BBC 2024-07-11 08:07:16


Nato vows ‘irreversible path’ to Ukraine membership

By Sean SeddonBBC News • Bernd Debusmann JrReporting from the Nato summit

Nato members have pledged their support for an “irreversible path” to future membership for Ukraine, as well as more aid.

While a formal timeline for it to join the military alliance was not agreed at a summit in Washington DC, the military alliance’s 32 members said they had “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s war effort.

Nato has also announced further integration with Ukraine’s military and members have committed €40bn ($43.3bn, £33.7bn) in aid in the next year, including F-16 fighter jets and air defence support.

The bloc’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Support to Ukraine is not charity – it is in our own security interest.”

The ongoing invasion of Ukraine was top of the agenda at Nato’s summit, and a declaration agreed by all members said Russia “remains the most significant and direct threat” to security.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed US-built F-16 jets are in the process of being transferred to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands.

It will be the first time Ukraine has received the advanced aircraft, something which Kyiv has long called for. Mr Blinken told the summit the jets will be in use “this summer”.

Nato members agreed to set up a new unit to coordinate military aid and training for the Ukrainian army as part of measures designed to deepen ties between the alliance and Ukraine.

The joint statement said these measures, combined with aid commitments from individual members, “constitute a bridge to Ukraine’s membership in Nato”.

It said Ukraine had made “concrete progress” on “required democratic, economic, and security reforms” in recent months – but that a formal membership invitation would only be extended when “conditions are met”.

“As Ukraine continues this vital work, we will continue to support it on its irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including Nato membership,” the statement added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was invited to the summit and had meetings with world leaders, including his first with Sir Keir Starmer since he became prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Sir Keir told Mr Zelensky there would be “no change in support” for Ukraine’s war effort despite there being a new government in London.

Mr Zelensky also met US politicians from both the Democrat and Republican parties, a move designed to shore up cross-party support for Ukraine after a stand-off in Congress earlier this year saw a large military aid package delayed for several months.

Nato leaders had hoped this week’s summit would provide an opportunity to present a united front on Ukraine after modest Russian gains on the battlefield in recent months.

However, there may be some disappointment in Kyiv that there was no clear public indication on how long it would be until Ukraine is offered full membership.

The summit – which marked the 75-year anniversary of the alliance’s foundation – came months before a US presidential election which could see Donald Trump, a Nato critic, return to the White House.

Responding to a question from the BBC, Mr Stoltenberg refused to be drawn on whether the US’s domestic politics could impact the alliance.

He said: “Nato is the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to stay out of domestic political debates.

“It’s important for me to continue to do what I can to ensure that that continues to be the case.”

US President Joe Biden used the summit to reaffirm his support for Ukraine and call for more defence investment from other members which have lagged behind on spending.

He said Russia is on a “wartime footing” in terms of defence production with support from Russia, North Korea and Iran – and leaders “cannot allow the alliance to fall behind”.

“We can and will defend every inch of Nato territory”, the president added.

Top Democratic fundraiser Clooney calls on Biden to drop out

By Brandon Drenon and Bernd Debusmann, at the Nato summitBBC News, Washington

George Clooney has issued a damning call for Joe Biden to quit the US presidential race, hours after senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi swerved questions about whether he should continue.

The Hollywood actor and prominent Democratic fundraiser said that the president had won many battles in his career, “but the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time”.

His comments came after Mrs Pelosi, the former House Speaker, joined growing disquiet in the party, saying that time was “running short” for Mr Biden, 81, to decide whether to stay in the race after his stumbling debate against Donald Trump.

The president has stated, repeatedly, that he is determined to remain as the Democratic party’s candidate and beat Trump, 78, in November.

Clooney wrote in the New York Times that it was “devastating to say it”, but the Joe Biden he met at a fundraising event three weeks ago was not the Biden of 2010. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020,” added the actor.

“He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate,” Clooney said.

The fundraising event, co-hosted by Clooney in Los Angeles and also featuring Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand, brought in a single-night record of roughly $30m (£23m) for the Biden campaign.

The Biden camp has hit back at the Hollywood star, with an unnamed source telling US media: “The President stayed for over 3 hours [at the fundraiser], while Clooney took a photo quickly and left.”

The president’s campaign also pointed out that when he attended the fundraiser he had just arrived in Los Angeles from Italy, where he had been at the G7 summit.

In his op-ed, Clooney said: “Our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw.”

“This is about age. Nothing more,” he continued. “We are not going to win in November with this president.”

Clooney added that his concerns matched those of “every” member of Congress with whom he had spoken.

Asked to respond, Mr Biden’s campaign referred to a letter the president sent Democrats in Congress that said he was “firmly committed” to his candidacy and beating Trump.

Yet public dissent continues to grow within Mr Biden’s party as he faces scrutiny while hosting the Nato summit in Washington.

Mrs Pelosi, a highly influential voice among Capitol Hill Democrats, on Wednesday appeared to disregard Mr Biden’s insistence that he was determined to forge on.

When asked if he should stay in the election race, she told MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “I want him to do whatever he decides to do.

“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.”

Acknowledging the demands on the president during the Nato summit, Mrs Pelosi told MSNBC: “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.”

Around a dozen elected Democrats have suggested he abandon his campaign since his 27 June debate with Trump.

On Tuesday night, Michael Bennet of Colorado became the first Democratic senator to publicly dissent.

Although he did not call for Mr Biden to quit outright, he said Trump would win the election, possibly by a “landslide”.

On Wednesday afternoon, Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Senate Democrat to openly call on Mr Biden to withdraw, “for the good of the country”, as he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about Mr Biden’s ability to win the election.

Pat Ryan, a congressman from New York, earlier in the day told the New York Times: “For the good of our country, for my two young kids, I’m asking Joe Biden to step aside.”

The Biden campaign repeated the president’s statement that he was “running this race to the end”.

Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries plans to speak to Mr Biden by Friday to discuss the concerns brought by several congressional party members.

Overall support from elected Democrats remains robust, however.

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who was named by Clooney as a potential replacement, said he was still “all in” with Mr Biden.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of roughly 60 politicians, and progressive House members like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, have publicly backed Mr Biden.

On Tuesday, Chuck Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, said: “I’m with Joe.” Axios, however, reports that Mr Schumer has been privately telling donors he is open to dumping Mr Biden.

Two unnamed senior Democrats, speaking to CBS News, the BBC’s US partner, said there had been a “convergence” of opinion over the last 24 hours between elected Democrats, donors and groups that support the president’s party.

One of the sources said all of the interests have reached “a near consensus” about what Mr Biden should do.

Questions about the Democrat’s campaign were also swirling at the Nato summit in Washington DC.

Nancy Pelosi says it’s the president’s decision to continue
Biden ignores questions from reporters during meeting with Starmer

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident the US would remain a committed member of the alliance – no matter who sits in the White House next year, Mr Biden or Nato-sceptic Mr Trump.

At a news conference, the BBC asked Mr Stoltenberg if all 32 members of the alliance shared his optimism, despite the concerns over Mr Biden’s candidacy.

“I’m not saying we can always disregard concerns,” said Mr Stoltenberg. “But the more dangerous the world is, the more obvious it is we need Nato.”

He added: “It is in the interest of all of us to stand together. That also applies for the United States.”

Mr Biden will deliver a rare solo news conference on Thursday, and on Monday will record an interview with NBC News, to be broadcast later in the evening.

In the swing state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Democratic voters who spoke to the BBC had mixed feelings about Mr Biden.

Karren Gillchrist, in Harrisburg, said she remained firmly behind Mr Biden because “he knows exactly what he’s talking about”.

But in Elizabethtown, Melissa Nash, working on her laptop in a cafe, said: “I’m torn because I’m not a fan of Trump, but at the same time you need somebody strong to lead the country.”

Biden’s bruising day sinks hopes Democrats will move on

By Anthony Zurcher@awzurcherNorth America correspondent

The most devastating argument against Joe Biden’s re-election bid may have come not from a politician or a pundit, but from a film star.

But George Clooney, with his stinging New York Times opinion piece, isn’t the only one speaking out. A growing chorus from Democrats is sinking the president’s hopes of steadying his campaign this week – and perhaps ever.

Just when it appeared he had turned a corner, with the influential Congressional Black Caucus and key liberal members of Congress voicing their support for him, the ground has shifted once again – and all in the midst of a high-profile Nato summit with US allies here in Washington.

Now the stakes for Mr Biden’s press conference at the end of the Nato summit tomorrow afternoon are even higher. It will be the biggest unscripted test for him since his botched debate two weeks prior which triggered this crisis.

Mr Biden also has a sit-down interview scheduled with NBC News presenter Lester Holt on Monday. A fumble or misstep in the days ahead could buttress all the most damaging assertions Mr Clooney, a top Democratic fundraiser, makes in his New York Times piece.

The actor writes that the president’s decline is not an illusion; it’s real. He points to a Los Angeles fundraiser he threw for the president last month. “The Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe… of 2010,” he writes. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

The president is not up to the task of beating Donald Trump in November, Clooney continues. He calls the Biden campaign’s claim that he is the choice of Democratic primary voters “disingenuous, at best”. And, perhaps most devastating, he says every prominent Democrat he has spoken with knows all this – whether they’re willing to publicly admit it or not.

“We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November”, he writes, “or we can speak the truth.”

The Biden campaign is pushing back against the Clooney piece, noting that the president had flown across nine time zones, from the G7 summit in Italy, to attend the star’s fundraiser.

Campaign officials also note that the president has had serious disagreements recently with the star and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, about his administration’s Gaza policy. The opinion piece, published three weeks after that Los Angeles fundraiser, could be viewed like a strike timed for maximum effect.

But Clooney isn’t just any movie star. He’s a powerful fundraiser for Democrats and has been for years. Given that California, and the Hollywood industry in particular, is a key part of the party’s money base, Clooney’s comments present a very real threat to Mr Biden.

It also comes on the heels of expressions of dissatisfaction from other big-money Democratic donors, such as Netflix chair Reed Hastings and IAC chair Barry Diller.

The actor is also plugged in to party politics, with close ties to former President Barack Obama. It is difficult to imagine that he would have taken to the pages of the New York Times in such a dramatic way, with a double-barrel blast against the sitting president, without at least some tacit sign-off from prominent Democrats.

And, increasingly, prominent Democrats are saying things that should give Mr Biden pause.

On Wednesday morning, hours before Clooney’s opinion piece was published, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – who still holds considerable influence within the party – stopped notably short of endorsing his bid for re-election.

She said the president’s critics should hold their tongues until after this week’s Nato summit. “Whatever you’re thinking,” she said, “you didn’t have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week.”

She added that Mr Biden should make a decision quickly about whether to continue his campaign. When prodded that the president had already clearly said he would stay in the race, she dodged. “I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Mrs Pelosi said.

