who has been widely discussed as a potential successor to Biden, is campaigning for the president today in Pennsylvania’s Bucks county – a key political battleground.

The governor cast the election as one that is “about liberalism versus illiberalism” – highlighting the threats Trump poses to American democracy, and emphasizing Biden’s economic record.

As a campaign surrogate, Newsom has drawn a swirl of speculation about his own presidential aspirations. “I think what you’ve seen is this, what Gavin Newsom has to say is really not so different from what Joe Biden has to say,” Bill Whalen, a policy fellow at the Hoover Institution thinktank in Palo Alto, California, told me recently. “But he takes Joe Biden’s message, and he delivers it much more effectively.”

Top Democrats said to plan crisis meeting despite Biden’s vow to fight on

House Democratic leader reportedly schedules virtual meeting for Sunday as several members call for withdrawal

  • Biden defiant as America reacts to TV interview – follow live

Congressional Democrats are reportedly to hold an emergency weekend meeting to discuss Joe Biden’s tottering presidential candidacy, after a primetime television interview failed to dispel doubts triggered by last week’s debate fiasco.

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, scheduled the virtual meeting for Sunday, NBC News and Bloomberg reported, even as Biden struck a defiant posture in Friday’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

In a 22-minute interview from a school library in Wisconsin, aired in full, the president brushed off his miserable debate display as “a bad night” and insisted he would only withdraw his candidacy if the “Lord Almighty” ordered it.

But his posture appeared only to reinforce the views of those Democrats who had already publicly urged him to quit the race, while others were said to be privately infuriated by his seemingly insouciant attitude to the prospect of defeat at the hands of Donald Trump in November’s election.

Asked by Stephanopoulos how he would feel if he had to turn the presidency back to an opponent he and his party loathe, the president said: “I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.”

The response seemed to minimise the consequences of handing over power to a rival who tried to overturn the results of the 2020, incited a mob to attack the US Capitol and vowed to seek “retribution” on his opponents if he won again, a threat that has unnerved many Democrats.

The convening of Democratic House members by Jeffries would follow a similar move even before Friday’s interview by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who called on fellow senators from his party to meet to discuss Biden’s candidacy. Warner has been reported to be leading an effort by Senate Democrats urging the president to stand aside.

Democrats who had already called publicly for an end to his candidacy reiterated the sentiment after Friday evening’s broadcast of the interview, in which Biden projected greater assuredness than in the 27 June debate with Trump, yet affected obliviousness to concerns over his mental acuity or loss of support in the polls.

Lloyd Doggett, a veteran Texas Democrat who had been the first congressman to call for Biden to withdraw last Tuesday, said the interview only reinforced his view.

“The need for him to step aside is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it on Tuesday,” he told CNN.

He added: “[Biden] does not want his legacy to be that he’s the one who turned over our country to a tyrant.”

Mike Quigley, an Illinois congressman who was the fourth to urge the president to stand aside – after Doggett, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts – called aspects of the interview “disturbing”, adding that it showed “the president of the United States doesn’t have the vigour necessary to overcome the deficit here”.

Addressing Biden’s response to a putative Trump re-election, he told CNN: “He felt as long as he gave it his best effort, that’s all that really matters. With the greatest respect: no.”

Julián Castro, a former Democratic presidential hopeful and a member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, acknowledged to MSNBC that Biden had been “steadier” than in his debate performance but was in “denial about the decline that people can clearly see”.

Addressing Biden’s comments on a possible second Trump presidency, Castro said: “I think the most chilling was when Stephanopoulos asked him, ‘Well, what if you lose to [former President Trump,] then how are you gonna feel?’ and President Biden said, ‘Well, as long as I gave it my all,’ that basically that he would feel ok.”

“That’s not good enough, for the American people. That’s not good enough with the stakes of Donald Trump winning.”

Tim Ryan, a former representative from Ohio – who has also urged a Biden withdrawal – echoed that sentiment, telling the same network: “I think there was a level of him being out of touch with reality on the ground.”

