BBC 2024-07-11 16:06:43


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.

This all comes after it appeared that the president had turned a corner, with the influential Congressional Black Caucus and key liberal members of Congress just voicing their support for him.

But now the ground has shifted once again – and all in the midst of a high-profile Nato summit with US allies here in Washington.

On Wednesday evening, Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to openly call on Mr Biden to withdraw, “for the good of the country”, as he wrote in a newspaper op-ed.

The drumbeat of defections makes the stakes for Mr Biden’s press conference at the end of the Nato summit on Thursday afternoon 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.

Revelling in the Democratic turmoil on Wednesday night, Trump posted to social media about Clooney: “He’s turned on Crooked Joe like the rats they both are.”

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

Senator Welch’s column in the Washington Post said: “We have asked President Biden to do so much for so many for so long.

“It has required unmatched selflessness and courage. We need him to put us first, as he has done before. I urge him to do it now.”

Earlier in the day, hours before the Clooney and Welch opinion pieces published, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – who still holds considerable influence within the party – stopped notably short of endorsing Mr Biden’s 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.

Biden: Nancy Pelosi says it’s the president’s decision to continue

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.

Biden ignores questions from reporters during meeting with Starmer

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.

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

Nato vows ‘irreversible path’ to Ukraine membership

By Sean Seddon and Bernd Debusmann JrBBC News, London and Washington DC

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.

  • What is Nato and how is it supporting Ukraine?

It also accused China of being a “decisive enabler” for Russia’s war against Ukraine, in some of its harshest remarks yet on Beijing’s involvement.

This prompted an angry response from Beijing’s mission to the EU, which called on Nato to “stop hyping up the so-called China threat, and provoking confrontation and rivalry”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was invited to the Nato 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 ahead of an election which could see Donald Trump, a Nato critic, return to the White House, and amid political troubles for US President Joe Biden.

As Mr Biden, 81, met other Nato leaders on Wednesday, some influential Democrats publicly called for him to quit the race over fears he is too old to perform against Mr Trump, 78, in what is likely to be a closely fought campaign.

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.”

Mr 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.

China rocked by cooking oil contamination scandal

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

The Chinese government says it will investigate allegations that fuel tankers have been used to transport cooking oil after carrying toxic chemicals without being cleaned properly between loads.

The controversy has spread online as social media users express concerns about potential food contamination.

Tankers used for transporting fuel were found to be carrying food products, like cooking oil and syrup, and were not decontaminated correctly, according to state-run Beijing News.

Transporting cooking oil in contaminated fuel trucks was said to have been so widespread it was considered an “open secret” in the industry, according to one driver quoted by the newspaper.

The case is the latest blow to public trust in the Chinese government’s ability to enforce food safety standards.

The controversy has been the top trending topic on Chinese social media in recent days.

On Weibo – the country’s equivalent to X, formerly known as Twitter – there have been tens of thousands of posts about the scandal, which have racked up millions of views.

“Food safety is the most important issue,” a comment liked more than 8,000 times said.

Another comment said: “As an ordinary person, surviving in this world itself is an amazing thing already.”

Many compared it to the 2008 Sanlu milk scandal, in which some 300,000 children became sick and at least six died after drinking powdered milk contaminated with high levels of the industrial chemical melamine.

“This is much worse than the Sanlu scandal, it can’t be settled with just [a] statement,” a user commented.

In China, tankers are not limited to any particular type of goods so can, in theory, carry food products straight after transporting coal-based oils.

The claims involve several major Chinese companies including a subsidiary of state-owned Sinograin and the Hopefull Grain and Oil Group.

Sinograin has said it is investigating whether food safety regulations were being followed correctly.

The company also said it will immediately suspend the use of any trucks that are found to have fallen foul of the the rules.

A Hopefull Grain representative told government-controlled newspaper Global Times that it was conducting a “thorough self-inspection”.

The Chinese government has said food safety officials will carry out the investigation into the allegations.

They have promised to punish any companies and individuals involved in wrongdoing.

They have also vowed to immediately publish the findings of their investigation.