And later in the day, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine – Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate in 2016 – offered similar lines, about how the president “will do the patriotic thing for the country” and “make that decision”.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, put it even more bluntly: “I’m fully behind him as our nominee until he’s not our nominee.”

It’s as if Mr Biden’s tepid supporters simply won’t take “yes, I’m still running” as an answer.

Meanwhile, even some of Mr Biden’s staunchest supporters have started to engage in “what if” scenarios. California Governor Gavin Newsom said he still backs the president, and would not run against Vice-President Kamala Harris as the nominee if Mr Biden stepped aside.

Senate Democrats are meeting Biden campaign officials on Thursday to discuss the future of the campaign. And House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries said he would speak to the president directly about Democratic concerns by Friday.

Wheels are turning, but it’s unclear whether they are grinding toward a resolution or spinning in place.

If Mr Biden were to bow out, it’s still unclear what happens next. Some have suggested that Ms Harris, as the president’s running mate, is next in line.

The solution, according to Clooney, is for Democrats to regroup and pick a new nominee, although he is vague about how the process could unfold. And his suggestion that, because of the shortened campaign season, whoever the party chooses would be able to avoid opposition research and negative campaigning – either from fellow Democrats or Republicans – seems naive in the extreme.

While the mood in Washington has taken a new turn against the president in the past 24 hours, the mathematics of his situation has not changed.

Mr Biden still controls the lion’s share of national convention delegates who ultimately decide the party’s presidential ticket. And while those delegates aren’t explicitly bound to support him, he could replace any who show insufficient loyalty.

The opinion polls, while indicating he is trailing Trump, have not changed dramatically since his ill-fated debate. And few show any of the most obvious alternatives to him – the vice-president and prominent Democratic governors – doing substantially better.

Even Mr Biden’s critics, with their appeals to his patriotism, sense of duty and concern for American democracy given the potential for a second Trump presidency, implicitly acknowledge that the decision ultimately lies with him.

What Wednesday demonstrated, though, is that if he presses ahead, he may never be able to fully put the concerns about his age behind him. His debate performance may end up being a self-inflicted wound that never heals.

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 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 districts where the military believes Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters have regrouped since the start of the year.

Hamas has said Israel’s renewed activity in the city is threatening 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.

Top Hamas official Hossam Badran told AFP that Israel “is trying to pressure negotiations by intensifying bombing operations, displacement, and committing massacres”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasised Israel’s commitment to a deal as long as Israel’s “red lines are preserved”.

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 [City]. I will not make the stupid mistake that others have made. Israeli missiles do not differentiate between north and south,” 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. Its figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it had reportedly identified 14,680 children, women and elderly people among the dead by the end of April.

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Japan wants to relax bear hunting laws as attacks rise

By Annabelle Liang & Chika NakayamaBBC News, in Singapore and Tokyo

Facing an alarming rise in bear attacks, Japan wants to make it easier to shoot the animals in residential areas – but hunters say it is too risky.

In the year to April, there were a record 219 bear attacks in the country – six of them fatal, according to official data.

Deadly attacks have continued to occur in recent months, as bears increasingly venture into populated areas. Some are now even thought to see humans as prey.

Bear numbers have revived as Japan’s human population ages and shrinks, especially outside cities. The consequences have been dangerous, although usually resulting in injury not death.

Under the current law, licensed hunters can fire their guns only after the approval of a police officer.

The government plans to revise the law at its next parliamentary session so the weapons can be used more freely. For instance, hunters will be allowed to shoot if there is a risk of human injury, such as when a bear enters a building.

But hunters are wary. “It is scary and quite dangerous to encounter a bear. It is never guaranteed that we can kill a bear by shooting,” said Satoshi Saito, executive director of the Hokkaido Hunters’ Association.

“If we miss the vital point to stop the bear from moving… it will run away and may attack other people,” he added. “If it then attacks a person, who will be responsible for that?”

Hokkaido has come to exemplify Japan’s growing bear problem.

The country’s northernmost major island is sparsely populated – but its bear population has more than doubled since 1990, according to government data. It now has around 12,000 brown bears, which are known to be more aggressive than black bears, of which there are around 10,000 in Japan by experts’ estimates.

Local governments have tried different strategies to keep bears away.

Some have turned to odd guardians – robot wolves, complete with red eyes and spooky howls, while elsewhere in the country they are testing an artificial intelligence warning system.

The town of Naie in Hokkaido has been trying to hire hunters for 10,300 yen ($64; £50) a day to patrol the streets, lay traps and kill the animals if necessary.

But there are few takers – it’s a high-risk job, the pay is not attractive enough and many of the hunters are elderly.

“It is not worth the trouble because confronting a bear will put our lives on the line,” a 72-year-old hunter from the area told The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, likening an encounter with a brown bear to “fighting a US military commando”.

In May, two police officers in northern Akita prefecture were seriously injured by a bear while trying to retrieve a body from the woods after a suspected fatal bear attack.

“The bears know humans are present and attack people for their food, or recognise people themselves as food,” local government official Mami Kondo said.

“There is a high risk that the same bear will cause a series of incidents.”

As bear numbers have grown, more of them have moved from the mountains into flatlands closer to human populations. Over time, they have become used to the sights and sounds of humans, and less afraid of them.

There are also fewer humans around as young people move to big cities, leaving whole towns nearly empty. When bears do encounter humans, it can turn violent.

“Bears that enter urban areas tend to panic, increasing the risk of injury or death to people,” said Junpei Tanaka from the Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan.

Bear sightings and incidents usually happen around April when they awake from hibernation in search of food, and then again in September and October when they eat to store fat for the winter months.

But their movements have become more unpredictable as yields of acorn – the biggest food source for bears – fall because of climate change.

“This amendment to the law is unavoidable, but it is only a stopgap measure in an emergency,” Mr Tanaka said.

Capturing and killing the animals is not the way forward, he adds. Rather, the government needs to protect the bears’ habitat so they are not compelled to venture too far.

“In the long-term, it is necessary to implement national policy to change the forest environment, to create forests with high biodiversity.”

He added that the government also needs to clarify who should take responsibility for bears that wander into residential zones – local officials or hunters.

“Ideally, there should be fully trained shooters like government hunters who respond to emergencies, but at present there are no such jobs in Japan.”

Residential areas are a vastly different terrain for hunters, who are used to killing bears in unpopulated regions, Mr Saito said.

“If we don’t shoot, people will criticise us and say ‘Why didn’t you shoot when you have a shotgun?’ And if we shoot, I am sure people will be angry and say it might hit someone.

“I think it is unreasonable to ask hunters who are probably just ordinary salarymen to make such a decision.”

The big fat Indian wedding turning heads around the world

By Zoya Mateen and Meryl SebastianBBC News, in Delhi and Kochi

How much is too much?

That’s the question many in India are asking as the months-long wedding festivities for the youngest son of Asia’s richest man enter their final phase.

The celebrations are expected to culminate this weekend when Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, ties the knot with Radhika Merchant, daughter of pharma tycoons Viren and Shaila Merchant.

There have been four months of lavish events leading up to the wedding itself. All the glamourous outfits, stunning jewellery, fairytale-like decor and rare performances by Indian and global stars have been the focus of much public attention.

“It is nothing short of a royal wedding,” says writer and columnist Shobhaa De. “Our billionaires are the new Indian maharajahs. Their shareholders expect nothing less than a mega extravaganza.”

Indians “have always loved pomp and pageantry – just like the British”, she says, adding that “the scale [of the wedding] is in keeping with the Ambani wealth”.

But the hullabaloo around the wedding has drawn as much ire as public fascination. Many have criticised the opulence and the sheer magnitude of wealth on display in a country where tens of millions live below the poverty line and where income inequality is extreme.

[The wedding] can easily be seen as a kind of a mockery, a sort of blindness to the reality of the country at one level. At another level, however ridiculous this might be, it is still in keeping with the grossly distorted, almost grotesque bloating of Indian weddings in the last decade or so,” writer and commentator Santosh Desai tells the BBC.

“It is part of a larger shift that is taking place. A generation or two ago, wealth was spoken of in whispers. Today, wealth must speak as loudly as possible. Even then, the scale of this wedding makes it an outlier.”

With a sprawling business empire – ranging from oil, telecoms, chemicals, technology and fashion to food – the Ambanis are a ubiquitous presence in India and their lives are the subject of intense public fascination.

Mr Ambani’s personal fortune is estimated at a staggering $115bn (£90bn). Anant, 29, holds a position on the Reliance Industries board of directors.

Ambani senior, along with fellow Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani, is reported to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with opposition parties accusing the authorities of unduly favouring the two business houses – accusations both the government and the businessmen deny.

While the Ambani family’s enormous wealth and clout are well known in India, many outside the country may not have realised the extent of their riches until now.

That changed in March, when Mr Ambani hosted a three-day pre-wedding party for his son.

The festivities were held in the family’s hometown Jamnagar in the western state of Gujarat, which is also the location of Mr Ambani’s oil refinery – the largest in the world. Some 1,200 guests attended, including Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

The party began with a dinner held inside a glasshouse especially built for the occasion. The stunning structure reportedly resembles Palm House, a crystalline Victorian-style building located in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was a favourite of Ms Merchant when she was a college student in New York City.

The feast was followed by a performance by Rihanna and viral videos showed the Ambani family grooving with the popstar on stage. If people hadn’t been paying attention, they definitely were now.

Through it all, dozens of speciality chefs served some 2,000 dishes, carefully curated from around the world, to guests lodged in luxury tents, with personal makeup artists and stylists at their service.

There was also a 10-page manual on the dress code for the events, which included a “jungle fever” theme for a visit to a family-owned animal sanctuary, followed by a Moulin Rouge-themed “house party” held at the sprawling grounds of their palatial residence.

The bride-to-be wore a number of specially crafted outfits, including two lehngas (long bridal silk skirts) – one studded with 20,000 Swarovski crystals and another that reportedly took 5,700 hours to make – and a pink version of a Versace dress that actor Blake Lively wore to the 2022 Met Gala.

The groom mostly wore Dolce & Gabanna outfits and flaunted a Richard Mille wristwatch, worth an estimated $1.5m. A viral video of Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan gawking at the watch went viral in India.

Newspapers and websites perfectly captured the opulence of these dazzling events, attended by the glitterati from around the world. “It was almost like the time of maharajahs 100 years down the line,” the New York Times reported.

There was also backlash after India’s government overnight designated the city’s small airport into an international airport, expanded its staff and deployed military and air force personnel in service of the family.

The final night of the three-day jamboree, which ended with a shower of confetti, fireworks and a lightshow, set the tone for what was to come next.

