Mohamed Nasheed: Former Maldives president 'given UK asylum'
2016-May-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

British lawyer Amal Clooney (R) listens as former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during a press conference in London, on January 25, 2016Lawyer Amal Clooney was part of the team working to secure Mohamed Nasheed's release

The former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has been granted refugee status in the UK, according to his lawyer.

Nasheed, the opposition leader, was controversially jailed for 13 years under anti-terror laws last year.

He was allowed to travel to the UK to receive treatment on his spine.

His lawyer Hasan Latheef said Nasheed had been granted political refugee status, but the British government has not commented.

A former human rights campaigner, Nasheed became the nation's first democratically elected leader in 2008, ending three decades of rule by former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In 2012, he was detained after being accused of ordering the arrest of a judge. He resigned months later amid an army mutiny and public protests over the judge's fate.

Nasheed alleged that he had been removed by a coup, but this was denied by his vice-president, who replaced him.

The current President, Abdulla Yameen, was elected in controversial polls in 2013 and is the half-brother of Mr Gayoom.

"Given the slide towards authoritarianism in the Maldives, myself and other opposition politicians feel we have no choice but to work in exile - for now," said a statement issued by Nasheed's office on Monday.

The Maldives foreign ministry said it feared Nasheed had used the request for medical treatment as a way to get out of his prison term.

It said the government was awaiting confirmation asylum had been granted. If confirmed, the Maldives government "would be disappointed the UK government is allowing itself to be part of this charade, and further, is enabling an individual to circumvent his obligations under the law", the statement said.

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Government sues abused Australian boys
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

A youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guardsA youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guards in the NT

The government of Australia's Northern Territory (NT) is counter-suing two boys who were subdued with tear gas at a detention centre, reports say.

Footage of six boys being gassed at the Don Dale detention centre in 2014 has led to widespread condemnation of conditions for youth detainees.

All six are seeking damages for mistreatment, the Australian Broadcast Corp (ABC) reports.

But the NT government says the boys caused serious damage to the centre.

According to the ABC report, authorities say the damage, costing A$89,000 ($67,000;£51,000) ,was caused when the boys escaped from the centre in 2015.

One day later, they allegedly stole a car and rammed it into a garage door at the centre, causing another A$74,000 worth of damage.

The boys' lawyer has argued his clients would not have tried to escape were it not for the "poor and restrictive conditions" in which they were held.

Dylan Voller is shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015Dylan Voller is shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015

Vision of the tear gas incident and repeated mistreatment of a boy named Dylan Voller prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to order a top-level government inquiry into youth detention in the state.

In one incident, Voller was cuffed to a restraint chair while wearing a hood and left alone for over an hour.

Youth detention rates are three times higher in the NT than elsewhere in Australia, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Although the institute doesn't break down Indigenous youth incarceration rates specifically for the NT, young Indigenous people across Australia are 26 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous youth.

Pope Francis prays in silence at former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

The Pope has offered a private prayer at the former Auschwitz death camp.

He walked alone and in silence around the concentration and extermination camp in what was Nazi-occupied Poland where 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed.

Pope Francis also met elderly survivors of the camp, kissing them on the cheeks and speaking to them softly.

He is on his third day of a visit marking 1,050 years since Poland's adoption of Christianity.

Francis has become the third Pope to walk through the main gate of Auschwitz, under its infamous inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" - work sets you free.

But unlike his German and Polish predecessors, he is not speaking about the horrors that occurred there, says the BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw.

Pope Francis at AuschwitzThe Pope greeted survivors of the camp and blessed them

Pope Francis at AuschwitzThe Pope spent much of his visit to the camp in solitary prayer and contemplation

Francis passed under the gates alone, wearing white robes and skullcap. After meeting the survivors, he placed a candle at the Death Wall, where prisoners were executed by the Nazis, before continuing on his own.

The Pope stopped to pray at the prison cell of Maximilian Kolbe, a beatified Polish Catholic friar who sacrificed his life to save that of another man.

He knelt for many minutes in the underground cell, illuminated only by the light from a tiny window, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The Argentine Pope is on a five-day trip to Poland.

During a World Youth Day rally in the southern city of Krakow on Thursday, he urged compassion for migrants.

He told hundreds of thousands of people that "a merciful heart opens up to welcome refugees and migrants" - a statement that puts him at odds with Poland's anti-immigrant right-wing government.

Over 100 dead in South Asia monsoon flooding
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Nepalese army personnel rescue flood victims at Nawalparasi, around 200 km west of Kathmandu on July 26thNepalese army personnel rescue flood victims at Nawalparasi, around 200 km west of Kathmandu on July 26th

More than 100 people have been killed in monsoon floods in South Asia, as torrential rain caused chaos in several countries.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, with many rescued from rising waters and housed in shelters.

Nepal has suffered the highest death toll with over 75 people killed this week in floods and landslides.

Hundreds die every year across the region during the monsoon season between June and September.

In Nepal the army has been evacuating hundreds of people from villages submerged by rising flood waters, with western parts of the country worst hit.

Nepalese soldiers rescue flood victims in an area around 200 km west of KathmanduNepalese soldiers rescue flood victims

Interior ministry officials say they fear the death toll could rise as information comes in from remote areas.

A spokesman, Yadav Prasad Koirala, told BBC Nepali that at least 12 people were missing as search and rescue efforts continued.

Across the border in India's Bihar state, 22 people have died in heavy flooding and over 1.5 million people have been directly affected, with disaster response teams shifting many to safer places.

In the north-eastern tea growing state of Assam a further 1.6 million people have been affected with at least 16 people losing their lives and over 100,000 sheltering in 472 relief camps.

Village life in Assam has been severely disruptedVillage life in India's Assam state has been severely disrupted

Vast areas of farmland and roads have been submerged along with several of the states' wild life sanctuaries where animals have sought safety on higher ground.

Several rivers, including the Brahmaputra, are flowing dangerously above their normal level or have burst their banks.

A rare one-horned Rhinoceros wades through flood waters. Assam's Kaziranga National Park was reported to be more than 80% under waterA rare one-horned Rhinoceros wades through flood waters. Assam's Kaziranga National Park was reported to be more than 80% under water

Downstream across the border in Bangladesh, the Kurigram and Jamalpur districts have taken the worst hit from the flooding.

The Bangladesh Disaster Management Bureau says that around 1.5 million people have been affected, more than a third of that number in Kurigram district alone.

The authorities have set up 70 shelter areas for those evacuated or fleeing. Eleven people have died in the last few days, the bureau says.

Severe flooding has affected the Jamalpur district in Bangladesh near the Indian border

Severe flooding has affected the Jamalpur district in Bangladesh near the Indian border

A flood victim in Jamalpur district of Bangladesh

A flood victim in Jamalpur district of Bangladesh

In Pakistan heavy rain and flash floods have killed at least 22 people in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, the county's Dawn newspaper reported.

At least 58 people died in northern Pakistan and India as a result of flash floods and landslides at the beginning of this month with Pakistan's Chitral district worst hit alongside India's Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh states.

Indonesian and three Nigerians executed for drug crime
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Ambulances carrying bodies of executed prisoners arrive at Wijayapura port (29 July 2016)The bodies of the executed prisoners were brought back the mainland amid a tight police presence

Indonesia has carried out the executions of four drug convicts, including three foreigners.

The Indonesian man and three Nigerians were killed by firing squad shortly after midnight local time (17:00 GMT) at the Nusakambangan prison island.

A further 10 convicts who had been expected to be killed had a last-minute stay of execution.

Amnesty International condemned the killings as a "deplorable act" that violated local and international law.

Indonesia's Deputy Attorney-General Noor Rachmad said it was "not a pleasant thing but it was to implement the law".

"The executions are only aimed at halting drug crimes," he said, adding that the rest "will be carried out in stages".

Indonesia has some of the world's toughest drug laws, and has faced intense criticism internationally for resuming executions.

In April 2015, the execution of 14 drug convicts, mostly foreigners, was widely criticised.

Australia briefly withdrew its ambassador from Indonesia in protest over the execution of its citizens, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Cases of concern

Those executed on Friday have been named as Indonesian Freddy Budiman and Nigerians Seck Osmane, Humphrey Jefferson Ejike and Michael Titus Igweh.

Relatives had gathered at the prison earlier in the day to say final goodbyes.

Relatives and area residents protest in support of Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali in Lahore (28 July 2016)Relatives of Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali have staged protests in Lahore

In the early morning, ambulances returned to the mainland carrying the prisoner's bodies to be returned to their relatives for funerals.

Authorities did not give a reason for the reprieve given to the other 10 inmates, but island was hit by a major storm as the other executions took place.

Those awaiting executions include three Indonesians, a Pakistani, an Indian, one Zimbabwean and four other Nigerians.

Activists have been particularly concerned by the cases of the Pakistani man, Zulfiqar Ali - who they say was beaten into confessing to heroin possession - and an Indonesian woman, Merri Utami - who says she was duped into becoming a drug mule.

Ricky Gunawan, lawyer for Humphrey Jefferson Ejike, said the execution process was "a complete mess".

"No clear information was provided to us about the time of execution, why only four [were executed] and what happens to the 10 others," he told AFP.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to take a hard line against drug trafficking when he was elected in 2014, saying he would not compromise over death sentences to convicted drug dealers.

This is the third round of executions under Mr Widodo.

Pope Francis urges youth to accept migrants on visit to Poland
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Pope Francis waves to crowds in Poland from the popemobileIt is the Pope's first visit to eastern Europe

Pope Francis has urged hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Poland to show compassion for migrants.

He told young people gathered in Krakow "a merciful heart opens up to welcome refugees and migrants", a statement that puts him at odds with Poland's anti-immigrant right-wing government.

It is Pope Francis's first visit to eastern Europe, with Poland the home of the late Pope John Paul II.

On Friday he is visiting the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

He is due to meet camp survivors and will walk in silence around the site as a mark of respect for the more than one million people, mostly Jews, who died there.

Thursday saw Pope Francis celebrate mass at Poland's holiest Catholic shrine, the Jasna Gora monastery.

Pope Francis poses with priests at the Jasna Gora monasteryJasna Gora is an important pilgrimage site for Polish Catholics

Pope Francis looks at the Black Madonna relicIt is home to the Black Madonna, an image darkened by centuries of varnish and soot

Bishops attend a mass celebrated by Pope FrancisA big crowd heard the Pope celebrate Mass

There he saw the icon known as Black Madonna, a relic that has been venerated for six centuries.

Later, Church organisers said about 500,000 young people had joined the Pope for an evening rally, where he heard music from around the world.

He urged young Catholics to show compassion, saying a "merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; a merciful heart is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate."

Poland refused to take part in an EU deal to take in refugees. Ahead of the visit, the Vatican appeared to tone down criticism of Polish politicians' views of migrants.

Pope Francis is in Poland to celebrate 1050 years since the country adopted Christianity.

Pope Francis rides a tram in Krakow, PolandA special tram transported the Pope to the evening ceremony

Young pilgrims dance in KrakowAn estimated 500,000 people turned out to hear the Pope speak

Pope attends World Youth Day in Krakow, PolandHe called for compassion for migrants and refugees

Syria conflict: Aleppo 'corridors' must be protected - Red Cross
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

People allowed to flee besieged areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo using new humanitarian corridors must be given protection, the Red Cross says.

Aid workers must also be allowed access to civilians and ensure that families who choose to leave are kept together, the agency added.

Russia, Syria's ally, says three routes will be open for civilians and unarmed rebels and a fourth for armed rebels.

Meanwhile the US says it is assessing if a coalition strike killed civilians.

Unverified, graphic images from a village near Manbij, northern Syria, have been posted on social media.

A statement from the US military confirmed the coalition fighting so-called Islamic State had carried out strikes in the area and said it was investigating further.

Around 300,000 people are trapped in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described the corridors as a "large-scale humanitarian operation".