“Illegal enterprises and relevant responsible persons will be severely punished in accordance with the law and will not be tolerated,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

At the local level, both the Hebei and Tianjin provincial governments have said they are also looking into the matter.

Israel tells ‘everyone in Gaza City’ 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 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 its “red lines are preserved”.

‘I will not leave’

There are estimated to be more than a quarter-of-a-million people still living in Gaza City.

Some were observed evacuating to the south after the Israeli military dropped leaflets there urging them to leave, which an Israel official later told the BBC was a recommendation rather than an instruction.

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.

More on this story

Japan wants to make it easier to shoot bears 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 marathon 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 & Gabbana 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 has managed weddings in 14 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.”

Anger over jobs reserved for war heroes’ children

By Annabelle LiangBBC News

Thousands of university students in Bangladesh have been staging protests against a recruitment system that they say favours children of war heroes and certain groups for high-paying government jobs.

The protesters say the system is discriminatory and they are calling for recruitment to be based on merit.

A third of posts are kept for the children of those who fought to win the country independence in 1971. Some are also reserved for women, ethnic minorities and the disabled.

Critics say the system unfairly benefits the children of pro-government groups that support Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won her fourth straight election in January.

Ms Hasina is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Earlier this week, students blocked roads and highways in the capital Dhaka and other major cities, bringing traffic to a halt. The protests have been called the Bangla Blockade.

Some laid logs on a railway track in the capital, disrupting train services to northern parts of the country.

Bangladesh’s top court temporarily suspended the system on Wednesday, but protests are expected to continue until it is permanently removed.

The system was reinstated by a separate court just last month. It had been halted since 2018, following weeks of protests.

“We will not return to classrooms until our demand is met,” protest leader Rasel Ahmed told the AFP news agency.

“My demand is not to cancel the system. My demand is for quota reform,” one protester told BBC Bangla.

Another student said he would keep protesting until a “permanent solution” is found.

Government jobs are highly coveted in Bangladesh because they pay well. In total, more than half of the positions – amounting to hundreds of thousands – are reserved for certain groups.

Earlier this month, Ms Hasina condemned the protests, saying students were “wasting their time”, while adding there was “no justification for the anti-quota movement”.

Bangladesh, which was once one of the poorest countries in the world, is now one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

Its per capita income has tripled in the last decade and the World Bank estimates that more than 25 million people have been lifted out of poverty over the last two decades.

But its economy spun into turmoil in mid-2022 following the pandemic and the global economic slowdown.

Australian dad charged with killing his children in fire

By Hannah RitchieBBC News, Sydney

An Australian father has been charged with murdering three of his children and attempting to kill the rest of his family in a house fire.

A five-month-old girl, a two-year-old boy and a six-year-old boy died in the blaze. Three boys and a girl – aged between four and 11 – survived, along with their mother.

The 28-year-old man is facing three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and one charge of destroying property with the intent to endanger life. He remains in hospital under police guard.

The fire has horrified the country and comes at a time when Australia’s government has declared domestic and family violence a “national crisis”.

The father – who police allege started the inferno in the early hours of Sunday morning and then blocked rescue attempts – was represented by his lawyer in a local Sydney court on Thursday and did not apply for bail.

Speaking to media afterwards, New South Wales Det Supt Daniel Doherty said the incident is “one of the worst cases of filicide” – which is when a parent intentionally kills their children – to take place in the state.

He said police will allege the father lit fires throughout the house with the use of an “accelerant” such as petrol, and then locked all the doors inside to prevent his family from escaping.

They also intend to argue that he disrupted rescue efforts by concerned neighbours and first responders who helped the four surviving children and their mother from the burning house.

In one instance, Det Supt Doherty said the man was “holding on to” one of the children as he tried to escape, which meant first responders had to “wrestle the boy from his grasp”.

The five-month-old baby girl was found by paramedics, already deceased. The two- and six-year-old boys made it out of the house in a critical condition but died in hospital a short time later.

Police have commended the residents who assisted the family for their bravery, including Jarrod Hawkins, a man living across the road who pulled three of the children from the flames.

