BBC 2024-07-12 00:06:42


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 Washington Post 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.

More on US election

  • 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 Shining actress Shelley Duvall dies at 75

By Ian YoungsCulture reporter

US actress Shelley Duvall, known for films like The Shining, Annie Hall and Nashville, has died at the age of 75.

Her partner Dan Gilroy confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter.

Duvall’s other credits included 1977 drama 3 Women, directed by Robert Altman, for which she won the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress award and was nominated for a Bafta.

Three years later, she starred as Olive Oyl opposite Robin Williams in Altman’s version of Popeye.

But Duvall fell out of favour in Hollywood and was off screens for two decades, before making her comeback in 2023’s The Forest Hills.

With her large brown eyes and offbeat charisma, Duvall was a distinctive and compelling presence.

She began her career, and her association with Altman, in 1970 dark comedy Brewster McCloud.

The pair reunited for 1975’s Nashville, Altman’s acclaimed satire of US society, politics and country music.

Two years later, she played Pam, a Rolling Stone reporter who goes on a date with Woody Allen’s Alvy in Annie Hall.

Her best-known role was perhaps Wendy, the wife of Jack Nicholson’s terrifying hotel manager in Stanley Kubrick’s 1977 horror classic The Shining.

Filming was an ordeal. “I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week,” she once recalled.

After that, Duvall’s film roles included Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and Roxanne with Steve Martin.

She also set up her own production companies, and made and hosted beloved 1980s children’s TV show Faerie Tale Theatre.

Her acting roles diminished in the 1990s, with Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady the pick of the crop, and she dropped off the radar in 2002.

The New York Times attributed her apparent disappearance to the impact of a 1994 earthquake that damaged her Los Angeles home, and the stress of her brother having cancer.

Discussing her prolonged absence from the screen, she told the paper in May she had been the victim of a fickle film industry. “I was a star. I had leading roles. People think it’s just ageing, but it’s not. It’s violence,” she said.

Asked to explain, she said: “How would you feel if people were really nice, and then, suddenly, on a dime they turn on you?

“You would never believe it unless it happens to you. That’s why you get hurt, because you can’t really believe it’s true.”

‘Ultimate film star’

Concerns about her health were raised when she appeared on the TV talk show Dr Phil in 2016 and told him: “I’m very sick. I need help.”

She also talked about receiving messages from a “shapeshifting” Robin Williams following his death, and talked about malevolent forces who were out to do her harm, the paper said.

Speaking about that period, Gilroy told the New York Times she had become “paranoid and just kind of delusional”.

Asked by the paper why she had agreed to return to the screen in The Forest Hills, she replied: “I wanted to act again. And then this guy kept calling, and so I wound up doing it.”

Novelist Nicole Flattery wrote in the Financial Times in 2023 that her return showed her magic had remained intact.

In an article dubbing her the “ultimate film star”, Flattery summed up her talent, writing: “She’s a master at playing characters who act happy when they’re sad, their daffiness masking depth.”

Rouen cathedral evacuated after spire blaze

The spire of a famous Gothic cathedral in the French city of Rouen caught fire, prompting an evacuation, local officials say.

Images posted on X by the prefecture show black smoke billowing from a canopy and scaffolding at the top of the building, which is about 150m (495ft) tall.

The blaze has now been contained, according to officials.

The fire’s “origin is unknown at this point”, mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said, adding that “all public resources” had been mobilised in response.

Around 70 firefighters and 40 fire engines were part of the efforts to tackle the blaze, fire brigade chief Stephane Gouezec told local media.

The Our Lady of the Assumption cathedral has been evacuated and a security perimeter is in place, the prefecture said.

There are no reports of casualties and those working on the spire at the time are safe, according to local authorities.

“Fire broke out at the tip of the spire, which isn’t made of wood, but rather metal,” the prefecture of the Seine-Maritime department told AFP news agency.

Plastic parts of the construction site caught fire, Mr Gouezec said. The metal spire itself did not appear to be damaged.

Rouen cathedral, featured in several 19th Century artworks by impressionist artist Claude Monet, is undergoing extensive restoration.

It was constructed over several centuries, with parts of the building dating back more than 900 years to the 12th Century, according to its official website. Between 1876 and 1880, it was the tallest building in the world.

In 2019, a blaze in the wooden roof frame caused massive damage to the world-famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The landmark building in France’s capital is due to reopen officially in December, after years of repairs.

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.”

US cruise missiles to return to Germany, angering Moscow

By Paul KirbyBBC News

Long-range US missiles are to be deployed periodically in Germany from 2026 for the first time since the Cold War, in a decision announced at Nato’s 75th anniversary summit.

The Tomahawk cruise, SM-6 and hypersonic missiles have a significantly longer range than existing missiles, the US and Germany said in a joint statement.

Such missiles would have been banned under a 1988 treaty between the US and former Soviet Union, but the pact fell apart five years ago.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow would react with a “military reponse to the new threat”.

“This is just a link in the chain of a course of escalation,” he argued, accusing Nato and the US of trying to intimidate Russia.

The joint US-German statement made clear the “episodic” deployment of the missiles was initially seen as temporary but would later become permanent, as part of a US commitment to Nato and Europe’s “integrated deterrence”.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, who was speaking at the Nato summit in Washington, said the idea behind the US plan was to encourage Germany and other European countries to put their own investment into developing and procuring longer-range missiles.