He said the move was "first and foremost to ensure the safety of Aleppo residents".

But the move has been treated cautiously by much of the international community.

US state department spokesman John Kirby said the exercise appeared to be an attempt to force the evacuation of civilians and the surrender of militant groups.

"What needs to happen is the innocent people of Aleppo should be able to stay in their homes, safely, and to receive the humanitarian access which Russia and the [Syrian] regime have agreed in principle," he said.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad walk past ruined buildings in the Castello road in Aleppo, SyriaYears of fighting have left much of Aleppo in ruins

The UN's Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O'Brien, also said he was not yet convinced that the move would be in the best interests of those in need.

"We want to make sure that, if as an offer and a contribution, certain routes are being offered, then they would have to be absolutely guaranteed by all the parties that they are safe, and that nobody will be forced to use those routes involuntarily or to go in a direction away from the city or to any other place which was not of their own choosing," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it welcomed any respite for civilians but that departures must be voluntary and the safety of those who decided to stay must be guaranteed.

Food running out

Robert Mardini, ICRC director for the Near and Middle East, said what was needed was "a humanitarian pause" in all areas of Aleppo affected by violence.

"Our teams need to reach communities in eastern Aleppo now, especially families and the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, the sick and injured, and detainees," he said.

The UN said on Monday that food supplies in Aleppo were expected to run out in mid-August and many medical facilities continued to be attacked.

Mr Shoigu said the three corridors for civilians and unarmed fighters would have medical posts and food handouts. He said he would welcome the co-operation of international aid organisations.

The fourth corridor, in the direction of Castello Road, would be for armed militants, although Mr Shoigu complained that the US had not supplied information about how the rebel Free Syrian Army units it supports had separated from jihadist al-Nusra fighters.

Map of Aleppo

Reports on Thursday said that government forces had taken control of more areas of the city, in the Bani Zeid neighbourhood.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has also offered an amnesty for rebels laying down arms and surrendering within three months.

The offer came in a decree issued on Thursday, the state-run Sana news agency reported.

"Everyone carrying arms... and sought by justice... is excluded from full punishment if they hand themselves in and lay down their weapons," it quoted the decree as saying.

There have been several presidential amnesty offers in recent years.

Clinton Officially Accepts Democratic Party Nomination
2016-Jul-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Clinton Officially Accepts Democratic Party Nomination

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accepted her party's nomination on Thursday, saying: "it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America's promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States."

"America is once again at a moment of reckoning," Clinton had said earlier in her speech. "Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying," Clinton said, aiming her fire clearly at presidential rival Donald Trump. "He wants to divide us from the rest of the world, and each other," Clinton said.

"Don't believe anyone who says 'I alone can fix it.' Yes those were Donald Trump's words in Cleveland'," she added. "Americans don't say I alone can fix it. They say: 'We'll fix it together'."

The former Secretary of State also thanked her former rival Bernie Sanders for his campaign, and told his supporters she had listened to their views. "Your cause is our cause," she said.

Clinton was introduced by her daughter Chelsea, who spoke of her mother as "a woman "driven by compassion, by faith, by kindness, a fierce sense of justice, and a heart full of love."

DW's Richard Walker had noticed earlier there were plenty of Bernie Sanders supporters in the room, eager to make a statement.

Democrats urged to unite

Ahead of the Clinton speeches, the conference saw a series of speeches from ordinary supporters, with Democrats - many of whom supported rival candidate Bernie Sanders - urged to set aside differences.

They included Khizr Khan, the father of Muslim soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan, who died while serving in the US Army in the years that followed the September 11 attacks in New York. Several Republican private citizen activists, including one who had closely worked with Ronald Reagan, also addressed the convention, stating that the GOP had abandoned its values and no longer represented their interests. They announced their intention to vote for Clinton and urged other Republican voters to join them in doing so.

A day earlier, President Barack Obama gave Clinton an overwhelming endorsement in his last speech to the conference as president - urging Democrats to "carry" Clinton to the White House and lauding her credentials as a candidate.

"There has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill (Clinton) - nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States," Obama said to cheers at the Philadelphia convention on Wednesday night.

Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine accepted his nomination on Wednesday, describing Clinton's rival for the presidency, Donald Trump, as a "one-man wrecking crew."

Trump urges supporters not to watch

Millions of Americans have tuned in to watch this month's party conventions, with the Democratic get-together is ahead in terms of ratings over last week's Republican event.

Donald Trump's Republicans to urged supporters not to watch Hillary Clinton's landmark speech on Thursday night. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," Trump's campaign said in a fundraising email.

France church attack: Authorities close to identifying second attacker
2016-Jul-28 | By Sihara Colombage

A shrine outside a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, FranceA shrine has been set up at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray

French investigators believe they are close to identifying the second man who killed a priest in his own church on Tuesday, French media report.

They believe he could be the same person as a man they have been hunting since last week after a tip-off.

One of the two church attackers has already been named by police as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche.

So-called Islamic State has released a video of what it says are the two men pledging allegiance to the group.

Fr Jacques Hamel, 86, had his throat cut in the attack at a church in a Normandy suburb, while a worshipper was left seriously injured.

Both of the attackers were shot dead by police after they took hostages.

Officers are said to have found an ID card at the home of Kermiche belonging to an individual named as Abdelmalik P, from Aix-les-Bains in eastern France.

It is not known whether this is the second attacker, whose face was badly disfigured by the police shooting.

Le Monde reports (in French) that Abdelmalik P strongly resembles a man already being sought by security services over fears he was about to carry out an attack.

Apple sees iPhone sales drop again but beats forecasts
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

iPhone and user

Apple has reported a second consecutive quarter of falling iPhone sales, but the 15% drop was not as bad as analysts had feared.

The US tech giant sold 40.4 million iPhones in its third quarter, slightly above forecasts of 40.02 million.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the results reflected "stronger customer demand... than we anticipated".

The firm said it expected sales to fall again in the fourth quarter to between $45.5bn (£34bn; €41.4bn) and $47.5bn.

Demand for Apple's flagship product has been slowing since the second quarter when the firm reported the first drop in iPhone sales since their 2007 launch.

The iPhone makes up for around two-thirds of Apple's sales and accounts for even more of its profits.

The slowdown in iPhone sales sent profit down 27% to $7.8bn in the three months to 25 June, while revenues fell 14.6% to $42.4bn.

iPhone 6iPhone 6 sales surged 35% in the second quarter last year

Apple's sales in Greater China - defined by the company as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - plunged 33%.

The firm blamed economic uncertainty and people not upgrading their phones as often for the drop.

China accounts for almost a quarter of Apple's sales, more than all of Europe combined.

"It is very clear that there are some signs of economic slowdown in China, and we will have to work through them.

"We understand China well and we remain very, very optimistic about the future there," said Apple chief financial officer Luca Maestri.

Apple shares surge

Results were also hit by the impact of a stronger dollar.

Nonetheless, shares, which have fallen almost 20% over the past year, rose over 7% in after-hours trading because the firm's overall performance was not as bad as analysts had expected.

Mr Maestri said comparisons to the second quarter last year, when iPhone 6 sales surged 35%, made its performance seem worse than it was.

He also pointed to its services business, which includes the App Store, Apple Pay, iCloud and other services, as a bright spot.

The division made nearly $6bn in revenue, up 18.9% from the same time last year, and is now the firm's second-largest sales generator after the iPhone.

The shift is good news for the firm because it allows it to make more money from its existing users.

Migrant workers in UAE including Lankans forced to work as slaves 
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Migrant workers in UAE including Lankans forced to work as slaves – report

Some 100 migrants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are stranded in Abu Dhabi after their employer refused to renew their work permits, Reuters reports. Forced to work without wages, they are pleading with their governments to bring them home.

Around 15 migrant workers from India’s Tamil Nadu province who are stuck at Ghayathi labor camp in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) claim they have been deliberately left with expired work permits, no money, and little food, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

“Our employment contract, visas, labor card and the resident identity card has expired, but the sponsor has not renewed them, forcing employees to work without wages,” they said in a video and a written appeal cited by Reuters, adding that there are nearly 100 workers from several countries in a similar predicament.

The migrants insist they have not been paid any wages since November last year. One of the workers’ spouses said her husband has not been paid for nine months, and that she has not heard from him for a month. “Please help us reunite with our families,” one of the Indian workers said.

According to data from the Indian government, up to six million Indians are currently working in the Persian Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

 “We received their complaint a few days back and sent it to our mission in Abu Dhabi asking for immediate repatriation and ensuring the companies they were working for pay their salaries,” an unidentified Indian foreign ministry official told Reuters.

Agents are trafficking workers from India to the Gulf States ”with false promises and no proper documentation,” Josephine Valarmathi of the non-profit National Domestic Workers’ Movement told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s time the government investigated how workers are sent through these agencies without proper documentation,” Valarmathi said.

Migrant workers pay up to 200,000 rupees (US$3,000) to an agent in India to get a job in the Gulf States. The duped workers have provided a list of such agents who effectively sold them into slavery overseas, and demanded that action be taken against them.

Doping scandals reduce interest in Olympics, says BBC survey
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Spectators at an Olympic event at the London 2012 GamesCitizens of developed nations were least likely to link Olympic success to national pride

Doping scandals have reduced public interest in the Olympics, according to a poll for the BBC World Service.

A majority of 57%, from 19,000 people surveyed across 19 countries, said doping has had "a lot" or "some" negative effect on the level of attention they will pay the Games.

Respondents from Germany and the host nation, Brazil, were least affected.

An average of 62% of citizens also said their country's performance has "a lot" or "some" impact on national pride.

Olympic success had the greatest impact on national pride among respondents in emerging economies such as Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, Peru and India.

National pride in Brazil, Germany, the US and France appeared least affected by Olympic success.

GlobeScan, the firm that carried out the survey, said the poll suggested "that the Olympic Games continue to positively stimulate national pride, especially among citizens in emerging economies".

The firm's chairman, Doug Miller, said the poll results "also underscore the important role the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] plays in protecting the Olympic franchise."

Russian and Olympic flags, file photoThe IOC has rejected calls for a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Rio Games

Earlier this week, Wada criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for rejecting its recommendation to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics, due to start on 5 August.

An investigation commissioned by Wada claimed this month that Russia has been operating a state-sponsored doping programme across the "vast majority" of summer and winter Olympic sports.

A majority of people in 13 of the 19 countries polled said the use of doping would reduce their interest in the Olympics.

Citizens of South Korea, Peru, Australia and France were most likely to lose interest in the Games because of doping, according to the survey.

However, only 35% of Germans and 36% of Brazilians said they would be put off by the Games on that account.

The survey was conducted between December 2015 and April this year.

Australian teen abused in detention speaks out
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

A youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guardsA youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guards

An teenager who has become the face of a juvenile detention scandal has thanked Australians for their support.

Images of Dylan Voller cuffed to a mechanical restraint chair drew widespread condemnation after they were aired on television.

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday convened a royal commission to examine treatment of juvenile inmates in the Northern Territory.

In a public letter, Voller said he wanted to make up for his past actions.

"I would just like to thank the whole Australian community for the support you have showed for us boys as well as our families," Voller wrote.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to the community for my wrongs and I can't wait to get out and make up for them."

Dylan Voller is shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015Dylan Voller is shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015

The chair

The Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s Four Corners programme this week showed footage of teenage offenders stripped naked, assaulted and tear gassed at the Northern Territory's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

Voller, who has been convicted of crimes including car theft, robbery and assault, was targeted in a number of incidents.

One of the guards who worked at the juvenile detention centre revealed that Voller had been placed in the restraint chair on multiple occasions.

"I know of three times he was in the restraint chair," said youth detention guard Ben Kelleher.

"Dylan was never so still, he was never so sheepish as he was when he was in that chair. I think he had admitted defeat when it happened.

"I turned up for one shift and Dylan was in the chair and the other two times they were on incident reports I read once I got to work," he said.