The mother has been released from hospital and police say her four surviving children are all in a stable condition.

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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.”

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

From rough sleeping to advising Prince William

By Sean Coughlan@seanjcoughlanRoyal correspondent

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has gone from rough sleeping as a teenager to visiting the Prince of Wales in Windsor Castle to give him advice on tackling homelessness.

She was able to give her own story to Prince William as proof that homeless people should not be “written off”.

“I sit in front of you now with a job, a home, a family and a PhD,” says Sabrina, who works as a fire service chief.

Prince William will mark the first year of his Homewards project with a visit to Lambeth in south London where he will say: “It is possible to end homelessness.”

The prince will send the message that there is nothing inevitable about homelessness and that it shouldn’t be normalised.

When he meets Homewards representatives on Thursday he will say: “Homelessness is a complex societal issue, and one that touches the lives of far too many people in our society. However, I truly believe that it can be ended.”

Homewards is a five-year project based around six areas around the UK.

That includes Newport in South Wales – and as a 15- and 16-year-old that was where Sabrina was sleeping rough, after the death of a parent and problems at home.

Her way out was selling the Big Issue – “I credit them with saving my life” – and once she had secure accommodation she was able to get a job in the fire service, which became her career.

But she was able to tell Prince William and the Homewards project about what was needed.

“There were lots of closed doors in my face,” she says. Even when support was meant to be available, she says in practice it can be hard for homeless people to have the confidence to access it.

Or there can be practical barriers. She says she relied on her dog, called Menace, but many hostels wouldn’t let people stay with pets.

She went on to become chief fire officer of West Sussex and has spoken widely about her own journey, including this latest role as an advocate for Homewards.

Sabrina says Prince William showed a lot of “empathy” towards the issue of homelessness, which she suggested reflected some of the “trauma” in his early life.

The homelessness project, operating in Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Lambeth, Newport, Sheffield and Northern Ireland, wants to find successful approaches that can be replicated elsewhere.

There are links with employers about helping people into work. A partnership with Homebase provides starter packs of furniture to help those moving from homelessness into accommodation.

There are efforts to identify sofa-surfing and addressing links between relationship breakdown and homelessness.

Putting housing officers in schools has been tried to identify young people who might be at risk.

There is a push to change attitudes towards homelessness – and Sabrina talked about the need to get rid of the stigma.

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, says the Homewards project can challenge the “cynicism and fatalism” that says homelessness is inevitable.

He says that even though the big picture has seen homelessness getting worse, the evidence exists to prevent it.

Finland is given as an example of a sustained drive to end homelessness, with the claim that there are now only about 150 homeless families. In contrast in the UK, there are more than 100,000 households categorised as homeless.

There have also been questions about whether a wealthy royal should be pronouncing on homelessness.

The anti-monarchy group Republic has previously described it as “crass and hypocritical”.

But George Anderson, a Big Issue seller and medical researcher in London, welcomes that Prince William has used his high public profile to talk about homelessness.

“He encourages people who are distant from homelessness to feel empathy and care,” says George.

“Given the pomp and ceremony around his official role, it is easy for people to question as to what he really knows about homelessness,” says George.

“I am sure that he is aware of that whilst also knowing he is in a position, like his mother, to highlight the plight of homelessness to the media.

“His mother would have experienced similar, being photographed in a tiara at a ball one day, whilst serving soup in a homeless kitchen the next,” says George, who sees the prince’s interest as being linked to Princess Diana bringing her sons to homelessness charities when they were children.

Should I stay or should I go? The dilemma for young Nigerians

By Hannah GelbartBBC What in the World, Lagos

Nigerian graduate Olotu Olanrewaju is facing a choice between remaining in the country he loves and the possibility of a better life elsewhere.

He adores the culture, food, music and family mentality at home, especially how people look out for each other and share common goals.

But the 24-year-old electrical engineer feels he is being held back professionally.

“I’m looking for greener pastures and better opportunities, rather than getting stuck here in Nigeria,” he tells the BBC’s What in the World podcast, adding that he thinks his degree would be “more appreciated” abroad.

