BBC 2024-07-11 00:06:50


First Democratic senator challenges Biden candidacy

By James FitzGeraldBrandon DrenonBBC News

The first Democratic senator has questioned President Joe Biden’s election chances, after seven congressman urged the 81-year-old to step aside.

Michael Bennet of Colorado said that he expected the president to lose to Donald Trump, possibly by a “landslide”, but stopped short of saying he should withdraw.

Questions have been raised about Mr Biden’s fitness for office after a stumbling presidential debate performance against Trump late last month.

Mr Bennet told CNN that remaining in the election was “something for the president to consider”. Trump, he said, was “on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide”.

He added that the issue was “a moral question about the future of our country”.

Also on Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi signalled her uncertainty about Mr Biden’s future, when asked “does he have your support?” in a TV interview.

“I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Ms Pelosi told MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme. “And that is the way it is. Whatever he decides to go with.”

“It’s up to the president to decide if he’s going to run. We are all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.

“I said to everyone – let’s just hold off. Whatever you’re thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don’t have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week. But I am very proud of the president.”

The president had stated his commitment to staying in the race on the same show on Monday, and wrote to congressional Democrats on the same day to say he was “firmly committed to staying in this race”.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden gave brief but vociferous remarks to open the Nato summit in Washington, declaring the alliance to be “more powerful than ever”. He struck a markedly clearer tone compared with his debate performance.

Other Democrats have emphasised the importance of party solidarity. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight programme, Hank Johnson, a congressman from Georgia, said it was time to “break the circular firing squad” around Mr Biden.

Mr Johnson, a member of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, admitted that Mr Biden had had a “horrible” debate but said the overwhelming majority of voters of colour wanted him as their candidate.

The caucus of about 60 politicians reportedly backed the president during a call on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, stated “I’m with Joe” on Tuesday. Others touted Mr Biden’s record in the White House or spoke of Democratic unity.

  • LISTEN: Katty Kay and Anthony Zurcher on Biden’s fight to stay in the race
  • Could Biden be replaced as nominee?
  • The Democratic names being talked about
  • Can Kamala Harris beat Trump?
Watch: US President Joe Biden addresses Nato summit

On the same day, however, a seventh Democrat in the House of Representatives – Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey – publicly called on Mr Biden to withdraw, saying that the stakes were “too high”.

She joined others in Congress that include Adam Smith, who told the BBC earlier this week that the party needed to install a “stronger messenger” as its candidate.

Two other senators are reported by CNN to believe that Mr Biden cannot win the White House again, although neither has publicly broken ranks.

Meanwhile George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic operative turned ABC News presenter who interviewed Mr Biden last week, said he does not think the president “can serve four more years”.

The audio was captured by TMZ. Mr Stephanopoulos did not rescind the comment, he later acknowledged he should not have made it.

Mr Biden reportedly also faces doubts from diplomats visiting Washington for the Nato meeting, one of whom anonymously told Reuters they could not see him staying in post for another four years.

Speculation continues to grow over who would replace Mr Biden, with Vice-President Kamala Harris the favourite.

She has remained loyal to her running mate, insisting during a rally this week that he was a “fighter”.

Mr Biden himself has dared his doubters to either challenge him or unite behind his candidacy, although he has admitted he “screwed up” in the Trump debate.

Trump has suggested Ms Harris would be a “better” competitor but said he expected his adversary to stay in the race.

“He’s got an ego, and he doesn’t want to quit,” he said.

Biden still the answer for many Democratic lawmakers

More on the US election

  • POLICIES: Where Biden and Trump stand
  • GLOBAL: What Moscow and Beijing think of rematch
  • ANALYSIS: Could US economy be doing too well?
  • EXPLAINER: RFK Jr and others running for president
  • VOTERS: US workers in debt to buy groceries

Prominent New Zealand couple targeted in deadly US robbery

By Christal HayesBBC News, Los Angeles

A prominent New Zealand couple visiting California were targeted as they left a shopping centre by a crew of suspected robbers who left one of the pair dead.

The couple – banker Doug and Patricia “Trish” McKay – had been shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island when they were attacked by a group of men on 2 July, officials said.

Ms McKay, 68, a friend of New Zealand’s prime minister, was killed when she was dragged along a road in the ensuing events, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office added.

Three suspects have been charged with murder.

Detailing the incident, which took place about 45 miles (72km) south-east of Los Angeles, the DA said two men wearing masks jumped out of a vehicle as the couple waited to be picked up.

They allegedly pointed a gun at Mr McKay’s head, ordered him to the ground and demanded he hand over the expensive watch he was wearing.

One man attacked Ms McKay, trying to take her shopping bags. He is accused of throwing her to the ground and dragging her into the road.

Mr McKay jumped in front of the car and tried to stop his wife from being run over, but a third man driving the car accelerated, the DA’s news release stated.

The car pushed Mr McKay out of the way but the trio dragged his wife 65 ft (20m) under the vehicle, killing her.

A bystander tried to stop the group from fleeing and was shot at by one of the men during the incident.

The suspects allegedly led authorities on a high-speed chase for nearly 40 miles. They were arrested and identified as Leroy Ernest Joseph McCrary, 26, Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, and Jaden Cunningham, 18.

All three were charged with murder with a felony enhancement that makes them eligible for the death penalty, according to the DA’s office. One of the suspects, Mr McCrary, is also facing charges of second-degree robbery and evading while driving recklessly.

It is unclear who is legally representing each of the men.

New Zealand’s prime minister pays tribute

Doug McKay, 69, is a prominent businessman and banker in New Zealand. He was the first CEO of the Auckland Council, a body established in 2010 that helps govern the Auckland Region of the country.

He was also the former chair of the Bank of New Zealand, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The family released a statement to local media, saying: “No words can express our sadness as we try to come to terms with the loss”.

The couple’s personal friend, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, paid tribute.

“My thoughts are with the McKay family after the devastating loss of Trish,” Mr Luxon posted on X. “They’re great people and my heart goes out to Doug, their family and all those who knew Trish.”

Desley Simpson, the deputy mayor of Auckland, said on Facebook that she was “in absolute shock”.

“Trish was amazing – funny, loyal and loving. My absolute deepest sympathies to Doug and (Ms McKay’s) family,” Ms Simpson said.

Gautam Gambhir’s journey from feisty batter to tactical coach

By Ayaz MemonCricket writer

At 42, Gautam Gambhir, is the youngest head coach in the history of the Indian cricket team.

He succeeds Rahul Dravid whose tenure finished with the recently concluded T20 World Cup.

Dravid declined an extension to spend more time with his family. VVS Laxman, his former batting partner, was initially favoured but opted to stay at the National Cricket Academy. This cleared the path for a new face, resulting in an uncontested selection.

Some unexpected developments in the past six-seven months had fast-tracked Gambhir’s candidature.

Last November, he unexpectedly resigned as mentor of IPL franchise Lucknow Super Giants after guiding them to the knockout stages in two previous seasons. Instead, he reunited with his former IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), where he had previously led them to titles in 2012 and 2014 as a captain.

In March, Gambhir, who joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after retiring from cricket in 2018 and was elected MP for East Delhi in the 2019 general election, informed the BJP leadership of his decision to leave politics to fully dedicate himself to cricket once again.

However, his credentials to be head coach of the national team received tepid attention until KKR hit a purple patch winning several matches on the trot and turned the focus on him.

The process of selecting a chief coach is complex.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announces a call for applications through the media, inviting candidates from India or abroad who meet specific eligibility criteria (like played 30 Tests or 50 ODIs, under 60 years old).

Applications are reviewed by the Board’s Advisory Committee (CAC). Shortlisted candidates are then invited for one-on-one interviews to present their vision for advancing Indian cricket.

The candidate who puts forward the most impressive strategies and processes is picked for the job.

In Gambhir’s case, the absence of any rival made the task of the CAC a no-brainer.

After the BCCI’s notice seeking applications for the post, stories about some overseas coaches being approached informally (likely self-instigated) began swirling around, but died a quick death.

Unlike in the past, when an overseas coach was sought to counter factionalism, favouritism, and parochialism in Indian cricket, today’s preference is for an Indian coach who better understands the country’s ethos, culture, and psychology.

Former India opener W Raman, who has coached the Indian women’s team, did express interest in taking up the assignment. His CV was impressive, but at 59, he perhaps sensed he didn’t have time on his side to build up a three-year game-plan that would get a buy-in from the BCCI and held back.

Gambhir’s successful mentorship of KKR to an IPL triumph made him the frontrunner. With Dravid’s firm stance during the T20 World Cup that he wouldn’t continue, Gambhir’s appointment became inevitable.

His appointment isn’t without merit though. Beyond his IPL success, he has impressive credentials as an India player. A stylish left-handed batsman, he debuted in 2003 and is one of India’s most accomplished openers with stellar performances across all formats.

For instance, in 2009, against New Zealand in the second Test at Napier, Gambhir batted 436 balls to score an epic 137 that helped India save the match after being forced to follow on. This knock helped India win the series.

Two years earlier, in the final of the inaugural T20 World Cup final against Pakistan, Gambhir was the top scorer with 75. Similarly, in the 2011 ODI World Cup final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium, he top-scored with 97.

In 2012, after India had lost 0-4 to Australia in a Test series, Gambhir was projected to succeed M S Dhoni as captain, but missed out after Board President vetoed the selectors. Feisty and blunt, Gambhir’s intense, unsmiling demeanour has often led critics to see him as unapproachable.

On his part, Gambhir claims he decries the focus on stars rather than star performances in Indian cricket. He believes the brand value of a few players shouldn’t overshadow the intrinsic betterment of Indian cricket.

The head coach of India is among the most coveted jobs in the sport, guaranteeing, apart from enormous prestige and power, a lip-smacking pay package in excess of $1m per year plus bonuses. But in a cricket-crazy country, this does not come without great burden of responsibility and humongous pressure of expectation, , more so now after the huge successful tenures of his predecessors Rahul Dravid, and before him, Ravi Shastri.

For the next three years, India has a busy calendar – it will participate in the Champions Trophy this year, the World Test Championship next year, the T20 World Cup in 2026 and the ODI World Cup in 2027, along with bilateral assignments.

Gambhir must manage dressing room superstars, oversee generational transitions, and implement changes in mindset, strategies, and skills to maintain and enhance India’s position in cricket.

Being head coach is a prestigious role, but Gambhir has a formidable task ahead.

‘Dad tried to kill us’: The fire that devastated Australia

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

The night comes back in fragments: the sound of exploding glass, the frantic call made to police, the tiny shivering bodies emerging from the flames.

Eve’s hand shakes as she pieces it together. She is sitting in her living room in Western Sydney, the burnt-out blackened shell of her neighbour’s house – now a crime scene splashed across Australia’s national news – visible through the blinds.

What happened on this quiet street in the early hours of Sunday morning is hard to reconcile.

A fire that would leave three children dead – including a 5-month-old baby girl – and four more hospitalised alongside their mother.

And a stunning allegation: that this horror – so evident in the wreckage left behind and on the faces of those who witnessed it – was inflicted on these children by their father, who then blocked their attempts to flee.

New South Wales Police are treating the Lalor Park house fire as a domestic violence-related multiple homicide, and the state’s premier has said the 28-year-old father of seven could face “the most serious charges on offer”.

The case, which has sparked mass outrage, comes while Australia is already in the grips of a self-declared “national crisis” of domestic and family violence – a child is dying at the hands of a parent almost once a fortnight, according to research.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has offered a flurry of reforms and funding to stop the scourge.

But he conceded on Tuesday – in response to a string of alleged killings this week – that the country “has a long way to go” to turn the tide: “Again, we have seen lives stolen, futures torn away. Every death is its own universe of devastation.”

A ‘deep wound’

Eve – who has asked to have her name changed due to safety concerns – still can’t come to terms with what happened.

“We feel ashamed, we didn’t know there was a baby inside”, she told the BBC, erupting in tears as she begins offering a timeline of the fire.

Somehow, she “blames herself” for the deaths of the children across the road because she didn’t notice the inferno sooner, didn’t call emergency services fast enough.

And yet, her actions were both brave and consequential.

She and her husband were alerted to the violence unfolding by another neighbour, Jarrod Hawkins, who came to their home looking for reinforcements.

Mr Hawkins said he had been woken by a “loud pop” shortly before 01:00 local time (15:00 GMT). Worried his car might be being broken into, he went outside, and immediately saw the flames.

He says he ran across the road without pausing to think and tried to beat the door down.

In the moments that followed Mr Hawkins would crawl into the house repeatedly to pull out three children – two young boys aged four and seven, and a girl aged nine.

An 11-year-old would eventually be rescued by police, along with two boys aged two and six found in a critical condition, who died a short time later in hospital.

Mr Hawkins then woke up Eve and her family who phoned the authorities.

Soon, Eve’s husband was on their neighbour’s lawn, trying to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Eve helped usher some of the children from the scene – doing her best to calm them and keep them warm as they adjusted to the freezing air outside.

She remembers one of the boys saying blankly at one point: “He tried to kill me”.

Another rescuer would later tell a local paper they heard a similar remark from several of the tiny survivors: “Dad tried to kill us”.

But it was an innocent exchange Eve shared with the four-year-old who escaped, as he looked back at the charred remains of his home, that stays with her.

“He just kept asking whether his toys would be safe inside.”

As emergency services started to take control of the scene, Eve took her cue to leave.

One of the final things she witnessed was “police carrying the Dad out, who was in his underwear”. She would soon learn that the 5-month-old girl had died before rescuers could attempt to revive her.

Speaking to media later Sunday morning, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty alleged the children’s father had tried to stop “police, responders and neighbours” from entering the burning house, “with the intention of keeping the kids inside”.

“At this stage it does appear the 28-year-old is responsible for multiple deaths of young lives that have been tragically taken away,” Det Supt Doherty added.

Now, a makeshift memorial lies on Freeman Street. The colourful flowers and cards offering messages of support stand in stark contrast to the police tape and forensics tent.

Members of the community have described the children as “lively”, “outgoing” and “polite”.

“They were known to a lot of people – those kids were unreal, great manners… full of energy, just typical kids,” Mr Hawkins had earlier told ABC News.

“They were happy,” another neighbour says simply. As masked investigators sift through their house, an elderly resident watches on. Choked by tears, he literally can’t speak about his memories of the family.

Premier Chris Minns has called the tragedy a “deep wound” that will be widely felt.

“These children deserved a loving home with safety and security – instead, they’re gone,” he added, promising that those who remain would get the support they needed.

‘Determined to end this violence’

It is hard to say where Australia sits internationally on the issue, but filicide – when a parent intentionally kills their child – is the second most common form of domestic homicide in the country.

In most cases, the families have a history of child abuse, intimate partner violence, or both, says a recent study by the national research organisation for women’s safety.

State and federal governments have begun investing in prevention – which means examining the social drivers of violence – early intervention, bolstering crisis response networks, and supporting families as they recover. And Australia’s latest budget set aside A$1 bn (£526m; $673m) to assist with those aims.

“My government is determined to end this violence. Together, we can make this change. We must,” Mr Albanese said on Tuesday, flagging a previous commitment to build 720 emergency safe houses by 2027 to accommodate women and children fleeing abuse.

Critics though, have described the measure as a “drop in a very large ocean of need” – saying the money being spent doesn’t match the scale of the crisis.

“[This] will accommodate at most a mere 3% of women and children seeking housing. Moreover, waiting three years for these facilities to be built is cold comfort to women and children being killed by family and domestic violence now,” Larissa Waters, the Senate leader for the Australian Greens said.

The four children and their mother who survived the unimaginable events at Lalor Park are in a stable condition, while their father remains in an induced coma, under police guard.

On Tuesday, authorities closed off the street so that the 29-year-old woman could be given a few quiet moments to grieve in private – as she took in the sight of her now unrecognisable home.

Dressed in black, with a hospital band visible on her wrist, she picked up cards and floral tributes, as loved ones held her close.