In June, the couple and their guests took their pre-wedding celebrations overseas, literally. The party, which included top Bollywood stars, embarked on a luxury cruise along the stunning azure coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, to the French Mediterranean.

They stopped in Rome, Portofino, Genoa and Cannes for late-night revelry that reportedly brought complaints from local people.

This time, the celebrations had performances by 90s teen heartthrobs The Backstreet Boys, singer Katy Perry and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

This week, yet set of wedding celebrations kicked off on the family’s home turf, Mumbai, with a performance by Justin Bieber.

A video of him singing at the edge of the stage as the bride and her friends sing along has been viewed 38 million times. It shows ecstatic women in sequined gowns and saris as they punch their fists skyward in glee. The crowd doesn’t miss a beat to Bieber’s verse: You should go and love yourself.

The scale of the celebrations show that nothing is out of reach for the family. And there is speculation that Adele could be performing at the actual wedding this weekend – the family, however, are tight-lipped.

Of course, India isn’t a stranger to the concept of big fat weddings – the country is the largest spender on marriage ceremonies after the US.

Tina Tharwani, co-founder of the Shaadi Squad, says in recent years, there’s been a noticeable trend where weddings have become larger-than-life events that veer towards excessiveness, driven by societal expectations, competitive displays of status, and a desire to create memorable moments.

So, we’ve seen expensive weddings routinely make headlines in recent years, such as this $74m wedding in 2016.

Other Ambani children have also had lavish pre-wedding festivities. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among attendees at Isha Ambani’s pre-wedding bash in 2018, which featured a performance by Beyoncé. A year later, Akash Ambani’s pre-wedding bash featured a performance by Coldplay.

When it comes to scale, though, this is the mother of all weddings, says Ashwini Arya, owner of an event management company that’s organised weddings in dozens of countries.

“It’s like the bible for the industry with the best of logistics, tech, design and grandeur.

“You’re talking about preparations of a minimum of two years, multiple recce trips, approvals and permissions from several countries, along with the logistics of arranging security and transport for some of the biggest personalities of the world,” he says.

The Ambanis have not revealed how much this wedding is costing them but Mr Arya estimates that they “have already spent anywhere between 11bn and 13bn rupees [$132m-$156m]”. It was rumoured Rihanna had been paid $7m (£5.5m) for her performance, while the figure suggested for Bieber is $10m.

Money was also lavished on constructing 14 temples inside a sprawling complex in Jamnagar to showcase India’s cultural heritage and provide a backdrop for the wedding. As part of the celebrations, the Ambanis hosted a mass wedding for 50 underprivileged couples too.

It’s being said the family pulled out all the stops because with all the Ambani children married, this would be their last wedding for the foreseeable future.

But with each event, public criticism of the celebration in India has grown – from people aghast at the massive jewels worn by Nita Ambani to exasperation and anger among Mumbai residents over traffic restrictions in a city already struggling with traffic jams and monsoon flooding.

For India’s wedding industry though, it’s still an exciting marketing opportunity.

This is an excellent chance for designers to showcase the more refined side of India’s couture, artistry and craftsmanship, says Anand Bhushan, a fashion designer. That said, the frequency, with celebrities changing five-six outfits per event can sometimes feel a “little saturating”, he admits.

Ms Tharwani says the wedding serves as “an exemplary case” of orchestrating a multi-event, multi-location celebration “that combines tradition, modernity, and unmatched hospitality standards”.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Varindar Chawla, one of Bollywood’s best-known paparazzi, is sifting through the photographs of the celebrations.

There are a few of celebrities posing at the entrance as they arrive to attend the various events.

Each one of these pictures – even the unflattering ones, such as of a star looking stunned as the glare of a camera-flash hits them in the face – has been fetching millions of views and shares.

“Usually it’s hard to penetrate events of this scale. But this family has gone out of the way to ensure we are there to cover every little detail,” he says.

“It’s a royal wedding and we are getting a royal treatment.”

Will K-pop’s AI experiment pay off?

By Megan LawtonBusiness reporter

There’s an issue dividing K-pop fans right now – artificial intelligence.

Several of the genre’s biggest stars have now used the technology to create music videos and write lyrics, including boy band Seventeen.

Last year the South Korean group sold around 16 million albums, making them one of the most successful K-pop acts in history. But it’s their most recent album and single, Maestro, that’s got people talking.

The music video features an AI-generated scene, and the record might well include AI-generated lyrics too. At the launch of the album in Seoul, one of the band members, Woozi, told reporters he was “experimenting” with AI when songwriting.

“We practised making songs with AI, as we want to develop along with technology rather than complain about it,” he said.

“This is a technological development that we have to leverage, not just be dissatisfied with. I practised using AI and tried to look for the pros and cons.”

On K-pop discussion pages, fans were torn, with some saying more regulations need to be in place before the technology becomes normalised.

Others were more open to it, including super fan Ashley Peralta. “If AI can help an artist overcome creative blocks, then that’s OK with me,” says the 26-year-old.

Her worry though, is that a whole album of AI generated lyrics means fans will lose touch with their favourite musicians.

“I love it when music is a reflection of an artist and their emotions,” she says. “K-pop artists are much more respected when they’re hands on with choreographing, lyric writing and composing, because you get a piece of their thoughts and feelings.

“AI can take away that crucial component that connects fans to the artists.”

Ashley presents Spill the Soju, a K-pop fan podcast, with her best friend Chelsea Toledo. Chelsea admires Seventeen for being a self-producing group, which means they write their own songs and choreograph them too, but she’s worried about AI having an impact on that reputation.

“If they were to put out an album that’s full of lyrics they hadn’t personally written, I don’t know if it would feel like Seventeen any more and fans want music that is authentically them”.

For those working in K-Pop production, it’s no surprise that artists are embracing new technologies.

Chris Nairn is a producer, composer and songwriter working under the name Azodi. Over the past 12 years he’s written songs for K-pop artists including Kim Woojin and leading agency SM Entertainment.

Working with K-pop stars means Chris, who lives in Brighton, has spent a lot of time in South Korea, whose music industry he describes as progressive.

“What I’ve learned by hanging out in Seoul is that Koreans are big on innovation, and they’re very big on ‘what’s the next thing?’, and asking, ‘how can we be one step ahead?’ It really hit me when I was there,” he says.

“So, to me, it’s no surprise that they’re implementing AI in lyric writing, it’s about keeping up with technology.”

Is AI the future of K-pop? Chris isn’t so sure. As someone who experiments with AI lyric generators, he doesn’t feel the lyrics are strong enough for top artists.

“AI is putting out fairly good quality stuff, but when you’re at the top tier of the songwriting game, generally, people who do best have innovated and created something brand new. AI works by taking what’s already been uploaded and therefore can’t innovate by itself.”

If anything, Chris predicts AI in K-pop will increase the demand for more personal songs.

“There’s going to be pressure from fans to hear lyrics that are from the artist’s heart, and therefore sound different to any songs made using AI”.

Seventeen aren’t the only K-pop band experimenting with AI. Girl group Aespa, who have several AI members as well as human ones, also used the technology in their latest music video. Supernova features generated scenes where the faces of band members remain still as only their mouths move.

Podcaster and super-fan Chelsea says it “triggered” a lot of people.

“K-pop is known for amazing production and editing, so having whole scenes made of AI takes away the charm,” she adds.

Chelsea also worries about artists not getting the right credit. “With AI in videos it’s harder to know if someone’s original artwork has been stolen, it’s a really touchy subject”.

Arpita Adhya is a music journalist and self-titled K-pop superfan. She believes the use of AI in the industry is demonstrative of the pressure artists are under to create new content.

“Most recording artists will put out an album every two years, but K-pop groups are pushing out albums every six to eight months, because there’s so much hype around them.”

She also believes AI has been normalised in the industry, with the introduction of AI covers which have exploded on YouTube. The cover tracks are created by fans and use technology to mimic another artist’s voice.

It’s this kind of trend that Arpita would like to see regulated, something western artists are calling for too.

Just last month megastars including Billie Eilish and Nicki Minaj wrote an open letter calling for the “predatory” use of AI in the music industry to be stopped.

They called on tech firms to pledge not to develop AI music-generation tools “that undermine or replace the human artistry of songwriters and artists, or deny us fair compensation for our work”.

For Arpita, a lack of regulations means fans feel an obligation to regulate what is and isn’t OK.

“Whilst there are no clear guidelines on how much artists can and can’t use AI, we have the struggle of making boundaries ourselves, and always asking ‘what is right and wrong?’”

Thankfully she feels K-pop artists are aware of public opinion and hopes there will be change.

“The fans are the biggest part and they have a lot of influence over artists. Groups are always keen to learn and listen, and if Seventeen and Aespa realise they are hurting their fans, they will hopefully address that.”

Read more about AI

Triple killing suspect captured near cemetery

By Adam AikenBBC News, Hertfordshire

A suspect wanted over a crossbow attack which left three women dead has been captured.

A major police manhunt for Kyle Clifford, 26, ended when he was found injured near a cemetery in North London.

The victims, who were the wife and two daughters of BBC racing commentator John Hunt, were attacked at their home in Bushey, Hertfordshire.

A woman who knows the family described them as “kind, friendly and gentle” people who “always made time for others”.

Police said the suspect, who left the army two years ago after a short stint, was receiving medical treatment for his injuries, but that “no shots were fired” by officers.

Carol Hunt, 61, Hannah Hunt, 28, and Louise Hunt, 25, were found seriously injured at a house in Ashlyn Close, Bushey, just before 19:00 BST on Tuesday, and all died at the scene.

Luisa, 36, said she had been a client of Louise’s dog grooming business, Groom and Glow, for three years.

She added: “I hope they are remembered as wonderful, hardworking, kind women, rather than victims.”

BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Mark Chapman sent his “love and thoughts” to fellow commentator and friend Mr Hunt after a “heartbreaking day”.

Speaking through tears at the start of the Euro 2024 pre-match show on 5 Live, Mr Chapman said: “This has been a heartbreaking day.

“John Hunt is our colleague and our friend, not just to the current 5 Live sport team but to all of those who have worked here with him over the past 20 years and also to all of you who have enjoyed his superb commentaries.”

A friend of Louise Hunt said he was “in denial” about her murder and felt “angry, sad and in shock”.

He told BBC News: “I couldn’t believe what had happened at first.

“I’d heard the news from my sister early in the morning before I’d figured out who the victims were and, once I found out, it’s been a massive shock. [I’ve] been in denial.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what the father’s going through.”

Referring to England’s victory at Euro 2024, former footballer Michael Owen posted on X: “And while the country celebrate, spare a thought for John Hunt. I can’t remember feeling so utterly horrified in years. Those poor girls. Truly horrific.”