The temporary deployment of US weapons would give Nato allies the time to prepare, he explained: “We are talking here about an increasingly serious gap in capability in Europe.”

Mr Pistorius joined colleagues from France, Italy and Poland on Thursday in signing a letter of intent aimed at developing long-range missiles in Europe. The European Long-Range Strike Approach (Elsa) was intended to improve European missile capability, which was “sorely needed to deter and defend our continent”, Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Such missiles were banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), which was signed at the end of the Cold War and covered ground-launched missiles that could travel between 500-5,500 km (310-3,400 miles).

Russia’s Vladimir Putin felt it was too restrictive and in 2014 the US accused him of violating the pact with a new type of nuclear-capable cruise missile.

The US finally pulled out of the treaty in 2019, and Russia followed suit.

Politicians from Germany’s Greens were critical of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s agreement to allow US missiles on German soil.

The Greens are part of Mr Scholz’s ruling coalition, and their spokeswoman on security Sara Nanni made clear their frustration that he had made no comment about the decision.

“It can even heighten fears and leaves room for disinformation and incitement,” she told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Baltimore bridge survivor describes horror of collapse

By Madeline HalpertBBC News, New York

The sole survivor of the Baltimore bridge disaster has told how he watched friends and relatives fall from the structure and die as he fought for his own life.

“I relive it all the time, the minutes before the fall and when I’m falling,” Julio Cervantes Suarez told NBC News in his first interview since the 100,000-ton cargo ship, the Dali, crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge on 26 March.

Mr Cervantes Suarez, 37, was one of seven maintenance workers fixing potholes at the time of impact. The force threw the van he was in off the structure and into the the Patapsco river around 180ft (50m) below.

He said he prepared for death.

“I thanked God for the family he gave me. I asked him to take care of my wife and kids. And I asked for forgiveness,” he said in an interview in Spanish.

He struggled in vain to open the doors as water rose to his neck, then managed to force a window open – squeezing out just before the vehicle sank.

Unable to swim, he clung to a piece of wreckage and waited for rescue.

“That’s when I realised what happened. I looked at the bridge and it was no longer there,” he said.

Mr Cervantes Suarez said he saw co-workers – some of whom were family – as “the water covered them”.

“I started to call out to each by name,” he said. “But no one answered me.”

The first to fall was his nephew, Carlos Daniel Hernández, who was in a car when the Dali smashed into the bridge.

Mr Cervantes Suarez said he had told the 24-year-old, whom he considered a son, to take a break in the vehicle.

“If I had told him to come with me, maybe it would have been different,” he said. “Maybe he would be here with us.”

The other victims were:

  • José Mynor López, 37
  • Maynor Suazo Sandoval, 38
  • Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26
  • José Lopez, 35
  • Alejandro Hernández Fuentes, 35.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after the Dali lost power, veered off course and smashed into the structure.

Rescuers searched the waters for days to recover the bodies of all the victims.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

A lawyer for Mr Cervantes Saurez and other victims told NBC that he was considering legal action against the Dali’s Singapore-based owner, Grace Ocean.

Mr Cervantes Saurez said he wanted those responsible to “pay” for the damage, but said he knew that it would not bring back his loved ones and co-workers.

“I know that money is not going to buy a hug from a father or a son,” he said.

Russian activist compares courts to Nazi Germany

By Robert GreenallBBC News

A Russian human rights activist has compared the country’s judicial system to that of Nazi Germany.

Oleg Orlov, who was appealing against a prison sentence for discrediting the armed forces, quoted a US prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials as saying the Nazis totally destroyed justice and law during their rule.

Orlov, 71, who chairs the now banned human rights group Memorial, lost his appeal.

He was jailed five months ago for two-and-a-half years after calling Russia a fascist state and criticising the war against Ukraine.

The sentence was seen as a clear sign that Russia was increasingly cracking down on public dissent.

Speaking by video link from custody in the central city of Syzran, Orlov told the Moscow city court in his final statement that he regretted nothing and would not repent.

“I’m in the necessary place at the necessary time,” he said. “When there are mass repressions in the country, I am with those who are being persecuted.”

He also quoted a passage by Telford Taylor, a US prosecutor involved in the convictions of senior members of the Nazi regime after World War Two, who said: “They distorted, perverted and in the end achieved the total destruction of justice and law. They made the judicial system an integral part of the dictatorship.”

“These words can be uttered now by any Russian political prisoner,” he added.

“These words are surprisingly appropriate to characterise the current state of the Russian judicial system.”

The appeal was attended by ambassadors from the US, UK and several other Western nations.

Orlov’s conviction resulted partly from an article written for French media titled “They wanted fascism. They got it”, about Russia’s apparent descent into dictatorship.

His sentencing in February itself followed a retrial. In the original trial in October last year he received a 150,000 rouble fine (£1,290; $1,630) and walked free from the court.

However, prosecutors complained that the sentence was too lenient and a higher court cancelled the ruling.

Orlov has been an important figure in Memorial, which has for decades sought to preserve the memory of victims of Soviet oppression while also campaigning against human rights abuses in modern Russia.

In 2021 it was banned and dissolved in Russia but the following year received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties for demonstrating “the significance of civil society for peace and democracy”.