South Korea politician blames women for rising male suicides

By Jean MackenzieSeoul correspondent

A politician in South Korea is being criticised for making dangerous and unsubstantiated comments after linking a rise in male suicides to the increasingly “dominant” role of women in society.

In a report, Seoul City councillor Kim Ki-duck argued women’s increased participation in the workforce over the years had made it harder for men to get jobs and to find women who wanted to marry them.

He said the country had recently “begun to change into a female-dominant society” and that this might “partly be responsible for an increase in male suicide attempts”.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among the world’s rich countries but also has one of the worst records on gender equality.

Councillor Kim’s comments have been criticised as the latest in a series of out-of-touch remarks made by male politicians.

Councillor Kim, from the Democratic Party, arrived at his assessment when analysing data on the number of suicide attempts made at bridges along Seoul’s Han river.

The report, published on the city council’s official website, showed that the number of suicide attempts along the river had risen from 430 in 2018 to 1,035 in 2023, and of those trying to take their lives the proportion who were men had climbed from 67% to 77%.

Suicide prevention experts have expressed concern over Mr Kim’s report.

“It is dangerous and unwise to make claims like this without sufficient evidence,” Song In Han, a mental health professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, told the BBC.

He pointed out that globally more men took their lives than women. In many countries, including the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

Even so, Prof Song said the reasons behind the sharp rise in men attempting suicide in Seoul needed to be scientifically studied, adding it was “very regrettable” that the councillor had made it about gender conflict.

In South Korea there is a substantial gulf between the number of men and women in full-time employment, with women disproportionately working temporary or part-time jobs. The gender pay gap is slowly narrowing, but still women are paid on average 29% less than men.

In recent years an anti-feminist movement has surged, led by disillusioned young men, who argue they have been disadvantaged by attempts to improve women’s lives.

Appearing to echo such views, Councillor Kim’s report concluded that the way to overcome “the female-domination phenomenon” was to improve people’s awareness of gender equality so that “men and women can enjoy equal opportunities”.

Koreans took to the social media platform X to denounce the councillor’s remarks as “unsubstantiated” and “misogynistic”, with one user questioning whether they were living in a parallel universe.

The Justice Party accused the councillor of “easily shifting the blame to women in Korean society who are struggling to escape gender discrimination”. It has called on him to retract his remarks and instead “properly analyse” the causes of the problem.

When approached for comment by the BBC, Councillor Kim said he had “not intended to be critical of the female-dominated society”, and was merely giving his personal view about some of its consequences.

However, his comments follow a number of unscientific and sometimes bizarre political proposals aimed at tackling some of South Korea’s most pressing social issues, including mental illness, gender violence and the lowest birth rate in the world.

Last month, another Seoul councillor in his 60s published a series of articles on the authority’s website encouraging young women to take up gymnastics and practise pelvic floor exercises in order to raise the birth rate.

At the same time, a government think tank recommended that girls start school earlier than boys, so that classmates would be more attracted to each other by the time they were ready to marry.

“Such comments encapsulate just how pervasive misogyny is in South Korea,” said Yuri Kim, director of the Korean Women’s Trade Union. She accused politicians and policymakers of not even trying to understand the challenges women faced, preferring to scapegoat them instead.

“Blaming women for entering the workforce will only prolong the imbalances in our society,” she told the BBC.

Currently women account for 20% of South Korea’s members of parliament, and 29% of all local councillors.

Seoul City Council told the BBC there was no process in place to vet what politicians published on its official website unless the content was illegal. It said individuals were solely responsible for their content and would face any consequences at the next election.

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Trial told dying girl offered prayer not medicine

By Simon AtkinsonBBC News, Brisbane

Members of an Australian religious group have gone on trial accused of killing an eight-year-old diabetic girl by denying her medical care and offering prayer instead.

Elizabeth Struhs was found dead at a home in Toowoomba – about 125km (78 mi) west of Brisbane – in January 2022, after she had allegedly gone without insulin for several days.

Prosecutors say the sect shunned the use of medicine and trusted God to “heal” the child – “extreme beliefs” which had already almost ended Elizabeth’s life in similar circumstances three years before.

The girl’s parents are among the 14 defendants, all of whom have refused lawyers.

They have also all opted to enter no pleas on the charges. Formally, the court considers that a plea of not guilty.

Two men – Elizabeth’s father Jason Struhs, 52, and the religious group’s leader Brendan Stevens, 62 – have been charged with murder, with prosecutors saying they knew the group’s actions would likely kill Elizabeth.

The girl’s mother, Kerrie Struhs, 49, brother Zachary Struhs, 21, and ten others – aged 22 to 67 – are accused of manslaughter.

As the trial began at the Queensland Supreme Court on Wednesday, the group filed in one by one, clad in prison clothes, taking their allocated positions in a courtroom specifically modified to fit them all.

Due to the complexity and notoriety of the case, the trial is being heard by a judge only – no jury – and is expected to last for around three months.

When opening her case, prosecutor Caroline Marco said Elizabeth had been an “intelligent, spiritual child”.

“But [she was] too young to understand the dire consequences of her parents’ decision… which she ultimately paid for with her own life.”

Ms Marco alleged that in early January 2022, both parents made the decision to first reduce the amount of insulin given to their daughter, and then withdraw it completely.

Members of the sect then gathered at the home to pray, she said, and it was “visible to all who saw her” that Elizabeth’s health was in danger. But there was “no attempt” to get a doctor.

She later died after having “suffered for days” , said the prosecutor.

The court heard Mrs Struhs had only been out of prison for a few weeks, after being convicted of failing to provide insulin to her daughter on another occasion in 2019.

That time, the girl spent a month in hospital after medical treatment was eventually sought by her father.

Jason Struhs previously had not agreed with the group’s beliefs, the judge was told, but had been baptised while his wife was in prison.

“He knew if he did not change he would lose his family and wife so pushed aside convictions of faith he once held, and joined them,” Ms Marco said.

Over the course of the trial, the court would hear from 60 witnesses including one of the Struhs’ daughters, who is estranged from the family, Ms Marco said.

The evidence, she added, would paint a picture of a small and “insular” religious group which centred around Brendan Stevens.

Prosecutors will continue laying out their arguments on Thursday, after which the defendants will also have the opportunity to address the court.

Before the trial began, Justice Martin Burn said stressed that he was obliged to provide sufficient information to ensure they got a fair trial, but could not provide them with legal advice.

Blackpink’s Jennie ‘regrets’ vaping indoors

By Fan WangBBC News, Singapore

Blackpink star Jennie has apologised after a video that showed her vaping indoors sparked a huge outcry in South Korea.

The K-pop star exhaled a puff of smoke – and triggered a barrage of criticism because it blew into the face of her make-up artist.

“Do you need to be educated for all the basic manners?” a popular comment on YouTube reads.

Her label OA Entertainment has apologised to “everyone who felt uncomfortable with Jennie’s actions”, and to her “disappointed” fans. The star has also apologised to staff “who may have been affected”, the label said.

“Jennie acknowledges and deeply regrets her mistake of vaping indoors and causing inconvenience to the staff,” it added.

South Korean celebrities are no strangers to the intense scrutiny. The country holds them to rigid moral and behavioural standards and no misstep goes unnoticed.

The now-deleted moment was part of a video posted on Jennie’s official YouTube channel. It quickly spread through the 10 million-plus subscribers and beyond.

“It’s not about smoking. Blowing smoke in the face of the staff indoors – it’s just rude,” a top YouTube comment on a media outlet’s channel reads.

Another one says: “Even smokers know that you don’t puff on your friends’ face. You only do it when you really don’t care about the people around you.”

Smoking and vaping indoors is banned in South Korea and is punishable by a fine of up to ₩100,000 ($72; £56).

In this case, however, Jennie – whose full name is Jennie Kim – might not have been vaping in South Korea. Some accounts suggest the video was filmed in Italy, which bans vaping in enclosed public spaces. But Jennie’s agency has not clarified where she was at the time.

And yet, one furious South Korean has demanded an investigation from their country’s embassy in Italy and Seoul’s ministry of foreign affairs.

Jennie is not the first South Korean celebrity to face a backlash over smoking.

Doh Kyung-soo, vocalist for the popular K-pop boy band EXO and Haechan, a singer in the band NCT, drew a lot of flak when they were caught smoking indoors. They were fined and they apologised to the public.

Jennie’s international fans have been more forgiving: “Please don’t listen [to] anyone. You are queen and we will support you forever,” a top comment under her most recent Instagram post reads.

“I still love you. We learn from the mistakes we make,” another fan wrote.

Blackpink, formed in 2016, is the world’s biggest K-pop girl group. The four members – Jisoo, Lisa, Jennie and Rosé – have each become celebrities in their own right.

Russia promises release of Indians fighting in its army

By Meryl SebastianBBC News, Kochi

Russia has promised an early release of all Indian citizens fighting in its army, India’s foreign ministry has said.

The announcement came at the end of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow, during which he raised the issue with President Vladimir Putin.

Delhi has been seeking the release of Indians, who say they were lured to Russia on the promise of non-combat jobs in the army, but were later forced into active combat in Ukraine.

At least four Indians have been killed in the fighting.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said at a press briefing that Mr Modi had “strongly raised the issue of early discharge” of Indians who had been “misled into the service of the Russian army”.

“The Russian side promised early discharge of all Indian nationals from the service of the Russian army,” he added.

Mr Kwatra said there were about 35-50 Indians in the Russian forces, of whom 10 had already been brought home. The two countries would now work to bring back the remaining men, he added.

Indians stuck in Russia said they were duped by agents with the lure of money and a Russian passport.

Most of these men were from poor families who were promised jobs, sometimes as “helpers” in the Russian army.

  • The Indian men traumatised by fighting for Russia
  • India busts network trafficking people to Russia

Families of the men had appealed to the Indian government for help in bringing them back home.

India’s foreign ministry had called this a “matter of deep concern” and said it was “pressing very hard with the Russian authorities” to bring back its citizens.

Earlier this year, the ministry urged “all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict”.

In March, Indian authorities said they busted a network of agents sending people to fight for Russia under the pretext of giving them jobs.

Mr Modi took up the issue with Mr Putin on Tuesday during his two-day visit to Russia, his first since 2019.

A joint release by India and Russia after their talks said the two sides had set out nine key areas for closer co-operation, including nuclear energy and medicine.

The leaders also said they would aim to boost bilateral trade by more than half to hit $100bn (about £78bn) by 2030.

Tech giant Samsung workers to strike indefinitely

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

A union representing workers at South Korean technology giant Samsung Electronics has called on its roughly 30,000 members to go on strike indefinitely, as part of its campaign for better pay and benefits.

The announcement came on the last day of a three-day general strike being held by the National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU).

The union said it had made the decision after management showed no intention of holding talks over its demands.

The NSEU, which represents nearly a quarter of Samsung Electronics’ workers in South Korea, said its actions had disrupted production. Samsung has disputed these claims.

“Samsung Electronics will ensure no disruptions occur in the production lines. The company remains committed to engaging in good faith negotiations with the union,” the firm told BBC News.

However, the union said: “The company has no intention to engage in a dialogue even after the first general strike, thus we declare a second general strike starting from July 10th, lasting indefinitely.”

The NSEU said about 6,500 workers have been taking part in the strike so far and called on more of its members to join the industrial action.

A spokesperson for Samsung Electronics declined to comment on how many workers had joined the walkout.

A protest on Monday was attended by around 3,000 people.

“In our view, there will be no production disruption,” Jung In Yun, from Fibonacci Asset Management Global told BBC News.

Last month, the union staged the first walkout at the company since it was founded five and a half decades ago.

Samsung Electronics is the world’s largest maker of memory chips, smartphones and televisions.

It is the flagship unit of South Korean conglomerate Samsung Group.

The firm is also the biggest of the family-controlled businesses that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Samsung Group was known for not allowing unions to represent its workers until 2020, when the company came under intense public scrutiny after its chairman was prosecuted for market manipulation and bribery.

After the NSEU announcement, the company’s shares were trading flat to slightly lower on the Korea Stock Exchange.

Last week, Samsung Electronics said it expects its profits for the three months to June 2024 to jump 15-fold compared to the same period last year.

A boom in artificial intelligence (AI) technology has lifted the prices of advanced chips, driving up the firm’s forecast for the second quarter.

Israel military tells Gaza City residents to leave

By Tom Bennett and Rushdi AbualoufBBC News in London and Istanbul

The Israeli military has told all residents of Gaza City to evacuate south to the central Gaza Strip, amid intensified operations in the north.

Leaflets dropped by aircraft instruct “everyone in Gaza City” to leave what is described as a “dangerous combat zone” via designated safe routes – marked as two roads that lead to shelters in Deir al-Balah and al-Zawaida.

The UN has said it is deeply concerned about the evacuation orders being given. It is only the second time since the war began that Gaza City as a whole has been asked to evacuate.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli forces have re-entered several Gaza City districts where the military believes Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had regrouped since the start of the year.

Hamas said Israel’s renewed activity threatened to derail negotiations over a potential ceasefire and hostage release deal, which resumed on Wednesday in Qatar. The talks are being attended by the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the US and Israel, as well as the prime minister of Qatar.

250,000 still in Gaza City

There are estimated to be more than a quarter-of-a-million people still living in Gaza City – and some were observed evacuating to the south.

Others, though, were not willing to leave.

“I will not leave Gaza. I will not make the stupid mistake that others have made. Israeli missiles do not differentiate between north and south,” Gaza resident Ibrahim al-Barbari, 47, told the BBC.

“If death is my fate and the fate of my children, we will die with honour and dignity in our homes,” he said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received calls from some residents who were unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the bombing.

“The information coming from Gaza City shows residents are living through tragic conditions. [Israeli] occupation forces continue to hit residential districts, and displace people from their homes and refuge shelters,” it said.

In a statement issued earlier on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its troops had “conducted a counterterrorism operation” overnight against Hamas and PIJ fighters who were operating inside a headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) in Gaza City.

The troops had opened a “defined corridor to facilitate the evacuation of civilians” from the area before they entered the structure and “eliminated terrorists in close-quarters combat”, it added.

There was no immediate comment from Unrwa.

The IDF also said it had killed dozens of fighters in Gaza City’s eastern Shejaiya district and dismantled an underground tunnel route over the past day.

Speaking in the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that 60% of Hamas fighters had been killed or wounded since Israel’s offensive began. The BBC could not independently verify these figures.

On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Office said it was “appalled by IDF orders for residents to evacuate to “areas where Israeli military operations are ongoing and where civilians continue to be killed and injured”.

It also warned that the Deir al-Balah area was already seriously overcrowded with Palestinians displaced from other areas of Gaza and that there was little infrastructure and limited access to humanitarian assistance.

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

More than 38,295 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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NBA star to become first black Greek Olympic flagbearer

By Nikos PapanikolaouBBC News

Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo is to become the first black athlete to bear the flag for Greece at the Olympics.

The two-time NBA MVP will carry the flag alongside race walker Antigoni Ntrismpioti in Paris on 26 July.

The Greek men’s basketball team qualified for its first Olympic Games since 2008, after beating Croatia in front of a home crowd in Piraeus on Sunday.

The 29-year-old, who was drafted by Milwaukee Bucks in 2013 and led them to the 2021 NBA title, was in tears after the game.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said after qualification. “Since I was a kid I always wanted to play in the Olympic Games.”

His journey to become Greece’s Olympic flagbearer hasn’t been an easy one.

Antetokounmpo’s parents emigrated to Greece from Nigeria. For the first 18 years of his life, Antetokounmpo could not travel outside Greece and was effectively stateless, having no papers either from Greece or Nigeria. He was eventually issued Greek citizenship in May 2013, less than two months before the NBA draft.

Antetokounmpo spoke about his childhood in a recent interview with ESPN.

“I used to sell things since I can remember myself, since I was six or seven years old.

“I was always out of home trying as much as I could to help my mom and dad by selling watches, glasses, CDs, DVDs, and everything I could find. I was doing that until I turned 17 because I had to. I had no other choice. When I was selling all those things, I was the best seller.”