Det Insp Justine Jenkins, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “This continues to be an incredibly difficult time for the victims’ family and we would ask that their privacy is respected as they come to terms with what has happened.

“This investigation is moving at pace and formal identification of the victims is yet to take place.”

Prior to the capture armed police had arrived in numbers at a cemetery close to where a house was searched in Enfield.

Officers closed off the the Lavender Hill Cemetery and an air ambulance was seen nearby.

Earlier, local councillor Louise Nicolas wrote, in a post on Facebook, that she was “deeply saddened to learn this morning of the tragic news that three women have lost their lives in a violent incident”.

“Should anyone wish to speak with us or require any support please do not hesitate to get in touch,” said Ms Nicolas, a Liberal Democrat who represents the North Bushey ward on Hertsmere Borough Council.

“It goes without saying that this is a live investigation, so speculation as to the circumstances should not be entered into [on public forums].”

Bushey murder inquiry: Police close off street after three women killed
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Baldwin ‘played make-believe’ with gun, Rust trial hears

By Christal Hayes, Samantha Granville and Emma VardyBBC News
Rust trial jury hears opening statements

Alec Baldwin’s trial opened in New Mexico on Wednesday with the prosecution and defence painting starkly different pictures of the events leading up to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Mr Baldwin, known for roles on the sitcom 30 Rock and portraying Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, is facing up to 18 months in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Ms Hutchins, 42, died after a gun Mr Baldwin was rehearsing with went off. It was found that the film’s armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, accidentally mixed up dummy bullets with live ammunition she had brought from home.

Mr Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and maintains he never pulled the trigger when the gun went off.

In their opening statements, the defence portrayed Mr Baldwin as an actor simply doing his job, who placed his trust in a crew charged with ensuring weapon safety.

Prosecutors argued he was a man with a flagrant disregard for gun safety on a film set with a small budget and an inexperienced cast.

Prosecutor Erlinda Johnson opened the trial by telling the jury that the case was “simple” and “straightforward”.

Mr Baldwin “played make-believe with a real gun” and “violated the cardinal rules of firearms safety”, Ms Johnson argued.

“While it was a movie set, it was a real, live workplace for many people,” she said in her opening statements. “You will hear that this workplace was on a tight budget… and some of the people who were hired were inexperienced.”

Mr Baldwin’s defence team, however, argued firearms are treated differently on a film set, where each member of a cast has a designated role and obligation, including when it comes to safety and firearms.

“He was just acting as he’s done for generations, and it was the safety apparatus that failed them all,” Baldwin’s lawyer Alex Spiro said.

“Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” he said firmly, later adding: “It was an actor handling a prop.”

Those crew members responsible for safety – including Gutierrez-Reed and David Halls, an assistant director and safety co-ordinator – failed their jobs, he argued.

“Real bullets are never supposed to be on movie sets,” Mr Spiro said.

Both Halls and Gutierrez-Reed faced charges in the fatal shooting.

Halls has pleaded guilty to unsafe handling of a firearm and Gutierrez-Reed was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

A key issue during the trial is Mr Baldwin’s claim that he did not pull the trigger when the revolver he was holding went off.

Prosecutors took aim at the claim early, detailing the extensive FBI tests done on the weapon.

It “worked perfectly fine as it was designed,” Ms Johnson told the jury.

Mr Baldwin’s team also brought up the tests and noted that during one of them, the FBI destroyed parts of the weapon – thus preventing it from being used for further analysis as part of their defence.

The rest of the trial will feature several witnesses and video and audio from the Rust set, including from the day Ms Hutchins was killed.

The first witness called on Wednesday was Officer Nicholas LeFleur, who responded to the scene and tried to aid Hutchins after she was shot.

Footage from his body camera was shown in court.

The room, which can hold about 100 people, was filled with heavy sighs as they watched some of Ms Hutchins’ last moments.

Mr Baldwin was visibly uncomfortable, leaning back and forth and at some times grimacing and covering his face.

The trial is set to continue until 19 July. Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison.

More on the Rust shooting

Musk defeats ex-Twitter staff seeking $500m in severance

By Natalie ShermanBBC News

A US judge has dismissed a case brought by former Twitter staff, who had accused billionaire Elon Musk of unlawfully denying roughly $500m in severance payments owed to workers fired after his takeover of the company.

Judge Trina Thompson said the employees had not proven that their claims were protected by federal law.

The ruling is a win for Mr Musk, who purchased Twitter in 2022 and immediately set about making changes, including sacking thousands of staff.

The moves sparked multiple lawsuits from former staff and vendors, accusing the company of withholding payments that had been promised.

This complaint was filed in 2023 in a federal court in San Francisco by Courtney McMillian, the former “head of total rewards” at the social media site, which Mr Musk renamed X.

In the complaint, she said the firm had provided staff only one month’s worth of pay as severance instead of the far more generous benefits, including at least two months of salary and contributions toward health insurance, that had been promised.

Mr Musk’s team had urged the judge to reject the complaint, saying that America’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act did not apply as claimed.

The act sets standards for private health and pension plans.

“We are disappointed in the ruling and considering our options for moving forward,” a spokesperson for Ms McMillian’s team said.

Other cases, including one brought by former leaders of the company, are still working their way through the courts.

In her ruling, Judge Thompson gestured to those disputes, noting that workers might have opportunities elsewhere to prove their claims.

“The Court lacks jurisdiction. However, plaintiffs are not without recourse. Indeed, there are other cases brought against Twitter for the failure to pay wages or provide employee severance benefits during the same or overlapping period,” she wrote.

UAE police withdraw woman’s attempted suicide charge

Police in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have withdrawn the charges against Irish woman Tori Towey and have closed the case, it has been confirmed.

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.

The Dubai Public Prosecution has confirmed to the BBC that it has dropped the case.

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.”

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
  • The Dubai Public Prosecution confirms the case against Ms Towey has been dropped

‘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.

More than 40 activists jailed for life in UAE for ‘terror’ offences

By Thomas MackintoshBBC News, London

A court in the United Arab Emirates has handed life sentences to 43 activists after finding them guilty of terror offences.

State media said the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal convicted the defendants of “creating a terrorist organisation”.

United Nations experts and human rights groups have severely criticised the mass trial.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said more than 80 human rights defenders and political dissidents – known as the “UAE 84” – were put on trial.

Last January, the UAE’s prosecutor general referred the defendants to the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal on charges of “establishing another clandestine organisation for the purpose of committing acts of violence and terrorism on UAE soil” known as the “Justice and Dignity Committee”.

He said most of the defendants were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UAE since 2014. Its local affiliate, the al-Islah party, is also banned.

According to the official WAM news agency, on Wednesday the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal “sentenced 43 defendants to life imprisonment for the crime of creating, establishing, and managing a terrorist organisation”.

In addition to the 43 life sentences handed out, 10 other defendants were jailed for 10 to 15 years in prison on the charges of “co-operating with al-Islah” and money laundering, WAM said.

One defendant was acquitted and 24 cases were ruled inadmissible, it added.

The bulk of the defendants have been in prison for more than a decade after they were jailed as part of the “UAE 94” trial in 2013, according to HRW and Amnesty International.

Many had already completed their sentences.

But UAE authorities said the latest charges were “materially distinct” from those brought in 2013, which did not include accusations of financing a “terrorist organisation”, AFP news agency reported.

According to Amnesty International, the indictment, charges, defence lawyers and names of defendants were “kept secret by the government”.

It said details were only known through “leaks”.

HRW identified three of those sentenced to life in prison were Nasser bin Ghaith, Abdulsalam Darwish al-Marzouqi and Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi. Prominent activist Ahmed Mansoor was among the defendants, it added.

Reacting to the sentencings, Amnesty International’s Devin Kenney urged the UAE to “urgently revoke this unlawful verdict” and called on those sentenced to be released.

“The trial has been a shameless parody of justice and violated multiple fundamental principles of law, including the principle that you cannot try the same person twice for the same crime, and the principle that you cannot punish people retroactively under laws that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged offence.”

Khalid Ibrahim of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, on whose board Ahmed Mansoor sits, said: “It is a real tragedy that so many activists and human rights defenders will remain in prison for decades, deprived of watching their children grow up, for no other reason than calling for a better future for Emiratis.”

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East and promoting high-tech sectors and innovations, the UAE remains restrictive on political activity.

The federation of seven emirates, which include Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has no official opposition and bans political parties.

In 2013, almost 70 Islamists were given jail sentences over an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

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”.

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.

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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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’

BBC Africa podcasts

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.

More on this story

‘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.

‘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.”

Man caught smuggling 100 snakes in his trousers

By Tom McArthurBBC News

A man tried to smuggle more than 100 live snakes into mainland China by stuffing them in his trousers, according to custom officials.

The unnamed traveller was stopped after passing through the “nothing to declare” gate at the crossing between semi-autonomous Hong Kong and the city of Shenzhen, officials said.

Upon inspection, he had 104 snakes in “six canvas drawstring bags” inside his trousers, a statement from China Customs said.

“Each bag was found to contain living snakes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours,” it added.

Video released by Chinese customs shows a pair of agents peering into transparent plastic bags filled with live red, pink and white snakes.

They were mostly small, but it is a large and squirmy haul of slithering reptiles for anyone to carry in their trousers.

Strict biosecurity and disease control laws forbid people from bringing in non-native species without permission into the country.

“Those who break the rules will be… held liable in accordance with the law,” the customs authority said, without specifying the man’s punishment.

In 2023 at the same crossing point, a woman was stopped trying to smuggle in five snakes hidden inside her bra.

China is one of the world’s biggest animal trafficking hubs and authorities have been cracking down on the shady trade in recent years.

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.

From a small village to Bollywood success: ‘I’m blessed’

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.

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.

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.

Biden’s bruising day sinks hopes Democrats will move on

By Anthony Zurcher@awzurcherNorth America correspondent

The most devastating argument against Joe Biden’s re-election bid may have come not from a politician or a pundit, but from a film star.

But George Clooney, with his stinging New York Times opinion piece, isn’t the only one speaking out. A growing chorus from Democrats is sinking the president’s hopes of steadying his campaign this week – and perhaps ever.

Just when it appeared he had turned a corner, with the influential Congressional Black Caucus and key liberal members of Congress voicing their support for him, the ground has shifted once again – and all in the midst of a high-profile Nato summit with US allies here in Washington.

Now the stakes for Mr Biden’s press conference at the end of the Nato summit tomorrow afternoon are even higher. It will be the biggest unscripted test for him since his botched debate two weeks prior which triggered this crisis.

Mr Biden also has a sit-down interview scheduled with NBC News presenter Lester Holt on Monday. A fumble or misstep in the days ahead could buttress all the most damaging assertions Mr Clooney, a top Democratic fundraiser, makes in his New York Times piece.