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

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 País, disorder broke out close to where friends and family members of the Uruguay team 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 “strongly condemned” the incident and said it would launch an investigation.

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

The brawl 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.

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

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.”

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

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,” said Sabrina, who works as a fire service chief.

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

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

Meeting Homewards representatives in Brixton he said: “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.”

He spoke of the importance of “shifting perspectives” about homeless people and the need to “focus on prevention, rather than simply managing the crisis”.

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.

She used this “lived experience” to tell Prince William and the Homewards project about what was needed.

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

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

Sabrina also warned of how homelessness was linked to the “pernicious” long-term impact of poverty.

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

At the event in Brixton, Sabrina spoke alongside Chris Lynam, who recalled the intense “loneliness” that accompanied his own homelessness and drug addiction.

“It’s a very isolating experience… society is quite hostile to homeless people,” said Chris, who is now supporting Homewards’ work in Sheffield.

Prince William described it as an “honour” to hear Chris talk about his experiences.

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.

Through the Duchy of Cornwall there are 24 homes being built with “wrap-around support” for people leaving homelessness – and Prince William is now involved in developing further plans.

There is a push to change attitudes towards homelessness – and Sabrina talked about the need to get rid of the stigma. She said that for 20 years she hadn’t told anyone about her own experiences, before becoming such a public speaker about homelessness.

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.

German lessons

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.

Reasons for staying

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’

BBC Africa podcasts

NBA star to become first black Greek Olympic flagbearer

By Nikos PapanikolaouBBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has also faced discrimination from government officials.

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

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

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

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

UAE police withdraw woman’s attempted suicide charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel ban lifted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Want to start a new chapter’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline: How Tori Towey’s ordeal developed

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

‘Most gross domestic violence’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.”

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”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lin Jian, said on Thursday that the alliance had been smearing his country with “fabricated disinformation”.

China has also called on Nato to stay out of the Asia-Pacific, saying that the alliance’s efforts to strengthen military and security ties with China’s neighbours were undermining the country’s interests, as well as peace and stability in the region.

The comments come as Beijing holds military exercises with Belarus, the country that Russian President Vladimir Putin used as a springboard for his invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

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 as to how long it would be until Ukraine was 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 was on a “wartime footing” in terms of defence production with support from China, 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.

We don’t have to repay UK for axed deal – Rwanda

By Wedaeli Chibelushi in London & Samba Cyuzuzo in KigaliBBC News & BBC Great Lakes

Rwanda has said it is not required to refund the UK after a multi-million pound migrant deal between the two countries was scrapped.

New UK Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer announced at the weekend that the plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was “dead and buried”.

The scheme was forged by the previous Conservative government, which since revealing the plan in 2022 has paid Rwanda £240m ($310m).

Legal challenges meant the scheme never took off and the UK expressed hope on Monday that some money from the deal could be recouped.

The following day, a spokesperson for Rwanda’s government told the country’s state television: “Let this be clear, paying back the money was never part of the agreement.”

Alain Mukuralinda said the agreement “did not stipulate” money should be refunded and that the UK had approached Rwanda and requested a partnership, which was “discussed extensively”.

In January, after 21 months of the scheme being stalled, Rwandan President Paul Kagame suggested some money could be returned if no asylum seekers were sent to the country.

But Rwanda’s government later specified there was “no obligation” to refund the UK.

In Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, workers hired months ago to build housing for the asylum seekers expressed concern about Mr Starmer’s decision.

The scheme’s death could “badly affect our lives”, a worker at the Gahanga site told the BBC.

Employees on the site get paid between £1.80 and £6 per day – relatively good wages for construction workers in Rwanda.

Resident Mariya Nyirahabimana said the value of houses in her neighbourhood had increased significantly since construction started, but she feared that “poverty could come back” to Gahanga.

Since his party won last week’s election in a landslide, Mr Starmer has labelled the Rwanda scheme an expensive “gimmick” and pledged to instead focus on launching a new Border Security Command to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

Opposition to the bill has also came from other quarters over the past two years – the UK’s Supreme Court ruled the plan unlawful, human rights organisations branded it cruel and draconian, while dissenters within the Conservative Party pushed for amendments that would better protect the scheme from legal challenges.

The previous government said the scheme was aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Illegal migration is one of the major challenges facing the UK government.

So far this year, more than 13,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.

The figure is higher than numbers for the same period last year, although in 2023 as a whole there was a drop compared to 2022.

Denmark had been mulling a similar deal with Rwanda, but it put the discussions on hold in January last year.

It said it wanted a more unified approach within Europe to tackle illegal migration.

You may also be interested in

  • What was the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?
  • UK asylum deal: Is Rwanda a land of safety or fear?
  • What happened when Israel sent its refugees to Rwanda
  • Refugees sent to Rwanda from remote UK island speak to BBC

BBC Africa podcasts

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy charged with witness tampering

By Laura GozziBBC News

France’s former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has been charged over an election funding scandal dating back to 2007 involving cash from the then Libyan dictator, Col Muammar Gaddafi.

According to French media, Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, 56, was charged with hiding evidence and associating with wrongdoers to commit fraud.

She was placed under judicial control and barred from being in contact with all those accused except her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy is also suspected of concealment of witness tampering and involvement in an attempt to bribe Lebanese judicial personnel, among other violations.