He also said: “I don’t think he moved the needle at all. I don’t think he energised anybody. I’m worried, like I think a lot of people are, that he is just not the person to be able to get this done for us.”

Several Biden loyalists, including Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a chairman of his campaign, and John Fetterman, a senator from Pennsylvania, voiced their continued support. But even among supporters there were doubts.

Ro Khanna, a California congressman and Biden surrogate, issued a statement saying he expected the president to do more to show he has vigour to fight and win the election and “that requires more than one interview.”

“I expect complete transparency from the White House about this issue and a willingness to answer many legitimate questions from the media and voters about his capabilities,” Khanna said.

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11 min: Breel Embolo tries to ferret his way through the right side of the England penalty area, squeezing between John Stones and Declan Rice. His progress is impaired by the latter and the ball squirts wide for a goal kick.

Hopes of Gaza ceasefire rise further as Hamas reportedly backs new proposal

Militant group gives initial backing to plan for phased deal after ‘verbal commitments’ from mediators

  • Israel-Gaza war – live updates

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza have risen further after reports that Hamas has given its initial approval of a new US-backed proposal for a phased deal.

Egyptian officials and representatives of the militant Islamist organisation confirmed Hamas had dropped a key demand that Israel commits to a definitive end to the war before any pause in hostilities, Reuters and the Associated Press reported.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have intensified over recent days, with active shuttle diplomacy among Washington, Israel and Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts from Doha, where the exiled Hamas leadership is based.

Observers said any progress was welcome, but pointed out that multiple rounds of negotiations over more than seven months had so far failed to bring success.

With all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looming, and casualties in Gaza still mounting, pressure to end the war is high.

A Hezbollah official said last week the group would cease fire as soon as any Gaza deal took effect, echoing previous statements. On Thursday the Iran-backed organisation fired 200 rockets into Israel in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders.

“If there is a Gaza agreement, then from zero hour there will be a ceasefire in Lebanon,” the Hezbollah official said.

The White House has described the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal as a “breakthrough”. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed on Friday that the director of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, had been sent to make an urgent visit to Qatar, but his office said “gaps between the parties” remained.

The proposed deal would involve a first phase including the release by Hamas of elderly, sick and female hostages during a six-week truce, an Israeli withdrawal from cities in Gaza, and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Further phases could include the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, in return for additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Eventually, any remaining hostages would be returned, including bodies of dead captives, and a start made on the immensely expensive and complex task of reconstructing Gaza.

A key obstacle to a deal until this week had been widely differing views on how the agreement would move from its first phase to its second.

Hamas wants strong guarantees over the path to a permanent ceasefire, but Netanyahu had publicly cast doubt on whether that would happen, vowing to complete the destruction of the group, which had run Gaza for nearly two decades before it launched its surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

A Hamas representative told the Associated Press the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from the mediators that the war would not be resumed and that negotiations would continue until a permanent ceasefire was reached. “Now we want these guarantees on paper,” he said.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after the attack by Hamas in October, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250.

Since then, the Israeli air and ground offensive has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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Fears of long war in Gaza as new chapter opens and ‘intense fighting’ eases off

Israel’s ground offensive is nearing its conclusion amid the threat of indefinite occupation and a continuing insurgency

Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the phase of “intense fighting” against Hamas in Gaza is coming to an end, but with no publicly unveiled plans for the next stage of Israel’s campaign, Palestinians and Israelis alike fear that the unfolding chapter in the conflict could amount to a long period of insurgency-style warfare and indefinite occupation.

Israel’s generals are expected to announce soon that the last main ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the southernmost city of Rafah, is over, although the prime minister has made clear that the war will not end until Israel achieves “total victory”, which he defines as the complete eradication of Hamas as a civilian and military entity.

However, nine months into a campaign that was supposed to be over by January, several of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) declared objectives remain unfulfilled and new fighting continues to erupt in areas supposedly under Israeli military control.