There is also the feeling that the lack of reliable basic infrastructure – causing things like power cuts – as well as security concerns, corruption and poor governance, all create unnecessary barriers to getting on with life.

Mr Olanrewaju is one of tens of thousands of young, disenchanted Nigerians contemplating the move to join many others overseas. It’s a trend known by the Yoruba word “japa” meaning “to escape”.

The BBC contacted several government officials for a response to what he and other young Nigerians told us but has not received a reply.

  • LISTEN: What in the World japa episode
  • The UK taxi driver still being paid as a Nigerian civil servant

The idea of emigrating from Nigeria is not new.

Since the 1980s, many middle-class Nigerians have sought economic opportunities abroad, but the scale and urgency now feels different and japa is becoming increasingly popular with Gen Z and millennials.

An African Polling Institute survey from 2022 found that 69% of Nigerians aged 18-35 would relocate given the opportunity – despite a slight fall from 2021. In 2019 the figure was just 39%.

On social media, young Nigerians have taken to posting about their japa experiences.

While some describe how they miss home, others show off the appeal of relocating, and encourage their peers to do the same.

But leaving is a pricey venture.

The rising cost of living, and the depreciation of the currency, the naira, has made an expensive process even harder – but also pushed more people to try to leave.

It is far easier for professionals and university graduates who have the skills and qualifications needed to secure well-paying jobs and visas in the West, as well as the finances to start a new life in a country where the cost of living is far higher than at home.

As well as those seeking legal routes, many Nigerians try to move abroad without visas, by crossing the Sahara Desert or the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of people die each year on the journey and those who make it often struggle to find work or somewhere decent to live.

For years, Mr Olanrewaju and his parents have been saving up. He hopes to move to Germany or Spain and has signed up to German classes to improve his chances.

He is not the first in his family to tread this path.

Two years ago, his brother Daniel, now 27, managed to swap Nigeria’s sticky heat for the cooler shores of the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

He works there as a photographer and social worker, and although he finds it a bit expensive, he tells his brother about the benefits of Scotland’s infrastructure – including the fact that people can rely on the electricity, water and transport systems working.

Oluwatobi Abodunrin
We are highly talented, we want to be recognised, we want our voice to be heard and we want to be respected”

Social worker Oluwatobi Abodunrin, 29, moved to London last year and also feels positive about her move. She says Nigeria is filled with “passionate, active youths” who want something more from their careers.

“I decided to leave Nigeria because I wasn’t getting what I want,” she says.

“We are highly talented, we want to be recognised, we want our voice to be heard and we want to be respected.”

She also acknowledges the difficulty of leaving friends and family behind.

“It was a tough decision to leave home. To leave people who are sweet, kind, generous and passionate. But I’m happy I made the decision and it’s going well.”

There are more than 270,000 Nigerians like Ms Abodunrin living in the UK, according to government statistics.

It is one of the most popular destinations for japa, with the number of Nigerians granted UK work visas quadrupling since 2019 as a result of post-Brexit immigration rule changes.

However, the UK has responded to this increase by tightening the rules for those seeking work visas.

The US and Canada are also highly desirable.

Canada has seen a surge in migration, with the number of Nigerians seeking residency there tripling since 2015, a phenomenon known as the “Canada Rush”.

Back in Nigeria, zoology student Elizabeth Ademuyi Anuoluwapo recognises the difficulties in leaving, but feels it is the only way to get the financial stability she needs.

“I’d miss my people, my food, my friends, my family. The vibe here is very cosy,” she says. “Maybe I’d go for a few years and then come back.”

Japa has hit the medical profession especially hard.

The Nigerian Medical Association said, in 2022, at least 50 doctors were leaving the country every single week.

This has left an already overloaded healthcare system struggling.

The government has said it will train more people to fill these gaps and backed a new bill that would require medical graduates to work in Nigeria for a minimum of five years after completing their training. It was fiercely opposed by doctors’ unions.

A similar directive has also been issued for nurses, to get them to work in the country for at least two years before trying to leave.

Some like Dr Vongdip Nankpah, from the University of Abuja teaching hospital, think it is important to stay.