But even after becoming a star in the US, Antetokounmpo encountered racism at home.

In a TNT documentary in 2020, he said: “Greece is a country of white people, life can be difficult for someone with the colour of my skin. Or of another nationality. You go to a lot of neighbourhoods, and you face a lot of racism.”

There was a backlash to his comments from some in Greece, including Konstantinos Kalemis, then-coordinator for refugee education in the Malakasa camp north of Athens, who used a range of racial slurs against Antetokounmpo and was fired as a result.

He has also faced discrimination from government officials.

In 2018, Adonis Georgiadis, the current health minister, repeatedly mispronounced his name and falsely claimed he had been born in Africa instead of Greece.

Antetokounmpo will be one of the first athletes to open the Games, as Greece – the birthplace of the Olympics – traditionally leads the parade.

Spyros Kapralos, president of the Greek Olympic Committee, said there was “unanimity” in the decision for Antetokounmpo to carry the flag in Paris. He added that both flagbearers will “lift our country high”.

Antetokounmpo hasn’t publicly commented yet, but simply posted a video to X showing highlights from the qualifying campaign with the word “Greece”.

First peek at room behind Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony

By Sean CoughlanRoyal correspondent

Instead of that famous view looking up at the Buckingham Palace balcony, visitors for the first time will be able to look down from the inside.

After five years of renovations, the east wing of the palace has been carefully restored and on a trial basis is open to paying customers from next week.

But they won’t be able to step out on to the balcony itself – and when you visit you can see why.

It’s surprisingly narrow and the railings are below waist height, in a way that would send any health and safety officers into a royal panic.

Take a look behind Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony

But looking through the windows – and what royal author Robert Hardman has called “the most famous net curtains in the world” – you can see the view from the perspective of the King and Queen, Prince William and Catherine.

What’s surprising from this vantage point is how clearly you can see the crowds of tourists below, you can really see people’s faces.

There’s also the curiosity of the change of perspective – looking out across the pink gravel of the courtyard and towards the Mall, rather than the usual view from outside the gates looking in.

To get to the balcony the royals go through the Centre Room, elaborately decorated in a Chinese style, and now open to the public for the first time since this wing was built 175 years ago.

A huge lamp fitting hangs down, decorated in the style of a lily, and the walls are covered in Chinese-themed art.

The royal world loves its acronyms. So Buckingham Palace is “BP” and Kensington Palace is “KP” – but this enthusiasm for Chinese and oriental art is connected to another BP.

That’s the Brighton Pavilion, because building the east wing of Buckingham Palace was funded by Queen Victoria selling off the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

That seaside retreat was a fusion of Asian styles and racy regency fashions and, always keen on recycling, the 19th Century royals removed the Chinese and Japanese-themed furniture and art and put it into Buckingham Palace.

That included the fixtures and fittings, such as doors, gilded curtain poles and a fireplace, as well as ornamental porcelain pagodas.

The introduction of tours to this previously private section of the palace is part of a broader ambition to make royal residences more open to the public.

The east wing, getting its first tourists, is the main facade of the palace, where tourists gather outside to watch Changing of the Guard – it’s the view you see on the postcards.

It’s not cheap to look round, costing £75, but has already completely sold out for this year. And this summer’s inaugural visitors will be in guided groups of 20, separate to the existing more general tour of the palace’s state rooms.

In this more intimate version of the tour, none of the items on show are roped off from visitors. The furniture doesn’t have ‘keep off’ signs.

It makes it feel more like a living building rather than a museum, but there’s no escaping the gradual gift-shopification of the palace.

It’s a mix of an historic setting for grand events, an office block and a tourist attraction, but at the moment it still seems a way off from being where any of the royals are likely to live.

Visiting royals don’t stay here either any more. During their recent state visit the Emperor and Empress of Japan stayed in Claridge’s Hotel.

There is an ongoing £369m project to renovate the palace complex, not just the gilded surfaces, but the basics of the plumbing and wiring on what is a huge set of ageing buildings. Once you step away from the glitzy state rooms you never seem far from scaffolding and repair works.

Renovating the east wing alone meant removing and conserving 3,500 separate items, including historic furniture and works of art. And the tour only includes only a relatively small part of that wing.

But the sell-out tours show the public demand and while there will be art lovers among the visitors, people will also be coming to see for themselves something they might have watched on television or imagined through the Crown.

They can stand in the elegant Yellow Drawing room, used for many audiences and the setting of a Christmas broadcast by the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Or visitors can look out of the window at the quadrangle below, where Sir Keir Starmer pulled up last week when he went to meet the King after winning the general election.

There’s plenty of royal bling on show in the long corridors, but it’s the sense of seeing behind the scenes in the palace that will draw people.

And when they look out through the long balcony windows, they might resist the temptation to give a little wave.

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Indian wrestlers eye Olympics after sex harassment scandal

By Divya AryaBBC Hindi

Over a year after protests against sexual harassment allegations shook Indian wrestling, female athletes are gearing up for major events, including the 2024 Paris Olympics. The BBC spoke to young wrestlers about their journey.

Reetika Hooda almost didn’t make it.

The 23-year-old is among the five Indian women wrestlers to qualify for the Olympics this year.

It’s a hard-won opportunity, following a year of setbacks that shook her confidence. She knew she needed more training and competitions to improve her game.

A year ago, all wrestling came to a halt in India after its federation chief Brij Bhushan Singh was accused of sexual misconduct. He denies the allegations.

India’s sports ministry did not sack Singh but it disbanded the federation after finding several lapses, including the non-compliance of sexual harassment laws, and set up a temporary team to run things.

It was an unprecedented time. Hooda remembers watching the country’s most accomplished wrestlers, including her inspiration Sakshi Malik – the only Indian woman to win an Olympic medal in wrestling – camp on the roads of Delhi, demanding Singh’s resignation.

The protest made headlines globally, especially after the police detained the wrestlers when they tried to march to India’s new parliament building. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) condemned the way the wrestlers were treated and called for an impartial inquiry into their complaints.

“It was sad – not only because of what was happening but also what wasn’t,” Hooda told me.

Each year, the International Olympic Committee designates certain tournaments as qualification events for the games. To compete, wrestlers must earn ranking points in trials, win national competitions, and secure the Wrestling Federation of India’s (WFI) approval.

But instead of competing, Hooda stared at an empty sporting calendar for weeks.

“We trained but there were no trials, which meant we could not compete and know our shortcomings. There was a constant fear that we won’t be prepared [for the Olympics],” she said.

For a country that’s won only 24 medals at individual events in Olympics, with over a quarter in wrestling, this was worrying.

Fresh elections to the WFI were finally held in December 2023, nearly a year after the protests began.

The wrestlers had asked India’s sports minister to prevent people associated with Singh from participating in the election.

Singh did not contest as he had already served the maximum of three terms. But his close aide Sanjay Singh was elected the chief after a landslide victory.

This sparked outrage among women wrestlers. On the same day, Olympic medallist Malik quit the sport in protest.

“Even now I get emotional when I think of that moment,” Malik said. “Wrestling took me to such heights, got me love and respect, and I had to give it up.”

Young wrestlers were stunned by Malik’s decision – but soon, they were back on the mat.

“Sakshi Malik was the reason I took up wrestling,” said Tanu Malik, a 20-year-old wrestler in Haryana state.

“So when I saw her crying, I thought to myself, she fought for us, we can’t give up now.”

From that day, Tanu Malik decided to work harder.

Her training at the state’s all-women Yudhvir Wrestling Academy starts at 04:30.

The day starts with a rigorous five-hour fitness session, lifting large truck tyres and practicing wrestling techniques. After a break for food and rest, the women resume training for another five hours in the afternoon.

Girls as young as 12 years sweat it out on the mat. In their free time, they talk about diets and share recipes that would help them stay fit.

None of them want to talk about the alleged sexual harassment at academies or the accusations against the former wrestling chief. However, they are determined not to give up.

Seema Kharab, a coach, says that contrary to expectations, the number of girls at the academy has not dropped since the protests.

“The protests have assured young wrestlers that it is possible to raise their voice, that positive action may be taken and they can get support within the system,” she says.

In June, the police charged Brij Bhushan Singh with stalking, harassment, intimidation, and making “sexually coloured remarks”, but a court granted him bail

Meanwhile, the new federation chief, Sanjay Singh, has taken on the mantle.

He acknowledged his 30-year relationship with the former chief but dismissed allegations of Brij Bhushan Singh’s interference, claiming wrestlers had accepted him as the new head.

He said this was evident from the “massive turnout” at national wrestling competitions this year.

“No-one will be favoured or discriminated against and each wrestler is dear to me. I am also the father of two daughters and I understand what daughters need,” he added.

However, for young women like Tanu Malik, fear has become an inescapable part of being in the profession.

“It’s not easy – my parents are constantly worried about sending me to training alone,” she says. “But they have to trust us, otherwise how would things work? It’s like accepting defeat without even fighting.”

Others feel deflated and say the protests have come at a huge personal cost for them.

Shiksha Kharab, a gold medallist at the Asian Championship, says it caused disruptions in training because of which young wrestlers have lost a crucial year.

But Sakshi Malik has no regrets.

“The most important thing is to fight,” she said. “I don’t think anybody in any sporting federation would dare to do anything, they now know that harassment can have repercussions.”

Hooda says she’s nervous about competing with some of the world’s biggest wrestling giants at the Games, but also looking forward to it.

“Sakshi Malik used to say victory and loss are not important – just trust your hard work. That’s what I will do,” she adds.

As she gets ready for training, a picture of Sakshi posing with her Olympic medal, beams down at her.

“My only focus now is to win a medal” she says. “Who knows, maybe one day I will have my picture next to hers.”

Read more on this story

A photographer’s 11-day trek to flee war-torn Sudan

By Barbara Plett UsherBBC Africa correspondent

On the eve of his perilous escape from his home country last month, Sudanese photojournalist Mohamed Zakaria left his camera equipment with a friend, not sure if he would ever see it again.

He was fleeing el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, which is in the grip of a punishing battle between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Mohamed had been covering this hot spot of Sudan’s 15-month long civil war for the BBC. But with the situation growing increasingly desperate, he decided it was time to escape.

The RSF escalated a siege of el-Fasher in May, targeting the last army foothold in Darfur.

Shortly afterward Mohamed’s house was hit by a shell, another struck as he was trying to get wounded neighbours to hospital. Five people were killed and 19 injured – Mohamed still has pieces of shrapnel in his body, while his brother lost an eye.

Two weeks later Mohamed watched his mother and three brothers depart for the safety of Chad, the neighbouring country to the west. He stayed behind to continue working to support them, he says.

But as the RSF fighters continued to close in, civilians were trapped in a war zone of indiscriminate shelling and army airstrikes, with food supplies cut off.

“I couldn’t move, I couldn’t work,” he says. “All you do now in el-Fasher is just stay in your home and wait for death… some residents had to dig trenches in their homes.”

It was dangerous to stay, but also dangerous to flee. In the end he decided to head for South Sudan and eventually on to Uganda.

He thought this journey would be safer for him than trying to join his family in Chad, and would allow him to work once he got to his destination.

From el-Fasher to South Sudan, Mohamed passed through 22 checkpoints, five manned by the army and 17 by the RSF.

He was searched and sometimes interrogated, but managed to conceal his identity as a cameraman who had documented the war. Except for once.

The first stop, on 10 June, was Zamzam refugee camp on the outskirts of el-Fasher.

Mohamed and his travelling companion, his cousin Muzamil, spent the night with a friend. Here he hid his camera and other tools of the trade.

But he took with him a precious record of his photographs and videos – stored on memory cards and in two external hard drives – as well as his laptop and phone.

“The biggest problem I faced on the road was how I could hide them,” he said.

“Because these are dangerous things. If the RSF or any soldier sees them, you can’t explain.”

For the first major leg of the trek, Mohamed stashed them in a hole under the foot pedals of the pickup, without telling the driver.

He and Muzamil were held up at one checkpoint by Sudanese soldiers suspicious they were heading into RSF territory to join the enemy. But otherwise, they reached Dar es Salaam, the town that marked the end of army control, without incident.

Here they joined other travellers – a convoy of six vehicles en route to the village of Khazan Jadid.

“We paid the RSF soldiers to go with us,” says Mohamed. “If you want to arrive safely you need to pay the RSF.”

The drivers collected money from the passengers and handed it over at the first checkpoint, where one of the RSF fighters got into each car.

At this point Mohammed hid his memory cards in a piece of paper that he put with other documents.

At the bus station in Khazan Jadid, Mohammed found only three vehicles.

“The road was very dangerous,” he says, “and all the cars had stopped travelling.”

But they managed to get one going to the city of el-Daein, the capital of East Darfur and they reached there in the early afternoon of 12 June.

At a checkpoint in the middle of town, those coming from el-Fasher were put to one side, says Mohamed, under suspicion that they had worked with the army.

Here’s where he ran into trouble.

He had deleted all the messages, photographs and apps on his mobile phone.

But the RSF officer found a Facebook account he had forgotten to remove, complete with posts he had shared about the bombing of el-Fasher and the suffering of civilians.

There followed an hours-long interrogation where Mohamed was separated from Muzamil and accused of being a spy.

“I was threatened with torture and death unless I disclosed the information I had,” he says.

“I felt lost. It was a very bad situation. If he wanted to kill you, he could do it and no-one would know. He can kill you, he can beat you, he can he can do anything to you.”

Mohamed was finally released at 19:00 after negotiating the payment of a large sum of money.

“This was the worst moment,” he says, reflecting on the experience, “not only in the journey but I think the worst moment in my whole life… because I didn’t see any hope. I can’t believe I’m here.”

Mohamed suspected his interrogator would alert another checkpoint down the road to arrest him again.

He and Muzamil raced to the station to get out of town as fast as they could. There was only one vehicle, a pickup truck that was crammed full, but they managed to squeeze into a small space on the roof.

They made it as far as the village of Abu Matariq, where the engine broke down and took two days to fix.

  • AFRICA DAILY PODCAST: Listen to Mohamed describe his journey
  • A simple guide to the Sudan war
  • I recognised my sister in video of refugees captured in Sudan war

Having survived arrest Mohamed was anxious to get to South Sudan as quickly as possible. Instead, he faced a lengthy delay.

The travellers finally left Abu Matariq on 14 June heading to el-Raqabat, the last town in East Darfur before the border. The way led through the forest of el-Deim, a flat expanse of grass and sand sprinkled with acacia trees.

Heavy rains slowed and then stopped their progress, as the pickup got stuck in the mud. They were stranded.

“It was a severe ordeal,” says Mohamed.

“We spent nearly six days without drinkable water and food. We mostly relied on rainwater and dates.”

In a stroke of luck, they were able to buy two sheep from passing shepherds.

During the course of the journey, says Mohamed, he did not have trouble getting food. The RSF-controlled areas through which they passed had seen battles early in the war, but had stabilised somewhat since then.

Markets and small restaurants were operating. Food was expensive, but not “super expensive” like in el-Fasher, where many people were forced to ration themselves to one meal a day.

In the forest, the men slept in the open, sometimes in the rain, while the two women and two children in the party stayed inside the vehicle. They had to pick thorns out of their feet from walking without shoes in the mud.

Eventually they pushed the pickup back onto solid ground. But the engine worked only sporadically because of a weak battery. And then it ran out of fuel.

At this point two of the men set off to find the nearest village. It turned out to be a nine-hour walk. To everyone’s relief they returned late in the day with extra fuel and another vehicle.

Arriving in el-Raqabat, Mohamed and Muzamil were just a 15-minute drive from South Sudan and safety.

But the next morning before the travellers could start out, they were picked up and taken to the main RSF office and interrogated for three hours.

Someone had reported that members of the Zaghawa ethnic group had entered the town. That included Mohamed, as well as the family sharing the car with him.