What the program showed

Video shows a prison guard apparently hitting a juvenile detaineeVideo shows a prison guard apparently hitting a juvenile detainee

  • Much of the program focused on treatment of Dylan Voller, who was assaulted, stripped naked and kept in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2012, when he was aged between 13 and 14.
  • At one stage Voller was strapped to a restraint chair while wearing a hood for almost two hours
  • Voller was also among a group of six children who were tear gassed at the Don Dale centre in 2014
  • The Northern Territory corrections system has reportedly been plagued by accusations of mistreatment of offenders and a run of escapes from custody

Letter by Dylan Voller

'I can't wait to get out'

In the letter released by his lawyers, Voller also thanked Four Corners for "helping to get the truth out there".

He is eligible for release in August. It will be the first time he has experienced freedom as an adult.

His lawyer called for the young man's immediate release and said his client was "scared for his safety".

The inside of the Don Dale centre in the Northern Territory

Voller's sister said she struggled to watch the footage of her brother being mistreated.

"I wanted to turn the TV off," Kirra Voller told the NT News.

"He's just a lost little boy on the inside who needed guidance and love and support, but from the age of 10 he was isolated and separated from everyone and everything," she said.

The prime minister is now under pressure to widen the scope of the royal commission to treatment of youths in detention nationwide.

The Northern Territory's attorney-general, John Elferink, has been stripped of his corrections portfolio in the wake of the scandal.

HK journalists jailed in China for 'illegal business'
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Magazines (generic)

Two journalists who worked on political magazines in Hong Kong have been jailed in mainland China for running an illegal business.

Publisher Wang Jianmin and editor Guo Zhongxiao worked on New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face, which published gossipy news about mainland leaders.

The articles were published in Hong Kong, which has greater media freedoms, but copies were sent to the mainland.

They were arrested in 2014 in Shenzhen, and both men pleaded guilty in court.

Wang was jailed for five years and three months, while Guo was jailed for two years and three months and is expected to be released soon for time served.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said the defence had argued that only eight copies of the magazine were ever sent to China, and only to friends of its publisher.

The sentencing follows the disappearance of five booksellers connected to a Hong Kong publisher and bookshop which also produced items critical of China's leaders.

The men later turned up in Chinese detention - one is still being held.

The Hong Kong Journalist Association said the sentencing was a blow to Hong Kong's freedom of speech, and that China appeared to be cracking down on the media.

Hillary Clinton Formally Declared Democrat Party Nominee, Making US History
2016-Jul-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Hillary Clinton Formally Declared Democrat Party Nominee, Making US History

Clinton has passed the vote threshold at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to win the party's backing. She makes history by becoming the first woman to be nominated for president of a major US party.

In a symbolic show of party unity, Clinton's former rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told the convention chairwoman that the former first lady should be selected as the party's nominee by acclamation (crowd approval).

"I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States," Sanders announced, as the convention roll call reached his home state, a process where each state declares its delegate counts.

Following the announcement, Clinton tweeted just one word: "History."

The confirmation was greeted with cheers from ecstatic Clinton supporters, who drowned out jeers from Sanders' supporters. Senior Democrats took to the stage to praise their new nominee.

Clinton later addressed the crowd in a short live video from New York, telling them "we have put the biggest crack yet in that glass ceiling."

A few minutes before the announcement, Clinton had been confirmed to have passed the delegate threshold of 2,382 delegates to win the nomination. She later emerged with a total of 2,842 votes to Sanders' 1,865 votes.

The former New York senator and secretary of state had faced Sanders in a tough primary fight for the nomination, which lasted more than a year.

Although Sanders endorsed Clinton, some of his supporters protested in Philadelphia against the party leadership's apparent backing of her during the bitter Democratic primary fight.

Earlier Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski placed Clinton's name in nomination, a move that was later seconded by civil rights leader and Georgia Representative John Lewis.

The symbolic roll call was packed with extra emotion over Clinton's historic achievement. A 102-year-old woman, born before women had the right to vote, cast the ballots for the state of Arizona.

In a speech at the convention later Tuesday, former US President Bill Clinton paid tribute to his wife, saying "she would make America stronger together," a reference to her campaign slogan, "because she's been doing it all of her life."

He praised Hillary as a force for change and a longtime fighter for social justice as he made a case for her historic 2016 bid for the presidency.

The former US Secretary of State is expected to formally accept the party's nomination in a speech at the Convention Thursday.

Clinton will now face Republican nominee Donald Trump in the final race for the White House. The US will vote to replace two-term President Barack Obama on November 8.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll predicts a close race. But Trump has taken a 2 point lead over Clinton with 39 percent support, versus 37 percent for the former First Lady.

Ansbach explosion: Bomber pledged allegiance to IS
2016-Jul-26 | By Sihara Colombage

Police tape blocks access to the area in central Ansbach where the explosion took place (25 July 2016)The attacker tried to gain access to a music festival in the centre of the historic town

The Syrian man who blew himself up in Ansbach, Germany, on Sunday made a video pledging allegiance to the leader of so-called Islamic State, Bavarian authorities say.

The man threatened a "revenge attack" on Germans in the video, they said.

Germany's federal prosecutor's office has taken on the case due to "the suspicion of membership of a foreign terrorist organisation".

IS has claimed it was behind the attack and the Syrian was an IS "soldier".

Fifteen people were injured, four of them seriously, when an explosive device in the man's rucksack, packed with shrapnel, went off close to a music festival in the small town, which is near Nuremberg.

If the attack is confirmed as IS-linked, it would be the first Islamist-inspired suicide bomb on German soil.

The bomber had been denied asylum in Germany and was due to be deported to Bulgaria, where he had previously been granted refugee status.

He had received psychiatric inpatient treatment and had tried to take his own life on two previous occasions, officials said.

Naming the man as 27-year-old Mohammad D., the federal prosecutor's office saidin a statement (in German) that a video in which a masked man pledges allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, was found on one of the attacker's phones.

Investigators believe that the masked man is Mohammad D. himself. Authorities are investigating whether other people were involved in the crime.

Flowers lie near the area of a suicide bomb attack at a music festival on July 25, 2016 in Ansbach, Germany.Fifteen people were injured in the attack

State Interior Minister Joachim Hermann said two phones, multiple SIM cards and a laptop were found with the body of the asylum seeker or at his accommodation.

The attacker announced in the video "an act of revenge against Germans because they were standing in the way of Islam," Mr Hermann said.

Germany was already reeling after five people were wounded on a train in another part of Bavaria a week ago by an axe-wielding teenager from Afghanistan who had pledged allegiance to IS.

On Friday nine people were killed by a teenage gunman in the state capital, Munich, who then shot himself dead. That incident was not believed to be jihadist-inspired.

Bavarian authorities said that the bomb which exploded in Ansbach was clearly meant to kill as many people as possible.

Further bomb-making equipment was found at the asylum seeker accommodation where the man was living, including a fuel canister, hydrogen peroxide and batteries, they added.

A detailed analysis of the content of all the videos found on the man's electronic devices was ongoing, Mr Hermann said.

"I think that after this video there's no doubt that the attack was a terrorist attack with an Islamist background," the state interior minister said.

Seven deadly days

A week of bloody attacks has frayed nerves in Germany, which led the way in accepting asylum seekers from Syria. To date, two of the attacks have been linked to a militant group:

People mourn the victims of the Munich attack, 23 July

  • 18 July: An axe-wielding teenage asylum seeker from Afghanistan is shot dead after injuring five people in an attack on a train. IS claims the attack, releasing a video recorded by the attacker before the incident
  • 24 July: A Syrian asylum seeker is arrested in the town of Reutlingen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, after allegedly killing a Polish woman with a machete and injuring two other people. Police suggest it was probably a "crime of passion"
  • 24 July: A failed Syrian asylum seeker blows himself up outside a music festival in the small Bavarian town of Ansbach, injuring 15 other people.

The German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, acknowledged possible links to international terrorism and IS but also added: "At the same time, we cannot exclude a particular psychological or mental disorder or instability - or we may be talking about a combination of both factors."

Mr de Maiziere has ordered increased police presence in public places.

A neighbour at the asylum seeker accommodation where Mohammad D. lived said he often lied, without any reason, perhaps for attention. He had always said he did not like IS, the neighbour said.

Police officers stand in front of a former hotel where a Syrian man lived before he blew himself up on Sunday at an open-air music festival in Ansbach (25 July 2016)The unnamed Syrian man lived at this former hotel, now accommodation for asylum seekers

Map showing location of explosion in Ansbach

Germany has been the main destination of Syrian asylum seekers entering the EU, most of them arriving irregularly in Greece via Turkey.

Only 23 Syrians had their applications for asylum rejected by the country last year, out of a total of 105,620 decisions on Syrians' applications. A common reason for rejecting an application is when the asylum seeker submits false or incomplete information.

Just under half of asylum seekers rejected by Germany in the past two years were allowed to stay on in the country, according to a recent report in German daily Die Welt (in German).

The Ansbach bomber, who was among those rejected for asylum in 2015, appears to have been placed in a former hotel in the town, designated by the municipal authorities for asylum seekers since 2014.

Bangladesh police kill nine suspected militants in raid
2016-Jul-26 | By Sihara Colombage

Bangladeshi policemen stand under umbrellas at a checkpoint in Dhaka on July 5, 2016.Police have been conducting routine raids in suspected militant hideouts since deadly attacks at an upscale cafe killed 20 people

Police in Bangladesh have killed nine suspected Islamist militants after a gun battle in Dhaka, officials said.

Police were searching the residential area of Kallyanpur when they were attacked by handmade bombs.

Bangladesh has seen a string of deadly attacks on secular writers, bloggers, and member of religious minorities.

Earlier this month 20 people, mostly foreigners, were killed in a bloody attack on an upmarket cafe in Dhaka.

It was not immediately clear which group the suspected militants killed on Tuesday were part of. One suspect was taken into custody by police.

On 1 July, five armed men entered the Holey Artisan Bakery in the diplomatic area and held people hostage for several hours. At least 20 people died in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Since the attack, police have been conducting planned "block raids" in suspected militant hideouts.

It was during one of these regular searches that the police came under attack on Tuesday, according to Deputy Police Commissioner Masud Ahmed, and retaliated with gun fire.

Analysis: The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan in Dhaka

This is the first time several suspected Islamist militants have been killed in an operation since the Holey Artisan bakery siege. It is not yet clear which group they belonged to.

Police believe that dozens of extremists are still in hiding and may be planning further attacks. The security forces have been under intense criticism for failing to prevent recent attacks and the targeted killings in the past three years.

The Bangladeshi government says home-grown extremists are responsible for the violence. But the Islamic State group and the Al-Qaeda in South Asia have said they carried out some of these attacks.

Australia PM calls investigation into juvenile 'torture'
2016-Jul-26 | By Sihara Colombage

A teenage boy shown hooded and strapped into a chairA teenage boy shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015

Australia's prime minister has called a royal commission after a report showed prison guards assaulting teenage boys in juvenile detention.

The Four Corners program showed footage of teenage offenders stripped naked, assaulted and tear gassed.

One of the boys was hooded and cuffed to a mechanical restraint chair wearing a "spit hood".

The report raised questions about an institutionalised culture of abuse at Northern Territory corrections centres.

'Shocked and appalled'

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the treatment of youths by the Northern Territory corrections system needed a thorough enquiry.

"Like all Australians, I have been deeply shocked, shocked and appalled, by the images of mistreatment at the Don Dale centre," Mr Turnbull said.

"We will be establishing a royal commission into these events, into this centre; we intend to do so jointly with the Northern Territory government.

"We will get to the bottom of what happened here ... we want to know why there were inquiries into this centre which did not turn up the evidence and the information that we saw on Four Corners last night."