The actor writes that the president’s decline is not an illusion; it’s real. He points to a Los Angeles fundraiser he threw for the president last month. “The Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe… of 2010,” he writes. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

The president is not up to the task of beating Donald Trump in November, Clooney continues. He calls the Biden campaign’s claim that he is the choice of Democratic primary voters “disingenuous, at best”. And, perhaps most devastating, he says every prominent Democrat he has spoken with knows all this – whether they’re willing to publicly admit it or not.

“We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November”, he writes, “or we can speak the truth.”

The Biden campaign is pushing back against the Clooney piece, noting that the president had flown across nine time zones, from the G7 summit in Italy, to attend the star’s fundraiser.

Campaign officials also note that the president has had serious disagreements recently with the star and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, about his administration’s Gaza policy. The opinion piece, published three weeks after that Los Angeles fundraiser, could be viewed like a strike timed for maximum effect.

But Clooney isn’t just any movie star. He’s a powerful fundraiser for Democrats and has been for years. Given that California, and the Hollywood industry in particular, is a key part of the party’s money base, Clooney’s comments present a very real threat to Mr Biden.

It also comes on the heels of expressions of dissatisfaction from other big-money Democratic donors, such as Netflix chair Reed Hastings and IAC chair Barry Diller.

The actor is also plugged in to party politics, with close ties to former President Barack Obama. It is difficult to imagine that he would have taken to the pages of the New York Times in such a dramatic way, with a double-barrel blast against the sitting president, without at least some tacit sign-off from prominent Democrats.

And, increasingly, prominent Democrats are saying things that should give Mr Biden pause.

On Wednesday morning, hours before Clooney’s opinion piece was published, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – who still holds considerable influence within the party – stopped notably short of endorsing his bid for re-election.

She said the president’s critics should hold their tongues until after this week’s Nato summit. “Whatever you’re thinking,” she said, “you didn’t have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week.”

She added that Mr Biden should make a decision quickly about whether to continue his campaign. When prodded that the president had already clearly said he would stay in the race, she dodged. “I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Mrs Pelosi said.

And later in the day, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine – Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate in 2016 – offered similar lines, about how the president “will do the patriotic thing for the country” and “make that decision”.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, put it even more bluntly: “I’m fully behind him as our nominee until he’s not our nominee.”

It’s as if Mr Biden’s tepid supporters simply won’t take “yes, I’m still running” as an answer.

Meanwhile, even some of Mr Biden’s staunchest supporters have started to engage in “what if” scenarios. California Governor Gavin Newsom said he still backs the president, and would not run against Vice-President Kamala Harris as the nominee if Mr Biden stepped aside.

Senate Democrats are meeting Biden campaign officials on Thursday to discuss the future of the campaign. And House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries said he would speak to the president directly about Democratic concerns by Friday.

Wheels are turning, but it’s unclear whether they are grinding toward a resolution or spinning in place.

If Mr Biden were to bow out, it’s still unclear what happens next. Some have suggested that Ms Harris, as the president’s running mate, is next in line.

The solution, according to Clooney, is for Democrats to regroup and pick a new nominee, although he is vague about how the process could unfold. And his suggestion that, because of the shortened campaign season, whoever the party chooses would be able to avoid opposition research and negative campaigning – either from fellow Democrats or Republicans – seems naive in the extreme.

While the mood in Washington has taken a new turn against the president in the past 24 hours, the mathematics of his situation has not changed.

Mr Biden still controls the lion’s share of national convention delegates who ultimately decide the party’s presidential ticket. And while those delegates aren’t explicitly bound to support him, he could replace any who show insufficient loyalty.

The opinion polls, while indicating he is trailing Trump, have not changed dramatically since his ill-fated debate. And few show any of the most obvious alternatives to him – the vice-president and prominent Democratic governors – doing substantially better.

Even Mr Biden’s critics, with their appeals to his patriotism, sense of duty and concern for American democracy given the potential for a second Trump presidency, implicitly acknowledge that the decision ultimately lies with him.

What Wednesday demonstrated, though, is that if he presses ahead, he may never be able to fully put the concerns about his age behind him. His debate performance may end up being a self-inflicted wound that never heals.

Triple killing suspect captured near cemetery

By Adam AikenBBC News, Hertfordshire

A suspect wanted over a crossbow attack which left three women dead has been captured.

A major police manhunt for Kyle Clifford, 26, ended when he was found injured near a cemetery in North London.

The victims, who were the wife and two daughters of BBC racing commentator John Hunt, were attacked at their home in Bushey, Hertfordshire.

A woman who knows the family described them as “kind, friendly and gentle” people who “always made time for others”.

Police said the suspect, who left the army two years ago after a short stint, was receiving medical treatment for his injuries, but that “no shots were fired” by officers.

Carol Hunt, 61, Hannah Hunt, 28, and Louise Hunt, 25, were found seriously injured at a house in Ashlyn Close, Bushey, just before 19:00 BST on Tuesday, and all died at the scene.

Luisa, 36, said she had been a client of Louise’s dog grooming business, Groom and Glow, for three years.

She added: “I hope they are remembered as wonderful, hardworking, kind women, rather than victims.”

BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Mark Chapman sent his “love and thoughts” to fellow commentator and friend Mr Hunt after a “heartbreaking day”.

Speaking through tears at the start of the Euro 2024 pre-match show on 5 Live, Mr Chapman said: “This has been a heartbreaking day.

“John Hunt is our colleague and our friend, not just to the current 5 Live sport team but to all of those who have worked here with him over the past 20 years and also to all of you who have enjoyed his superb commentaries.”

A friend of Louise Hunt said he was “in denial” about her murder and felt “angry, sad and in shock”.

He told BBC News: “I couldn’t believe what had happened at first.

“I’d heard the news from my sister early in the morning before I’d figured out who the victims were and, once I found out, it’s been a massive shock. [I’ve] been in denial.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what the father’s going through.”

Referring to England’s victory at Euro 2024, former footballer Michael Owen posted on X: “And while the country celebrate, spare a thought for John Hunt. I can’t remember feeling so utterly horrified in years. Those poor girls. Truly horrific.”

Det Insp Justine Jenkins, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “This continues to be an incredibly difficult time for the victims’ family and we would ask that their privacy is respected as they come to terms with what has happened.

“This investigation is moving at pace and formal identification of the victims is yet to take place.”

Prior to the capture armed police had arrived in numbers at a cemetery close to where a house was searched in Enfield.

Officers closed off the the Lavender Hill Cemetery and an air ambulance was seen nearby.

Earlier, local councillor Louise Nicolas wrote, in a post on Facebook, that she was “deeply saddened to learn this morning of the tragic news that three women have lost their lives in a violent incident”.

“Should anyone wish to speak with us or require any support please do not hesitate to get in touch,” said Ms Nicolas, a Liberal Democrat who represents the North Bushey ward on Hertsmere Borough Council.

“It goes without saying that this is a live investigation, so speculation as to the circumstances should not be entered into [on public forums].”

Bushey murder inquiry: Police close off street after three women killed
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Top Democratic fundraiser Clooney calls on Biden to drop out

By Brandon Drenon and Bernd Debusmann, at the Nato summitBBC News, Washington

George Clooney has issued a damning call for Joe Biden to quit the US presidential race, hours after senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi swerved questions about whether he should continue.

The Hollywood actor and prominent Democratic fundraiser said that the president had won many battles in his career, “but the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time”.

His comments came after Mrs Pelosi, the former House Speaker, joined growing disquiet in the party, saying that time was “running short” for Mr Biden, 81, to decide whether to stay in the race after his stumbling debate against Donald Trump.

The president has stated, repeatedly, that he is determined to remain as the Democratic party’s candidate and beat Trump, 78, in November.

Clooney wrote in the New York Times that it was “devastating to say it”, but the Joe Biden he met at a fundraising event three weeks ago was not the Biden of 2010. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020,” added the actor.

“He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate,” Clooney said.

The fundraising event, co-hosted by Clooney in Los Angeles and also featuring Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand, brought in a single-night record of roughly $30m (£23m) for the Biden campaign.

The Biden camp has hit back at the Hollywood star, with an unnamed source telling US media: “The President stayed for over 3 hours [at the fundraiser], while Clooney took a photo quickly and left.”

The president’s campaign also pointed out that when he attended the fundraiser he had just arrived in Los Angeles from Italy, where he had been at the G7 summit.

In his op-ed, Clooney said: “Our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw.”

“This is about age. Nothing more,” he continued. “We are not going to win in November with this president.”

Clooney added that his concerns matched those of “every” member of Congress with whom he had spoken.

Asked to respond, Mr Biden’s campaign referred to a letter the president sent Democrats in Congress that said he was “firmly committed” to his candidacy and beating Trump.

Yet public dissent continues to grow within Mr Biden’s party as he faces scrutiny while hosting the Nato summit in Washington.

Mrs Pelosi, a highly influential voice among Capitol Hill Democrats, on Wednesday appeared to disregard Mr Biden’s insistence that he was determined to forge on.

When asked if he should stay in the election race, she told MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “I want him to do whatever he decides to do.

“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.”

Acknowledging the demands on the president during the Nato summit, Mrs Pelosi told MSNBC: “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.”

Around a dozen elected Democrats have suggested he abandon his campaign since his 27 June debate with Trump.

On Tuesday night, Michael Bennet of Colorado became the first Democratic senator to publicly dissent.

Although he did not call for Mr Biden to quit outright, he said Trump would win the election, possibly by a “landslide”.

On Wednesday afternoon, Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Senate Democrat to openly call on Mr Biden to withdraw, “for the good of the country”, as he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about Mr Biden’s ability to win the election.

Pat Ryan, a congressman from New York, earlier in the day told the New York Times: “For the good of our country, for my two young kids, I’m asking Joe Biden to step aside.”

The Biden campaign repeated the president’s statement that he was “running this race to the end”.

Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries plans to speak to Mr Biden by Friday to discuss the concerns brought by several congressional party members.

Overall support from elected Democrats remains robust, however.

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who was named by Clooney as a potential replacement, said he was still “all in” with Mr Biden.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of roughly 60 politicians, and progressive House members like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, have publicly backed Mr Biden.

On Tuesday, Chuck Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, said: “I’m with Joe.” Axios, however, reports that Mr Schumer has been privately telling donors he is open to dumping Mr Biden.

Two unnamed senior Democrats, speaking to CBS News, the BBC’s US partner, said there had been a “convergence” of opinion over the last 24 hours between elected Democrats, donors and groups that support the president’s party.

One of the sources said all of the interests have reached “a near consensus” about what Mr Biden should do.

Questions about the Democrat’s campaign were also swirling at the Nato summit in Washington DC.