The Zaghawa make up one of the armed groups fighting alongside the army in el-Fasher, and the RSF view them as enemies.

Mohamed stashed his memory cards, hard drives and laptop with one of the women and told the RSF officer that he was a computer engineer.

Once again it came down to a pay-off: 30,000 Sudanese pounds ($50; £39) from everyone. Mohamed and a few other members of the group paid extra to release another man who had been found with a photo of an army soldier on his phone.

Then Mohamed and Muzamil clambered into a motorised rickshaw and headed for the border.

Crossing into South Sudan on 20 June was an “unbelievable” moment for Mohamed.

“When I saw the South Sudanese men, I thanked God and prayed,” he says. “I felt I’m alive. I really didn’t believe that I am alive, that I am here. I reached South Sudan with all my data and my laptop, even though I had many encounters with the RSF.”

He called his mother as soon as he was able to buy a local SIM card. “She didn’t believe that I was alive,” he says.

Mohamed had been out of internet range for 11 days, and his family had no idea where he was or what was happening to him during that time.

“They were very very worried,” he says. “Most of them had told me you must not try this road, don’t go, you can’t make it.”

But he had made it.

He stopped in the South Sudanese city of Aweil for a few days, where the Zaghawa family he had been travelling with hosted him in their home.

He then moved on to the capital, Juba.

Muzamil decided to stay there, but Mohamed travelled to Uganda and registered as a refugee at a camp near the border because his passport had expired.

Twenty-three days after leaving el-Fasher, Mohamed arrived in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on 3 July. He is staying with his uncle.

“I honestly have no idea where life will take me from this point,” he says.

His immediate priority is to look after his family and try to reunite them. Besides his mother and three brothers in Chad, he has a brother in Turkey and a sister in the United Arab Emirates.

His dream for the future is to return to Sudan in more peaceful times and set up a university in Darfur to teach filmmaking, photography and media studies.

“My work did not end after leaving el-Fasher,” he says. “I believe that was just a phase and now I have really begun arranging the second phase by working to convey the truth of the situation there.

“I hope that my effort, even if just a little, will help shorten the duration of the war and save the people in el-Fasher.”

More about Sudan’s civil war from the BBC:

  • The children living between starvation and death in Darfur
  • Famine looms in Sudan as civil war survivors tell of killings and rapes
  • ‘I saw bodies dumped in Darfur mass grave’

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Can we change how our brains age? These scientists think it’s possible

By Lara Lewington@laralewingtonPresenter, BBC Click

It’s long been known that our lifestyles can help to keep us healthier for longer. Now scientists are asking whether new technology can also help slow down the ageing process of our brains by keeping track of what happens to them as we get older.

One sunny morning, 76-year-old Dutch-born Marijke and her husband Tom welcomed me in for breakfast at their home in Loma Linda, an hour east of Los Angeles.

Oatmeal, chai seeds, berries, but no processed sugary cereal or coffee were served – a breakfast as pure as Loma Linda’s mission.

Loma Linda has been identified as one of the world’s so-called Blue Zones, places where people have lengthier-than-average lifespans. In this case, it is the city’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church community who are living longer.

  • Listen to Lara read this article on BBC Sounds

They generally don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, stick to a vegetarian or even vegan diet and consider it a duty of their religion to look after their bodies as best they can.

This is their “health message”, as they call it, and it has put them on the map – the city has been the subject of decades of research into why its residents live better for longer.

Dr Gary Fraser from the University of Loma Linda told me members of the Seventh-Day Adventist community there can expect not only a longer lifespan, but an increased “healthspan” – that is, time spent in good health – of four to five years extra for women and seven years extra for men.

Marijke and Tom had moved to the city later in life, but both were now firmly embedded in the community.

There’s no great secret to Loma Linda. Its citizens are simply living a really healthy life, keeping mentally stimulated and valuing the community a religion can often provide.

There are regular lectures on healthy living, musical get-togethers and exercise classes.

I chatted to Judy, who lives with 112 others at an assisted living facility where there was always the “ability to have heart-opening, brain-opening conversations”, she told me.

“What I didn’t realise was how important socialisation is to your brain… without it, it seems to shrink and go away,” Judy said.

Science has long recognised the benefits of social interactions and avoiding loneliness.

But now it’s also possible to identify whose brains are ageing faster than they should, so they can be tracked and in future potentially be treated better preventatively.

As we move towards more personalised, predictive, preventative healthcare models, early diagnosis will be crucial in all areas of health – powered by the incredible possibilities of AI and big data.

Click: Mind over matter

Lara Lewington travels to California to meet the scientists and experts researching our brain health and investigating whether we can change how our brains age.

Watch on BBC iPlayer (UK only)

Computer models that assess how our brains age and predict their decline were shown to me by Andrei Irimia, associate professor of gerontology and computational biology at the University of Southern California.

He had created them using MRI scans, data from 15,000 brains and the power of artificial intelligence to understand the trajectory of both brains that are ageing healthily and those in which there is a disease process, such as dementia.

“It’s a very sophisticated way to look at patterns that we don’t necessarily know about as humans, but the AI algorithm is able to pick up on them,” he said.

Prof Irimia did, of course, take a look inside my head.

I’d had a functional MRI scan ahead of my visit and, after analysing its results, Prof Irimia told me I had a brain age eight months older than my chronological age (although apparently the bit that controls talking wasn’t ageing so much. I could have told him that). However, Prof Irimia suggested that the results fall within a two-year error margin.

Private companies are starting to commercialise this technology, too. One firm, Brainkey, is offering the service in a variety of clinics around the world. Its founder Owen Philips told me that in future, getting an MRI should become easier.

“It’s becoming much more accessible for people to get an MRI scan, and the images coming off them are getting even better and better,” he said.

“I don’t mean to nerd out there. But the technology is just getting to a point where we are able to see things much earlier than we could in the past. And that means we can understand exactly what’s happening in an individual patient’s brain. With AI, we can support that.”

In contrast to what Prof Irimia’s analysis of my MRI scan had told me, Brainkey’s estimate knocked a year off my brain’s biological age. I was also presented with a 3D-printed model of it, which appeared substantial and, I was assured, was life-sized.

The aim here is not just a more precise approach to treatment, but also to be able to quantify how well any interventions are working.

Dramatic increases in life expectancy over the past 200 years have given rise to a host of age-related diseases. I did wonder whether, if we all lived long enough, dementia might come knocking at all our doors.

Prof Irimia said this was a theory many have investigated albeit not proven, adding that the aim was to find a way to keep on pushing dementia back, hopefully beyond our life expectancies.

And all of this takes us back to the same point. Every scientist and doctor, as well as those Blue Zoners, say lifestyle is key. Good diet, keeping active, mentally stimulated and happy are crucial to how our brains age.

There’s another important factor too, according to Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the best-selling book Why We Sleep.

“Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do every day to reset your brain and body health,” he evangelised. “There is no operation of your mind that is not wonderfully enhanced when you get sleep, or demonstrably impaired when you don’t get enough.”

He spoke of our brains’ cleansing system, which functions during our slumber by washing away the beta-amyloid and tau proteins – these are “two of the main culprits underlying Alzheimer’s”.

Changes in sleep patterns are also associated with dementia. Prof Walker described how we don’t just see this in our 60s or 70s – it can begin during our 30s. So, identifying those changes through sleep tracking could potentially become a “model of midlife prevention”.

Fauna Bio, a biotech company on the outskirts of San Francisco, is collecting data on ground squirrels during and after hibernation. In this state of torpor, as it is known, the squirrels’ body temperature drops and their metabolic rate is reduced to just 1% of normal.

During this time, they appear to be able to regrow neurons and remake the connections their brains had lost. The company’s aim is to try and create drugs to replicate this process in humans, without them needing to spend half the year underground. Even if some may long for that.

Untreated depression has also been shown to raise our risk of dementia. Professor Leanne Williams of Stanford University has identified a method of “visualising” some forms of depression on the brain using an MRI scan, and thus seeing if treatment has worked.

This may be able to help scientists understand more about the root causes of mental health conditions such as depression, as well as providing a way to quantify how treatment is going for a patient.

Few have put more faith in science to achieve longevity than Bryan Johnson – the tech entrepreneur spending millions in an effort to reverse his biological age.

Dozens of supplements, 19 hours a day of fasting, workouts that make him look as though he’s going to burst and an array of (sometimes controversial) treatments are what he hopes will turn back the clock.

  • The tech entrepreneur betting he can get younger

But as 103-year-old Mildred, who I visited in Loma Linda said forcefully, “You absolutely need to be very careful with your diet, it’s true, but I’m not down for, ‘You’ve got to do this, and this, and this, and ‘”. She thinks it’s more important we live a little, and let’s face it, she should know.

Modi’s balancing act as he meets Putin in Moscow

By Anbarasan EthirajanBBC News, Delhi
India PM Modi meets Russian President Putin

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being keenly watched by his Western allies as he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on his first foreign trip since he returned to office for a third term in June.

Mr Modi landed on Monday, just hours after Russian bombing killed at least 41 people in Ukraine, including at a children’s hospital in Kyiv, sparking a global outcry.

Photos from Moscow showed a beaming Mr Modi hugging the Russian president. A video of a smiling Mr Putin calling Mr Modi “my dearest friend” and telling him that he was “delighted to see him” has gone viral in India.

Mr Modi’s two-day visit – his first to the Kremlin since 2019 – coincides with a Nato summit in Washington, where the 2022 invasion will be a major theme.

India, a key global economy, has close ties with both Russia and the US and its partners and officials in Delhi are playing down questions over the timing of Mr Modi’s trip. They say the annual summit is part of a long-standing strategic partnership and its scheduling has nothing to do with the Nato summit.

But a sour note has been struck with the US expressing concern. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller urged Mr Modi to emphasise Ukraine’s territorial integrity during his talks in Moscow.

Mr Miller also said the US had raised concerns with India regarding its relationship with Russia.

“We would urge India, as we do any country when it engages with Russia, to make clear that any resolution to the conflict in Ukraine needs to be one that respects the UN charter, that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Ukraine’s sovereignty,” he said at a press briefing on Monday.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky went further – and did not mince his words.

“It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter) late on Monday.

Mr Modi told President Putin that India was ready to offer any assistance in establishing peace in Ukraine. Russian state TV quoted him saying that war was “not a solution”.

He also said the death of children was painful and terrifying, a day after the deadly attack on the Kyiv children’s hospital.

“Whether it is war, conflict or a terrorist attack, any person who believes in humanity, is pained when there is loss of lives,” Mr Modi said.

“But even in that, when innocent children are killed, the heart bleeds and that pain is very terrifying.”

The Nato summit in Washington, which begins on Tuesday, is being held to mark the 75th anniversary of the Western defence grouping which was mainly formed as a bulwark against the then Soviet Union after World War Two.

Nato countries have been vehemently opposed to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while India and Mr Modi have refrained from any explicit criticism of President Putin except calling for dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the conflict.

As Western nations try to isolate Moscow by imposing sanctions, President Putin has been having summit-level meetings with leaders of key nations like China, India, Turkey and others.

Some are now asking whether Mr Modi’s presence in Moscow could be to Mr Putin’s advantage. Is the message India is sending out playing into the hands of Russia?

“The bilateral visit this time is just a scheduling priority that we have undertaken. And that’s what it is,” Vinay Kwatra, permanent secretary to the Indian foreign ministry, told the BBC ahead of Mr Modi’s visit, rejecting any connection between the two events.

India and Russia share close defence and strategic relations from Cold War days and Moscow remains a key supplier of weapons. India, which maintains one of the largest militaries in the world, has long-standing border disputes with its neighbours Pakistan and China.

Experts say Mr Modi giving importance to Moscow is not a surprise and the relationship goes beyond defence procurement.

“If you look at the historical trend, it [Moscow] has been one of the constants in Indian foreign policy,” Pankaj Saran, former Indian ambassador to Moscow, told the BBC.

“The main pillars of the relationship include defence co-operation, energy and science technology.”

Over the years, Russia has provided technical assistance to build several nuclear power plants in India.

Since the Ukraine war began, Delhi has also been buying billions of dollars of discounted oil from Moscow after Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia to limit what it could sell or charge for the product.

Driven by a surge in the purchase of oil, bilateral trade between India and Russia in the last few years has soared to $65bn (£50.76bn). India’s exports to Russia stand at just $4bn.

Indian officials say a key priority for Mr Modi will be to address this trade imbalance and encourage Russian investment in India as well as moving some defence production to India.

For the past 20 years, the West, particularly the US, has cultivated closer ties with India in what many see as a bulwark against the threat posed by an increasingly assertive China.

India also became a member of the Quad – a strategic forum with the US, Australia and Japan – which is seen as a grouping aimed at countering Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific.

But faced with increasing Western hostility, President Putin has developed closer strategic and economic ties with Beijing. The development has not gone unnoticed in India, China’s long-time rival.

A deadly brawl on the disputed border in Ladakh region in June 2020 killed 20 Indian and at least four Chinese soldiers and escalated tensions.

There are apprehensions in India that it may be left out of the Moscow-Beijing equation.

“One option currently being exercised by Delhi is to keep the Russia channel open to maintain the friendship and avoid taking any measures which may further aggravate Russia’s drift into Chinese arms that is being caused by US and Western policies,” says Mr Saran.

Though Delhi has diversified its weapons inventory in recent decades by buying American, French and Israeli arms systems, it still relies heavily on Moscow and there have been concerns the war in Ukraine has had an impact on its defence exports.

“There are reports of delays in the supplies of some spare parts and the delivery of the remaining S-400 anti-missile defence system. So, there will definitely be some discussion on this during the visit,” says Anil Trigunayat, a former ambassador and now a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation in Delhi.

Delhi and Moscow are not without their own differences. There have been several reported cases of Indian nationals who were lured with false promises of lucrative job offers and ended up fighting for the Russian army in Ukraine. Four Indians have died so far in the fighting.

  • The Indian men traumatised by fighting for Russia

Indian officials insist that during this visit, Mr Modi will press his Russian counterparts for an early discharge of Indians – thought to number in the dozens – still fighting in the war.

India is aware that it needs both the United States and Russia to counter its rival China. Hence, it feels the need to strike a balance not to offend either of the two.

“India follows a policy of strategic autonomy and multi-alignments. We have strategic relationships with both the US and Russia. These are mutually exclusive partnerships,” says Mr Trigunayat.

The secret hospitals offering criminals new faces

By Kelly NgBBC News

Clandestine hospitals in the Philippines have been offering plastic surgery services to fugitives and scam centre workers to help them evade arrest, authorities say.

Two such illegal hospitals could be shut down “in the coming weeks” after police raided the first one in Manila’s southern suburbs in May, a police spokesman told the BBC.

Hair transplant tools, dental implants and skin whitening IV drips were seized from the hospital in Pasay City two months ago.

“You can create an entirely new person out of those,” said Winston John Casio, a spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission (PAOCC).

The two illegal hospitals under surveillance are believed to be four times larger than the one in Pasay, authorities said.

Their clients allegedly include those from online casinos, who are working in the Philippines illegally, Mr Casio said.

The online casinos or Pogos (Philippine Online Gaming Operations) cater to players in mainland China, where gambling is illegal.

But police say Pogos have been used as cover for criminal activities such as telephone scams and human trafficking.

Three doctors – two from Vietnam and one from China – a Chinese pharmacist, and a Vietnamese nurse were arrested in the Pasay raid, none of whom were licensed to work in the Philippines.

Authorities also found a hemodialysis machine, suggesting that the facility, which was about 400 sqm, offered various medical treatments in addition to plastic surgery.

“They look like regular clinics on the outside, but once you enter, you’ll be shocked by the type of technology they have,” Mr Casio said.

“These Pogo hospitals don’t ask for the proper identification cards… You could be a fugitive, or you could be an illegal alien in the Philippines,” he said.

Authorities were tipped off on the existence of the illegal hospital in Pasay City.

Pogos flourished under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who sought friendly ties with China during his six-year term that ended in 2022.