What the program showed

Video shows a prison guard apparently hitting a juvenile detainee

  • Much of the program focused on treatment of a boy who was assaulted, stripped naked and kept in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2012, when he was aged between 13 and 14.
  • At one stage the boy was transferred to an adult prison and strapped to a restraint chair while wearing a hood for almost two hours
  • The boy was also among a group of six children who were tear gassed at the Don Dale centre in 2014
  • The Northern Territory corrections system has reportedly been plagued by accusations of mistreatment of offenders and a run of escapes from custody

'Serious questions'

The Northern Territory's chief minister, Adam Giles, said he was "shocked and disgusted" and also called for a royal commission.

"A community is judged by the way it treats its children and serious questions were raised by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp) tonight," Mr Giles said.

Mr Giles also reiterated his support for the staff working in the Northern Territory's correctional institutions.

"They have a challenging and difficult job, one that not many people wish to do," he said.

"To those officers I want to say, you have my full support for the work that you do in upholding our laws."

A youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guardsA youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guards

'What we need'

Barrister John Lawrence compared the treatment of the children to Guantanamo Bay.

"We're talking about kids that are being shackled with handcuffs on their ankles, their wrists, their waist areas. They're being shackled to chairs," he told Four Corners.

"This is actually happening in Australia in 2016."

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, praised the decision to investigate mistreatment at the juvenile detention centres.

"I think for the prime minister to respond so quickly with the idea of a royal commission, and possibly an interim report, is exactly what we need," Prof. Triggs said.

"If one of us were to have been found to have treated our children in this way we would probably be charged with a criminal offence and the children taken away from us."

Eva Longoria Slams Donald Trump — ‘My Father’s Not A Rapist, He’s A Veteran’ (VIDEO)
2016-Jul-26 | By Sihara Colombage

Eva Longoria Slams Donald Trump — ‘My Father’s Not A Rapist, He’s A Veteran’ (VIDEO)

Eva Longoria, 41, introduced Senator Cory Booker at the Democratic National Convention on July 25, and her heartfelt speech gave us all the feels! As a woman of Mexican heritage, a working wife, and a sister to a handicapped woman, she bashed several of Donald Trump’s insensitive comments, and it was both emotional and powerful!

The most passionate part of her speech was when she said that her father, an 8th generation American, “is not a criminal or a rapist. In fact, he is a United States veteran.” That’ll show Donald! She also made a point that “America is pretty great already” when she described herself as being “a Latina from South Texas” introducing “the first black senator from New Jersey on the week we will nominate our first woman candidate for president of the United States.” How cool is that?!

What better person to introduce Cory than Eva? She’s a successful actress, an outspoken entrepreneur, and the creator of The Eva Longoria Foundation, which “helps Latinas build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship,” according to the website.

We were fully expecting her to make a comment about Hillary’s support for Latinas, especially since she compared Donald Trump to Hitler for his comment calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers.” “What I think he doesn’t understand and what people don’t understand is words create emotional poison,” Eva told The Hollywood Reporter. “Hitler moved a nation with words, just words.”

Eva has been supporting Hillary since before she even announced her candidacy, saying “absolutely” when TMZ asked if she would help campaign for her. Clearly she’s made good on that promise, because she’s been behind her every step of the way this election!

At the very important Nevada Caucus in Feb., Eva took the stage to vouch for Hillary as a supporter of Latinas. “I keep hearing, “I’m just not inspired by Hillary,”’ Eva said, after explaining that Latinos aren’t just a “single issue group,” “If Hillary doesn’t inspire you you aren’t paying attention. For over three decades she’s fought for us. Now it’s time to fight for her.” Eva is definitely giving that fight her all at the DNC!


At Least 19 Killed In Knife Attack In Japan
2016-Jul-26 | By Sihara Colombage

At Least 19 Killed In Knife Attack In Japan

Nineteen residents have been killed in a knife attack at a care centre for people with mental disabilities in the Japanese city of Sagamihara.

Such attacks are extremely rare in Japan - the incident is the worst mass killing in decades.

Police have arrested a local man, said to be a former employee of the centre, who went to a nearby police station and allegedly admitted to the attack.

He reportedly said he wanted people with disabilities to "disappear".

The attack has shocked Japan, one of the safest countries in the world.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it was "a very heart-wrenching and shocking incident in which many innocent people became victims".

Letter to politicians

The suspect was named in local media as 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu.

Local police have said he sent a handwritten letter to politicians in February in which he threatened to kill hundreds of disabled people. He was kept in hospital for almost two weeks before being released.

Blood on the steering wheel of a car allegedly driven by the suspect to the police station, Sagamihara, Japan (26 July 2016)The attacker is believed to have driven himself to the local police station to confess

Staff at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en facility, in a suburban area of Kanagawa prefecture about 50km (31 miles) from Tokyo, called police at 02:30 local time (17:30 GMT) to report a man with a knife inside the building.

Local media reports say the suspect broke a window to get inside and then began stabbing people.

One local resident, Chikara Inabayashi 68, told AFP he had been woken by the sound of sirens at about 03:00.

"I was astonished, that's the only thing I can say.''

The facility, set in extensive grounds, had about 150 residents at the time of the attack, according to local officials. Eight staff members were on duty at the time.

Aerial view of the Tsukui Yamayuri Garden facility in Sagamihara, Japan (27 July 2016)The facility is about 50km from Tokyo in a suburban area of Sagamihara

The victims were aged between 19 and 70, the Kyodo news agency, said citing the Sagamihara City Fire Department. Another 25 people were injured, 20 seriously. Both men and women were reported to be among the dead.

One doctor told NHK: "The patients are very shocked mentally, and they cannot speak now."

It appears that the attacker then left the facility himself, and drove to the Tsukui police station where he turned himself in.

Pictures have emerged of what is reported to be the steering wheel of his car, stained with blood.

"When Uematsu turned himself in, he was found carrying kitchen knives and other types of knives stained with blood," a Kanagawa official told reporters.

Police inside Tsukui Yamayuri-enPolice have been investigating the inside of the building

Reporters outside suspect's home in Sagamihara, Japan (26 July 2016)Reporters have gathered outside the home of the suspect, which is not for from the care home

One woman who said she used to work at Tsukui Yamayuri-en told local media: "They are truly innocent people. What did they do?"

Officials have ruled out any link to terrorism.

Mass killings are extremely rare in Japan, in part because strict gun control laws means almost no-one has access to a firearm.

  • 8 June 2008 - a man drove a truck into a packed shopping district at Akihabara in Tokyo, before climbing out and randomly stabbing people. Seven people died.
  • 8 June 2001 - man with a history of mental illness stabbed eight children to death at an Osaka primary school in 2001.
  • 20 March 1995 - 13 people die and thousands are made ill when members of a doomsday cult release sarin gas in the Tokyo subway.

A map showing Sagamihara, Japan

Bollywood Actor Salman Khan Acquitted Of Poaching Charges
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Bollywood Actor Salman Khan Acquitted Of Poaching Charges

In a huge relief for Bollywood actor Salman Khan, the Rajasthan high court on Monday acquitted him in the Jodhpur blackbuck and chinkara poaching cases.

Khan was accused of killing a blackbuck and a chinkara in two separate incidents in 1998.

The actor had appealed to the Rajasthan high court challenging a lower court's verdict that convicted him and sentenced him to one and five years in jail for the two cases of poaching.

The high court completed hearing the cases in the last week of May but reserved its decision at the time.

Khan was accused of killing one of the animals in Bhawad on the outskirts of Jodhpur on September 26, 1998, and another in Ghoda Farms on September 28, 1998.

At that time of the alleged incidents Khan was shooting for the film "Hum Sath Sath Hain" in Jodhpur.

Canada, UK renew calls for reconciliation in Sri Lanka
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Canada, UK renew calls for reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Even as Sri Lanka observes 33rd anniversary of the anti-Tamil riots which triggered a long civil war, Canada and the United Kingdom, both known for having a significant number of Tamil diaspora, have renewed their call to Sri Lanka to fulfill commitments on human rights and democracy      


In a statement issued from Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau felt that the war and the devastation it wrought “reminds us to heal the wounds of those who have suffered, and to promote unity over division and inclusion over prejudice.”  His country would “continue to encourage the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its commitment[s]” as stipulated in the October 2015 resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council.


Reports of harassment by troops: U.K.


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the U.K. government, in its bi-annual report on human rights covering the first half of 2016, stated that NGOs and media continued to report incidents of surveillance, intimidation and harassment by the security forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, “although fewer than under the previous government.”  It also referred to the assessment of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture in this context.


The report, giving an account of the government’s steps, said the U.K. had “consistently called” for land releases and de-militarisation of the north to be accelerated.


London’s training to the military


Taking note of the role of the military in addressing the legacy of Sri Lanka’s long conflict,  the document  said London, earlier this year, started providing “strategic leadership training” to the military, including on understanding and complying with international law and human rights.


Expressing the hope that the “positive trajectory” would continue in the coming months of the year, the UK wanted Sri Lanka to take steps to address areas of concern, which included an increase in nationalist campaigns (such as “Sinhale”) over recent months, targeting religious minorities and the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT), the Hindu reports.

Bangladeshi boy, 10, murdered by fellow textile workers
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Police escort one of the accused to the courtroom in Sylhet - 8 NovemberLast year, the murder of two teenagers caused widespread outrage

A 10-year-old boy who worked in a spinning mill in Bangladesh has died after other workers inserted a high-pressure nozzle into his rectum and activated it, local media reports say.

Police in Narayanganj say it is unclear why Sagar Barman was assaulted.

Last year, a 13-year-old boy was killed in the same way in a vehicle workshop in another part of the country.

Two men were sentenced to death over the case, which sparked large protests.

Bangladesh boy killings: Six sentenced to death

Rakib Hawlader died in August last year after air was pumped into his body in retaliation for leaving his job.

His death followed the killing of another teenager, Samiul Alam Rajon, who was beaten to death by a mob after allegedly stealing a bicycle.

Four men were sentenced to death over that killing.

Child labour is common in Bangladesh, with many children working in unofficial garment factories, often in harsh conditions.

Germany blast: Syrian migrant 'behind Ansbach explosion'
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A failed asylum seeker from Syria killed himself and injured 12 other people after setting off a bomb near an open-air music festival in the German city of Ansbach, officials say.

Bavaria's interior minister said the 27-year-old man detonated a backpack device after being refused entry to the festival in the southern city.

About 2,500 people were evacuated from the venue after the explosion.

It is the third attack in the state of Bavaria in a week.

A shooting rampage in Munich on Friday left nine dead while an axe-wielding teenager was shot dead after injuring four people on a train a week ago in Wuerzburg.

Armed police in Ansbach, Germany, 25 July 2016Armed police have sealed off the centre of Ansbach

The explosion is reported to have happened at about 22:10 (20:10 GMT) outside a bar which is a short distance from the entrance to the music festival.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the suspected attacker had entered Germany two years ago and had his asylum claim rejected a year ago.

He had been given leave to stay temporarily given the situation in his home country and provided with an apartment in Ansbach, he added.

The minister said he was "incensed" by the attack, which he said demonstrated the need "to strengthen controls on those we have living in our country".

Mr Herrmann said the man was known to have attempted suicide twice before, adding: "We don't know if this man planned on suicide or if he had the intention of killing others."

However, he said the explosives in the man's backpack would have been sufficient to kill and injure many more people.

Police said they were trying to establish the kind of explosive he used.

Map locator

India informally protests to Lanka about Pakistani demo on Kashmir?
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


India informally protests to Lanka about Pakistani demo on Kashmir?

India has unofficially told the Sri Lankan government that it is concerned about the Pakistan High Commission-organized anti-Indian demonstration on Kashmir held here on July 21, the New Indian Express reports.

About 20 people, including members of the Pakistan-embassy sponsored Kashmir Study Forum, demonstrated before the UN office on Bauddhaloka Mawatha, holding placards asking the UN Secretary General and the UN Human Rights Council to take up with India the “grave violations of human rights” in Kashmir.