Although both sides indicated tentative progress last week, ceasefire and hostage release talks have repeatedly stalled. And despite huge domestic and international pressure, the Israeli government is still yet to release details of its postwar proposals for Gaza. One Israeli observer briefed on the plans described them to this newspaper as “fantasies”.

“None of the scenarios Netanyahu and his people have put forward so far are serious and they must know that too. The only conclusion we can draw is that he is trying to buy time,” said Nour Odeh, a Ramallah-based political analyst and commentator.

“Netanyahu does not want to end the war for his own political reasons. I fear we are heading to a Somalia-like situation.”

Public statements from Israeli officials and leaked details suggest that two army divisions will remain in Gaza in the third part of Israel’s war plan.

One will be posted on the newly created Netzarim corridor that bisects the northern and southern halves of the strip, preventing residents of Gaza City returning to their homes. The other will be based on the Philadelphi corridor, along the border between Gaza and Egypt, in order to shut down Hamas’s main lifeline – the extensive tunnel network and smuggling routes in the area.

These troops will have the task of launching frequent raids on suspected Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets across Gaza, a strategy known as “mowing the grass” already employed in the West Bank. Israel has approached Arab states such as Egypt and the UAE to discuss forming a security force that could operate in Gaza after the war, although support for such a model remains tepid, according to regional diplomats.

The buffer zone between the separation fence and Israel proper is expected to expand to at least two-thirds of a mile (1km) in depth across the entire territory.

According to analysis of satellite imagery by Gisha, a nonprofit organisation focused on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, the buffer zone and the two corridors of land expropriated for military use could total 32% of the territory.

The areas illegally seized make up a lot of Gaza’s agricultural land, which is already insufficient for meeting the needs of its 2.3 million residents.

Initial US-backed plans to bring the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority back to govern Gaza after its controlling Fatah faction was kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 appear to have stalled.

After 18 years without elections, the authority lacks political legitimacy and its prime minister previously said that it will not return to the strip “aboard an Israeli tank”.

According to the Financial Times, Israel is instead on the verge of reimplementing a failed plan from early in the conflict – “bubbles” run by local people, such as respected elders, with no ties to Hamas. These vetted figures will administer the distribution of aid and, if successful, their responsibilities will expand into areas of civilian governance.

“Half a year ago this same idea, negotiating with heads of clans, ended with the execution of several of them by Hamas,” said Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian studies forum at Tel Aviv University. “You can’t pretend you are going to dramatically change something when you don’t control it.”

For Milshtein, Israeli decision-makers need to commit to controlling the entirety of Gaza for the foreseeable future, with all the financial, military and legal implications that entails, or be prepared to make a painful deal to end the war in which it is most likely Hamas will remain in power in the strip.

“I do not see any alternative to Hamas continuing to run Gaza’s civil sphere. I don’t know if we have the willingness or the capacity to occupy all of Gaza with boots on the ground,” he said. “There are no good options – there are only bad ones. We need to choose the least bad.”

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Bangladesh floods leave at least eight dead amid fears situation could worsen

Government opens hundreds of shelters for displaced people as heavy rains cause rivers to burst their banks

The death toll from floods in Bangladesh this week has risen to eight, leaving more than two million affected after heavy rains caused major rivers to burst their banks, officials have confirmed.

The south Asian country of 170 million people, crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, has experienced more frequent floods in recent decades.

The climate crisis has caused rainfall to become more erratic and melted glaciers upstream in the Himalayan mountains.

Two teenage boys were killed when a boat capsized in flood waters in Shahjadur, the northern rural town’s police chief, Sabuj Rana, said.

“There were nine people in the small boat. Seven swam to safety. Two boys did not know how to swim. They drowned,” he said.

Bishwadeb Roy, a police chief in Kurigram, said that three others had been killed in two separate electrocution incidents after their boats became entangled with live electricity wires in flood water.