However, his successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr has mounted a crackdown on Pogos, citing their criminal links.

“The president does not want the Philippines to be painted as a ‘scam hub’ and has given us a directive to go after scam farms because of how they have been targeting large numbers of people from all over the world,” Mr Casio said.

In December 2022, immigration officials arrested a suspected Chinese mafia member who allegedly underwent plastic surgery to evade detection. Such cases may be linked to the underground hospitals, Mr Casio said.

The mayor of a sleepy town north of the capital, Alice Guo, recently came under fire after a Pogo scam centre was busted near her office.

She has also been accused of being a spy for China after authorities questioned her birth records.

‘Beginning of two legends’: Photos of Messi and baby Lamine Yamal resurface

By George WrightBBC News

In 2007, a young Lionel Messi posed for photos with a baby in the dressing room of the Camp Nou in Barcelona for a charity calendar photoshoot.

Messi, who was 20, was already making a name for himself and would go on to become arguably the greatest of all time.

But little did the photographer know that the baby would also make waves in international football less than 17 years later.

Messi was bathing Lamine Yamal – the 16-year-old who is taking the European Championships by storm.

His goal against France in the semi-final on Tuesday is one that will be talked about for decades.

At 16 years and 362 days, the strike also made him the youngest man to score in the tournament’s history.

The long-forgotten photo of Messi and Yamal resurfaced after Yamal’s father posted it on Instagram last week with the text: “The beginning of two legends.”

The photos were taken by Joan Monfort, who works as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press.

The shoot came about after Unicef did a raffle in the town of Mataró where Lamine’s family lived, he said.

“They signed up for the raffle to have their picture taken at the Camp Nou with a Barça player. And they won the raffle,” Mr Monfort told the Associated Press.

The assignment wasn’t a straightforward one, the photographer said.

“Messi is a pretty introverted guy, he’s shy,” he said.

“He was coming out of the locker room and suddenly he finds himself in another locker room with a plastic tub full of water and a baby in it. It was complicated. He didn’t even know how to hold him at first.”

Like Messi, Yamal went on to play for Barcelona, where he became the club’s youngest ever starter and goalscorer, as well as the youngest scorer in the Spanish league.

Mr Monfort said it was only when the photo started going viral online last week that he realised that the baby was Yamal.

“It’s very exciting to be associated with something that has caused such a sensation,” he said.

“To tell you the truth it’s a very nice feeling.”

Attempted carjacker shot outside top US judge’s home

By Tom McArthurBBC News

A Deputy US Marshal shot a would-be carjacker while he was guarding Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s home in Washington DC, authorities said.

The man was shot after approaching the car the officer was sitting in and tapping the window with a gun.

The deputy fired several times, hitting the suspect in the mouth. A second deputy also opened fire, but did not hit the man, police said.

Justice Sotomayor’s home is not believed to have been a deliberately targeted.

The suspected carjacker, named in charging documents as Kentrell Flowers, 18, is being treated in hospital and faces carjacking and firearms charges. The two deputies have not been identified.

Court documents said Mr Flowers had emerged from a silver minivan – which had been stolen earlier in the evening – and approached the officers’ car.

Court documents said the two officers were wearing US Marshals branded polo shirts and T-shirts during the incident.

The teenage suspect was charged with armed carjacking, carrying a pistol without a licence, and possession of a large capacity magazine. Magazines with over 10-round capacity are illegal in Washington DC.

An investigation into the alleged attempted carjacking is underway, but police said there was no indication the suspect knew who he had approached, or that he was near Justice Sotomayor’s home.

The driver of the minivan fled the scene, with the minivan found abandoned later.

Vehicle thefts and carjackings were a serious issue in the US capital, but there has been a 43% decrease in such incidents this year, Metro police figures show.

In 2023, a US Secret Service agent shot at two teenagers – aged 14 and 19 – who broke into a car assigned to protect Naomi Biden, the granddaughter of US President Joe Biden.

And Rep Henry Cuellar – a Democrat from Texas – was carjacked last year in the Navy Yard area of the city.

Ms Biden, 30, was not with the agents when the attempted robbery took place on the night of 12 November, in Washington’s wealthy Georgetown area.

Prominent New Zealand couple targeted in deadly US robbery

By Christal HayesBBC News, Los Angeles

A prominent New Zealand couple visiting California were targeted as they left a shopping centre by a crew of suspected robbers who left one of the pair dead.

The couple – banker Doug and Patricia “Trish” McKay – had been shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island when they were attacked by a group of men on 2 July, officials said.

Ms McKay, 68, a friend of New Zealand’s prime minister, was killed when she was dragged along a road in the ensuing events, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office added.

Three suspects have been charged with murder.

Detailing the incident, which took place about 45 miles (72km) south-east of Los Angeles, the DA said two men wearing masks jumped out of a vehicle as the couple waited to be picked up.

They allegedly pointed a gun at Mr McKay’s head, ordered him to the ground and demanded he hand over the expensive watch he was wearing.

One man attacked Ms McKay, trying to take her shopping bags. He is accused of throwing her to the ground and dragging her into the road.

Mr McKay jumped in front of the car and tried to stop his wife from being run over, but a third man driving the car accelerated, the DA’s news release stated.

The car pushed Mr McKay out of the way but the trio dragged his wife 65 ft (20m) under the vehicle, killing her.

A bystander tried to stop the group from fleeing and was shot at by one of the men during the incident.

The suspects allegedly led authorities on a high-speed chase for nearly 40 miles. They were arrested and identified as Leroy Ernest Joseph McCrary, 26, Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, and Jaden Cunningham, 18.

All three were charged with murder with a felony enhancement that makes them eligible for the death penalty, according to the DA’s office. One of the suspects, Mr McCrary, is also facing charges of second-degree robbery and evading while driving recklessly.

It is unclear who is legally representing each of the men.

New Zealand’s prime minister pays tribute

Doug McKay, 69, is a prominent businessman and banker in New Zealand. He was the first CEO of the Auckland Council, a body established in 2010 that helps govern the Auckland Region of the country.

He was also the former chair of the Bank of New Zealand, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The family released a statement to local media, saying: “No words can express our sadness as we try to come to terms with the loss”.

The couple’s personal friend, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, paid tribute.

“My thoughts are with the McKay family after the devastating loss of Trish,” Mr Luxon posted on X. “They’re great people and my heart goes out to Doug, their family and all those who knew Trish.”

Desley Simpson, the deputy mayor of Auckland, said on Facebook that she was “in absolute shock”.

“Trish was amazing – funny, loyal and loving. My absolute deepest sympathies to Doug and (Ms McKay’s) family,” Ms Simpson said.

‘It was terrifying’ – escaping Ethiopia’s armed kidnappers

By Kalkidan YibeltalBBC News, Addis Ababa

Bekele’s sister is one of dozens of students from Ethiopia’s Derbak University who have been missing for a week now – she got on a bus to go home at the end of the academic year, but never reached her destination.

No-one in the family had been able to make contact with her, so when his mobile phone lit up, telling Bekele he had an incoming call from his sister, he swiftly pressed accept. The names of the people the BBC spoke to for this article have been changed for safety reasons.

He was greeted by the voice he had longed to hear, but then an unfamiliar man’s voice came on, telling him that if he ever wanted to see his sister again, he needed to cough up 700,000 Ethiopian birr ($12,000; £9,400).

Dozens of bus passengers, mostly students, were kidnapped by gunmen last Wednesday.

Some managed to escape – and three of those who successfully broke away told the BBC they believe more than 100 people are still being held.

The kidnappers rang Bekele three times, demanding the 700,000 birr ransom.

Bekele fears the worst – he says that as a day labourer he can’t even afford to pay the captors 7,000 birr.

He is far from alone – in recent years, Ethiopia has seen a dramatic surge in kidnapping-for-ransom.

Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, is worst affected.

The security forces have been stretched thin in an effort to contain numerous conflicts that have broken out in Africa’s second most populous state, and it has led to increasing lawlessness.

The people kidnapped last Wednesday were travelling in three buses, making their way to Addis Ababa from Derbak University in the Simien Mountains, a well-known tourist destination.

The vehicles came to an unexpected halt near Garba Guracha, a small town in Oromia.

“There were gunshots and I heard repeated orders to run. I didn’t even know what we were doing,” Mehret, an animal science student travelling on one of the buses told the BBC.

Law student Petros added: “They told everyone to get off. They started beating everyone [with sticks] and forced us to run to the woods close by. It was terrifying.”

The gunmen forced their captives on a journey to a remote rural area where the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel group is believed to operate.

The OLA says it is fighting for the “self-determination” of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s biggest, but it has been classified as a terrorist organisation by the federal parliament.

Mehret and Petros have said the OLA was behind their abduction, but the rebel group has not commented.

OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii has previously denied to local media that it carries out abductions to finance its operations, saying a weak federal government has allowed criminality to flourish.

After being forced to run and walk for around two kilometres (1.2 miles), Mehret, Petros and some other abductees managed to escape.

The gunmen were struggling to control the large group “so some of us hid under the bushes and waited until they went far”, Petros said.

One student, who is still being held by the gunmen, managed to sneak a phone call to her family. She told them she had witnessed her captors killing some of the other students.

“She has given up on life now,” a relative told the BBC. “She doesn’t think even paying ransom would win freedom.”

The mass abduction has similarities to other abductions. Just over a year ago, more than 50 passengers travelling from the Amhara region to Addis Ababa were kidnapped.

A local official said those who were able to pay a ransom were released, but did not specify what happened to those who could not.

The BBC was given exclusive access to the secretive OLA in 2021

In another high-profile case, 18 university students in Oromia were said to have been kidnapped by armed attackers in late 2019. They have not been found until this day.

The government faced fierce criticism for failing to secure their release and find the perpetrators.

A few months after the students went missing, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told lawmakers that the kidnappers were “unknown people” and that there was no evidence “to say something bad happened” to the students.

Although Oromia is a hotspot for abductions, kidnappers also operate elsewhere, such as the war-scarred regions of Tigray and Amhara.

In March, kidnappers in Tigray captured a 16-year-old schoolgirl and demanded her parents pay a ransom of three million birr. The family reported the abduction to the police, but the schoolgirl’s dead body was found in June, leading to a national outcry.

The hundreds of abductees across Ethiopia often endure cruel treatment, including torture, the state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says.

The government has not yet commented on last Wednesday’s abduction and officials have not responded to BBC requests for comment.

Some of the abductees’ relatives have accused the authorities of not giving the incident enough attention.

“It is confusing why the authorities are neglecting the issue while our children have been taken away,” said Dalke, a farmer whose daughter was kidnapped.

Another father said they just wanted their loved ones back.

“We don’t have any money to offer [the kidnappers]. I sacrificed a lot to send my children to school… now all we do is cry and pray,” he said.

You may also be interested in:

  • Forget Ethiopia’s Spice Girls – this singer salutes the true queens
  • The bid to heal the Horn of Africa port controversy
  • The man bringing Ethiopian coffee culture to London
  • Ethiopians leap into pool during holy festival
  • Are Ethiopians losing faith in their Orthodox Church?

BBC Africa podcasts

Lena Dunham drops out of directing Polly Pocket

By Bonnie McLarenCulture reporter

Lena Dunham has dropped out of directing a film about the Polly Pocket dolls, saying she didn’t think she could replicate what Greta Gerwig achieved with Barbie.

The actor and director told The New Yorker: “I’m not going to make the Polly Pocket movie. I wrote a script, and I was working on it for three years.”

Dunham, who created and starred in US TV comedy Girls, was enlisted to direct the Polly Pocket film in 2021.

It was also announced that Emily In Paris star Lily Collins would play the lead doll.

Robbie Brenner, the producer who runs toy company Mattel’s film division, told Variety last year that the script was “great” and Dunham “is so collaborative and rolls up her sleeves and really likes to roll around in notes and listen”.

However, Dunham has now said she would struggle to put her own personal stamp on it in the way Gerwig did with Barbie.

Barbie took $1.44bn (£1.2bn) at the box office, making Gerwig the most successful solo female director ever.

“I think Greta did this incredible feat, which was to make this thing that was literally candy to so many different kinds of people and was perfectly and divinely Greta,” Dunham added.

“And I just – I felt like, unless I can do it that way, I’m not going to do it.

“I don’t think I have that in me.

“I feel like the next movie I make needs to feel like a movie that I absolutely have to make. No-one but me could make it.

“And I did think other people could make Polly Pocket.”

Polly Pocket is just one of the films Mattel has in the pipeline following Barbie’s success.

Other projects include Barney, produced by Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya, and Hot Wheels, produced by Star Wars and Star Trek director JJ Abrams.

Despite Dunham’s withdrawal, a Mattel spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter they still hope to make the Polly Pocket film.

Dunham is currently working on Too Much, a Netflix series loosely based on her life, with her husband musician Luis Felber.

The plot follows the lead character, played by Megan Stalter, meeting a punk musician, played by Will Sharpe, in London after a break-up in New York.

Dunham said she didn’t want to star in it herself because of the body shaming she experienced after appearing as Hannah Horvath in Girls.

“I knew from the very beginning I would not be the star of it,” she said.

“First, because I had seen Meg Stalter’s work, and I was very inspired by her. She’s unbelievable.

“I also think that I was not willing to have another experience like what I’d experienced around Girls at this point in my life.

“Physically, I was just not up for having my body dissected again.

“It was a hard choice – not to cast Meg, because I knew I wanted Meg – but to admit that to myself.”

Cypress Hill make 28-year-old Simpsons joke come true

By Colin PatersonEntertainment correspondent

It was back in 1996 when an episode of The Simpsons featured a joke where Cypress Hill believed they had mistakenly booked the London Symphony Orchestra, whilst under the influence.

On Wednesday night, that joke becomes a reality at the Royal Albert Hall.

After years of fan pressure, the American hip-hop group reached out to the LSO over social media and a deal was struck.

The one-night only performance in London is based around their acclaimed Black Sunday album. It sold more than three million copies in the US and spent a whole year on the UK charts.

The LSO will perform unique orchestral arrangements of the band’s most iconic songs including Insane in the Brain and I Wanna Get High.

Cypress Hill have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and are one of hip-hop’s biggest acts.

Insane in the brain

I went to meet the band at their rehearsals in central London.

“It’s been something that we’ve talked about for many years since the Simpsons episode first aired,” B-Real (real name Louis Mario Freese) told the BBC.

“So it’s very special for us. And it’s coming off the heels of our 30th anniversary for our Black Sunday album.”

They called the ability to play on London’s most famous stage “one of those checklist moments”.

“We’ve played a lot of historical venues throughout our career and stuff like that, but nothing as prestigious as this.”

In the Simpsons episode, Homerpalooza, Homer is shocked while on a school run that his music tastes are not considered cool.

He then tries to impress the kids by going to the Hullabalooza music festival – a play on the Lollapalooza music festival held in Chicago – and hanging out with rap and rock stars including Cypress Hill and The Smashing Pumpkins.

The British connection goes beyond the LSO. In the episode, it was actually Peter Frampton, best known for his 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive, who was the guy trying to book the orchestra.

Cypress Hill laughed when I asked if he was on the guestlist.

“Yes, actually, we’ve been trying to invite him,” B-Real said.

“We’ve never met him before, but we thought it would be a kick to invite the legendary Peter Frampton.”

They’re still waiting for a reply.

LSO first violin and board vice-chair Maxine Kwok said “people are beyond excited at the idea of these diverse musicians mixing on the stage”.

“Being a child of the nineties I remember the episode well,” she told the BBC, sharing that it was a cultural reference and “running joke” for years each time the episode was repeated.

At rehearsals there have been cultural differences, leading to misunderstandings.

When the word “glock” was used, the LSO took it to mean the percussion instrument the glockenspiel. To Cypress Hill, glock will always be a gun.

The Simpsons predictions

This isn’t the first time an event in The Simpsons has accurately predicted what has happened in reality many years in the future.