In a letter addressed to Sri Lankan media organizations dated July 20, the Pakistan High Commission requested coverage for the demonstration. It said that a memorandum to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be handed over by the protesters.

According to sources, India told the Lankan authorities that its objection is not to Sri Lankan nationals protesting against India on one issue or the other, but to the Pakistan High Commission’s using Sri Lankan soil to stage protests against India. Such undiplomatic conduct might start an unpleasant trend, New Delhi warned.

The Pakistan High Commission regularly organizes a Kashmir Day seminar in which Pakistanis and Sri Lankans participate but the event is held within the precincts of the High Commission.

Sri Lanka condemns deadly shooting in Munich
2016-Jul-25 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Sri Lanka condemns deadly shooting in Munich

Sri Lanka has condemned the deadly shooting in the German city of Munich on Friday which left at least 9 people dead and 16 others injured.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mahishini Colonne said that Sri Lanka extended its condolences to the families of the victims and wished a quick recovery to those injured.
An 18-year-old German-Iranian who had lived in Munich for at least two years is alleged to be responsible for the attack after he opened fire in a busy shopping mall in Munich on Friday evening, who later shot himself.
The attack is the third against civilians in Western Europe in eight days.
Media reports said that the attacker was not known to police and his motives are unclear. No group has claimed responsibility.
Many children were among the casualties.


California wildfires: Hundreds flee homes near Los Angeles
2016-Jul-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A firefighting helicopter drops water at the Sand Fire on July 23 2016 near Santa Clarita, CaliforniaHelicopters are dropping water on the flames near Santa Clarita

Fast-moving wildfires have forced hundreds of people to leave their homes in mountains north of Los Angeles, California, the authorities say.

The fires had covered an area of 20,000 acres by Saturday evening, sending a pall of smoke across parts of Los Angeles County.

About 300 people have been evacuated near the city of Santa Clarita.

Public swimming pools in Pasadena and Glendale closed because of smoke and falling ash.

The fires are being driven by high temperatures and strong winds, as forecasters warn the conditions are set to continue.

The wildfires, known as the Sand Fire, broke out on Friday afternoon in the Sand Canyon area near Santa Clarita and winds quickly fanned them towards the Angeles National Forest.

Smoke seen from Los Angeles International Airport. 23 July 2016Smoke can be seen from Los Angeles International Airport

About 900 firefighters are battling the flames, helped by helicopters and aeroplanes dumping water and fire retardant.

Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp said that about 1,000 homes were currently in danger but if the situation worsened, up to 45,000 homes, mostly in the San Fernando Valley, could be at risk.

Among those evacuated to safety were about 400 animals from the Wildlife Waystation, a sanctuary for rescued exotic animals within the national forest.

Firefighters of the Texas Canyon Hotshot crew fight the Sand Fire on July 23 2016 near Santa Clarita, California.Hundreds of firefighters are battling the flames

ISIS Claims Attack On Afghan Protest
2016-Jul-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

ISIS Claims Attack On Afghan Protest

So-called Islamic State has said it was behind an attack on a protest march in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that killed at least 61 people and wounded 200.

The IS-linked Amaq news agency said two fighters "detonated explosive belts at a gathering of Shia" in Kabul.

The attack in Deh Mazang square targeted thousands from the Shia Hazara minority who were protesting over a new power line, saying its route bypasses provinces where many of them live.

The Taliban have condemned the attack.

Spokesperson Zabiullah Mujaheed sent an e-mail to the media saying they were not behind it.

A freelance journalist working for BBC Afghan said blood and body parts were everywhere, with debris strewn around.

'Death to discrimination

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was "deeply saddened", adding: "Peaceful protest is the right of every citizen, but opportunist terrorists infiltrated the crowds and carried out the attack, killing and injuring a number of citizens including some security forces."

A large part of Kabul's city centre had been sealed off for the protest march.

The demonstrators had waved banners and chanted "death to discrimination", angry that the 500kV power transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul would not pass through Bamyan and Wardak provinces, which have large Hazara populations.

The Hazaras - mostly Shia Muslims - make up the third largest group in Afghanistan. They live mainly in the centre of the country.

They complain of persistent discrimination, especially during Taliban rule in the late 1990s, when many of them fled to Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan.

Sri Lanka condemns Munich shooting
2016-Jul-23 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Sri Lanka condemns Munich shooting

The Sri Lankan Government has condemned the shooting incident which left at least nine people dead and 16 others injured Friday at a busy shopping district in Munich, Germany.

“Sri Lanka condemns the shooting in Munich. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims n wish a quick recovery to those injured,” Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry spokesman Mahishini Colonne said.

In the third attack hitting Europe in eight days, an 18-year-old “Iranian in Munich” opened gunfire at a shopping mall in Munich. 

The attacker, who is believed to be acting alone, was later found dead of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic Statecelebrated on social media. Authorities said it was too early to say whether it was a terrorist attack, and said they had no immediate evidence of an Islamist motive.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet a host of intelligence officials on Saturday to review the incident as leaders from across the world extended their support and condolences.

US President Barack Obama offered full US support to Germany in investigating the deadly terror attack. “Germany is one of our closest allies, so we are going to pledge all the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances,” Obama said at the White House.

“The terrorist attack that struck Munich killing many people is a disgusting act that aims to foment fear in Germany after other European countries,” said the President of France, Francois Hollande, in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the “horrific” attack in Munich and said his prayers are with the families of the deceased.

‘Motives Incomprehensible’: Lone Munich Gunman Commits Suicide After Killing 9, Injuring 19
2016-Jul-23 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Munich police have announced a ‘cautious all-clear’ after an hours-long manhunt which culminated in the discovery of the suspected gunman’s body. The shooter is believed to have acted alone and with no clear motives in a rampage that claimed nine lives.

“We found a man, who killed him himself. We assume, that he was the only shooter,” Munich police department said.

The perpetrator has been identified “within the framework of Interpol,” police said in a series of tweets in German. Law enforcement believes “with high” probability that the gunman acted alone.

Police said the shooter was an 18-year-old German-Iranian who lived in the country for over two years and whose motives “are still unclear.”

At a press conference, police chief Hubertus Andrae admitted that conflicting witness testimonies made authorities believe that there were three killers at large, but that information has not been confirmed.

Police also announced that the shooting rampage that started at the Olympia shopping center and the adjoining McDonald's left 10 people dead, including one person who died in a hospital and the shooter himself, who has not yet been named.

Youths were among the nine victims of the attack, Andrae added. The chief also announced that 16 more people had been injured in the rampage, including children. Three of the wounded have a life-threatening condition.

Initial reports led police to believe that up to three gunmen were on the lose as security forces deployed all means possible to track the attackers. As the manhunt continued, police found the body of a man that they believed was of the shooter who committed suicide.

Explosives experts from Munich police went on to examine a backpack found on the dead man who resembled the gunman seen on several videos shared online. The body of the man was found about one kilometer (0.6 miles) away from the mall where the shootings took place. A special bomb robot reportedly aided in examining the suspect’s body.

Police, according to Focus Online, also secured a vehicle they believe belonged to the dead gunman. Citing a police source, the publication reported that a “dark gray medium-sized car” had been taken away on a tow truck.

After an intense hours-long manhunt during which special police teams were called in from all of Germany, the all-clear was given for Munich city center and public transport operations to restart shortly after 1:00am local time.

Shooting reported at shopping centre in Munich
2016-Jul-23 | By Gehan Jayaratne



Shooting reported at shopping centre in Munich

At least one person has been killed and an unknown number injured in a shooting at a shopping centre in the German city of Munich.

A big security operation is under way, German police say. The scene in the Moosach district has been sealed off.

Reports speak of one attacker. Helicopters are over the scene and shopworkers reportedly unable to leave.

The security forces have been on alert after a migrant stabbed five people on a train in Bavaria on Monday.

The authorities had warned of the danger of further attacks.

Munich police are telling people to avoid the area.

Brexit causes dramatic drop in UK economy, data suggests
2016-Jul-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Rain in London

Britain's decision to leave the EU has led to a "dramatic deterioration" in economic activity, not seen since the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Data from IHS Markit's Purchasing Managers' Index, or PMI, shows a fall to 47.7 in July, the lowest level since April in 2009. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.

Both manufacturing and service sectors saw a decline in output and orders.

However, exports picked up, driven by the weakening of the pound.

The report surveyed more than 650 services companies, from sectors including transport, business services, computing and restaurants.

'Major downturn in the economy', says Chris Williamson from IHS Markit

It asked them: "Is the level of business activity at your company higher, the same or lower than one month ago?"

It also asked manufacturers whether production had gone up or down.

The PMI is the first significant set of data measuring business reaction to the result of the UK referendum.

'Record slump'

Chris Williamson, chief economist at IHS Markit, said the downturn had been "most commonly attributed in one way or another to 'Brexit'."

He added that the economy could contract by 0.4% in the third quarter of this year, but that would depend on whether the current slump continued.

"The only other times we have seen this index fall to these low levels, was the global financial crisis in 2008/9, the bursting of the dot com bubble, and the 1998 Asian financial crisis," Mr Williamson told.

"The difference this time is that it is entirely home-grown, which suggest the impact could be greater on the UK economy than before.

"This is exactly what most economists were saying would happen."

A subset of the PMI figures, shows that service companies, such as insurance or advertising, are feeling less positive about the future than at any time since the height of the recession.

Grey line


The figures in PMI surveys are taken seriously by economists as early warning signs of what is in the pipeline. When there is a downturn, the PMIs generally tell the same story.

So this is a troubling set of results. But it is just one month's worth. It is possible that this is a "shock-induced nadir", as the chief economist at the firm who conducted the survey put it, and that the economy will right itself in the coming months.

In addition, the financial markets have stabilised and in some areas rebounded, in an adjustment after the vote that was described by the IMF as severe but generally orderly.

That said, the survey results do increase the chances of some action from the Bank of England, perhaps an interest rate cut in August, or perhaps even some additional spending plans in the chancellor's Autumn Statement.

Grey line

'Heading for recession'

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the figures provided the "first major evidence that the UK is entering a sharp downturn".

Although he added that the "confidence shock from the Leave vote might wear off over the coming months".

Philip Hammond willing to "reset fiscal policy" if deemed necessary

Neil Wilson, markets analyst at ETX Capital, said he thought the UK was "heading for a recession again", and that the data would almost certainly prompt the Bank of England to roll out further stimulus.

The pound has fallen in response to the publication of the data.

The UK's new chancellor, Philip Hammond, urged caution.

"Let's be clear, the PMI data is a measure of sentiment, it's not a measure of any hard activity in the economy.

"What it tells us is businesses confidence has been dented, they're not sure, they're in a period of uncertainty now."

Earlier on Friday, Mr Hammond said that he might "reset" Britain's fiscal policy.

'No surprise'

While IHS Markit's reading on the UK economy was worse than most analysts expected, its verdict on the wider eurozone economy was more cheery.

Although business confidence dropped to an 18-month low, the overall pace of economic growth was in line with pre-Brexit trends, and employment across the eurozone rose.

The optimistic outlook is in line with comments made by the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, who said on Thursday that Europe's financial markets had "weathered" the uncertainty caused by the vote.

Europe Economics' Andrew Lilico, who argued during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would be beneficial for the UK in the long term, told the BBC the PMI data was "no surprise", and that it "doesn't tell us much about what Brexit's longer term impact will be".

Mr Lilico said he always expected a short-term reaction, and those who voted to leave, "expected a short-term slowdown too".

The downturn, he added, was "associated with risks in the global economy," as well as Brexit.

Indian Air Force AN 32 Plane With 29 On Board Missing, Massive Search Ops On
2016-Jul-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne


?File Photo

An Indian Air Force (IAF) AN-32 plane with 29 on board is missing after it took off from Chennai this morning.

The plane took off from the Tambaram air base near Chennai a little after 8 am and was heading for Port Blair and was to have landed around 11.20 am.