Nancy Pelosi says it’s the president’s decision to continue
Biden ignores questions from reporters during meeting with Starmer

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident the US would remain a committed member of the alliance – no matter who sits in the White House next year, Mr Biden or Nato-sceptic Mr Trump.

At a news conference, the BBC asked Mr Stoltenberg if all 32 members of the alliance shared his optimism, despite the concerns over Mr Biden’s candidacy.

“I’m not saying we can always disregard concerns,” said Mr Stoltenberg. “But the more dangerous the world is, the more obvious it is we need Nato.”

He added: “It is in the interest of all of us to stand together. That also applies for the United States.”

Mr Biden will deliver a rare solo news conference on Thursday, and on Monday will record an interview with NBC News, to be broadcast later in the evening.

In the swing state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Democratic voters who spoke to the BBC had mixed feelings about Mr Biden.

Karren Gillchrist, in Harrisburg, said she remained firmly behind Mr Biden because “he knows exactly what he’s talking about”.

But in Elizabethtown, Melissa Nash, working on her laptop in a cafe, said: “I’m torn because I’m not a fan of Trump, but at the same time you need somebody strong to lead the country.”

The big fat Indian wedding turning heads around the world

By Zoya Mateen and Meryl SebastianBBC News, in Delhi and Kochi

How much is too much?

That’s the question many in India are asking as the months-long wedding festivities for the youngest son of Asia’s richest man enter their final phase.

The celebrations are expected to culminate this weekend when Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, ties the knot with Radhika Merchant, daughter of pharma tycoons Viren and Shaila Merchant.

There have been four months of lavish events leading up to the wedding itself. All the glamourous outfits, stunning jewellery, fairytale-like decor and rare performances by Indian and global stars have been the focus of much public attention.

“It is nothing short of a royal wedding,” says writer and columnist Shobhaa De. “Our billionaires are the new Indian maharajahs. Their shareholders expect nothing less than a mega extravaganza.”

Indians “have always loved pomp and pageantry – just like the British”, she says, adding that “the scale [of the wedding] is in keeping with the Ambani wealth”.

But the hullabaloo around the wedding has drawn as much ire as public fascination. Many have criticised the opulence and the sheer magnitude of wealth on display in a country where tens of millions live below the poverty line and where income inequality is extreme.

[The wedding] can easily be seen as a kind of a mockery, a sort of blindness to the reality of the country at one level. At another level, however ridiculous this might be, it is still in keeping with the grossly distorted, almost grotesque bloating of Indian weddings in the last decade or so,” writer and commentator Santosh Desai tells the BBC.

“It is part of a larger shift that is taking place. A generation or two ago, wealth was spoken of in whispers. Today, wealth must speak as loudly as possible. Even then, the scale of this wedding makes it an outlier.”

With a sprawling business empire – ranging from oil, telecoms, chemicals, technology and fashion to food – the Ambanis are a ubiquitous presence in India and their lives are the subject of intense public fascination.

Mr Ambani’s personal fortune is estimated at a staggering $115bn (£90bn). Anant, 29, holds a position on the Reliance Industries board of directors.

Ambani senior, along with fellow Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani, is reported to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with opposition parties accusing the authorities of unduly favouring the two business houses – accusations both the government and the businessmen deny.

While the Ambani family’s enormous wealth and clout are well known in India, many outside the country may not have realised the extent of their riches until now.

That changed in March, when Mr Ambani hosted a three-day pre-wedding party for his son.

The festivities were held in the family’s hometown Jamnagar in the western state of Gujarat, which is also the location of Mr Ambani’s oil refinery – the largest in the world. Some 1,200 guests attended, including Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

The party began with a dinner held inside a glasshouse especially built for the occasion. The stunning structure reportedly resembles Palm House, a crystalline Victorian-style building located in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was a favourite of Ms Merchant when she was a college student in New York City.

The feast was followed by a performance by Rihanna and viral videos showed the Ambani family grooving with the popstar on stage. If people hadn’t been paying attention, they definitely were now.

Through it all, dozens of speciality chefs served some 2,000 dishes, carefully curated from around the world, to guests lodged in luxury tents, with personal makeup artists and stylists at their service.

There was also a 10-page manual on the dress code for the events, which included a “jungle fever” theme for a visit to a family-owned animal sanctuary, followed by a Moulin Rouge-themed “house party” held at the sprawling grounds of their palatial residence.

The bride-to-be wore a number of specially crafted outfits, including two lehngas (long bridal silk skirts) – one studded with 20,000 Swarovski crystals and another that reportedly took 5,700 hours to make – and a pink version of a Versace dress that actor Blake Lively wore to the 2022 Met Gala.

The groom mostly wore Dolce & Gabanna outfits and flaunted a Richard Mille wristwatch, worth an estimated $1.5m. A viral video of Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan gawking at the watch went viral in India.

Newspapers and websites perfectly captured the opulence of these dazzling events, attended by the glitterati from around the world. “It was almost like the time of maharajahs 100 years down the line,” the New York Times reported.

There was also backlash after India’s government overnight designated the city’s small airport into an international airport, expanded its staff and deployed military and air force personnel in service of the family.

The final night of the three-day jamboree, which ended with a shower of confetti, fireworks and a lightshow, set the tone for what was to come next.

In June, the couple and their guests took their pre-wedding celebrations overseas, literally. The party, which included top Bollywood stars, embarked on a luxury cruise along the stunning azure coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, to the French Mediterranean.

They stopped in Rome, Portofino, Genoa and Cannes for late-night revelry that reportedly brought complaints from local people.

This time, the celebrations had performances by 90s teen heartthrobs The Backstreet Boys, singer Katy Perry and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

This week, yet set of wedding celebrations kicked off on the family’s home turf, Mumbai, with a performance by Justin Bieber.

A video of him singing at the edge of the stage as the bride and her friends sing along has been viewed 38 million times. It shows ecstatic women in sequined gowns and saris as they punch their fists skyward in glee. The crowd doesn’t miss a beat to Bieber’s verse: You should go and love yourself.

The scale of the celebrations show that nothing is out of reach for the family. And there is speculation that Adele could be performing at the actual wedding this weekend – the family, however, are tight-lipped.

Of course, India isn’t a stranger to the concept of big fat weddings – the country is the largest spender on marriage ceremonies after the US.

Tina Tharwani, co-founder of the Shaadi Squad, says in recent years, there’s been a noticeable trend where weddings have become larger-than-life events that veer towards excessiveness, driven by societal expectations, competitive displays of status, and a desire to create memorable moments.

So, we’ve seen expensive weddings routinely make headlines in recent years, such as this $74m wedding in 2016.

Other Ambani children have also had lavish pre-wedding festivities. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among attendees at Isha Ambani’s pre-wedding bash in 2018, which featured a performance by Beyoncé. A year later, Akash Ambani’s pre-wedding bash featured a performance by Coldplay.

When it comes to scale, though, this is the mother of all weddings, says Ashwini Arya, owner of an event management company that’s organised weddings in dozens of countries.

“It’s like the bible for the industry with the best of logistics, tech, design and grandeur.

“You’re talking about preparations of a minimum of two years, multiple recce trips, approvals and permissions from several countries, along with the logistics of arranging security and transport for some of the biggest personalities of the world,” he says.

The Ambanis have not revealed how much this wedding is costing them but Mr Arya estimates that they “have already spent anywhere between 11bn and 13bn rupees [$132m-$156m]”. It was rumoured Rihanna had been paid $7m (£5.5m) for her performance, while the figure suggested for Bieber is $10m.

Money was also lavished on constructing 14 temples inside a sprawling complex in Jamnagar to showcase India’s cultural heritage and provide a backdrop for the wedding. As part of the celebrations, the Ambanis hosted a mass wedding for 50 underprivileged couples too.

It’s being said the family pulled out all the stops because with all the Ambani children married, this would be their last wedding for the foreseeable future.

But with each event, public criticism of the celebration in India has grown – from people aghast at the massive jewels worn by Nita Ambani to exasperation and anger among Mumbai residents over traffic restrictions in a city already struggling with traffic jams and monsoon flooding.

For India’s wedding industry though, it’s still an exciting marketing opportunity.

This is an excellent chance for designers to showcase the more refined side of India’s couture, artistry and craftsmanship, says Anand Bhushan, a fashion designer. That said, the frequency, with celebrities changing five-six outfits per event can sometimes feel a “little saturating”, he admits.

Ms Tharwani says the wedding serves as “an exemplary case” of orchestrating a multi-event, multi-location celebration “that combines tradition, modernity, and unmatched hospitality standards”.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Varindar Chawla, one of Bollywood’s best-known paparazzi, is sifting through the photographs of the celebrations.

There are a few of celebrities posing at the entrance as they arrive to attend the various events.

Each one of these pictures – even the unflattering ones, such as of a star looking stunned as the glare of a camera-flash hits them in the face – has been fetching millions of views and shares.

“Usually it’s hard to penetrate events of this scale. But this family has gone out of the way to ensure we are there to cover every little detail,” he says.

“It’s a royal wedding and we are getting a royal treatment.”

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.”

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.

Japan wants to relax bear hunting laws as attacks rise

By Annabelle Liang & Chika NakayamaBBC News, in Singapore and Tokyo

Facing an alarming rise in bear attacks, Japan wants to make it easier to shoot the animals in residential areas – but hunters say it is too risky.

In the year to April, there were a record 219 bear attacks in the country – six of them fatal, according to official data.

Deadly attacks have continued to occur in recent months, as bears increasingly venture into populated areas. Some are now even thought to see humans as prey.

Bear numbers have revived as Japan’s human population ages and shrinks, especially outside cities. The consequences have been dangerous, although usually resulting in injury not death.

Under the current law, licensed hunters can fire their guns only after the approval of a police officer.

The government plans to revise the law at its next parliamentary session so the weapons can be used more freely. For instance, hunters will be allowed to shoot if there is a risk of human injury, such as when a bear enters a building.

But hunters are wary. “It is scary and quite dangerous to encounter a bear. It is never guaranteed that we can kill a bear by shooting,” said Satoshi Saito, executive director of the Hokkaido Hunters’ Association.

“If we miss the vital point to stop the bear from moving… it will run away and may attack other people,” he added. “If it then attacks a person, who will be responsible for that?”

Hokkaido has come to exemplify Japan’s growing bear problem.

The country’s northernmost major island is sparsely populated – but its bear population has more than doubled since 1990, according to government data. It now has around 12,000 brown bears, which are known to be more aggressive than black bears, of which there are around 10,000 in Japan by experts’ estimates.

Local governments have tried different strategies to keep bears away.

Some have turned to odd guardians – robot wolves, complete with red eyes and spooky howls, while elsewhere in the country they are testing an artificial intelligence warning system.