  • In a March 2000 episode, Bart is shown a vision of the future in which his sister Lisa becomes US president and declares: “We’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.” This was a full 16 years before Donald Trump became president.
  • Springfield had their own equivalent of the Las Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy, a duo called Gunter and Ernst. Their first appearance in 1993 saw them being attacked by their own white tiger, which was part of their act. Exactly a decade later, during a show at the Mirage casino, Roy Horn survived an attack by one of their white tigers.
  • Winter Olympics Curling was the subject of a 2010 storyline, with Homer and Marge being selected for the US team. They triumphed over Sweden in the final. Eight years later, in South Korea, the US would win their first ever Winter Olympic Curling gold, beating none other than Sweden in the final.

However, some social media posts about The Simpsons predicting the future have been fake.

Whether the show writers can predict the future or not….

For Cypress Hill, at least, they feel tonight’s show has been their destiny.

Later in their career, the act said they became more experimental “combining hip-hop with rock or metal or punk or reggae or electronic” and that their new orchestral collaboration is part of who they are as “out-of-the-box artists”.

“We salute The Simpsons because if they had not written that episode, we probably wouldn’t be doing this.”

Punjabi rapper feels ‘blessed’ over global journey

By Manish PandeyBBC Newsbeat

When Punjabi rapper Karan Aujla reflects on his journey so far, he admits it is “hard to process”.

Born in Punjab, his parents died when he was a child and he later moved to Canada “with just this skill of writing”.

The 27-year-old will be touring the UK and Canada in months to come, and his recent release Tauba Tauba will appear in Bad Newz – the first time he has a track in a Bollywood film.

“I’m blessed,” he tells BBC Asian Network’s Haroon Rashid.

“Coming from such a small village and making it across the globe and getting so much love from people and touring.

“Getting to experience things that you never even knew existed.”

Karan’s hits such as Softly, Don’t Look, Red Eyes and On Top have spent multiple weeks in the Official Asian Music Chart and he has more than 13 million monthly Spotify listeners.

He is considered one of the most important artists taking Punjabi music global, along with Diljit Dosanjh and AP Dhillon.

‘I will never plan things’

Karan has previously spoken about having Bollywood offers, but wanting to wait for the right one.

“It was so quick, we decided that we wanted a song for the movie. And I made two ideas, sent them over and they picked one.”

“And I’m happy that they did. It just goes with the vibe of the movie.

“I never felt out of place, the whole team showed me so much love,” he adds.

There’s sometimes been criticism that to fit into Bollywood, artists need to change their style.

“My first thought was to go with a little bit of Hindi. Then I was like OK, that’s not me.”

“It was hard deciding which direction the sound should be… but it just happened like that.”

Karan says he is conscious about being original but also offering things for different audiences.

The inspiration behind the song was a friend who is “into Punjabi music” and the song is about a “love for Punjabi music”.

“I really wanted it to be easy to catch for the people that don’t know Punjabi too much. But I also wanted to keep it [Punjabi] and not have it like a Bollywood sound”.

“I want to keep my own tone original,” he says.

“It just makes me so happy that the language barrier is gone and it’s all about music.

“It’s going global,” he says of Punjabi music.

Karan says he has a relaxed approach to making music and takes pride in not overthinking things, describing that as “a big flex”.

“Every time I get into the studio, I don’t know what I’m going to write about. I just sit there, listen to the beats, make melodies and it just comes.

“I’m really proud of it, because that’s how I started as a writer.”

Despite increasing success over the years, Karan says he doesn’t “get nervous” in the typical way, but that it is “a different type of feeling”.

“Sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to be when you enter these new rooms.

“But everybody loves your talent if you’re good.”

One of the things that helps is the people around him, and he says he is big on brotherhood in the industry.

“It’s really important for me because I grew up around brothers and friendship has had a big role in my career.”

But he is forward looking as well, and has the tour on his mind with many fans expected to turn out to see him perform.

He reveals that it will be “a different” sound to his previous tour, with greater production involved.

“This time I’m coming out with a new band, and nobody is Punjabi.

“Even if I have to put money out of my own pocket, I want to make sure people have the best time of their lives.”

“I’m doing some crazy stuff,” he teases.

With his music though, Karan says he’s just “trying to go with the flow”.

He name-checks Burna Boy and Wizkid as artists who he feels have a sound that “is so clean”.

But his own approach will remain pretty chilled out.

“I will never plan things… it just happens.

“That’s the best way to do anything in life.”

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.

‘Beginning of two legends’: Photos of Messi and baby Lamine Yamal resurface

By George WrightBBC News

In 2007, a young Lionel Messi posed for photos with a baby in the dressing room of the Camp Nou in Barcelona for a charity calendar photoshoot.

Messi, who was 20, was already making a name for himself and would go on to become arguably the greatest of all time.

But little did the photographer know that the baby would also make waves in international football less than 17 years later.

Messi was bathing Lamine Yamal – the 16-year-old who is taking the European Championships by storm.

His goal against France in the semi-final on Tuesday is one that will be talked about for decades.

At 16 years and 362 days, the strike also made him the youngest man to score in the tournament’s history.

The long-forgotten photo of Messi and Yamal resurfaced after Yamal’s father posted it on Instagram last week with the text: “The beginning of two legends.”

The photos were taken by Joan Monfort, who works as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press.

The shoot came about after Unicef did a raffle in the town of Mataró where Lamine’s family lived, he said.

“They signed up for the raffle to have their picture taken at the Camp Nou with a Barça player. And they won the raffle,” Mr Monfort told the Associated Press.

The assignment wasn’t a straightforward one, the photographer said.

“Messi is a pretty introverted guy, he’s shy,” he said.

“He was coming out of the locker room and suddenly he finds himself in another locker room with a plastic tub full of water and a baby in it. It was complicated. He didn’t even know how to hold him at first.”

Like Messi, Yamal went on to play for Barcelona, where he became the club’s youngest ever starter and goalscorer, as well as the youngest scorer in the Spanish league.

Mr Monfort said it was only when the photo started going viral online last week that he realised that the baby was Yamal.

“It’s very exciting to be associated with something that has caused such a sensation,” he said.

“To tell you the truth it’s a very nice feeling.”

First Democratic senator challenges Biden candidacy

By James FitzGeraldBrandon DrenonBBC News

The first Democratic senator has questioned President Joe Biden’s election chances, after seven congressman urged the 81-year-old to step aside.

Michael Bennet of Colorado said that he expected the president to lose to Donald Trump, possibly by a “landslide”, but stopped short of saying he should withdraw.

Questions have been raised about Mr Biden’s fitness for office after a stumbling presidential debate performance against Trump late last month.

Mr Bennet told CNN that remaining in the election was “something for the president to consider”. Trump, he said, was “on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide”.

He added that the issue was “a moral question about the future of our country”.

Also on Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi signalled her uncertainty about Mr Biden’s future, when asked “does he have your support?” in a TV interview.

“I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Ms Pelosi told MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme. “And that is the way it is. Whatever he decides to go with.”

“It’s up to the president to decide if he’s going to run. We are all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.

“I said to everyone – let’s just hold off. Whatever you’re thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don’t have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week. But I am very proud of the president.”

The president had stated his commitment to staying in the race on the same show on Monday, and wrote to congressional Democrats on the same day to say he was “firmly committed to staying in this race”.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden gave brief but vociferous remarks to open the Nato summit in Washington, declaring the alliance to be “more powerful than ever”. He struck a markedly clearer tone compared with his debate performance.

Other Democrats have emphasised the importance of party solidarity. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight programme, Hank Johnson, a congressman from Georgia, said it was time to “break the circular firing squad” around Mr Biden.

Mr Johnson, a member of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, admitted that Mr Biden had had a “horrible” debate but said the overwhelming majority of voters of colour wanted him as their candidate.

The caucus of about 60 politicians reportedly backed the president during a call on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, stated “I’m with Joe” on Tuesday. Others touted Mr Biden’s record in the White House or spoke of Democratic unity.

  • LISTEN: Katty Kay and Anthony Zurcher on Biden’s fight to stay in the race
  • Could Biden be replaced as nominee?
  • The Democratic names being talked about
  • Can Kamala Harris beat Trump?
Watch: US President Joe Biden addresses Nato summit

On the same day, however, a seventh Democrat in the House of Representatives – Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey – publicly called on Mr Biden to withdraw, saying that the stakes were “too high”.

She joined others in Congress that include Adam Smith, who told the BBC earlier this week that the party needed to install a “stronger messenger” as its candidate.

Two other senators are reported by CNN to believe that Mr Biden cannot win the White House again, although neither has publicly broken ranks.

Meanwhile George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic operative turned ABC News presenter who interviewed Mr Biden last week, said he does not think the president “can serve four more years”.

The audio was captured by TMZ. Mr Stephanopoulos did not rescind the comment, he later acknowledged he should not have made it.

Mr Biden reportedly also faces doubts from diplomats visiting Washington for the Nato meeting, one of whom anonymously told Reuters they could not see him staying in post for another four years.

Speculation continues to grow over who would replace Mr Biden, with Vice-President Kamala Harris the favourite.

She has remained loyal to her running mate, insisting during a rally this week that he was a “fighter”.

Mr Biden himself has dared his doubters to either challenge him or unite behind his candidacy, although he has admitted he “screwed up” in the Trump debate.

Trump has suggested Ms Harris would be a “better” competitor but said he expected his adversary to stay in the race.

“He’s got an ego, and he doesn’t want to quit,” he said.

Biden still the answer for many Democratic lawmakers

More on the US election

  • POLICIES: Where Biden and Trump stand
  • GLOBAL: What Moscow and Beijing think of rematch
  • ANALYSIS: Could US economy be doing too well?
  • EXPLAINER: RFK Jr and others running for president
  • VOTERS: US workers in debt to buy groceries

UAE police withdraw woman’s attempted suicide charge

Police in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have withdrawn the charges against Irish woman Tori Towey, a lawyer assisting her case has said.

The 28-year-old from Roscommon was facing charges including attempted suicide and consuming alcohol and had her passport destroyed.

She had been working as a flight attendant based in Dubai – the largest city in the UAE.

Radha Stirling, a lawyer and human rights advocate who runs the Detained in Dubai group, said Ms Towey and her mother were “over the moon” at the news.

“We are ever grateful for widespread support of the public, the media and the Irish government,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“We hope her transit at the airport will go smoothly and that no further attempts will be made to keep her in the country.”

The BBC has approached the UAE government for comment on the case.

Travel ban lifted

Earlier, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Simon Harris said a travel ban preventing Ms Towey from leaving the UAE had been lifted.

“The embassy will take Tori to the airport as soon as she is ready to go,” he told the Dáil (lower house of Irish parliament).

“The embassy will of course continue to follow up on the case which is still active as of now… and to thank our embassy for the work in relation to that”.

Previously the taoiseach said it was “utterly, utterly unacceptable how an Irish citizen is being treated”.

Mr Harris also said he had spoken to Ms Towey and her mother, who is with her in the UAE.

He went on to say Ms Towey had “been the victim of male violence”.

“What Tori has been through is, I think, unimaginable for so many people here in this country, that a woman who has been the victim of a brutal attack found herself waking up not in a hospital, but in a police station,” he said.

‘Want to start a new chapter’

On Wednesday, Ann Flynn, Ms Towey’s aunt, told BBC Radio Foyle’s North West Today programme that Tori and her whole family had been through a huge ordeal but she hoped the end was now in sight.

“The travel ban being lifted is a huge relief, I didn’t actually quite believe it when I heard it,” Ms Flynn said.

“Hopefully they will be home tomorrow. They haven’t actually got a flight sorted yet and we are just waiting to hear next steps.”

Ms Flynn praised everyone who helped highlight her niece’s case.

“When they arrive in Ireland, it will be such a relief,” she said.

“We just want her home, we just want to start a new chapter with her.”

Timeline: How Tori Towey’s ordeal developed

  • 28 June – After allegedly being assaulted, Ms Towey is charged with attempting suicide
  • 9 July – Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald raises her situation in the Dáil and says her passport has been destroyed and she has been banned from travelling
  • Taoiseach Simon Harris says the Irish government will do what it can to help Ms Towey
  • 10 July – Mr Harris says he has spoken to Ms Towey and that she is increasingly positive about the situation
  • The taoiseach later confirms the travel ban has been lifted and she is preparing to travel to the airport and home to Ireland

‘Most gross domestic violence’

The case came to international attention after it was raised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil (Irish lower house of parliament) on Tuesday.

She said Ms Towey’s mother had travelled to Dubai to be with her and that she “wants to come home”.

“She has been the victim of the most gross domestic violence,” Ms McDonald said.

“Her passport has been destroyed. There was a travel ban imposed on her.”

The Irish government should make it “absolutely plain to the authorities of Dubai that no woman should be treated in this way”, Ms McDonald told the Dáil, and that “an Irish citizen, an Irish woman, will not be treated in this way”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the case and was providing consular assistance.

Israel military tells Gaza City residents to leave

By Tom Bennett and Rushdi AbualoufBBC News in London and Istanbul

The Israeli military has told all residents of Gaza City to evacuate south to the central Gaza Strip, amid intensified operations in the north.

Leaflets dropped by aircraft instruct “everyone in Gaza City” to leave what is described as a “dangerous combat zone” via designated safe routes – marked as two roads that lead to shelters in Deir al-Balah and al-Zawaida.

The UN has said it is deeply concerned about the evacuation orders being given. It is only the second time since the war began that Gaza City as a whole has been asked to evacuate.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli forces have re-entered several Gaza City districts where the military believes Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had regrouped since the start of the year.

Hamas said Israel’s renewed activity threatened to derail negotiations over a potential ceasefire and hostage release deal, which resumed on Wednesday in Qatar. The talks are being attended by the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the US and Israel, as well as the prime minister of Qatar.

250,000 still in Gaza City

There are estimated to be more than a quarter-of-a-million people still living in Gaza City – and some were observed evacuating to the south.

Others, though, were not willing to leave.

“I will not leave Gaza. I will not make the stupid mistake that others have made. Israeli missiles do not differentiate between north and south,” Gaza resident Ibrahim al-Barbari, 47, told the BBC.

“If death is my fate and the fate of my children, we will die with honour and dignity in our homes,” he said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received calls from some residents who were unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the bombing.

“The information coming from Gaza City shows residents are living through tragic conditions. [Israeli] occupation forces continue to hit residential districts, and displace people from their homes and refuge shelters,” it said.

In a statement issued earlier on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its troops had “conducted a counterterrorism operation” overnight against Hamas and PIJ fighters who were operating inside a headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) in Gaza City.

The troops had opened a “defined corridor to facilitate the evacuation of civilians” from the area before they entered the structure and “eliminated terrorists in close-quarters combat”, it added.

There was no immediate comment from Unrwa.

The IDF also said it had killed dozens of fighters in Gaza City’s eastern Shejaiya district and dismantled an underground tunnel route over the past day.

Speaking in the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that 60% of Hamas fighters had been killed or wounded since Israel’s offensive began. The BBC could not independently verify these figures.

On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Office said it was “appalled by IDF orders for residents to evacuate to “areas where Israeli military operations are ongoing and where civilians continue to be killed and injured”.

It also warned that the Deir al-Balah area was already seriously overcrowded with Palestinians displaced from other areas of Gaza and that there was little infrastructure and limited access to humanitarian assistance.

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

More than 38,295 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

More on this story

Prominent New Zealand couple targeted in deadly US robbery

By Christal HayesBBC News, Los Angeles

A prominent New Zealand couple visiting California were targeted as they left a shopping centre by a crew of suspected robbers who left one of the pair dead.

The couple – banker Doug and Patricia “Trish” McKay – had been shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island when they were attacked by a group of men on 2 July, officials said.

Ms McKay, 68, a friend of New Zealand’s prime minister, was killed when she was dragged along a road in the ensuing events, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office added.

Three suspects have been charged with murder.

Detailing the incident, which took place about 45 miles (72km) south-east of Los Angeles, the DA said two men wearing masks jumped out of a vehicle as the couple waited to be picked up.