He believes that career goals are about more than an individual’s interest – they should involve the community and the value that a person can contribute to society.

“If I’m going to maximise my medical practice, I’d rather remain in Nigeria to see if we can better the country and the region,” he says.

“These are the things that are still driving my reasons for remaining in the country.”

But despite the emotional attachment, Mr Olanrewaju does not feel he owes anything to Nigeria and would not feel guilty for leaving.

“Most of my personal growth and gains, I worked for them myself,” he says.

Instead, he would see himself as a representative of Nigerians abroad, standing for those who might not have the same opportunities to move overseas.

For those who can afford it, japa is the ultimate choice.

It promises a future of adventure, ambition and wealth, but also risks breaking ties with the past.

Like many Nigerian students, Mr Olanrewaju is now measuring those benefits against the cost of what he is leaving behind.

More BBC stories about Nigeria:

  • Nigeria cost-of-living crisis sparks exodus of doctors
  • Nigerian star’s drowning forces Nollywood to look at safety
  • Celebrating 50 years of marriage in Nigeria’s ‘divorce capital’

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‘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 shell of her neighbour’s house – now a crime scene – 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 five-month-old 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 witnesses – 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 in response to a string of alleged killings this week, he conceded that the country “has a long way to go” in turning the tide.

“Again, we have seen lives stolen, futures torn away. Every death is its own universe of devastation,” he said on Tuesday.

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 who were found in a critical condition and died 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 five-month-old girl had died before rescuers could reach her.

Speaking to media later Sunday morning, Det Supt 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… [the] 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 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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.

“They were happy,” another neighbour says simply.

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 or intimate partner violence – sometimes both – says a recent study by a national women’s safety research body.

State and federal governments have begun investing in early intervention, crisis responses and support networks for families as they recover. Prevention – which means examining the social drivers of violence – is also a focus. And Australia’s latest budget set aside A$1bn (£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, pointing to a previous commitment to build 720 emergency safe houses for those fleeing abuse by 2027.

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,” Larissa Waters, the Senate leader for the Australian Greens said.

“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.”

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

Samsung becomes first tech giant to launch a smart ring

By Liv McMahon & Imran Rahman-JonesTechnology reporters

Samsung is hoping to lure fitness and health-tracking technology lovers with its newest wearable device – the Galaxy Ring.

It launched the device at its Galaxy Unpacked event on Wednesday as the latest addition to its ecosystem of devices it says it is “supercharging” with artificial intelligence (AI).

Smart rings, which use tiny sensors to monitor various health metrics, have up to now been a niche product – though their recent use by the England men’s football team made headlines.

It seems Samsung is attempting to change that, becoming the largest tech company yet to enter the smart ring market.

Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight, says the product choice is an “interesting bet” for Samsung, with his company estimating that there will be a total global market of around four million smart rings in 2025.

“That is a rounding error when compared with 250 million smartwatches that are also expected to be sold,” he told the BBC.

But others suggest Samsung may help make smart rings more mainstream.

“For most consumers, the smart ring from Samsung will be the first contact they will have in the smart ring, and that top of mind awareness makes a huge difference in the long-term,” says Francisco Jeronimo, analyst for market research firm IDC.

James Kitto, vice president and head of Samsung’s mobile division in the UK & Ireland, heralded the ring’s launch as a “huge moment” for the company.

What are smart rings?

Smart rings can track health indicators such as your heart rate, sleep and menstrual cycle.

The market is currently dominated by Finnish health tech firm, Oura.

In recent years the rings have become a fitness tech fashion staple for celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.

With their small size and sleeker appearance, analysts say they could become the successor to smart watches like the Apple Watch and Google Pixel Watch.

Mr Kitto described Samsung’s Galaxy Ring as its “smallest and most discrete product yet, offering accurate 24/7 health, wellness and sleep tracking.”

Smart watches typically have more sensors than smart rings, enabling them to access and provide a wider range of health data.

But “less intrusive” smart rings can provide a convenient, comfortable and stylish alternative for those who do not want to wear a bulky smart watch, particularly overnight to track their sleep patterns, says Mr Jeronimo.