Her lawyers told AFP that Ms Bruni-Sarkozy was determined to assert her rights and challenge the “unfounded decision”.

Mr Sarkozy, who was the president of France from 2007 to 2012, is due to go on trial next year over allegations he took money from Gaddafi to finance his successful election bid.

He is accused of corruption, illegal campaign financing, benefiting from embezzled public funds and membership in a criminal conspiracy. He has always denied all the charges.

The investigation into the allegations was opened in 2013, two years after Saif al-Islam, son of the then leader Gaddafi, first accused Mr Sarkozy of taking millions of his father’s money for campaign funding.

The following year, Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, who for a long time acted as a middleman between France and the Middle East, supported the claims.

He told judges he had written proof that Mr Sarkozy’s campaign bid was “abundantly” financed by Tripoli, and that the €50m (£43m) worth of payments continued after he became president.

Years later, Mr Takieddine told French media that in 2006-07 he had personally handed over suitcases stuffed with banknotes to Mr Sarkozy and his chief of staff, Claude Guéant, who later denied this.

But in 2020, Mr Takieddine suddenly retracted his statement about handing over large amounts of money.

This raised suspicions that Mr Sarkozy and his allies – including his wife – might have paid him to change his mind.

In June, Ms Bruni-Sarkozy was found to have deleted messages exchanged with a French businesswoman who was questioned by police over accusations of witness tampering.

Since losing his re-election bid to socialist François Hollande in 2012, Mr Sarkozy has been targeted by several criminal investigations.

In 2023, he was given a suspended prison sentence for trying to bribe a judge, and earlier this year, he was found guilty of illegally funding his 2012 re-election campaign.

He and Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, an Italian-born former supermodel and singer, married in 2008. They had a daughter, Giulia, in 2011.

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.”

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 Washington Post 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.

More on US election

  • 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

US cruise missiles to return to Germany, angering Moscow

By Paul KirbyBBC News

Long-range US missiles are to be deployed periodically in Germany from 2026 for the first time since the Cold War, in a decision announced at Nato’s 75th anniversary summit.

The Tomahawk cruise, SM-6 and hypersonic missiles have a significantly longer range than existing missiles, the US and Germany said in a joint statement.

Such missiles would have been banned under a 1988 treaty between the US and former Soviet Union, but the pact fell apart five years ago.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow would react with a “military reponse to the new threat”.

“This is just a link in the chain of a course of escalation,” he argued, accusing Nato and the US of trying to intimidate Russia.

The joint US-German statement made clear the “episodic” deployment of the missiles was initially seen as temporary but would later become permanent, as part of a US commitment to Nato and Europe’s “integrated deterrence”.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, who was speaking at the Nato summit in Washington, said the idea behind the US plan was to encourage Germany and other European countries to put their own investment into developing and procuring longer-range missiles.

The temporary deployment of US weapons would give Nato allies the time to prepare, he explained: “We are talking here about an increasingly serious gap in capability in Europe.”

Mr Pistorius joined colleagues from France, Italy and Poland on Thursday in signing a letter of intent aimed at developing long-range missiles in Europe. The European Long-Range Strike Approach (Elsa) was intended to improve European missile capability, which was “sorely needed to deter and defend our continent”, Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Such missiles were banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), which was signed at the end of the Cold War and covered ground-launched missiles that could travel between 500-5,500 km (310-3,400 miles).

Russia’s Vladimir Putin felt it was too restrictive and in 2014 the US accused him of violating the pact with a new type of nuclear-capable cruise missile.

The US finally pulled out of the treaty in 2019, and Russia followed suit.

Politicians from Germany’s Greens were critical of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s agreement to allow US missiles on German soil.

The Greens are part of Mr Scholz’s ruling coalition, and their spokeswoman on security Sara Nanni made clear their frustration that he had made no comment about the decision.

“It can even heighten fears and leaves room for disinformation and incitement,” she told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

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 País, disorder broke out close to where friends and family members of the Uruguay team 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 “strongly condemned” the incident and said it would launch an investigation.

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

The brawl 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.

The Shining actress Shelley Duvall dies at 75

By Ian YoungsCulture reporter

US actress Shelley Duvall, known for films like The Shining, Annie Hall and Nashville, has died at the age of 75.

Her partner Dan Gilroy confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter.

Duvall’s other credits included 1977 drama 3 Women, directed by Robert Altman, for which she won the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress award and was nominated for a Bafta.

Three years later, she starred as Olive Oyl opposite Robin Williams in Altman’s version of Popeye.

But Duvall fell out of favour in Hollywood and was off screens for two decades, before making her comeback in 2023’s The Forest Hills.

With her large brown eyes and offbeat charisma, Duvall was a distinctive and compelling presence.

She began her career, and her association with Altman, in 1970 dark comedy Brewster McCloud.

The pair reunited for 1975’s Nashville, Altman’s acclaimed satire of US society, politics and country music.

Two years later, she played Pam, a Rolling Stone reporter who goes on a date with Woody Allen’s Alvy in Annie Hall.

Her best-known role was perhaps Wendy, the wife of Jack Nicholson’s terrifying hotel manager in Stanley Kubrick’s 1977 horror classic The Shining.