They allegedly pointed a gun at Mr McKay’s head, ordered him to the ground and demanded he hand over the expensive watch he was wearing.

One man attacked Ms McKay, trying to take her shopping bags. He is accused of throwing her to the ground and dragging her into the road.

Mr McKay jumped in front of the car and tried to stop his wife from being run over, but a third man driving the car accelerated, the DA’s news release stated.

The car pushed Mr McKay out of the way but the trio dragged his wife 65 ft (20m) under the vehicle, killing her.

A bystander tried to stop the group from fleeing and was shot at by one of the men during the incident.

The suspects allegedly led authorities on a high-speed chase for nearly 40 miles. They were arrested and identified as Leroy Ernest Joseph McCrary, 26, Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, and Jaden Cunningham, 18.

All three were charged with murder with a felony enhancement that makes them eligible for the death penalty, according to the DA’s office. One of the suspects, Mr McCrary, is also facing charges of second-degree robbery and evading while driving recklessly.

It is unclear who is legally representing each of the men.

New Zealand’s prime minister pays tribute

Doug McKay, 69, is a prominent businessman and banker in New Zealand. He was the first CEO of the Auckland Council, a body established in 2010 that helps govern the Auckland Region of the country.

He was also the former chair of the Bank of New Zealand, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The family released a statement to local media, saying: “No words can express our sadness as we try to come to terms with the loss”.

The couple’s personal friend, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, paid tribute.

“My thoughts are with the McKay family after the devastating loss of Trish,” Mr Luxon posted on X. “They’re great people and my heart goes out to Doug, their family and all those who knew Trish.”

Desley Simpson, the deputy mayor of Auckland, said on Facebook that she was “in absolute shock”.

“Trish was amazing – funny, loyal and loving. My absolute deepest sympathies to Doug and (Ms McKay’s) family,” Ms Simpson said.

Blackpink’s Jennie ‘regrets’ vaping indoors

By Fan WangBBC News, Singapore

Blackpink star Jennie has apologised after a video that showed her vaping indoors sparked a huge outcry in South Korea.

The K-pop star exhaled a puff of smoke – and triggered a barrage of criticism because it blew into the face of her make-up artist.

“Do you need to be educated for all the basic manners?” a popular comment on YouTube reads.

Her label OA Entertainment has apologised to “everyone who felt uncomfortable with Jennie’s actions”, and to her “disappointed” fans. The star has also apologised to staff “who may have been affected”, the label said.

“Jennie acknowledges and deeply regrets her mistake of vaping indoors and causing inconvenience to the staff,” it added.

South Korean celebrities are no strangers to the intense scrutiny. The country holds them to rigid moral and behavioural standards and no misstep goes unnoticed.

The now-deleted moment was part of a video posted on Jennie’s official YouTube channel. It quickly spread through the 10 million-plus subscribers and beyond.

“It’s not about smoking. Blowing smoke in the face of the staff indoors – it’s just rude,” a top YouTube comment on a media outlet’s channel reads.

Another one says: “Even smokers know that you don’t puff on your friends’ face. You only do it when you really don’t care about the people around you.”

Smoking and vaping indoors is banned in South Korea and is punishable by a fine of up to ₩100,000 ($72; £56).

In this case, however, Jennie – whose full name is Jennie Kim – might not have been vaping in South Korea. Some accounts suggest the video was filmed in Italy, which bans vaping in enclosed public spaces. But Jennie’s agency has not clarified where she was at the time.

And yet, one furious South Korean has demanded an investigation from their country’s embassy in Italy and Seoul’s ministry of foreign affairs.

Jennie is not the first South Korean celebrity to face a backlash over smoking.

Doh Kyung-soo, vocalist for the popular K-pop boy band EXO and Haechan, a singer in the band NCT, drew a lot of flak when they were caught smoking indoors. They were fined and they apologised to the public.

Jennie’s international fans have been more forgiving: “Please don’t listen [to] anyone. You are queen and we will support you forever,” a top comment under her most recent Instagram post reads.

“I still love you. We learn from the mistakes we make,” another fan wrote.

Blackpink, formed in 2016, is the world’s biggest K-pop girl group. The four members – Jisoo, Lisa, Jennie and Rosé – have each become celebrities in their own right.

‘Dad tried to kill us’: The fire that devastated Australia

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

The night comes back in fragments: the sound of exploding glass, the frantic call made to police, the tiny shivering bodies emerging from the flames.

Eve’s hand shakes as she pieces it together. She is sitting in her living room in Western Sydney, the burnt-out blackened shell of her neighbour’s house – now a crime scene splashed across Australia’s national news – visible through the blinds.

What happened on this quiet street in the early hours of Sunday morning is hard to reconcile.

A fire that would leave three children dead – including a 5-month-old baby girl – and four more hospitalised alongside their mother.

And a stunning allegation: that this horror – so evident in the wreckage left behind and on the faces of those who witnessed it – was inflicted on these children by their father, who then blocked their attempts to flee.

New South Wales Police are treating the Lalor Park house fire as a domestic violence-related multiple homicide, and the state’s premier has said the 28-year-old father of seven could face “the most serious charges on offer”.

The case, which has sparked mass outrage, comes while Australia is already in the grips of a self-declared “national crisis” of domestic and family violence – a child is dying at the hands of a parent almost once a fortnight, according to research.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has offered a flurry of reforms and funding to stop the scourge.

But he conceded on Tuesday – in response to a string of alleged killings this week – that the country “has a long way to go” to turn the tide: “Again, we have seen lives stolen, futures torn away. Every death is its own universe of devastation.”

A ‘deep wound’

Eve – who has asked to have her name changed due to safety concerns – still can’t come to terms with what happened.

“We feel ashamed, we didn’t know there was a baby inside”, she told the BBC, erupting in tears as she begins offering a timeline of the fire.

Somehow, she “blames herself” for the deaths of the children across the road because she didn’t notice the inferno sooner, didn’t call emergency services fast enough.

And yet, her actions were both brave and consequential.

She and her husband were alerted to the violence unfolding by another neighbour, Jarrod Hawkins, who came to their home looking for reinforcements.

Mr Hawkins said he had been woken by a “loud pop” shortly before 01:00 local time (15:00 GMT). Worried his car might be being broken into, he went outside, and immediately saw the flames.

He says he ran across the road without pausing to think and tried to beat the door down.

In the moments that followed Mr Hawkins would crawl into the house repeatedly to pull out three children – two young boys aged four and seven, and a girl aged nine.

An 11-year-old would eventually be rescued by police, along with two boys aged two and six found in a critical condition, who died a short time later in hospital.

Mr Hawkins then woke up Eve and her family who phoned the authorities.

Soon, Eve’s husband was on their neighbour’s lawn, trying to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Eve helped usher some of the children from the scene – doing her best to calm them and keep them warm as they adjusted to the freezing air outside.

She remembers one of the boys saying blankly at one point: “He tried to kill me”.

Another rescuer would later tell a local paper they heard a similar remark from several of the tiny survivors: “Dad tried to kill us”.

But it was an innocent exchange Eve shared with the four-year-old who escaped, as he looked back at the charred remains of his home, that stays with her.

“He just kept asking whether his toys would be safe inside.”

As emergency services started to take control of the scene, Eve took her cue to leave.

One of the final things she witnessed was “police carrying the Dad out, who was in his underwear”. She would soon learn that the 5-month-old girl had died before rescuers could attempt to revive her.

Speaking to media later Sunday morning, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty alleged the children’s father had tried to stop “police, responders and neighbours” from entering the burning house, “with the intention of keeping the kids inside”.

“At this stage it does appear the 28-year-old is responsible for multiple deaths of young lives that have been tragically taken away,” Det Supt Doherty added.

Now, a makeshift memorial lies on Freeman Street. The colourful flowers and cards offering messages of support stand in stark contrast to the police tape and forensics tent.

Members of the community have described the children as “lively”, “outgoing” and “polite”.

“They were known to a lot of people – those kids were unreal, great manners… full of energy, just typical kids,” Mr Hawkins had earlier told ABC News.

“They were happy,” another neighbour says simply. As masked investigators sift through their house, an elderly resident watches on. Choked by tears, he literally can’t speak about his memories of the family.

Premier Chris Minns has called the tragedy a “deep wound” that will be widely felt.

“These children deserved a loving home with safety and security – instead, they’re gone,” he added, promising that those who remain would get the support they needed.

‘Determined to end this violence’

It is hard to say where Australia sits internationally on the issue, but filicide – when a parent intentionally kills their child – is the second most common form of domestic homicide in the country.

In most cases, the families have a history of child abuse, intimate partner violence, or both, says a recent study by the national research organisation for women’s safety.

State and federal governments have begun investing in prevention – which means examining the social drivers of violence – early intervention, bolstering crisis response networks, and supporting families as they recover. And Australia’s latest budget set aside A$1 bn (£526m; $673m) to assist with those aims.

“My government is determined to end this violence. Together, we can make this change. We must,” Mr Albanese said on Tuesday, flagging a previous commitment to build 720 emergency safe houses by 2027 to accommodate women and children fleeing abuse.

Critics though, have described the measure as a “drop in a very large ocean of need” – saying the money being spent doesn’t match the scale of the crisis.

“[This] will accommodate at most a mere 3% of women and children seeking housing. Moreover, waiting three years for these facilities to be built is cold comfort to women and children being killed by family and domestic violence now,” Larissa Waters, the Senate leader for the Australian Greens said.

The four children and their mother who survived the unimaginable events at Lalor Park are in a stable condition, while their father remains in an induced coma, under police guard.

On Tuesday, authorities closed off the street so that the 29-year-old woman could be given a few quiet moments to grieve in private – as she took in the sight of her now unrecognisable home.

Dressed in black, with a hospital band visible on her wrist, she picked up cards and floral tributes, as loved ones held her close.

The secret hospitals offering criminals new faces

By Kelly NgBBC News

Clandestine hospitals in the Philippines have been offering plastic surgery services to fugitives and scam centre workers to help them evade arrest, authorities say.

Two such illegal hospitals could be shut down “in the coming weeks” after police raided the first one in Manila’s southern suburbs in May, a police spokesman told the BBC.

Hair transplant tools, dental implants and skin whitening IV drips were seized from the hospital in Pasay City two months ago.

“You can create an entirely new person out of those,” said Winston John Casio, a spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission (PAOCC).

The two illegal hospitals under surveillance are believed to be four times larger than the one in Pasay, authorities said.

Their clients allegedly include those from online casinos, who are working in the Philippines illegally, Mr Casio said.

The online casinos or Pogos (Philippine Online Gaming Operations) cater to players in mainland China, where gambling is illegal.

But police say Pogos have been used as cover for criminal activities such as telephone scams and human trafficking.

Three doctors – two from Vietnam and one from China – a Chinese pharmacist, and a Vietnamese nurse were arrested in the Pasay raid, none of whom were licensed to work in the Philippines.

Authorities also found a hemodialysis machine, suggesting that the facility, which was about 400 sqm, offered various medical treatments in addition to plastic surgery.

“They look like regular clinics on the outside, but once you enter, you’ll be shocked by the type of technology they have,” Mr Casio said.

“These Pogo hospitals don’t ask for the proper identification cards… You could be a fugitive, or you could be an illegal alien in the Philippines,” he said.

Authorities were tipped off on the existence of the illegal hospital in Pasay City.

Pogos flourished under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who sought friendly ties with China during his six-year term that ended in 2022.

However, his successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr has mounted a crackdown on Pogos, citing their criminal links.

“The president does not want the Philippines to be painted as a ‘scam hub’ and has given us a directive to go after scam farms because of how they have been targeting large numbers of people from all over the world,” Mr Casio said.

In December 2022, immigration officials arrested a suspected Chinese mafia member who allegedly underwent plastic surgery to evade detection. Such cases may be linked to the underground hospitals, Mr Casio said.

The mayor of a sleepy town north of the capital, Alice Guo, recently came under fire after a Pogo scam centre was busted near her office.

She has also been accused of being a spy for China after authorities questioned her birth records.

Trial told dying girl offered prayer not medicine

By Simon AtkinsonBBC News, Brisbane

Members of an Australian religious group have gone on trial accused of killing an eight-year-old diabetic girl by denying her medical care and offering prayer instead.

Elizabeth Struhs was found dead at a home in Toowoomba – about 125km (78 mi) west of Brisbane – in January 2022, after she had allegedly gone without insulin for several days.

Prosecutors say the sect shunned the use of medicine and trusted God to “heal” the child – “extreme beliefs” which had already almost ended Elizabeth’s life in similar circumstances three years before.

The girl’s parents are among the 14 defendants, all of whom have refused lawyers.

They have also all opted to enter no pleas on the charges. Formally, the court considers that a plea of not guilty.

Two men – Elizabeth’s father Jason Struhs, 52, and the religious group’s leader Brendan Stevens, 62 – have been charged with murder, with prosecutors saying they knew the group’s actions would likely kill Elizabeth.

The girl’s mother, Kerrie Struhs, 49, brother Zachary Struhs, 21, and ten others – aged 22 to 67 – are accused of manslaughter.

As the trial began at the Queensland Supreme Court on Wednesday, the group filed in one by one, clad in prison clothes, taking their allocated positions in a courtroom specifically modified to fit them all.

Due to the complexity and notoriety of the case, the trial is being heard by a judge only – no jury – and is expected to last for around three months.

When opening her case, prosecutor Caroline Marco said Elizabeth had been an “intelligent, spiritual child”.

“But [she was] too young to understand the dire consequences of her parents’ decision… which she ultimately paid for with her own life.”

Ms Marco alleged that in early January 2022, both parents made the decision to first reduce the amount of insulin given to their daughter, and then withdraw it completely.

Members of the sect then gathered at the home to pray, she said, and it was “visible to all who saw her” that Elizabeth’s health was in danger. But there was “no attempt” to get a doctor.

She later died after having “suffered for days” , said the prosecutor.

The court heard Mrs Struhs had only been out of prison for a few weeks, after being convicted of failing to provide insulin to her daughter on another occasion in 2019.

That time, the girl spent a month in hospital after medical treatment was eventually sought by her father.

Jason Struhs previously had not agreed with the group’s beliefs, the judge was told, but had been baptised while his wife was in prison.

“He knew if he did not change he would lose his family and wife so pushed aside convictions of faith he once held, and joined them,” Ms Marco said.

Over the course of the trial, the court would hear from 60 witnesses including one of the Struhs’ daughters, who is estranged from the family, Ms Marco said.

The evidence, she added, would paint a picture of a small and “insular” religious group which centred around Brendan Stevens.

Prosecutors will continue laying out their arguments on Thursday, after which the defendants will also have the opportunity to address the court.

Before the trial began, Justice Martin Burn said stressed that he was obliged to provide sufficient information to ensure they got a fair trial, but could not provide them with legal advice.

South Korea politician blames women for rising male suicides

By Jean MackenzieSeoul correspondent

A politician in South Korea is being criticised for making dangerous and unsubstantiated comments after linking a rise in male suicides to the increasingly “dominant” role of women in society.

In a report, Seoul City councillor Kim Ki-duck argued women’s increased participation in the workforce over the years had made it harder for men to get jobs and to find women who wanted to marry them.

He said the country had recently “begun to change into a female-dominant society” and that this might “partly be responsible for an increase in male suicide attempts”.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among the world’s rich countries but also has one of the worst records on gender equality.

Councillor Kim’s comments have been criticised as the latest in a series of out-of-touch remarks made by male politicians.

Councillor Kim, from the Democratic Party, arrived at his assessment when analysing data on the number of suicide attempts made at bridges along Seoul’s Han river.

The report, published on the city council’s official website, showed that the number of suicide attempts along the river had risen from 430 in 2018 to 1,035 in 2023, and of those trying to take their lives the proportion who were men had climbed from 67% to 77%.

Suicide prevention experts have expressed concern over Mr Kim’s report.