Another three died in separate flood-related incidents around the country, officials said earlier this week.

The government said it had opened hundreds of shelters for people displaced by the waters and sent food and relief to hard-hit districts in the country’s north region.

“More than 2 million people have been affected by the floods. Seventeen of the country’s 64 districts have been affected,” Kamrul Hasan, the secretary of the country’s disaster management ministry, said.

Hasan said the flood situation may worsen in the north over the coming days with the Brahmaputra, one of Bangladesh’s main waterways, flowing above danger levels in some areas.

In the worst-hit Kurigram district, eight out of nine rural towns have been marooned by flood water, local disaster and relief official Abdul Hye said.

“We live with floods here. But this year the water was very high. In three days, Brahmaputra rose by 6- to 8ft [2-2.5 metres],” Abdul Gafur, a local councillor in the district, said.

“Flood water has inundated more than 80% of homes in my area. We are trying to deliver food, especially rice and edible oil. But there is a drinking water crisis.”

Bangladesh is in the middle of the annual summer monsoon, which brings south Asia 70-80% of its annual rainfall, as well as regular deaths and destruction due to flooding and landslides.

The rainfall is difficult to forecast and varies considerably, but scientists say climate change is making the monsoon stronger and more erratic.

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Bangladesh floods leave at least eight dead amid fears situation could worsen

Government opens hundreds of shelters for displaced people as heavy rains cause rivers to burst their banks

The death toll from floods in Bangladesh this week has risen to eight, leaving more than two million affected after heavy rains caused major rivers to burst their banks, officials have confirmed.

The south Asian country of 170 million people, crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, has experienced more frequent floods in recent decades.

The climate crisis has caused rainfall to become more erratic and melted glaciers upstream in the Himalayan mountains.

Two teenage boys were killed when a boat capsized in flood waters in Shahjadur, the northern rural town’s police chief, Sabuj Rana, said.

“There were nine people in the small boat. Seven swam to safety. Two boys did not know how to swim. They drowned,” he said.

Bishwadeb Roy, a police chief in Kurigram, said that three others had been killed in two separate electrocution incidents after their boats became entangled with live electricity wires in flood water.

Another three died in separate flood-related incidents around the country, officials said earlier this week.

The government said it had opened hundreds of shelters for people displaced by the waters and sent food and relief to hard-hit districts in the country’s north region.

“More than 2 million people have been affected by the floods. Seventeen of the country’s 64 districts have been affected,” Kamrul Hasan, the secretary of the country’s disaster management ministry, said.

Hasan said the flood situation may worsen in the north over the coming days with the Brahmaputra, one of Bangladesh’s main waterways, flowing above danger levels in some areas.

In the worst-hit Kurigram district, eight out of nine rural towns have been marooned by flood water, local disaster and relief official Abdul Hye said.

“We live with floods here. But this year the water was very high. In three days, Brahmaputra rose by 6- to 8ft [2-2.5 metres],” Abdul Gafur, a local councillor in the district, said.

“Flood water has inundated more than 80% of homes in my area. We are trying to deliver food, especially rice and edible oil. But there is a drinking water crisis.”

Bangladesh is in the middle of the annual summer monsoon, which brings south Asia 70-80% of its annual rainfall, as well as regular deaths and destruction due to flooding and landslides.

The rainfall is difficult to forecast and varies considerably, but scientists say climate change is making the monsoon stronger and more erratic.

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Hurricane Beryl: Britons join global aid effort amid Caribbean devastation

New UK foreign secretary, David Lammy, adds to support of individuals raising funds for disaster-hit islands

Britons have joined a growing global effort to help thousands of people in the Caribbean left homeless and destitute after Hurricane Beryl.

Since making landfall on Monday, the hurricane has killed at least 10 people.

It obliterated almost all of the buildings and vegetation in the Grenadian islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. It also caused widespread destruction on the island of St Vincent and demolished 95% of structures in the Grenadine islands of Union, Petit St Vincent, Palm Island and Mayreau.