The device works with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones operated by Android 11 or above, and will hit shelves at a price of £399 in the UK on 24 July.

Dr Efpraxia Zamani, associate professor of information systems at Durham University, told the BBC that Samsung’s Galaxy Ring forming part of a wider ecosystem of products providing insights into users’ health and wellbeing may be an “attractive offering” for many consumers.

But she warned that users of products accessing and monitoring health data should remain wary of what data is being collected, how and where it is shared.

“Being part of an ecosystem, it means that data can be collected from the ring, from the watch, from the phone, and then, when put together, this can have even more negative impacts alongside the positive ones,” she said.

The collecting of data relating to menstrual cycles has proven controversial in the past.

Last year, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office launched a review of period and fertility tracking apps over data security concerns.

More on this story

‘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.”

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.

This all comes after it appeared that the president had turned a corner, with the influential Congressional Black Caucus and key liberal members of Congress just voicing their support for him.

But now the ground has shifted once again – and all in the midst of a high-profile Nato summit with US allies here in Washington.

On Wednesday evening, Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to openly call on Mr Biden to withdraw, “for the good of the country”, as he wrote in a newspaper op-ed.

The drumbeat of defections makes the stakes for Mr Biden’s press conference at the end of the Nato summit on Thursday afternoon 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.

Revelling in the Democratic turmoil on Wednesday night, Trump posted to social media about Clooney: “He’s turned on Crooked Joe like the rats they both are.”

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

Senator Welch’s column in the Washington Post said: “We have asked President Biden to do so much for so many for so long.

“It has required unmatched selflessness and courage. We need him to put us first, as he has done before. I urge him to do it now.”

Earlier in the day, hours before the Clooney and Welch opinion pieces published, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – who still holds considerable influence within the party – stopped notably short of endorsing Mr Biden’s 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.

Biden: Nancy Pelosi says it’s the president’s decision to continue

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.

Biden ignores questions from reporters during meeting with Starmer

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.

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

The marathon 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 & Gabbana 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 has managed weddings in 14 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.”

Footballer Darwin Núñez involved in clash with fans

By Sean SeddonBBC News

Liverpool footballer Darwin Núñez was involved in an altercation with spectators after his national team Uruguay were beaten on Wednesday evening.

The striker was seen physically confronting Colombia fans in the stands after the final whistle in the Copa America semi-final.

According to Uruguayan outlet El Pais, disorder broke out close to where friends and family members of players were located.

Núñez is yet to comment publicly on the incident.

TV cameras and fans captured images of Núñez climbing up railings and making his way into the crowded stands of the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He could then be seen confronting Colombia fans as others tried to restrain him.

Other Uruguay players were reportedly involved in the incident.

Uruguay captain José María Giménez said the players were trying to defend their families, describing the situation in the crowd as a “disaster”, Reuters reported.

He continued: “There was no police and we had to defend our families. This is the fault of two or three people who had a few too many drinks and don’t know how to drink.”

Núñez was seen hugging his son on the pitch after the altercation.

South American football’s governing body Conmebol said it “strongly condemns any act of violence that affects football.”

“There is no pace for intolerance and violence on and off the field,” it added.

The incident happened after Uruguay slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Colombia in the last four match, denying them a place in Monday’s Copa America final.

Shortly before the crowd disorder began, players and coaching staff had clashed on the pitch after the match ended.

Núñez started the game up front for Uruguay but could not convert one of his four attempts on goal.

Liverpool signed the forward for an initial £64m from Portuguese side Benfica in June 2022. He has scored 20 goals in 65 appearances for the club.

BBC News has contacted Núñez’s representative for comment.

Colombia will play Argentina in Monday’s final.

Nato vows ‘irreversible path’ to Ukraine membership

By Sean Seddon and Bernd Debusmann JrBBC News, London and Washington DC

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.

  • What is Nato and how is it supporting Ukraine?

It also accused China of being a “decisive enabler” for Russia’s war against Ukraine, in some of its harshest remarks yet on Beijing’s involvement.