Officials say the last contact with the plane, which has mostly service personnel on board, was around 15 minutes after take-off. The plane has an emergency beacon locator, which usually gets activated if the aircraft crashes.

A massive search operation has been launched by the air force, Navy and Coast Guard.

The Navy has launched surveillance aircraft to look for the missing plane in the Bay of Bengal. A Dornier aircraft has also been sent and four ships,  Karmukh, Gharial, Jyoti and Kuthar have been diverted to the region at full speed.

There are more than 100 AN-32s in service with the IAF. It is an aircraft that can fly for up to four hours without refueling.

Nice truck attack: Five suspected accomplices charged
2016-Jul-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne


People walk past flowers left in tribute at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack near the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, July 21, 2016.Flowers have been left along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice

Attack in Nice

Five suspects have appeared in court in France charged with terror offences in relation to the Nice truck attack.

The four men and one woman, aged between 22 and 40, are accused of helping driver Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel prepare the terror attack.

One of the suspects returned to the scene of the attack the following day to film the aftermath, French prosecutor Francois Molins said.

Lahouaiej-Bouhle killed 84 people when he drove into a crowd on Bastille Day.

He received logistical support for the attack from the five suspects, Mr Molins said, and had planned the attack for several months.

Three of the suspects, identified as Franco-Tunisians Ramzi A and Mohamed Oualid G, and a Tunisian named Chokri C, were charged as accomplices in "murder by a group with terror links".

An Albanian man named as Artan and a women who is a French-Albanian dual national, identified as Enkeldja, are suspected of providing Lahouaiej-Bouhlel with a pistol and were charged with "breaking the law on weapons in relation to a terrorist group".

All five will be held in custody, Mr Molins said.

Like Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, none of those detained were known to French intelligence prior to the attack, although Ramzi A had previous convictions for drugs and petty crime, Mr Molins said.

He said information from Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's phone showed searches and photos that indicated he had been studying an attack since 2015.

The so-called Islamic State group said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was one of its "soldiers" - but the lorry driver had not been on any French police watch list.

As the Bastille Day crowd enjoyed festivities on Nice's Promenade des Anglais, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel careered his large white lorry towards them.

People light candles at a makeshift memorial on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on July 19, 2016Makeshift memorials have been set up along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice

Two police officers opened fire when he mounted the kerb, but he simply accelerated and then zigzagged for up to 2km (1.25 miles), leaving a trail of carnage.

Police finally managed to bring the lorry to a halt, raking the driver's cabin with gunfire and killing Lahouaiej-Bouhlel.

More than 300 people were wounded in the attack.

France has extended its state of emergency until the end of January 2017. It gives the police extra powers to carry out searches and to place people under house arrest.

Too few police?

The government has also launched an inquiry into police actions in Nice on 14 July, amid claims that there were too few police to block a lorry that killed 84 people.

Just one local police car was on duty at the point where the lorry careered onto the pedestrian promenade, the daily Liberation reported.

The local police had neither enough time nor firepower to stop the lorry, it said.

That version of events was disputed by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

He said Liberation was referring to a separate, local police roadblock that was diverting traffic. The main roadblock at the start of the promenade was manned by six national police officers, who were "the first to confront the deadly lorry", he said, adding that two police cars of the national police were stationed there.

Pokemon Go finally launches in Japan
2016-Jul-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A look at the first time that Pokemon became a craze in the 1990s.

Nintendo's Pokemon Go has finally launched in Japan, says the game's developer Niantic Labs.

The American software company behind the game announced that the game was "finally broadcasting" in Japan.

First released in the US, Australia and New Zealand on 6 July and now available in more than 30 countries, the game has been a global phenomenon.

But until now players in the birthplace of the virtual monsters had not been able to take part.

On Friday morning, excited Japanese fans began tweeting that they had been able to start playing.

The Japanese launch is a sponsorship tie-in with McDonalds, with fast food restaurants expected to be Pokestops and "gyms"

After weeks of stories about people in other countries running into trouble playing the game, Japanese authorities have taken precautions and issued a nine-point safety guide, in cartoon form.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game on smartphones which already has millions of people worldwide obsessively capture small creatures in public spaces.

It works by showing you a picture of your real surroundings as caught by the phone's camera on your screen - but then uses GPS to place virtual little monsters within that picture on your screen.

The mix of virtual and real worlds allows players to, for instance, fight a dragon circling Big Ben or chase a spaceship moving down their street.

It began in the 1990s Game Boy and DS, it's been a cartoon programme and it's been a low-tech trading card game, but this is the first time it's been a smartphone game.

The monsters in it were first popular in the 1990s when they started on the Nintendo Game Boy. Back then, trading cards were a huge hit in school playgrounds and the new game manages to build on that legacy.

US election: Ted Cruz booed for failing to back Donald Trump
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Texas Senator Ted Cruz was booed as he failed to endorse Donald Trump as the US Republican nominee, during a speech at the party convention in Cleveland.

Mr Cruz only went as far as congratulating the man who had been his bitter rival in the primary contests.

Angry chants of "We want Trump!" and "Endorse Trump!" grew louder as the senator came to the end of his speech.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence then took centre stage to give his vice-presidential acceptance speech.

Mr Pence praised Mr Trump's record as a businessman and said the country had "but one choice" in November.

"It's change versus the status quo, and when Donald Trump is president, the change will be huge," he said.

  • But Mr Cruz is likely to steal the headlines after stoking the rage of the convention, to such an extent that his wife Heidi had to be escorted from the floor.

Cruz takes a risk: 

Ted CruzMr Cruz may have been looking to 2020 with his convention speech

A former colleague of Ted Cruz's once told me that the one unforgivable sin in the Texas senator's mind is to insult or demean Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz's father. Donald Trump did that toward the end of the presidential primary campaign, questioning whether the elder Cruz had ties to John Kennedy's assassination. And on Wednesday night, before a national audience on the Republican Party's biggest stage, the Texas senator got his revenge.

As Mr Cruz left the stage after his non-endorsement speech, showered in boos, he gave a brief thumbs-up, apparently satisfied that the deed was done. And what he did was turn the Republican convention on its head once again. Now, everyone will be talking about his speech - overshadowing what should have been vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence's coming-out party.

Mr Pence is the stable, trusted conservative politician who was supposed to rally unsure Republicans behind their new standard-bearer. Instead, Mr Cruz revealed a party still sharply divided. While those inside the arena seemed united in booing the senator, some conservatives outside the Trump-friendly confines praised his actions.

Politically, Mr Cruz has made a risky move, however. He has staked his future presidential hopes on the chance that Republicans will view him as a principled conservative and not a right-wing Judas. Given that Donald Trump received more than 12 million votes in 2016, that is a lot of support that he may have just permanently angered. But an insult was answered. "Lyin' Ted" had his moment of vengeance.

The Trump family reacts to Mr Cruz's speechHow the Trump family reacted to Mr Cruz's speech

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) greets vice presidential nominee Mike Pence after Pence spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan ErnstMr Trump greeted Mr Pence with an air kiss after he finished his speech

In his speech, Mr Cruz told supporters to "vote [with] their conscience" and not to stay at home for the general election.

He finished second to Mr Trump in the delegate count during a campaign that featured personal attacks by the New York businessman on Mr Cruz's wife and father.

The boos that drowned him out stopped when Mr Trump entered the convention hall before Mr Cruz had finished speaking.

Katty Kay tweets:

Nick Bryant tweets:

In other developments at the convention on Wednesday:

  • Shouts of "Lock her up!" directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton rang out from the floor for the second night running
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave a full-throated support of Mr Trump via video
  • There were 17 arrests outside the arena after a scuffle broke out from a flag-burning in the streets
  • Eric Trump talked effusively about his father

Republican war of words

Trump on Cruz

  • "I get along with everybody. You get along with nobody" - speaking in CNN debate 25 February
  • "Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a GQ shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!" - tweet sent 23 March
  • "I mean, what was he doing - what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?" - comment on Ted Cruz's father Rafael and the Kennedy assassination, 3 May

Cruz on Trump

Media captionTed Cruz: Donald Trump is a pathological liar

  • "The next Republican nominee needs to be able to make that case against Hillary [Clinton]. If Donald tried to do it, Hillary would turn to Donald and say, But gosh, Donald, you gave $100,000 to the Clinton foundation and I went to your wedding" - speaking in CNN debate 25 February
  • "This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies - practically every word that comes out of his mouth" - speaking 3 May

Mr Trump later said he knew Mr Cruz would not endorse him but had let him speak anyway.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his actions were "awful" and New York Congressman Peter King called the speech "disgraceful".

Mike Pence at the conventionMr Pence called Mrs Clinton "secretary of the status quo"

The drama came at the end of the day when the Republicans tried to finally put the plagiarism scandal behind them.

Melania Trump faced accusations of copying after it was discovered that lines in her remarks matched almost word for word a convention speech delivered by Michelle Obama in 2008.

After initial denials from the campaign, Meredith McIver, a Trump Organisation employee, admitted her role in writing the speech and apologised for the "chaos I have caused".

Thursday night is the main event of the four-day event - Mr Trump's acceptance speech.

The Republican convention - all you need to know

Media captionWhat's the point of a party convention anyway?

1. What is the point? At a convention, each party formally nominates its candidates for president and vice-president, and the party unveils its party platform, or manifesto.

2. Who is going? There are 2,472 delegates attending, selected at state and congressional district conventions, and representing each US state and territory. Plus 15,000 journalists and thousands of other party grandees, lawmakers and guests.

3. Who isn't going? Some senior figures who dislike Donald Trump have stayed away, including two ex-presidents named Bush, former nominee Mitt Romney and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

4. What is the schedule?

  • Thursday - Donald Trump, introduced by daughter Ivanka
US Calls For Extradition Of Alleged Kickass Site Owner
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


US Calls For Extradition Of Alleged Kickass Site Owner

Attorneys for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said they want 30-year-old Kharkiv-resident Artem Vaulin - who was arrested in Poland on Wednesday - to be extradited to the US to face charges that include conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and money laundering.

US officials will seek to extradite Vaulin to face charges filed in federal court in Chicago, which has reportedly ordered the seizure of a bank account and seven domain names connected with the website.

"Vaulin is charged with running today's most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said.

The move comes as the founder of Megaupload - known as Kim Dotcom - is fighting extradition to the US from New Zealand. He denies allegations his site has cost film and record companies over $500 million (454 million euros) in revenues.

Vaulin was allegedly involved in designing the original "Kickass Torrents" (or KAT) website and has allegedly run it since 2008 through a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat. KAT has reportedly overtaken "Pirate Bay" and others to become the world's biggest source of pirated media.

KAT has moved its domains several times after being blocked in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Malaysia, according to the complaint, and has relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including in Chicago.

"Copyright infringement exacts a large toll, a very human one, on the artists and businesses whose livelihood hinges on their creative inventions," US attorney Zachary Fardon said in a statement. "Vaulin allegedly used the Internet to cause enormous harm to those artists," Fardon said, adding that KAT relied on computer servers around the world due to efforts to halt illegal file sharing.

There was no legal representation listed for Vaulin in any court docket, a US Department of Justice spokesman said.

US officials allege that KAT - operating in 28 languages - has a net worth of over $54 million.

The complaint stated the site has illegally made available for download movies that were still being shown at movie theaters such as "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "Finding Dory."

Officials also allege the peer-to-peer file-sharing website had, since 2008, distributed copyrighted works for financial gain - such as this year's film "Captain America: Civil War."

Ted Cruz Refuses To Endorse Trump, Booed At Republican Convention
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


?Ted Cruz at the Convention. Pic: APTed Cruz at the Convention. Pic: AP

Donald Trump's former rival Sen. Ted Cruz was roundly booed after failing to endorse Trump during an address to the Republican National Convention -- a jab from the Texas lawmaker at the real estate mogul, who tormented him as "Lyin' Ted" during the primary.