Beryl went on to ravage Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. In Jamaica, it caused two deaths after ripping off roofs and uprooting trees and electrical poles.

The hurricane also battered Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula and brought intense flooding to Venezuela, where three people died and four are missing.

A tearful resident of Union described the hurricane as “worse than the devil”, breaking into sobs as he said he had lost everything. Words, he added, were not enough to describe the terror of the storm.

The stories of those affected by Beryl have captured the attention of people, organisations and countries around the globe. The US joined governments in the Caribbean to pledge humanitarian and financial support.

In the UK, the newly installed foreign secretary, David Lammy, said he would increase support to Caribbean countries affected by Beryl to £500,000. This includes 800 emergency shelter kits, capable of supporting up to 4,000 people.

“Our thoughts remain with those who have lost loved ones, their homes or have been left without power,” he said. “This funding will help support disaster recovery efforts, as part of a swift and coordinated response in the region.

“That such a storm has developed so early in the season shows that we are facing a climate emergency and must act now.”

Individuals with connections to the islands have also started fundraisers and aid collection drives. The GoFundMe appeals in the UK have raised more than £200,000.

In London, Grenadians Saskia Moynihan De Silva and Esmond Joseph spoke to the BBC about their emergency appeals. They are collecting non-perishable food, toiletries and medical supplies to ship to Grenada.

In Union island, Kory Meidell from the Christian disaster response group Gideon Rescue Co arrived to set up the satellite-based internet service Starlink after Beryl caused a communication blackout that has hindered rescue and relief efforts.

“They needed some help setting up their Starlink, and we are happy to do that to get their communications back up. We know that God cares much about this island, and that’s the thing we want to share, that God cares about the people here. He knows the hurt and heartache, and he is sending help,” Meidell said.

Help has also come from local people, who are themselves affected by the hurricane.

In Union, a professional kitesurfer, Jeremie Tronet, and Abdon Whyte, a teacher at the Union Island secondary school, have been using their own resources, time and effort to bring relief to the island. Tronet’s GoFundMe page has already raised more than €200,000.

Whyte, who has been supporting cleanup efforts, said more hands were needed on the ground. “We need persons to assist with cleaning; we need more medical people because some of the nurses have been injured or lost everything. [We need] first aiders, first responders, and police because the island has nothing. I myself have lost everything,” he said.

Governments are also asking for donations to their own relief funds. St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has set up a site with bank account details and a list of priority relief items. Grenada has posted similar appeals for volunteers and financial contributions on the National Disaster Management Agency Facebook page.

In SVG, the government has temporarily waived import taxes on relief items coming into the country.

Officials in the affected countries are also urging those wishing to make contributions to stick to the list of priority items and liaise with the national emergency offices to ensure aid distribution is coordinated and reaches the right people.

Dickon Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada, and his counterpart from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, who face a dire humanitarian situation and the prospect of rebuilding islands from the ground up, have expressed grave concerns about the staggering costs associated with the “herculean” relief and recovery effort.

Officials have highlighted the urgency of restoring basic services such as medical care and security, with police concerned about a breakdown in law and order due to power outages and unsecured properties.

The SVG high commissioner in London has stressed the need for a “swift recovery”, adding that this is “an essential condition” for sustainable development to continue in the Caribbean nations.

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Blue cheese or caviar? Ice-cream toppings get weird and wacky

More chefs are pairing savoury and sweet flavours for unusual desserts that surprise diners and ‘make them think’

Ice-cream toppings used to offer a simple choice between strawberry or chocolate sauce, rainbow sprinkles or maybe a maraschino cherry. Not any more. Waitrose’s senior innovation chef, Will Torrent, said recently that he likes his scoop of sea salt and caramel ice-cream with an added topping of stilton.