Filming was an ordeal. “I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week,” she once recalled.

After that, Duvall’s film roles included Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and Roxanne with Steve Martin.

She also set up her own production companies, and made and hosted beloved 1980s children’s TV show Faerie Tale Theatre.

Her acting roles diminished in the 1990s, with Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady the pick of the crop, and she dropped off the radar in 2002.

The New York Times attributed her apparent disappearance to the impact of a 1994 earthquake that damaged her Los Angeles home, and the stress of her brother having cancer.

Discussing her prolonged absence from the screen, she told the paper in May she had been the victim of a fickle film industry. “I was a star. I had leading roles. People think it’s just ageing, but it’s not. It’s violence,” she said.

Asked to explain, she said: “How would you feel if people were really nice, and then, suddenly, on a dime they turn on you?

“You would never believe it unless it happens to you. That’s why you get hurt, because you can’t really believe it’s true.”

‘Ultimate film star’

Concerns about her health were raised when she appeared on the TV talk show Dr Phil in 2016 and told him: “I’m very sick. I need help.”

She also talked about receiving messages from a “shapeshifting” Robin Williams following his death, and talked about malevolent forces who were out to do her harm, the paper said.

Speaking about that period, Gilroy told the New York Times she had become “paranoid and just kind of delusional”.

Asked by the paper why she had agreed to return to the screen in The Forest Hills, she replied: “I wanted to act again. And then this guy kept calling, and so I wound up doing it.”

Novelist Nicole Flattery wrote in the Financial Times in 2023 that her return showed her magic had remained intact.

In an article dubbing her the “ultimate film star”, Flattery summed up her talent, writing: “She’s a master at playing characters who act happy when they’re sad, their daffiness masking depth.”

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

‘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.”

Tori Towey ‘so relieved’ to be in Ireland after Dubai ordeal

A woman charged with criminal offences in Dubai after she was allegedly a victim of domestic violence has said she is “so relieved… thankful and grateful” to have returned to Ireland.

Tori Towey, 28, faced charges including attempted suicide and consuming alcohol and had her passport destroyed.

Her flight from Dubai landed in Dublin at 12:21 local time.

“I’m just so relieved, I just I can’t believe it,” Ms Towey told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

Ms Towey added that the support of the Irish people and the media had been amazing.

And, now she plans to see her family and friends.

But first of all, Ms Towey said she is going to “go home and rest” after an ordeal she described as “tiring”.

‘Glad to be back’

Ms Towey, from County Roscommon, was working as a flight attendant with an airline based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), when she was charged with attempting suicide and consuming alcohol.

Her case prompted an intervention by Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Simon Harris earlier this week after it was raised in the Dáil (Irish lower house of parliament).

Police in the UAE withdrew the charges against her on Wednesday and a travel ban was lifted.

Ms Towey said she was “so thankful and grateful to be back” and spoke of her fear of not being able to return to Ireland.

“Obviously when my mother came out to me it was a massive help, but it was just the unknown and just not knowing anything, not knowing what’s going to happen,” she said.

“It’s only kind of between yesterday and today that I kind of got clarity. I wasn’t getting any answers, but I’m just glad to be back.”

Ms Towey was speaking at the airport beside her mother, Caroline, and aunt Ann Flynn.

Caroline said it is “great to have her home” and described the ordeal as “a nightmare, a real nightmare”.

Ms Towey’s mother said the plan now is to “go home and get our heads together and move on”.

‘An Irish woman will not be treated this way’

Her case drew attention in Ireland when it was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on Tuesday.

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

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

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

The taoiseach thanked Ms McDonald for bringing the case to his attention and said he was ready to “intervene”.

Mr Harris said her treatment had been “utterly, utterly unacceptable”.

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

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

On Wednesday, the taoiseach told the Dáil that a travel ban preventing Ms Towey from leaving the UAE had been lifted and Irish embassy staff would be escorting Ms Towey to the airport.

After her arrival in Dublin Airport on Thursday afternoon, Ms Towey thanked the taoiseach, Ms McDonald, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Micheál Martin and the Irish ambassador to the UAE.

She also thanked human rights advocate and lawyer Radha Stirling from Detained in Dubai, who assisted her case.

What happened up to this point?

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

‘I don’t want to jinx it’ – PM on Euros bank holiday

By André Rhoden-PaulBBC News
Watch: The prime minister said England could “go all the way”

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer has said “we should certainly mark the occasion” if England win Euro 2024.

But he stopped short of confirming there would be a bank holiday if the Three Lions were victorious, saying he did not want to “jinx it”.

The Liberal Democrats have called for an extra bank holiday if England win, following their 2-1 semi-final victory against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

England will play Spain in the final in Berlin on Sunday.

Speaking at the Nato summit in Washington, the prime minister said: “We should certainly mark the occasion.

“I went to the last Euros finals. I don’t want to go through that again so I don’t want to jinx anything.

“We must mark it in some way but the most important thing is getting it over the line on Sunday.”

He previously backed calls for an extra bank holiday if England won the Women’s Euro 2022, which they did.

But this was ruled out by the Conservative government due to the “considerable” cost. According to a 2010 House of Commons Library briefing, the government put the cost of an additional bank holiday at £2.9bn.

Sir Keir also backed calls for a bank holiday if England won the Women’s World Cup final, which they lost.