The town of Naie in Hokkaido has been trying to hire hunters for 10,300 yen ($64; £50) a day to patrol the streets, lay traps and kill the animals if necessary.

But there are few takers – it’s a high-risk job, the pay is not attractive enough and many of the hunters are elderly.

“It is not worth the trouble because confronting a bear will put our lives on the line,” a 72-year-old hunter from the area told The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, likening an encounter with a brown bear to “fighting a US military commando”.

In May, two police officers in northern Akita prefecture were seriously injured by a bear while trying to retrieve a body from the woods after a suspected fatal bear attack.

“The bears know humans are present and attack people for their food, or recognise people themselves as food,” local government official Mami Kondo said.

“There is a high risk that the same bear will cause a series of incidents.”

As bear numbers have grown, more of them have moved from the mountains into flatlands closer to human populations. Over time, they have become used to the sights and sounds of humans, and less afraid of them.

There are also fewer humans around as young people move to big cities, leaving whole towns nearly empty. When bears do encounter humans, it can turn violent.

“Bears that enter urban areas tend to panic, increasing the risk of injury or death to people,” said Junpei Tanaka from the Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan.

Bear sightings and incidents usually happen around April when they awake from hibernation in search of food, and then again in September and October when they eat to store fat for the winter months.

But their movements have become more unpredictable as yields of acorn – the biggest food source for bears – fall because of climate change.

“This amendment to the law is unavoidable, but it is only a stopgap measure in an emergency,” Mr Tanaka said.

Capturing and killing the animals is not the way forward, he adds. Rather, the government needs to protect the bears’ habitat so they are not compelled to venture too far.

“In the long-term, it is necessary to implement national policy to change the forest environment, to create forests with high biodiversity.”

He added that the government also needs to clarify who should take responsibility for bears that wander into residential zones – local officials or hunters.

“Ideally, there should be fully trained shooters like government hunters who respond to emergencies, but at present there are no such jobs in Japan.”

Residential areas are a vastly different terrain for hunters, who are used to killing bears in unpopulated regions, Mr Saito said.

“If we don’t shoot, people will criticise us and say ‘Why didn’t you shoot when you have a shotgun?’ And if we shoot, I am sure people will be angry and say it might hit someone.

“I think it is unreasonable to ask hunters who are probably just ordinary salarymen to make such a decision.”

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.

‘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.

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“I’ve been waiting for that moment for weeks,” said Ollie Watkins afterwards – and boy did he take it.

With the clock about to hit 90:00 in England’s Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands, with the score at 1-1 in Dortmund, the ball fell to the striker from Devon, who was still playing in the English Football League just over four years ago at the age of 24.

The Aston Villa man turned Stefan de Vrij and hammered a shot into the bottom corner for one of the most important England goals ever scored.

Rewind nine years and he had just finished a loan spell at non-league Weston-super-Mare from League Two Exeter City.

Asked after his Dortmund heroics whether he could have imagined this at the time, he said: “You can dream but I am a realist. I was just focused on getting back into the first team at Exeter.

“I didn’t dream about that to be honest. I can’t lie and say I did. Scoring for England is amazing but I didn’t think I’d do it in a tournament like that.”

Watkins’ winning goal more than justified Gareth Southgate’s decision to choose him to replace England’s all-time top scorer Harry Kane, with nine minutes to go. He came on alongside Cole Palmer, who set up his goal.

“I was wondering when the changes were going to happen. The changes were right and they were perfect,” said former England captain Alan Shearer on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Former Brentford striker Watkins had only played 20 minutes at a major tournament before this, in the group stage against Denmark, having been left out of the Euro 2020 and 2022 World Cup squads.

“When I was on the bench I said to [sub keeper] Dean Henderson, ‘I can make a difference today and need to get on’. I took my chance, scored it and now we are in the final. One last game,” he said.

That game is against Spain in Sunday’s Euro 2024 final – as England bid to be European champions for the first time in men’s football.

Watkins’ rise to the top

Unlike many England players, Watkins started his career lower in the football pyramid – at Exeter City.

“He had the perfect attitude, the perfect character and physical ability. He had all the boxes ticked yet, at 17, 18, 19 years old he never played as well as he should have done,” said Paul Tisdale, Watkins’ first manager at Exeter.

At the age of 18, mostly playing on the wing, Watkins had made four first-team appearances for City before being sent on loan to Weston-super-Mare in the Conference South, the sixth tier.

He scored 10 goals in 18 starts there – and broke into the Exeter team, as a striker.

“Suddenly the engine turned on. I’ve never seen a player have a quantum shift in their output as much as Ollie did,” said Tisdale.

He left for Championship Brentford in 2017 for £1.8m having scored 26 goals in 78 appearances for Exeter.

Another 49 goals followed in 143 games for the Bees before he became the most expensive Championship player ever when he joined Aston Villa for £28m three years later.

In this squad, only Ivan Toney – his rival for the spot to replace Kane late in games – has played more EFL games.

England players’ EFL appearances

League games only (including play-offs)

Transfermarkt

Watkins has kicked on at Villa with 70 goals in 169 games, hitting 19 Premier League goals last season to take his club into the Champions League.

Dean Smith, who managed him at Brentford and Villa, said: “I look at him now – he has become more of a selfish player, which is a good thing.

“His biggest strength could be his biggest weakness. He could beat himself up over things but it would also drive him.

“His emotional control now allows him to accept ‘I will miss chances but I’ll be ready for the next one’.”

Just last month Watkins said: “Even when I first went to Villa, I’d just been bought for £30m and I was still unsure whether I deserved to be there.

“I hadn’t done it in the Premier League, so I would say there was a bit of that before. But now I’m in a really good place.

“I had a really good year, got the most assists in the league, scored a lot of goals and people still weren’t including me in their squads to come to the Euros.

“Everyone has their own opinion, but I don’t feel like I have that big profile where I’m talked about. Or where if I was left out of the squad, people would be like: ‘Oh, I can’t believe they didn’t pick Ollie Watkins.’

“I’m happy I’m here now.”

And so is Gareth Southgate.

“Ollie has trained every day and been ready to play, as the whole group has been,” he said.

“There’s a lot of new players in the group. Half have not been to a tournament but they have bonded so well, got each other’s back and tonight was a good example of that.”

‘You can make a difference, you can win us a tournament’

Watkins’ goal – timed at 89:59 – was the latest winning goal scored in a European Championship or World Cup semi-final, excluding extra time.

It came with one of only 10 touches Watkins has had in the tournament.

“We talk about being ready,” said Kane. “We’re a big team at being ready.

“When it matters, you might get five minutes, one minute, but you can make a difference, you can win us a tournament. He’s been waiting, he’s been patient.

“What he did was outstanding and he deserves it.”

Ex-England striker Ian Wright was impressed watching the game for ITV.

“This is what Ollie Watkins does. This is the exact attitude I would want to have,” he said.

“You want Cole Palmer to come on and hit a pass that is perfect. In the moment, get back to the basics. It was absolutely perfect. Nobody did that to those defenders all night. They had an easy ride until he came on.

“Unbelievable moment. That’s what you have come on to do – just take a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Ollie Watkins has done brilliantly.

“He’s waited for his opportunity and he’s done it. Now we’re into the final. It’s just amazing.”

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England manager Gareth Southgate stands on the brink of glorious vindication as a Euro 2024 campaign in which he has been pelted with beer cups and criticism offers up the prospect of a place in history.

The sight and sound of Southgate confronting naked hostility from fans after the dismal draw with Slovenia in the group game in Cologne seemed an age away amid the scenes of wild celebration that greeted Ollie Watkins’ last-minute winner, sinking the Netherlands and sending England to Sunday’s final against Spain in Berlin.

England rode their luck at times, but if fortune favours the brave then Southgate deserved it for the courage he showed when making the changes that raised eyebrows but ended up fashioning a dramatic victory on a humid, stormy night in Dortmund.

It means Southgate’s England are one game away from ending the long so-called “years of hurt” for the men’s team stretching back to the 1966 World Cup win under Sir Alf Ramsey.

This semi-final simmered all night. It was on the edge with nine minutes left and the score 1-1, extra time beckoning once more but the Netherlands looking more likely to score the winner.

Southgate has been criticised for his substitutions in Germany – those he has made and others he did not make – and some eyebrows were raised when he removed captain Harry Kane, always a move laced with risk, but, arguably more contentiously, Phil Foden, who had been one of England’s prime creative forces in his best performance of the tournament.

Watkins and Cole Palmer were introduced, then, with the clock ticking towards 90 minutes, they combined to justify Southgate’s substitutions in spectacular fashion.

Ivan Toney appeared a more obvious replacement for Kane but Southgate’s decision to go for Watkins proved to be a masterstroke.

Palmer made inroads into Dutch territory before slipping a cute pass into the path of Watkins, who felt Netherlands defender Stefan de Vrij at his back before turning neatly to fire a precise finish across keeper Bart Verbruggen into the far corner.

Cue mayhem as Aston Villa’s striker ran towards the touchline to be swamped by almost the entire England squad in a display of pure ecstasy. The Dutch players, meanwhile, were broken and Xavi Simons looked on the verge of tears as he looked on at England’s celebrations.

It was perfection from manager and players. England survived two minutes of stoppage time with ease, the Netherlands too stunned to mount a response.

Southgate actually looked like he had been outflanked by opposite number Ronald Koeman after he stiffened midfield by bringing on Joey Veerman to stifle Foden, then brought on the giant Wout Weghorst at half-time as a physical focal point – but it was the England manager’s changes that won the day.

The semi-final was played under foreboding skies and in sultry conditions after a huge storm hit Dortmund before kick-off, Simons setting the tone after seven minutes when he robbed a hesitant Declan Rice to rifle a 20-yard drive high past England keeper Jordan Pickford

It all happened in front of the vast orange mass of Netherlands fans who had rebuilt the part of Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion known as ‘the Yellow Wall’ in their own colour – but England’s response was their best football of the tournament.

The Dutch were furious at the penalty award that allowed England to equalise, referee Felix Zwayer adjudging Kane had been fouled after he kicked against the foot of Denzel Dumfries. It was harsh but Kane recovered to complete the formalities.

England dominated the rest of the first half, with Foden having a shot cleared off the line and hitting the woodwork, before an attritional second half ended in such drama.

What a contrast to Cologne as Southgate once again joined England’s fans in joyous union, the players later joining their families in the stands to relive what had just happened, many still wearing expressions that were a mixture of elation and disbelief.

Southgate knows he is a taste some England fans find difficult to acquire, but in four major tournaments over his eight years in charge there has been a World Cup semi-final in 2018, a Euro 2020 final, the World Cup quarter-final in 2022 and now a second successive Euros final – the first they will contest on foreign soil.