This prompted an angry response from Beijing’s mission to the EU, which called on Nato to “stop hyping up the so-called China threat, and provoking confrontation and rivalry”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was invited to the Nato 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 ahead of an election which could see Donald Trump, a Nato critic, return to the White House, and amid political troubles for US President Joe Biden.

As Mr Biden, 81, met other Nato leaders on Wednesday, some influential Democrats publicly called for him to quit the race over fears he is too old to perform against Mr Trump, 78, in what is likely to be a closely fought campaign.

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.”

Mr 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.

Anger over jobs reserved for war heroes’ children

By Annabelle LiangBBC News

Thousands of university students in Bangladesh have been staging protests against a recruitment system that they say favours children of war heroes and certain groups for high-paying government jobs.

The protesters say the system is discriminatory and they are calling for recruitment to be based on merit.

A third of posts are kept for the children of those who fought to win the country independence in 1971. Some are also reserved for women, ethnic minorities and the disabled.

Critics say the system unfairly benefits the children of pro-government groups that support Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won her fourth straight election in January.

Ms Hasina is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Earlier this week, students blocked roads and highways in the capital Dhaka and other major cities, bringing traffic to a halt. The protests have been called the Bangla Blockade.

Some laid logs on a railway track in the capital, disrupting train services to northern parts of the country.

Bangladesh’s top court temporarily suspended the system on Wednesday, but protests are expected to continue until it is permanently removed.

The system was reinstated by a separate court just last month. It had been halted since 2018, following weeks of protests.

“We will not return to classrooms until our demand is met,” protest leader Rasel Ahmed told the AFP news agency.

“My demand is not to cancel the system. My demand is for quota reform,” one protester told BBC Bangla.

Another student said he would keep protesting until a “permanent solution” is found.

Government jobs are highly coveted in Bangladesh because they pay well. In total, more than half of the positions – amounting to hundreds of thousands – are reserved for certain groups.

Earlier this month, Ms Hasina condemned the protests, saying students were “wasting their time”, while adding there was “no justification for the anti-quota movement”.

Bangladesh, which was once one of the poorest countries in the world, is now one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

Its per capita income has tripled in the last decade and the World Bank estimates that more than 25 million people have been lifted out of poverty over the last two decades.

But its economy spun into turmoil in mid-2022 following the pandemic and the global economic slowdown.

Japan wants to make it easier to shoot bears 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.”

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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)

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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.”

Footballer Darwin Núñez involved in clash with fans

By Sean SeddonBBC News

Liverpool footballer Darwin Núñez was involved in an altercation with spectators after his national team Uruguay were beaten on Wednesday evening.

The striker was seen physically confronting Colombia fans in the stands after the final whistle in the Copa America semi-final.

According to Uruguayan outlet El Pais, disorder broke out close to where friends and family members of players were located.

Núñez is yet to comment publicly on the incident.

TV cameras and fans captured images of Núñez climbing up railings and making his way into the crowded stands of the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He could then be seen confronting Colombia fans as others tried to restrain him.

Other Uruguay players were reportedly involved in the incident.

Uruguay captain José María Giménez said the players were trying to defend their families, describing the situation in the crowd as a “disaster”, Reuters reported.

He continued: “There was no police and we had to defend our families. This is the fault of two or three people who had a few too many drinks and don’t know how to drink.”

Núñez was seen hugging his son on the pitch after the altercation.

South American football’s governing body Conmebol said it “strongly condemns any act of violence that affects football.”

“There is no pace for intolerance and violence on and off the field,” it added.

The incident happened after Uruguay slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Colombia in the last four match, denying them a place in Monday’s Copa America final.

Shortly before the crowd disorder began, players and coaching staff had clashed on the pitch after the match ended.

Núñez started the game up front for Uruguay but could not convert one of his four attempts on goal.

Liverpool signed the forward for an initial £64m from Portuguese side Benfica in June 2022. He has scored 20 goals in 65 appearances for the club.

BBC News has contacted Núñez’s representative for comment.

Colombia will play Argentina in Monday’s final.

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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 Wednesday’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 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 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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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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