However the government has allowed pubs to extend their opening hours by an extra two hours to 01:00 BST in England and Scotland for the final.

The prime minister, an Arsenal supporter who regularly plays five-a-side football, said he always knew the team were going to go “all the way.”

He managed to take a few minutes out from the Nato gathering to watch part of Wednesday’s match with his Dutch counterpart.

“It was fantastic. I managed to pop out from one of my sessions for just five minutes which is when I saw Harry Kane get the first goal,” he said.

“I missed the second one but it’s brilliant but on we go now, great change, I’ve always said this team are going to all the way so I’m really really pleased. And just good luck for Sunday.”

Sir Keir will attend the final in Berlin, Downing Street has confirmed.

‘England deserves chance to celebrate’

The Liberal Democrats have called for an extra bank holiday if England lift the trophy on Sunday.

Leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Three Lions are playing their first-ever final on foreign soil, and if they bring it home, the government should bring home a bank holiday to celebrate.

“England deserves the chance to celebrate a once-in-a-generation event.

“Who knows, we might even get decent weather.”

In 2022, two extra one-off bank holidays were held for the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and her funeral.

The King’s coronation in May 2023 was also a bank holiday.

But previous football successes – including England’s 1966 World Cup triumph and the Lionesses’ European Championship win in 2022 – did not result in additional bank holidays.

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,” said Sabrina, who works as a fire service chief.

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

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

Meeting Homewards representatives in Brixton he said: “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.”

He spoke of the importance of “shifting perspectives” about homeless people and the need to “focus on prevention, rather than simply managing the crisis”.

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.

She used this “lived experience” to tell Prince William and the Homewards project about what was needed.

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

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

Sabrina also warned of how homelessness was linked to the “pernicious” long-term impact of poverty.

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

At the event in Brixton, Sabrina spoke alongside Chris Lynam, who recalled the intense “loneliness” that accompanied his own homelessness and drug addiction.

“It’s a very isolating experience… society is quite hostile to homeless people,” said Chris, who is now supporting Homewards’ work in Sheffield.

Prince William described it as an “honour” to hear Chris talk about his experiences.

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.

Through the Duchy of Cornwall there are 24 homes being built with “wrap-around support” for people leaving homelessness – and Prince William is now involved in developing further plans.

There is a push to change attitudes towards homelessness – and Sabrina talked about the need to get rid of the stigma. She said that for 20 years she hadn’t told anyone about her own experiences, before becoming such a public speaker about homelessness.

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.

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Here we go again, then. Another final. One more game. One last push.

Before we think about what comes next, the fact we are here, again, is worth savouring. I turned 50 before I saw England reach a major men’s final in my lifetime, and now we are into our second in the past three years, and our first ever on foreign soil.

Just getting here should be a reason for celebration but Gareth Southgate has already changed the narrative so that the expectation is for us to go deep into these tournaments, and of course everyone wants the next step.

Now England just have to go and finish it off, to get over the line and give us the ending that everyone wants, the one with Harry Kane lifting the trophy at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

As an England player, captain, fan or pundit, these are the moments I have dreamed of, and hopefully Sunday’s Euro 2024 showdown with Spain will turn out to be a very special day.

Reasons to believe we can win

We are going to play the best team in the tournament, who have won all six games without needing penalties, and have been so impressive with everything they have done, but there are still reasons to think this England team can win and put themselves in the history books.

For starters, you know Gareth and his players will believe they can do it. They have always made it clear they have come to this tournament to win it, and that confidence has never wavered.

Our performances in Germany have not always backed that up, but even when we were not playing well there have been other ways where we have shown why we have gone the distance, and why we have an incredible chance in the final as well.

I’m talking about the character to come from behind and find a way to win in all three knock-out ties, the big moments from individuals to score such vital late goals and those perfect penalties under pressure in the shootout with Switzerland.

We’ve got players who have changed games from the bench and, dare I say it, we’ve had a bit of luck along the way – like when Xherdan Shaqiri hit the woodwork in the final seconds of our quarter-final against the Swiss, or the awful penalty decision that went our way against the Netherlands.

Those sort of moments cost us in the past – I remember watching Chris Waddle hitting the post in extra-time of our World Cup semi-final against West Germany in 1990 and being on the pitch when Darren Anderton did the same at Euro ’96 – so it’s nice when things go our way.

Oh, and we have showed we can play a bit, too. As I said in my commentary for Radio 5 Live, the way we responded to going a goal down in Dortmund against the Dutch was perfect, really.

England upped the tempo and the pace of our passing, showed energy and intent and really stretched Ronald Koeman’s side in the first half by playing high up the pitch. It was definitely the best we have played at these Euros, and was exactly what I’d been waiting for from this team.

I know we also had to suffer, for example in the second half when we dropped back and lost our intensity, but you are never going to control games for 90 minutes at this level.

It can be draining watching England with the way games ebb and flow, and I am sure it will be the same story for spells against Spain, but tactically we will be ready for whatever they throw at us.

Subs must keep making a difference

A lot has been made of the noise around England at this tournament, and how the players have been responding to their critics, myself and the other BBC pundits included.

When you analyse it, however, no-one has really said anything different to what the squad have said themselves when they have not played well.