The chef said the sweet, creaminess of the dessert was “elevated” by the “rich and sharp” blue cheese. A white chocolate ice-cream, he added, could pair well with a Brie de Meaux.

Torrent is not alone. Dua Lipa said earlier this year that her favourite pairing is olive oil drizzled over vanilla ice-cream, prompting a flurry of TikTok copycats. At Moor Hall in Lancashire, holder of two Michelin stars, sweet cicely ice-cream has been served with ragstone, a soft goat’s cheese, and strawberries, while Kitchen Table in London’s Fitzrovia serves caviar on top of walnut ice-cream. Spices such as fennel seeds, cardamom and saffron are paired with a vanilla bean ice-cream and chocolate cake at Colonel Saab, an Indian restaurant in central London.

Meanwhile, the fashion brand Anya Hindmarch opened its Ice Cream Project shop in London for the third consecutive summer last month, offering “cult food brand” flavours as unusual as Branston’s piccalilli, Bird’s custard and Sarson’s malt vinegar.

Restaurants are continuing to experiment. At the Abbey Inn in Byland, North Yorkshire, unusual soft serves are made using local ingredients, including charlotte and douglas fir potatoes, while The Mutton at Hazeley Heath, Hampshire, features asparagus ice-cream on the menu. Joia, a Portuguese restaurant in Battersea, south-west London, has served chorizo ice-cream.

“Desserts are starting to be viewed similarly to savoury dishes,” said Mia Frizzi, head of pastry at Cardinal in Edinburgh. “There’s a need to create depth, and balance all flavours to add complexity. A bold, strong acidic ice-cream or sorbet complements the more standard sweetness of desserts.”

All chefs crave balance. Joia’s chorizo ice-cream works because it’s tempered by chocolate and rich caramel, said founder Henrique Sá Pessoa. “It’s not for everyone,” he added. “But it made people think.”

At the Abbey Inn, the potato-based scoops came from an abundance of spuds. “It seemed only natural to experiment with making ice-cream from them,” said chef Callum Leslie. “It is exciting to use traditionally savoury ingredients as a dessert.”

Jan Ostle, co-founder of Wilsons in Bristol, was inspired by similar reasons – using produce from the restaurant’s kitchen garden. It led to the creation of a herb sorbet, including chervil and the often divisive dill. “It’s not an easy flavour profile,” Ostle said. The solution? Topping it with charred Italian meringue.

For Ostle, ice-cream is the ideal vehicle to bring flavours together and provide taste in a new format. “Our oyster ice-cream was born from a need to come up with a way of delivering the lovely, refreshing experience of eating an oyster to people who were worried about eating them in their usual form.”

Trivet in London’s Bermondsey serves a yoghurt and black olive ice-cream inspired by the memories of their co-founder Isa Bal of Turkish breakfasts.

“The real star is the black olive caramel that we ripple through it,” said co-founder Jonny Lake. Lake said cheese ice-creams were popular in the Regency and Victorian periods.

While some diners may balk at meat or vegetable flavours, chefs say the majority fall in love. “Customers are increasingly up for surprising themselves, and kitchens are also trusting people more. Everyone is becoming braver,” said chef Jack Coggins at Goodbye Horses, an on-trend wine bar and restaurant that will soon open in Islington, London.

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King Charles ruffles feathers as he drops royal patronage for pigeon racing

Monarch’s decision follows opposition from animal rights activists, leading to fears the sport’s days are numbered

The king has upset the pigeon racing community after dropping the monarchy’s official support amid opposition from animal rights activists.

King Charles has ended royal patronage for pigeon racing, a sport his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, grandfather George VI, great-grandfather George V, and great-great-grandfather Edward VII all took part in enthusiastically.

The monarch has declined to take on two patronages held by the late queen: the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, the sport’s governing body in the UK, and the country’s premier club, the National Flying Club.

Some in the sport now fear there is worse to come, and that King Charles may ultimately end his family’s participation in the sport entirely and shut the royal pigeon loft at his Sandringham estate.