“It is dangerous and unwise to make claims like this without sufficient evidence,” Song In Han, a mental health professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, told the BBC.

He pointed out that globally more men took their lives than women. In many countries, including the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

Even so, Prof Song said the reasons behind the sharp rise in men attempting suicide in Seoul needed to be scientifically studied, adding it was “very regrettable” that the councillor had made it about gender conflict.

In South Korea there is a substantial gulf between the number of men and women in full-time employment, with women disproportionately working temporary or part-time jobs. The gender pay gap is slowly narrowing, but still women are paid on average 29% less than men.

In recent years an anti-feminist movement has surged, led by disillusioned young men, who argue they have been disadvantaged by attempts to improve women’s lives.

Appearing to echo such views, Councillor Kim’s report concluded that the way to overcome “the female-domination phenomenon” was to improve people’s awareness of gender equality so that “men and women can enjoy equal opportunities”.

Koreans took to the social media platform X to denounce the councillor’s remarks as “unsubstantiated” and “misogynistic”, with one user questioning whether they were living in a parallel universe.

The Justice Party accused the councillor of “easily shifting the blame to women in Korean society who are struggling to escape gender discrimination”. It has called on him to retract his remarks and instead “properly analyse” the causes of the problem.

When approached for comment by the BBC, Councillor Kim said he had “not intended to be critical of the female-dominated society”, and was merely giving his personal view about some of its consequences.

However, his comments follow a number of unscientific and sometimes bizarre political proposals aimed at tackling some of South Korea’s most pressing social issues, including mental illness, gender violence and the lowest birth rate in the world.

Last month, another Seoul councillor in his 60s published a series of articles on the authority’s website encouraging young women to take up gymnastics and practise pelvic floor exercises in order to raise the birth rate.

At the same time, a government think tank recommended that girls start school earlier than boys, so that classmates would be more attracted to each other by the time they were ready to marry.

“Such comments encapsulate just how pervasive misogyny is in South Korea,” said Yuri Kim, director of the Korean Women’s Trade Union. She accused politicians and policymakers of not even trying to understand the challenges women faced, preferring to scapegoat them instead.

“Blaming women for entering the workforce will only prolong the imbalances in our society,” she told the BBC.

Currently women account for 20% of South Korea’s members of parliament, and 29% of all local councillors.

Seoul City Council told the BBC there was no process in place to vet what politicians published on its official website unless the content was illegal. It said individuals were solely responsible for their content and would face any consequences at the next election.

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by issues in this article, the following resources may help:

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Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard won stage 11 of the Tour de France following a sprint to the line with rival and overall leader Tadej Pogacar.

Defending champion Vingegaard, of Visma-Lease a Bike, edged out Pogacar of UAE-Team-Emirates as the pair raced for the line after several climbs on the 211km stage to Le Lioran in the Pyrenees.

Pogacar remains in the yellow jersey and is now one minute six seconds ahead of Remco Evenepoel, who was third on the stage, with Vingegaard a further eight seconds behind.

When Pogacar attacked with 32km to go he pulled away from the rest of the field but Vingegaard reeled him back in on the penultimate climb.

Vingegaard, 27, suffered a major crash in early April which left him with multiple serious injuries and he said through tears after the stage: “It is very emotional for me, coming back from the crash…

“It means a lot and all the things I went through in the last three months… I would never have been able to do this without my family.”

More to follow.

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Former champion Elena Rybakina cruised into the Wimbledon semi-finals with a clinical win over Elina Svitolina on Centre Court.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina was a level above Svitolina in a 6-3 6-2 victory that took just 62 minutes, and will play in the last four for the first time since she won the competition in 2022.

The 25-year-old will face Czech Barbora Krejcikova, who battled past Jelena Ostapenko on Court One to reach the last four at Wimbledon for the first time.

Rybakina and Svitolina traded breaks in the opening games of an initially even first set, with the Ukrainian then dropping serve to love when trailing 4-3.

Rybakina carried her momentum through to the second set, immediately breaking with a deep forehand into the corner.

She broke again at 4-2 and served out for the match to reach the last four of a Grand Slam for the first time since she reached the Australian Open final in 2023.

The result ended Svitolina’s run, with the Ukrainian unable to repeat her semi-final appearance of last year.

Svitolina, 29, said she “tried everything in her power” to advance but felt she was unable to match Rybakina’s aggressive style.

“It’s very, very difficult because I feel like I’m in a good form,” she added.

“Of course, when the opponent is striking the ball that big, everything goes in. Serve goes really quick. Lots of aces. It’s tough to do anything.”

Rybakina has hit the joint-most aces at this year’s tournament, tied on 31 with New Zealand qualifier Lulu Sun, and is the only former winner left in the women’s draw.

Krejcikova battles past Ostapenko

Krejcikova started the 2024 season as the world number 10, but she has been hampered by a back injury and illness, causing her to slip to 32nd in the rankings.

But a 6-4 7-6 (7-4) win to move past fellow Roland Garros champion Ostapenko marks an impressive return to form for the 28-year-old.

The 31st seed had not advanced past the last eight of a Grand Slam since triumphing at the French Open in 2021.

“It’s an unbelievable moment that I’m experiencing right now in my tennis career,” Krejcikova said.

“There have been many doubts from inside but also from the outside world, but I’m super happy that I never give up and that I’m standing here right now and that I qualified to be in the semi-finals.”

Apart from a double fault in her first service game, Krejcikova was clinical on her serve and a single break at 1-1 was enough for her to clinch the opening set.

But Ostapenko, a notorious slow starter, struck the first blow in the second, letting out a huge roar as Krejcikova netted and a topsy-turvy set followed.

Hitting erratic forehands, Ostapenko continued to wrestle through her service games.

After saving three break points en route to a 4-1 lead, she conceded twice to help her opponent nudge ahead.

However, Krejcikova became tense when attempting to serve out the match and a nervy double fault brought her big-hitting opponent level.

Krejcikova, cheered on by the Court One crowd, asserted control in the tie-break before raising her hands outstretched in celebration after sealing a semi-final spot on her second match point.

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As he prepares for England’s Euro 2024 semi-final with the Netherlands in Dortmund, manager Gareth Southgate faces the days that will define his legacy.

He has experienced the full range of emotions in Germany. From hostility and beer thrown at him following their draw with Slovenia in Cologne, to dancing in front of jubilant fans after the quarter-final win on penalties against Switzerland in Dusseldorf.

There is a growing belief Southgate’s eight years in charge will come to an end after Euro 2024, whether that is following Wednesday’s meeting with the Dutch or a final against Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

England’s performances have been indifferent, but a mix of steely resilience and individual brilliance has placed them in the last four with the tantalising prospect of two contrasting conclusions to the tournament, and perhaps to Southgate’s tenure.

If England lift the trophy at the Olympiastadion on Sunday, Southgate will go down in history, after 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey, as only the second manager to lead the men’s team to success at a major tournament.

If his side go out to the Dutch, Southgate will be the manager who consistently led his team into what had been alien territory for so long, namely the latter stages of major tournaments, but could not quite get them over the line for the ultimate triumph.

England victories against the Netherlands and Spain would deliver Southgate’s definitive answer to questions about his tactics and perceived conservative approach, which have shrouded his eight years despite an unprecedented record of leading them to three semi-finals and a final – the Wembley loss on penalties to Italy at Euro 2020.

The caveat to all this is England have failed to clear the final hurdle, which is why so much rests on events at Westfalenstadion on Wednesday.

Southgate has suffered at times in Germany, his voice faltering and hesitant when asked by BBC 5 Live Sport whether he was hurt by the criticism after the Slovenia encounter.

He visibly bristled when questioned about whether England had landed in the more favourable half of the draw, labelling it “a classic example of the entitlement we have as a nation that creates drama and annoys our opponents”.

He has not lost his composure publicly, but there has been an edge and angst to Southgate that has not been present at other tournaments. It is clear the criticism has wounded him.

“This is a job where you get ridiculed and your professional capability is questioned beyond belief,” he said. “I don’t think it’s normal to have beer thrown at you either, but my life’s taken me through a lot of resilience and it’s made me more determined. I’m just using it as fuel.”

England did, after all, win Group C almost in spite of themselves. The small number of people hurling beer behaved unacceptably and lacked in the respect Southgate is due.

His delight at flipping the angry reaction on its head with the win against Switzerland was made plain by his impromptu jig in front of fans who had turned on England and the manager during and after their group-game draws against Denmark and Slovenia.

Southgate also complained about the media – purely doing its job to inform and not in attendance at Euro 2024 as cheerleaders – for revealing changes in formation before the Switzerland game, referring “our own media leaking tactical information two hours after we’ve walked off the training pitch”.

This, more than anything, hints at an England camp that had not been as tight as at previous tournaments and appeared, at times, to be flat, in the early part of Euro 2024 at least.

For all that, the Three Lions are in the semi-final with a chance for Southgate and his players to write a glorious new chapter in their sporting history.

He cut a relaxed figure in his media briefing at Westfalenstadion, suggesting there was a different mood and drive around the squad as they have progressed through Euro 2024.

Southgate said: “One of our strengths over the years has been having less fear, showing less inhibition but, at the beginning of the tournament, the expectation weighed heavily and the noise from outside had never been louder. We couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place.

“Now it’s about what is possible and not what might go wrong. This is now the chance to make history. We are trying to break new ground and that is not easy but the players have been resilient.”

The manager has had praise for his work too, as former England striker Chris Sutton told BBC 5 Live Sport after they reached the last four: “Gareth Southgate has proved a hell of a lot of people wrong at this tournament. I’m delighted for him. Gareth talked about beer being thrown at him in certain games and what have you… that is not the way to treat an England manager.

“You think about his record as England manager. Out of the last four tournaments, three semi-finals and a quarter-final, with a final in there as well. You have people saying he’s not an inventive manager and he’s a poor manager, he’s done it again. Gareth South-great.”

England face an old adversary in Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman, who played in their 3-1 win over Sir Bobby Robson’s side in the 1988 European Championship in Dusseldorf, but was also an infamous figure for his part in a World Cup qualifier between the sides in October 1993.

Koeman dragged David Platt back when he was clean through with the scoreline goalless, escaped with only a yellow card, then scored a free-kick five minutes later as England – needing just a point to qualify for the 1994 finals – went down to a damaging 2-0 defeat. He had finished his international career before England’s stunning 4-1 Wembley win at Euro ’96.

In his second spell in charge, Koeman has led the Netherlands into the semi-final and looking increasingly confident and dangerous, having recovered from a 3-2 loss to Austria in the group stage. They will present a stern examination.

But England and Southgate find themselves two games from history.

And the history books would simply record England’s achievement – not how they played to write that new chapter.

It will either end with Euro 2024 glory or another bitter disappointment of Southgate and his team falling short once more. This much goes on the line in Dortmund.

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For the 23rd time, England and the Netherlands will face-off in a senior men’s international match – and there is more on the line than ever before.

This time they meet in the semi-finals of Euro 2024 – the first time these great football nations have met in a major tournament knockout tie.

Both sides have produced great moments during the tournament, but have also flattered to deceive at times. It leaves us with a fascinating match-up, with individual duels across the pitch and in the coaching dugouts likely to prove decisive.

Here, BBC Sport looks at five key battles which could decide who reaches Sunday’s final in Berlin…

Van Dijk v Kane

The battle of the captains will start with the handshake and coin toss, and persist – in all likelihood – throughout the encounter in Dortmund.

Harry Kane has not been at his best at Euro 2024, lacking pace and presence as he appears to struggle with a back injury suffered towards the end of the season with Bayern Munich.

But, as he proved with goals against Denmark and Slovakia, as well as in hitting the bar against Serbia, he is a man who needs only one chance in the box to have a major impact.

Marshalling him will be Virgil van Dijk, who has shown his mastery of the defensive dark arts at Euro 2024. No player has committed more fouls than the 12 by the Dutch skipper, but just one yellow card from five games means he remains available.

With 28 attempted clearances at the tournament so far – the fifth most of any player – Van Dijk is the man doing the Dutch dirty work, and the obstacle Kane must overcome if he is to inspire England to a second successive Euros final.

Gakpo v Walker

One of the most pleasant surprises at Euro 2024 has been seeing Cody Gakpo – a fringe player at Liverpool towards the end of the 2023-24 campaign – living up to his undoubted potential.

He is the tournament’s joint top scorer (excluding own goals) on three, and one of only two players on that mark still competing in the Euros. Spain’s Dani Olmo is alongside him, while Jamal Musiala, Ivan Schranz and Georges Mikautadze have fallen by the wayside.

Gakpo has done so by cutting in from the left and terrifying defenders. His fine drive and near-post finish against Romania in the last 16 exemplified that, as did the quarter-final winner against Turkey. Gakpo did not get the final touch, but it was his pressure that forced Mert Muldur to turn the ball into his own net.

The man likely to be tasked by Gareth Southgate to handle Gakpo will be the England manager’s most trusted defensive lieutenant – Kyle Walker.

Just five men have played every minute at Euro 2024 so far and four of them are English – Jordan Pickford, Declan Rice, John Stones and Walker.

Whether at right-back or in central defence, Walker will start against the Dutch – and he will have to deal with Gakpo.

Reijnders v Rice

As well as playing every minute in Germany, Rice has done his best to cover every blade of grass in the country.

The England midfielder has covered the greatest distance – 63.9km – of any player at Euro 2024, and grown in influence on the tournament as it has progressed.

Following the nadir of an under-par performance against Denmark, where every pass seemed to be going astray, Rice has been the reliable midfield metronome in the knockouts.

He has attempted the sixth-highest number of passes (393) of all Euro 2024 players, and the third-highest total from a midfielder – after Toni Kroos and Granit Xhaka – and has done so with an impressive 93.2% passing accuracy.

Rice also plays an essential role as the midfield destroyer, and is fourth in the individual player rankings for balls recovered (35) and tackles made (14).

The battle for the midfield at Signal Iduna Park will be fought between Rice and Tijjani Reijnders, a name perhaps unfamiliar to English audiences but who has been one of the tournament’s most eye-catching players.

The 25-year-old AC Milan midfielder has stepped into the void left by the injured Frenkie de Jong, playing nearly every minute and carrying Netherlands forward from midfield with the ball at his feet.

Comfortable in possession and with a knack for a line-breaking pass – 38 of them at Euro 2024 before the quarter-finals – Reijnders must be reined in for England to have a chance.

Ake v Saka

Whenever Switzerland defender Michel Aebischer sleeps over the next few months, he will dream of Bukayo Saka going past him.

The England forward beat Aebischer again and again in their quarter-final tie – four times in the first half alone, more than any player had beaten another in any Euro 2024 game to that point.

Saka was man of the match by some distance in Dusseldorf, not least for his terrific equaliser, scored when he cut in from the right and fired in off the far post with his left foot.

The Arsenal man has played on the right for England throughout the Euros, including in an unusual wing-back role against the Swiss.

That will leave it up to the left side of the Dutch defence to stop him. Step forward Nathan Ake, who has started all five games in Germany at left-back. Ake has quietly had a fine tournament, continuing his strong season at club level for Manchester City, and will need to be at his best to stop Saka.

The formation battle

Against Switzerland, Southgate changed the 4-2-3-1 deployed in their first four matches to match the Swiss up with a 3-4-2-1.

This included playing Saka and Kieran Trippier as inverted wing-backs, while Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden were dual number 10s.

The experiment was a qualified success. Saka was excellent and England progressed, but Foden struggled to maintain possession and frequently dropped too deep, while the Three Lions struggled to get the ball to Bellingham to allow him to fully influence the match – a recurring problem throughout Euro 2024.

The Dutch also changed their formation for their quarter-final, switching from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. It allowed Xavi Simons to play closer to central striker Memphis Depay, with Reijnders and Jerdy Schouten providing the midfield base.

Whether Southgate persists with the 3-4-2-1 and its marginal improvements in England’s flow, or again chooses to match up strong opponents, could prove decisive as to who makes the final.

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