Like us, they knew they could do better… and they have improved. Gareth said himself that the performance against Switzerland was England’s best so far, and then said the same again after the semi-final.

You can never please everyone, though. I know there are lots of people on social media still questioning Kane, saying he should not start against Spain, but I thought he played well in the first half against the Dutch, when he had one shot brilliantly saved.

Whatever you think about the penalty decision that England got, he was there to take the initial shot that led to the foul being given, and then he has stuck his spot-kick away and is now joint-top scorer at the tournament with three goals.

Ollie Watkins asked different questions when he replaced Kane and won the match for us by running behind the Dutch defence, but starting a game is very different to making an impact like that off the bench.

I have no doubt that Gareth will stick with Harry for the final, and rightly so, but we also know we have players who are ready to come on and make a difference if needed. Our squad is another reason I am really encouraged about what is to come.

England are fearless too

As well as a real depth of talent, the other thing this England squad has in abundance is togetherness and team spirit.

It has served them well over the past few weeks and helped them find the answers to the problems they have faced, and they are going to need more of the same on Sunday.

This is a different Spain side to the one of a few years ago who would have 70% or 80% of possession, but they will still want to dominate the ball and they have some incredible individual players like Lamine Yamal, Nico Williams and Rodri, who hardly ever loses a game these days for club or country.

There are going to be intense individual battles but England have got players who can hurt Spain too, and we possess another quality which will be crucial – fearlessness. Our younger players like Kobbie Mainoo and Marc Guehi certainly won’t be intimidated by the opposition, or the occasion.

This England team is on the brink of something very special and Sunday is their chance to make that happen. I can’t wait to see how they get on.

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Rory McIlroy has expressed “disbelief” at Keegan Bradley being appointed United States captain for the Ryder Cup and says it would “absolutely not” be possible to combine the role with playing on the team.

Bradley was the surprise choice to lead the Americans at Bethpage Black in September 2025 after 15-time major champion Tiger Woods turned down the captaincy.

McIlroy said he was told of the appointment by Europe skipper Luke Donald at a dinner this week that was also attended by 2023 Ryder Cup team-mates Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Nicolai Hojgaard.

Asked what the reaction in the room was, McIlroy said: “I think disbelief, probably. I think Keegan was probably in disbelief at some point too, but [it is] certainly an interesting pick.

“Definitely I think a surprise for everyone. But he knows Bethpage very well. He went to university in the area. He’s obviously very passionate about the Ryder Cup.

“It’s certainly a departure from what the US have done over the last few years, and time will tell if that’s a good thing or not.”

Bradley, who is 38, will be the youngest captain since Arnold Palmer combined playing with the captaincy in 1963.

After narrowly missing out on automatic selection for the US team in Rome, Bradley was overlooked for a captain’s pick by Zach Johnson, who oversaw a 16½-11½ defeat as Europe regained the Ryder Cup.

Bradley, currently 19th in the world rankings, has said he will try to qualify for the team, but McIlroy believes he would then have to relinquish the captaincy.

Speaking after posting a five-under-par 65 in the first round of his Scottish Open title defence, McIlroy spoke about whether a player could take on dual roles.

“No, absolutely not,” he said.

“I’ve contemplated it for Adare [in 2027] but there’s too much work that goes into it. I’ve seen what Luke went through preparing for Rome.

“There’s no way you can be as good a captain as you need to be and be a playing captain as well.

“If you want to be the best captain you can be, you can’t play. And if you want to be the best player, you can’t captain. So it’s one or the other, especially with how big the Ryder Cup has become and how many things you have to do in the lead-up to the event.

“Keegan is the 19th-ranked in the world so he has a great chance of making the team. If he does, I think he’s going to have to give that captaincy role to one of the vice-captains.”

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Former England striker Gary Lineker says Gareth Southgate’s side are on the ‘brink of history’ after reaching the Euro 2024 final.

The Three Lions beat the Netherlands 2-1 in Dortmund on Wednesday night to book a spot in Sunday’s final against Spain.

It is the first time the men’s side have reached a final outside England after playing the 1966 World Cup final and 2021 Euro final at Wembley, while the women’s Euro victory in 2022 came on home soil.

England’s men have never won the European Championships, with their World Cup win in 1966 their only major silverware, while Spain are three-time European champions.

“I think it’s hugely significant for English football,” Lineker, who will present BBC One’s coverage of the final on Sunday, told BBC Sport.

“They were in a final, they were in the last final of the Euros, of course, and that was at Wembley, and that ended up in huge disappointment [losing to Italy on penalties].

“This is going to be tough, it’s going to be difficult, but they’re on the brink of history. No English team in football has ever won a major tournament abroad.”

The closest an England team have come to winning a major tournament outside of England was in 2023, when the Lionesses were beaten by Spain in the World Cup final in Australia.

Xavi Simons gave the Netherlands an early lead in Dortmund on Wednesday but Harry Kane equalised from the penalty spot midway through the first half before Ollie Watkins scored the winner in the 90th minute.

Watkins’ winner was England’s fourth goal of the tournament scored past the 80th minute, including extra time.

“They have got that kind of never-say-die attitude, which is something that is hugely important,” said Lineker, who scored 48 goals in 80 appearances for England.

“Even when they weren’t playing great, they were grinding out results. And it’s an old football cliche that if you can win when you play badly, then things are not that bad.”