The royal family have taken part in the sport since Belgium’s King Leopold II gave Queen Victoria racing pigeons in 1886.

Since then, there has been a royal loft at Sandringham from which birds wearing the monarch’s cypher on their legs and travelling in boxes bearing the royal crest have been taken to compete in races. The royal loft got a £40,000 renovation in 2015 when Queen Elizabeth won planning permission to build a new residence, complete with top-of-the range nesting boxes for her 200 pigeons.

But some leading figures in the sport now fear its days are numbered. “I should think in about 18 months or two years they will probably dismantle it,” said Paul Naum, treasurer of the National Flying Club. Naum was critical of the king’s decision to decline the patronage. “We are so disappointed,” he said. “We’ve always had a member of the royal family as our patron and we’ve always been proud of it. It’s a working man’s sport, and it’s taken that privilege away.”

Naum blamed the monarch’s apparent loss of enthusiasm for the sport on protests from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which has lobbied the king to end his support for pigeon racing, arguing that it is cruel and results in thousands of exhausted or disoriented birds dying in races each year, especially when flying home across the Channel.

“I think it’s PETA that’s done it,” Naum said. “No matter what we seem to do, we always get back to a complaint about something. We know who’s behind it most of the time.”

In February, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association rejected the idea that the sport is cruel. Richard Chambers, the Association’s head of national development, said: “A pigeon will only do what it wants to do.”

Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of Peta, said: “Peta applauded King Charles for sparing birds when he banned foie gras from all royal events and residences, and we now thank him for ending his patronage of pigeon racing clubs that send birds to their death, facing storms and sea crossings in their loyal quest to return to their life partner and young … we hope that next the king will disband the royal loft and use it as a sanctuary for lost, injured, or unwanted birds.”

The Royal Household said the king had been forced to give up some of his late mother’s patronages because of the pressure of work. They are among 200 of Queen Elizabeth’s patronages that the king dropped after a review in May of about 1,000 organisations.

A palace spokesperson declined to comment.

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‘Defending democracy is paramount’: Rula Jebreal warns against Meloni rule

The journalist, and critics, accuse the Italian PM of leading the country towards authoritarianism

The first time Rula Jebreal came face to face with Giorgia Meloni was for a TV debate in November 2016.

It was the day after the US presidential election, six years before Meloni became prime minister, and the pair were invited on to Piazzapulita, a talkshow broadcast on the privately owned television channel, La7, to discuss the victory of Donald Trump.

Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy, a party with neofascist roots, was at the time languishing on the political fringes, embraced Trump’s win. Jebreal, an Israeli-born Palestinian and the first black Muslim woman to present an Italian TV news show had moved to the country as a student, gained Italian citizenship alongside Israeli, and become known for calling out racism, misogyny and extremist groups.

The tension between the two was already palpable when the debate descended into a fiery clash of words: Jebreal challenged Meloni over Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and the rise in racism brought about by his campaign, as well as the violence unleashed at his rallies. Meloni rolled her eyes when reminded about Italy’s fascist past and the violence imposed by Benito Mussolini’s regime. She dismissed her opponent as “crazy” when Jebreal said: “I understand it must be difficult to talk to a black woman like me”.

The debate marked Jebreal out as a nemesis of Italy’s farright, while giving insight into the ruthless streak that the country’s future prime minister would increasingly come to wield against her opponents.

Jebreal claims their confrontation set the wheels in motion for a years-long campaign of online attacks and intimidation over her criticism of Meloni and the Brothers of Italy, including being landed with a defamation lawsuit from her soon after Meloni’s coalition triumphed in the September 2022 general election.

“She had clearly lost the debate,” Jebreal, who now lives in the US, said during a visit to Italy. “She was attempting to rehabilitate Italy’s fascist history – a bloody history she had never totally disavowed.” Meloni did not take this well, she said. “She just dashed out of the studio.”