Cruz told delegates and voters to "vote your conscience" in November and never specifically said that people should cast their ballots for the Republican nominee. During the course of his speech, Cruz only mentioned Trump once, to congratulate him on getting the nomination.

"To those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love your children as much as I know you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution," Cruz said.

As he continued speaking, and the crowd began to realize that an endorsement seemed less likely, the cheers that marked the early part of the speech became boos.

"I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation," Cruz said to the vocal Trump home-state supporters who were placed right in front of the stage. They were yelling "We want Trump! We want Trump!"

Cruz's wife, Heidi, was seen leaving the arena when the booing started getting very loud. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told ABC News that he escorted Heidi Cruz out of the convention hall because “it was volatile and the Trump folks were physically approaching and confrontationally yelling,” he said via text.

"People behind her were getting very ugly, and physically approaching her and Raphael, and it was not a pretty situation," Cuccinelli told ABC. "The decision was instantly made to not talk to media and get immediately out of the arena."

"People from my own delegation were physically approaching her while yelling at her. So, I physically moved media out of her way, and got in the way of my own delegation so she could clear by and get out of the arena," he said.

The fact that Cruz spoke at all came as a surprise to some considering how bitter the primary campaign became towards the end.

At one point, Trump insinuated that Cruz's wife Heidi was less attractive than his own wife Melania, and later he made suggestions that Cruz's Cuban father was somehow connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

He also questioned whether Cruz was eligible to run for the presidency because he was born in Canada.

Shortly after Cruz exited the stage to a growing round of boos, Trump entered the arena on the opposite side to sit with his family and watch his son Eric address the crowd.

Cruz turned to Twitter to reiterate his main point, not mentioning Trump:

"If we stand together and choose freedom, our future will be brighter. We can do this.

"To those listening, please don't stay home in November. If you love our country, stand and speak and vote your conscience #RNCinCLE"

Trump responded in a tweet:


Migrant crisis: 22 bodies found on Mediterranean boat - MSF
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


file pic of woman looking out portholeThe Aquarius, pictured here in June, is one of MSF's three rescue vessels

Migrant crisis

The bodies of 22 people have been found on a migrant dinghy in the Mediterranean, the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said.

The 21 women and one man were found "in a pool of fuel and water" at the bottom of the boat, off the coast of Libya.

They had been on the dinghy "for hours", the aid group said.

More than 200 survivors who were on the dinghy have been transferred to a boat operated by MSF. There were 50 children among them.

Jens Pagotto of MSF told Reuters news agency: "It is still not entirely clear what happened, but they died a horrible death. It is tragic.

"It seems that water and fuel mixed together and the fumes from this might have been enough for them to lose consciousness."

Most of the people on board were from western African countries.

The survivors were among more than 2,000 migrants rescued from the water in different operations on Wednesday and taken to Sicily. Vessels from the Spanish and Italian navies and other humanitarian organisations were involved.

Thousands of migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

MSF patrols the Mediterranean in three rescue vessels - the Dignity 1, the Bourbon Argos and the Aquarius. Another group, called SOS Mediterranee, is also involved with the Aquarius, which was the vessel used in Wednesday's rescue.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

Turkey coup attempt: State of emergency announced
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


President Erdogan explains why he has declared a state of emergency

Turkey's president has declared a state of emergency for three months following Friday night's failed army coup.

Speaking at the presidential palace in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that "all the viruses within the armed forces will be cleansed".

The declaration could be used to extend the detention of nearly 10,000 people rounded up since the failed coup.

More than 600 schools have been closed and thousands of state workers sacked in a crackdown by the president.

"This measure is in no way against democracy, the law and freedoms," said Mr Erdogan after announcing the state of emergency.

He praised those who were killed fighting against the coup as "martyrs". Some 246 people were killed resisting the attempted coup, according to the government.

Mr Erdogan was speaking after holding meetings of Turkey's national security council and the cabinet in the capital.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier responded to Mr Erdogan's speech by urging the Turkish government to maintain both the rule of law and a sense of proportionality in its response to the coup attempt.

"Only provable involvement in illegal acts, not suspected political leanings, should trigger governmental action," Mr Steinmeier said.

"It's also critical that the declaration of emergency be the truly necessary length of time, and to end the measure as quickly as possible."

President Erdogan speaks at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (July 20, 2016)President Erdogan praised "heroic acts of bravery" in resisting the coup

The president has blamed the coup attempt on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally whose followers run a worldwide network of schools.

He has called for Mr Gulen to be extradited to Turkey, but US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that Turkey must provide hard evidence the cleric was behind the coup attempt for any extradition to take place.

Earlier, Mr Erdogan warned of further arrests and suspensions to come as Turkish authorities continued to pursue those they believed responsible for the thwarted putsch.

More than 50,000 state employees have been rounded up, sacked or suspended in the days since the coup attempt. On Wednesday, 99 top military officers were charged in connection with the events of the weekend.

Officials continued to take action against university and school employees, shutting down educational establishments, banning foreign travel for academics and forcing university heads of faculty to resign.

The government has also revoked the press credentials of 34 journalists who it alleges are connected to Mr Gulen, according to Turkish media.

Amnesty International described the authorities' actions as "a crackdown of exceptional proportions".


Death Of Journalist In Kiev Featured
2016-Jul-21 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Death Of Journalist In Kiev

A car explosion in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, killed a well-known Belorussian journalist Pavel Sheremet this morning.

Turkey coup attempt: Academics banned from going abroad
2016-Jul-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Istanbul University (19 July 2016)The government says it wants to prevent university-based coup plotters from fleeing abroad

Turkey has temporarily banned all academics from travelling abroad, officials say.

The move follows last week's failed coup and comes amid a wide-ranging purge of state employees.

More than 50,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended, including about 21,000 teachers.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is chairing meetings of his national security council and cabinet in the capital, Ankara.

It is the first time he has returned to the city after the attempted coup on Friday.

 The meeting will be the president's first chance since the coup attempt to sit and talk in person with all key members of the government and armed forces.

Mr Erdogan's task is to re-impose stability amid the turmoil, our correspondent adds, and to reassure Turkey and its allies abroad that he is not embarking on a witch-hunt against his many critics.

So far about 1,577 university deans (faculty heads) have been asked to resign in addition to 21,000 teachers and 15,000 education ministry officials.Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters outside of his residence in Istanbul, Turkey, early July 19, 2016, in this handout photo provided by the Presidential PalacePresident Erdogan, seen here outside his Istanbul home, is now back in Ankara for meetings

People look at damage caused by fighting during a coup attempt at Turkish police special forces base near Ankara (19 July 2016)Turkey is struggling to return to normal in the aftermath of last week's abortive coup

As soon as it became clear that the coup had failed, the purges began - first with the security forces, then spreading to Turkey's entire civilian infrastructure.

Human rights group Amnesty International has warned the purges are being extended to censor media outlets and journalists, including those critical of government policy.

"We are witnessing a crackdown of exceptional proportions in Turkey at the moment.

"While it is understandable, and legitimate, that the government wishes to investigate and punish those responsible for this bloody coup attempt, they must abide by the rule of law and respect freedom of expression," Amnesty's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner said.

Turkey extended the clear-out to the education sector because it says it wants to root out supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who it accuses of organising the attempted putsch.

The Higher Education Council has asked university rectors to "urgently examine the situation of all academic and administrative personnel" linked to what it calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (Feto) and report back by 5 August.

It has also told universities that academics who are already abroad on work or study missions should return home "within the shortest possible time".

A government official told the Reuters news agency that the ban on academics travelling abroad was a temporary measure implemented to stop alleged coup plotters in universities from fleeing abroad.


Turkey is pressing the US to extradite Mr Gulen and the issue was raised during a phone call between US President Barack Obama and President Erdogan on Tuesday, the White House said.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said a decision on whether or not to extradite would be made under a treaty between the two countries.

In a separate development Turkey has barred access to the WikiLeaks website soon after it posted about 300,000 emails sent by President Erdogan's AK Party dating from 2000 to early July 2016.

Wikileaks said that although the documents were obtained before the attempted coup, the date of their publication was brought forward "in response to the government's post-coup purges".

The source of the emails was not linked to the coup plotters or to a rival political party or country, WikiLeaks said.

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at rally in Taksim Square, Istanbul. 19 July 216Supporters of President Erdogan are continuing to rally in major cities

Turkey's military also announced on Wednesday that it had resumed cross-border strikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, killing about 20 alleged militants. They were the first since the attempted coup.

F-16 jets were reported to have targeted positions of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq's Hakurk region, Anadolu Agency reported.

The Turkish military has regularly targeted suspected PKK bases in Iraq since last year.

Turkey coup: Crackdown toll passes 45,000
2016-Jul-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at rally in Taksim Square, Istanbul. 19 July 216Supporters of President Erdogan are continuing to rally in major cities

At least 45,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs by Turkey's government in the wake of last week's failed coup.

The purge of those deemed less than loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan widened on Tuesday to include teachers, university deans and the media.

The government says they are allied to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies claims he directed the uprising.

PM Binali Yildirim said the preacher led a "terrorist organisation".

"We will dig them up by their roots," he told parliament.

Turkey is pressing the US to extradite Mr Gulen and the issue was raised during a phone call between US President Barack Obama and President Erdogan on Tuesday, the White House said.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said a decision on whether or not to extradite would be made under a treaty between the two countries.

A Turkish government spokesman suggested that the US should be able to extradite the cleric "on grounds of suspicion" rather than requiring facts of the case against him.

"There is very strong suspicion for his [Gulen's] involvement in this coup attempt. So this is sufficient grounds," said spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.

For his part, Mr Gulen says claims he was behind the coup attempt are "ridiculous".

"I urge the US government to reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas," he said in a statement.

Turkish special forces patrol damaged base which was attacked by warplanes during failed military coup in Ankara, Tuesday, July 19, 2016A military base in Ankara was badly damaged during the failed coup

The Pentagon said that talks also took place on Tuesday between Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his Turkish counterpart regarding the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.

The base, which is used by a US-led coalition fighting so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has been without power since the coup attempt.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government crackdown widened on Tuesday to include the education sector and government departments.

Turkish media announced that:

  • 15,200 teachers and other education staff had been sacked
  • 1,577 university deans were ordered to resign
  • 8,777 interior ministry workers were dismissed
  • 1,500 staff in the finance ministry had been fired
  • 257 people working in the prime minister's office were sacked

Turkey's media regulation body on Tuesday also revoked the licences of 24 radio and TV channels accused of links to Mr Gulen.

The news came on top of the arrests of more than 6,000 military personal and the sackings of nearly 9,000 police officers. About 3,000 judges have also been suspended.

The removal of thousands of officials has alarmed international observers, with the UN urging Turkey to uphold the rule of law and defend human rights.

Turkish policemen accompany arrested soldiers at a court in Ankara, Turkey, 18 July 2016Police have been ferrying soldiers arrested in the coup attempt to courts in Ankara

A senior German official said on Tuesday that "a deep split" had opened in Turkey, and he feared the divisions would cause unrest among Germany's large Turkish community.

"The danger of an escalation in violence between Erdogan supporters and opponents has also risen in Germany," Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has accused Turkey of carrying out "revenge" against its opponents and critics.

He also said a debate around restoring the death penalty was "deeply worrying". The EU has warned such a move would end talks over Turkey joining the bloc.

According to official figures, Friday night's coup attempt left 232 people dead and 1,541 wounded.

WhatsApp in Brazil temporarily suspended
2016-Jul-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A man walks with his mobile phone in his hand in downtown Rio de Janeiro, BrazilA huge proportion of Brazil's online population use WhatsApp - partly because making mobile calls is expensive

WhatsApp was temporarily suspended in Brazil after a judge said the company had failed to hand over information requested in a criminal investigation.

The third suspension in two years lasted for a few hours, affecting millions of users.