Spain have been in the eyes of many observers the outstanding team in Germany this summer and are favourites heading into Sunday’s final.

After a slow start, England have found some rhythm in the knockout stages and the win against the Netherlands was their best display of the tournament so far.

“I don’t really think I’m surprised at how we have done it, because we’ve got the individuals, world-class footballers right across the pitch,” Lineker continued.

“Yes, they started slowly and something wasn’t quite right about things but they’ve worked it out and they’ve got gradually better as the tournament progressed. It’s much better that way round.”

So, is football coming home?

“I’m banning that statement,” said Lineker. “It’s been bad luck for so long.”

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History-maker Biniam Girmay sprinted to his third victory at this year’s Tour de France but overall contender Primoz Roglic lost significant time after a late crash on stage 12.

Eritrean Girmay became the first black African to win a Tour de France stage with his opening win on stage three and also triumphed on stage eight.

Intermarche-Wanty rider Girmay, 24, beat Wout van Aert in a frantic bunch sprint in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with Mark Cavendish originally finishing fifth before being relegated.

Tadej Pogacar retained the leader’s yellow jersey and remains one minute six seconds ahead of Remco Evenepoel, with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard a further eight seconds behind.

But podium contender Roglic, who finished with a ripped jersey and bloodied shoulder, dropped from fourth to sixth in the general classification after he lost two minutes 27 seconds on the leaders after being caught up in a late crash.

Pogacar, of UAE Team Emirates, was also held up behind a crash in the peloton early in the stage, and required a bike change, but re-joined the main group without issue.

The 203.6km route from Aurillac to Villeneuve-sur-Lot offered one of the few remaining opportunities for a bunch sprint – assuming the sprinter’s teams could control any potential breakaway.

A four-man group featuring Groupama-FDJ riders Valentin Madouas and Quentin Pacher, Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X Mobility, and Total Energies’ Anthony Turgis managed to open up a three-and-a-half-minute advantage over the peloton.

But that move was shut down with more than 40km remaining to set up a long-inevitable dash to the line, in which Girmay prevailed to further assert himself as the fastest sprinter at this year’s race.

In doing so he also extended his lead in the green jersey points battle, opening up a likely unassailable 111-point advantage over Jasper Philipsen.

A rare moment of calm in the peloton was interrupted with 12km remaining when Alexey Lutsenko crashed and took down Slovenian Roglic.

The Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe rider had been one minute 31 seconds adrift of the podium but that deficit now stands at three minutes 28 seconds.

Stage 13 on Friday is a relatively flat 165.3km route from Agen to Pau but, as the race enters the Pyrenees, hilly terrain approaching the finish could prove difficult for the sprinters.

Tour de France stage 12 results

1. Biniam Girmay (Eri/Intermarche-Wanty) 4hrs 17mins 15secs

2. Wout van Aert (Bel/Visma-Lease a Bike) same time

3. Pascal Ackermann (Ger/Israel Premier Tech) “

4. Jasper Philipsen (Bel/Alpecin-Deceuninck) “

5. Arnaud de Lie (Bel/Lotto-Dstny) “

6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Uno-X) “

7. Phil Bauhaus (Ger/Bahrain Victorious) “

8. Bryan Coquard (Fra/Cofidis) “

9. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned/Team Jayco-AlUla) “

10. Ryan Gibbons (SA/Lidl-Trek) “

Tour de France general classification

1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 49hrs 17mins 49secs

2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel/Soudal-Quick Step) +1min 06secs

3. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Visma-Lease a Bike) +1min 14secs

4. Joao Almeida (Por/UAE Team Emirates) +4mins 20secs

5. Carlos Rodriguez (Spa/Ineos Grenadiers) +4mins 40secs

6. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe) +4mins 42secs

7. Mikel Landa (Spa/Soudal-Quick Step) +5mins 38secs

8. Adam Yates (GB/UAE Team Emirates) +6mins 59secs

9. Juan Ayuso (Spa/UAE Team Emirates) +7mins 09secs

10. Giulio Ciccone (Ita/Lidl-Trek) +7mins 36secs

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Jasmine Paolini edged out Donna Vekic in a thrilling semi-final to become the first Italian to reach the Wimbledon women’s singles final.

In one of the best matches of the tournament, the Croat stormed through the first set and then led 4-3 with a break of serve in the deciding set, needing only two holds of serve to reach her first Grand Slam final.

But amid sensational scenes on Centre Court, the hugely popular Paolini managed to instantly get the match back on serve.

She failed to convert a match-point chance in the 10th game and then another two games later in a dramatic semi-final then went to a 10-point tie-break.

Vekic led 8-7 in that, as the lead had constantly changed hands and was two points from victory, but Paolini went ahead and then kept her nerve to seal the win.

Seventh seed Paolini’s 2-6 6-4 7-6 (10-8) victory means she will now face either Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, the 2022 champion, or 31st seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic in Saturday’s final.

Those two players meet in the second semi-final on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Italian had lost all three of her matches here before this year, but has now created history – and has a chance of becoming the first Italian player, male or female, to win a Wimbledon singles title.

Paolini had never reached the second week of a Grand Slam until six weeks ago when she made the French Open final and, remarkably, had not won a main draw match at Wimbledon until this summer’s tournament.

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