Jebreal has not been the only target. Since coming to power, Meloni’s government has been accused of making strategic use of defamation suits to silence journalists and public intellectuals. Her government has also been accused of exerting its influence over the state broadcaster, Rai, and other Italian media. In April, Rai came under fire for alleged censorship after the abrupt cancellation of an anti-fascist monologue that was due to be read by author Antonio Scurati. Meloni attacked Scurati on social media while accusing the left of “crying at the regime”.

Meloni’s growing antipathy towards Jebreal was made clearer in 2020, when during a national TV talkshow she took issue over the journalist being invited to read her monologue against violence against women at that year’s Sanremo song festival “without cross-examination … at taxpayers’ expense”.

The defamation case was filed over a tweet by Jebreal alleging Meloni had said asylum seekers were criminals who wanted to “replace” white Christians. Meloni sued Jebreal for allegedly attributing “very serious statements and political positions” to her. Jebreal is under formal investigation for defamation, although judges have not yet ruled whether the case will go to court.

Fabio Rampelli, a Brothers of Italy politician and vice-president of the lower house of parliament, is also suing Jebreal for defamation over a tweet about a neofascist commemorative ceremony in January in Rome during which hundreds of men performed the fascist salute.

Rampelli has confirmed he was present at the event’s official ceremony, which marked the 46th anniversary of the killing of three militants from the neofascist Italian Social Movement that eventually morphed into Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. But he denied being there during the fascist display. He has accused Jebreal of spreading what he regarded as “misinformation”.

Jebreal, who grew up in an orphanage in Jerusalem, believes the legal action is part of a broader attempt by Meloni’s government to suppress dissent.

Meloni has nurtured a more moderate, pragmatic image since taking power, earning herself approval from world leaders.

But people should not be fooled, warned Jebreal, who fears Meloni is slowly dismantling the foundations of democracy.

She alleged Meloni was waging a war on journalists. “Growing up in the Middle East, I would watch on TV as dictators fed propaganda and paranoia to keep a population fearful and docile. They would promote conspiracy theories, criminalise the opposition, and suppress the press for simply asking questions. It is the same playbook from the Middle East to Moscow to Hungary. And this is precisely Meloni’s strategy for Italy.”

Jebreal warns that the government’s violent words may lead to actual violence. She pointed to a recent brawl in parliament between deputies from Meloni’s coalition and those from the opposition, with a member of the Five Star Movement needing medical assistance. Instead of condemning the violence, Meloni said her deputies had been provoked.

“That sent a chilling message,” said Jebreal. “It normalised violence.”

Meloni is also ardently pushing a bill that would allow a prime minister to be directly elected, as long as a candidate has the support of at least 55% of seats. She argues that this would help end Italy’s revolving-door governments. But critics have compared the bill to a constitutional change made by Mussolini and fear that it could lead Italy towards authoritarianism. Jebreal believes the move is part of Meloni’s attempt to “consolidate power” while eroding the checks and balances on the office of the president of the republic.

Jebreal regularly returns to Italy, a country she loves and still calls home. “Italy taught me that defending democracy is paramount,” she said. “It is a country reborn from the ashes of fascism. To witness any backslide towards authoritarianism is thus terrifying.”

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Two teenagers die while swimming at New York’s Coney Island

Witnesses say two young women, aged 17 and 18, went into rough seas during a storm

Two teenagers died while swimming at Coney Island beach in New York, police said.

Police received an emergency call for a water rescue in the area of Stillwell Avenue and Boardwalk West at 8.10pm on Friday, the New York police department said.

Officers arriving at the scene were informed that two young women, aged 17 and 18, had gone into the water and disappeared from view, police said.

Officers from the department’s aviation, harbour and scuba units conducted a search. Divers removed both women from the water, police said.

They were taken to hospital where they were pronounced dead, according to police, who said the investigation was continuing.

Witnesses told WABC-TV that a rainstorm began and most people at the beach took shelter, but the two young women went into the rough water.

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