The question mark is whether Southgate is the winner England have craved since 1966. There will always be questions over his approach – justified or not – until he gets England over the line after coming so close so often.

Southgate has grown into this tournament along with England. He was understandably wounded by the personal abuse he received earlier in the tournament and has been uncharacteristically prickly on occasions – but was at his most relaxed so far when facing the media on this eve of this semi-final.

He talked about a weight of expectation being lifted by a place in the last four, his body language suggesting it applied to Southgate as much his players. He was back to being totally at ease and can now contemplate another major final.

England have a 58-year itch waiting to be scratched in Berlin – and Southgate will have answered every doubt aimed in his direction if he can plot a landmark victory over Spain.

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The USA have sacked head coach Gregg Berhalter following their Copa America group-stage exit.

This month they became the first host nation to be eliminated from the group phase after defeats by Panama and Uruguay.

“We are deeply grateful to Gregg for his commitment the past five years to the men’s national team and to US soccer,” said United States Soccer Federation sporting director Matt Crocker.

“Gregg has earned the respect of everyone within our organisation and has played a pivotal role in bringing together a young team and moving the program forward.”

Former Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been linked with the manager’s job, and Crocker said the “search process” had begun.

The USA will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico.

Berhalte, 50, had two stints in charge, the first of which ended in 2022 with an investigation into his past conduct.

He was four years into the role when he admitted kicking his wife when they were teenagers.

He was investigated by US Soccer, which found it had “no legal impediment to employing him”.

In his first spell the USA reached the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and won the Concacaf Nations League Gold Cup in 2021, but his second spell lasted only 14 games.

After the 1-0 defeat by Uruguay, Berhalter said he was the right person to lead the team to the 2026 World Cup.

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Gareth Southgate says England have “given supporters some of the best nights in 50 years” after booking their place in a successive European Championship final.

A dramatic 90th-minute winner from substitute Ollie Watkins sealed a 2-1 win over the Netherlands as England came from behind to set up a final with Spain.

Southgate led England to their first final in 55 years when they lost to Italy in Euro 2020, but they hope to go one better this time around.

“I took the job to try to improve English football and we’re now in a second final. The last one was the first in over 50 years. We’re now in a first one oversees,” said Southgate.

“We’re giving people amazing nights. We’ve given our supporters some of the best nights in the last 50 years. I’m hugely proud of that.

“I’m delighted if everyone at home is feeling the way we are and the way those in the stadium were. But we’re not finished.

“We’ve got the greatest possible test to prepare for. We came here to try to win the tournament and that’s still our aim.”

It has not been a smooth ride for England, who are the first side in Euros history to reach the final despite trailing in both their quarter-final and semi-final games.

Jude Bellingham’s bicycle kick in the 95th minute saw them edge past Slovakia in the last 16, and they needed a penalty shootout to beat Switzerland.

Criticism has come their way with fans displaying their frustration, throwing plastic cups aimed at Southgate after their 0-0 draw with Slovenia in the group stages.

“We all want to be loved, right? When you’re doing something for your country, you’re a proud Englishman – you don’t feel that back and all you read is criticism, it’s hard,” said Southgate.

“To be able to celebrate a second final is very special. If I had not been on the grass, I would have been watching and celebrating like [the fans] were.

“I’m the one that has to pick a team so to be able to give them a night like tonight was very special.

“We have come here to win and play the team who have been the best in the tournament [in the final]. But we’re still here and fighting.”

‘Time to put us in history’

Having suffered defeat against Italy at Wembley three years ago, England are determined not to come away empty handed this time.

Real Madrid midfielder Bellingham told BBC Radio 5 Live that the team have “lived to fight another day” as they attempt to become the first English men’s side since 1966 to win a major trophy.

“I am really proud of the boys. The reaction, attitude and mentality… Quality is one thing, but those characteristics you cannot learn in training – you get it from experience and each other,” he added.

“Now it is one more game. We are tired, it has been a long season, but is one last push for our country and for history.”

Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, 19, has impressed in the knockout stages and became England’s youngest player to appear in the semi-finals of a major tournament.

“It is an indescribable feeling, we are all buzzing! It has been such a journey and we have built on old performances,” Mainoo told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“The only way is up – time to put us in history.”

‘An incredible chance of winning it’

It was a rollercoaster evening in Dortmund as the Netherlands took the lead early on through Xavi Simons’ thunderous strike.

England responded when Harry Kane put away a contentious penalty and they dominated large periods before Watkins provided the winning moment late on.

“I feel drained and like I have been out there myself. It is a great night,” former England striker Alan Shearer said.

“At times you have to suffer in international football. When it got tough, they had to come up with different answers and they had to find a way again.

“This team has done that without playing spectacular football in four or five of the games. Now they have an incredible chance of winning it.”

Former England defender Gary Neville said this squad does “whatever it takes” to win games and are improving standards.

So is there a feeling that England could upset tournament favourites Spain in the final?

“It feels like it is going to be the time. At every moment they have been doubted and it is a great story up until this point, why shouldn’t it go on?” said former England defender Matthew Upson.

“One of the big things about this group is that they have a bit of cockiness and arrogance about them – but in a good way.

“We have players exceeding huge levels of performances in top teams across the world. We are confident and it shows with the penalties and in moments like this.”

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Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman criticised the use of video assistant referees (VAR) for “breaking football” after England were awarded a contentious penalty in Tuesday’s tense Euro 2024 semi-final.

The Dutch had taken an early lead through Xavi Simons’ powerful strike but Gareth Southgate’s side were handed a lifeline when Harry Kane was caught on the follow-through by Denzel Dumfries after the England captain had already shot over the bar.

No penalty was given originally but referee Felix Zwayer then pointed to the spot after he was advised to go to the monitor by VAR.

Kane levelled with the spot-kick and substitute Ollie Watkins struck a 90th-minute winner to send England to Sunday’s final, where they will play Spain.

“In my opinion it should not have been a penalty,” said Koeman.

“He kicked the ball and the boots touched. I think that we cannot play properly football and this is due to VAR. It really breaks football.”

Former England defender and ITV pundit Gary Neville felt the Netherlands had every right to feel aggrieved.

“As a defender, I think it’s an absolutely disgraceful decision,” he said.

“There’s no way that was a penalty. He just goes in naturally to block the shot. It’s not a penalty for me.”

Ex-England striker Alan Shearer said on BBC Radio 5 live: “There is no doubt that there is contact, but the defender [Dumfries] is trying to block the ball.

“The follow-through from Harry Kane makes the connection and I didn’t think it was a howler to be turned over.”

Netherlands and Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk also felt the penalty decision was the turning point in the game.

“I think the penalty moment is a big moment, England had some confidence out of it,” he added.

“I think so many decisions didn’t go our way, but I don’t want to speak about the referee.”

‘England can stop Spain, why not?’

Despite seeing the Netherlands’ hopes of a first European Championship title since 1988 dashed, Koeman offered England backing for the final.

Spain have arguably been the best side at Euro 2024, winning every game they have played, but Koeman sees no reason why Southgate’s side cannot claim a first major trophy since 1966.

“I think England showed great football in the first half after [being] 1-0 down,” he added.

“It is football. Maybe if you watch all of the matches of the Spanish team, maybe they are playing more offensive, great wingers and ball possession and you need to stop that.

“But England are in the final and have the possibility to win it. Spain are playing on a high level but England can stop them. Why not?”

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England will face Spain in Sunday’s Euro 2024 final in Berlin after beating the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-final.

The game, with a 20:00 BST kick-off, will be shown live on BBC One and the iPlayer, with commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app. ITV will also show the final.

The Three Lions are hoping to go one step further than at Euro 2020 when they lost the final on penalties to Italy.

But in their way are the best team at Euro 2024 so far, three-time champions Spain.

What is England’s record against Spain?

This will be England’s third match against Spain at a European Championship – and the Three Lions triumphed in the previous two.

In the 1980 group stages, England beat Spain 2-1 in Naples – although both sides went out.

And in 1996 the sides met in the last 16 at Wembley, with England winning on penalties after a goalless draw.

Their only other meeting at a major tournament was the 1950 World Cup, with Spain winning 1-0 in a group game in Rio de Janeiro.

England did win the most recent tie, a 3-2 victory in Seville in the 2018 Nations League, but only won two of their 10 meetings before that (excluding penalties).

In international and club finals, though, Spanish teams take some stopping – with 22 successes in a row since 2001.

The national team have won their past three major tournament finals, while the last nine Champions League finals and 10 Europa League finals involving a Spanish side and a foreign team have all ended in La Liga victory.

Spain’s tough run, doing it in style

While England were perceived to be in the ‘easy half’ of the Euro 2024 draw, Spain’s route to the final could not have been more difficult.

In the group stage, they beat 2018 World Cup semi-finalists Croatia and defending European champions Italy.

Then in the quarter-finals they beat hosts Germany – who were arguably the second-best team in the Euros – and in the semi-finals eliminated 2018 world champions France.

Not only that but they have won all six games without the need for penalties. No team have managed that in one European Championship before.

They are also the top scorers in the tournament with 13 goals.

Spain also have history in the Euros, winning it in 1964, 2008 and 2012. They are bidding to become the first nation to win it four times.

Spain have the tournament’s star

If Spain win, this tournament is likely to go down in history as the introduction of Lamine Yamal – in the way Pele took the 1958 World Cup by storm.

The 16-year-old Barcelona player became the youngest European Championship player ever when he started their opening game against Croatia.

In the semi-final his stunning effort into the top scorer made him the youngest goalscorer at a Euros or World Cup, breaking Pele’s record. He also broke Pele’s record of the youngest player in a semi-final in either tournament.

Not only has he been playing – and scored one of the goals of the tournament – but statistically he has generally been one of the best players too, with three assists and 13 chances created.

Yamal plays on the right wing and on the left has been one of the tournament’s other stars, Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams, who is only 21 himself.

The pair, who have become close friends, celebrate birthdays in the two days leading up to the final.

Luis de la Fuente’s side also have the current leader in the Golden Boot race: Leipzig midfielder Dani Olmo. Despite only starting two games he has scored three goals – level with four other players – but his two assists are the tie-breaker.

Another contender for the player of the tournament is Spain’s Manchester City defensive midfielder Rodri.

The 28-year-old, who was born on the day England knocked Spain out of Euro ’96, has only lost one of his past 79 games for club and country.

What do the BBC pundits say about Spain?

Former England striker Alan Shearer: “They’ve got everything you need to be successful and that’s the reason they’ve won every single game at this tournament.”

Chris Sutton: “It is hard to see anybody touching them, they seem to be on a different level to anybody else in this tournament.”

Micah Richards: “The worries I had about this Spanish team, they answered them against France – how they can adapt to situations and when you have pace on the wings you always have a chance. They look really balanced and I think they are favourites.”

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