But Supreme Court judge Ricardo Lewandowski later lifted the nationwide blockage, saying it was disproportionate.

WhatsApp said they did not have access to the details requested.

The most recent suspension happened in May, and forced 100 million people to turn to alternative services - a huge proportion of the internet-using population in a country with some of the world's highest mobile phone charges.

In March, a Facebook executive was detained overnight for failing to comply with an attempt to block WhatsApp.

A Whatsapp spokesperson had said: "As we've said in the past we cannot share information we don't have access to.

"Indiscriminate steps like these threaten people's ability to communicate, to run their businesses, and to live their lives."

Correspondents said it was the latest clash in a battle between tech firms and judicial systems over how to collaborate in criminal investigations without compromising individual freedoms - like in the dispute between Apple and the FBI over access to the phone of the San Bernardino gunman.

Twitter users responded with frustration - and, in many cases, with humour:

Twitter user @BelemNoticias tweets pic of jubilant crowd cheering and hugging: "Exclusive images of the office of [rival messaging service] Telegram after the judge's decision to block WhatsApp in Brazil"

End-to-end encryption - introduced in April - is a key advantage touted by WhatsApp.

In its website's frequently asked questions, it says: "Privacy and security is in our DNA, which is why we have end-to-end encryption in the latest versions of our app... [This] ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp."

Technology commentators suggest the regular interruptions to service could dent WhatsApp's popularity.

Donald Trump Becomes Official Republican Presidential Nominee
2016-Jul-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Pic: Reuters

It's no longer presumptive. Despite some opposition, Donald Trump surpassed the required 1,237 delegate votes for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, the first internet reactions and footage of demonstrators outside the venue are pouring in.

In alphabetical order, states and territories and the District of Columbia all officially cast their delegate votes for the presidential nomination. With some states passing on their turn, it was New York's delegation that put Trump over the 1,237 delegate threshold.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas trailed with just over 200 delegates, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson claimed even fewer. Their names garnered some boos from the convention floor when announced during delegate vote counts.

It was Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., who made the call that cast New York's 95 delegate votes to win Trump the nomination.

"It doesn't get any more surreal than that," Trump, Jr. told .

Meanwhile, outside the convention venue, police have reportedly declared a protest unlawful, threatening arrests or "other action," while giving reporters five minutes to clear the area.

Donald Trump wrote his first tweet as the official Republican presidential nominee, thanking his supporters and promised to "work hard and never let you down! AMERICA FIRST!"

US election: Melania Trump 'plagiarised' Michelle Obama
2016-Jul-19 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Road to the White House

Donald Trump's wife, Melania, took centre stage on the first day of the Republican National Convention but faced accusations that a portion of her speech plagiarised Michelle Obama.

Commentators noticed similarities with Mrs Obama's 2008 convention speech.

Mrs Trump's speech also praised her husband as a "compassionate" man who would "fight for the country".

It was her first speech of the campaign and she had the help of a speechwriting team.

Mr Trump's communications adviser Jason Miller issued a statement saying: "In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.

"Melania's immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success."

Meanwhile Mr Trump himself described her speech as "absolutely incredible".

How the speeches compare

Malania Trump, Michelle Omaba speak during party conventions

In a section, Mrs Trump said: "My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect."

Mrs Obama's speech in 2008 carried the lines: "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them."

Mrs Trump's speech continued: "[My parents] taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow, because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

Mrs Obama said: "And Barack Obama and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generations. Because we want our children, and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

The Slovenian-born former model had used the speech to portray her husband as a tough but compassionate unifying force.

"He's tough when he has to be but he's also kind and fair and caring," Mrs Trump said.

"The kindness is not always noted, but it's there for all to see. That is one reason I fell in love with him to begin with."

Mrs Trump has kept a lower profile compared with other spouses of major candidates. The Trumps' adult children have often been more prominent.


Donald Trump greets his wife Melania on stage

It seemed to go so well for Melania Trump - she had delegates on their feet at the start and cheering wildly in approval by the end.

But hours later, as her words spread on social media, attention turned to the authenticity of her speech - and to the words of another aspiring First Lady.

What Republican delegates will make of the associations with Michelle and Barack Obama - so vehemently hated by so many Trump supporters - will undoubtedly feature in discussions over the coming days in Cleveland.

But then Trump's supporters are now so accustomed to defending their man from accusations in the media, they could still put this all down to another conspiracy against him.

Mrs Trump's mostly personal speech contrasted with the night's other speakers who spoke about "making America safe again".

"If you want someone to fight for you and your country, I can assure you, he is the guy," Mrs Trump said.

A wide range of speakers, including a county sheriff and a decorated combat veteran, told stories of military service, urban crime and the dangers of illegal immigration.

Mr Trump praised his wife, but some were less impressed

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton took aim at presumptive Democratic nominee State Hillary Clinton, questioning her judgement in foreign affairs.

"Who would trust Hillary Clinton to protect them?" said Mr Giuliani, whose rousing speech fired up the crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. "I wouldn't."

Many Republican party leaders - such as Ohio Governor John Kasich whose state is hosting the convention - have decided not to attend this year's festivities, turned off by Mr Trump's controversial stances on immigration and foreign policy.

Mr Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the US and also advocated deporting almost 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Former New York City mayor Rudy GiulianiFormer New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani gave an impassioned speech

A speech by Wisconsin police sheriff David Clarke strongly defended police officers in the wake of the deadly shooting in Baton Rouge, which killed three officers over the weekend.

"Blue lives matter!" Mr Clarke said to huge cheers from the delegates in the convention hall.

The killings prompted Mr Trump to say the country was falling apart - a claim strongly disputed by President Barack Obama.

Earlier, anti-Trump delegates failed in their final push to block Mr Trump's nomination.


Delegates chantingAnti-Trump delegates failed in their last efforts to nominate another candidate

The vote that would have allowed delegates to back a candidate of their choice was quashed when three states reportedly backed out.

Some said the Republican Party officials had sabotaged their efforts on purpose.

The push was the last gasp for those who hope to see a different Republican candidate get the nomination.

A convention - all you need to know

What's the point of a party convention anyway?

1. What's the point? Each party formally nominates its candidates for president and vice president, and the party unveils its party platform, or manifesto.

2. Who is going? There are 2,472 delegates attending, selected at state and congressional district conventions, and representing each US state and territory. Plus 15,000 journalists and thousands of other party grandees, lawmakers and guests.

3. Who isn't going? Some senior figures who don't like Donald Trump have stayed away, including two ex-presidents named Bush, former nominee Mitt Romney and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

North Korea 'fires three ballistic missiles into sea'
2016-Jul-19 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Replicas of North Korean Scud-B missile (C) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are displayed at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul on July 8, 2016Replicas of North Korea Scud missiles similar to those the South says were used in Tuesday's launch

North Korea

North Korea has fired three ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, say US and South Korean military officials.

The missiles were launched from the western city of Hwangju, said South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The US said the first two were believed to be short-range Scud missiles while the third was presumed to be a mid-range Rodong.

It comes after the US and South Korea said they would deploy an anti-missile system to counter the North's threats.

North Korea is barred by UN sanctions from any test of nuclear or ballistic missile technology. But tensions have soared since it carried out its fourth nuclear test in January.

It has also conducted several launches in recent months, including a test of mid-range missiles in June which were considered its most successful yet.

Seoul has said activity detected recently in North Korea indicates it could be preparing to conduct a fifth nuclear test imminently.

The latest launches happened between 05:45 local time (20:45 GMT on Monday) and 06:40, the South's military said, in a statement quoted by Yonhap news agency.

"The ballistic missiles flight went from 500km (310 miles) to 600km, which is a distance far enough to strike all of South Korea including Busan," South Korea's military said in a statement. Busan is a port city in the south.

The US Strategic Command said it had tracked the launches, but that they had posed no risk to US interests.

Earlier this month, Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in the South. The system will be based in the town of Seongju, in the south-east.

The North's military had warned it would retaliate with a "physical response".

China has also criticised the decision, saying it will destabilise security in the region.

Germany axe attack: Assault on train in Wuerzburg
2016-Jul-19 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?Police stand by regional train on which man wielding axe attacked passengers in Wuerzburg, Germany, 18 July 2016The attacker fled the train but was chased and shot dead by police

A teenage Afghan refugee armed with an axe and knife injured four people on a train in southern Germany before being shot dead by police, officials say.

Three people were seriously hurt and one suffered minor injuries in the attack in Wurzburg, police said.

Initial reports said up to 20 people had been injured but it was later revealed that at least 14 had been treated for shock.

The motive for the attack is not yet clear.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee who had been living in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt.

He told public broadcaster ARD that the teenager appeared to have travelled to Germany as an unaccompanied minor.

Mr Herrmann said authorities were looking into reports that the attacker had yelled out "an exclamation". Some witnesses quoted by German media said they had heard him shout "Allahu akbar" ("God Is Great") during the attack.

Bloodstains on the floor of the train carriage. 18 July 2016Bloodstains could be seen on the floor of the train carriage

German emergency services in the area where a man with an axe attacked passengers on a train near the city of Wuerzburg, Germany.July 19, 2016Emergency services sealed off the area of the attack

The incident happened at about 21:15 (19:15 GMT) on the train which runs between Treuchlingen and Wurzburg.

"Shortly after arriving at Wurzburg, a man attacked passengers with an axe and a knife," a police spokesman said.

Police said the attacker had fled the train but was chased by officers who shot him dead.

Although the motive has not been established,  there is nervousness in Germany about attacks by Islamist extremists following the attacks across the border in France.

In May, a man reportedly shouting "Allahu akbar" killed one person and wounded three others in a knife attack at a railway station near the German city of Munich.

He was later sent to a psychiatric hospital and authorities said they found no links to Islamic extremism.


India outrage after gang rape victim assaulted again 'by same men'
2016-Jul-18 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Dalits protests against the gang rape in Rohtak on Sunday 17 July 2016

Members of the Dalit community have protested against the assault on the woman

There has been outrage in India after a student was allegedly gang-raped by five men who had also raped her three years ago.

Police are yet to make any arrests although the 21-year-old was attacked last week in Rohtak town in the northern state of Haryana.

She had been pursuing a case in court against the five men, when she was attacked on Wednesday.

The woman said she was forced inside a car and the men tried to strangle her.

She was seriously injured and left for dead in the bushes. A passerby saw her and took her to the hospital.

'Very afraid'

The woman was first assaulted in 2013 in Bhiwani town.

Her family has alleged that they had moved to Rohtak after they were threatened by the accused who have been out on bail.

"I was leaving the college when I saw them. They were the same five men. I was very afraid. They forced me inside the car. They tried to strangulate me. They said they would kill my father and brother," the woman, who is from a poor low-caste Dalit (formerly known as untouchables) family, told a television channel.

"I have no idea where they took me. My attackers were the same five men," she said.

Her family has alleged that the attackers had been putting pressure on them to settle the case and were punishing the woman for pursuing it in court.

A local police official Garima, who uses only one name, told reporters that they had registered a complaint and a team had been sent to Bhiwani to look for the accused men.

Meanwhile, angry protests have been held in Rohtak, demanding immediate arrest of the accused men.

Rape and gender crimes have been in the spotlight in India in recent years after the brutal gang rape and murder of a student in 2012 in Delhi.

In response, tough new anti-rape laws were introduced in the country.

However, brutal sexual attacks against women and children continue to be reported across the country .

Turkey coup attempt: Police and officials purged
2016-Jul-18 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A man cries during the funeral ceremony of Sehidmiz Murat Inci, victim of the coup attempt, at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara (July 18, 2016)Mourning for the victims continued on Monday

Turkish officials say that nearly 8,000 police officers have been suspended on suspicion of having links to the coup attempt at the weekend.

Some 6,000 members of the judiciary and military, including generals, have been detained.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to purge state bodies of the "virus" that had caused the revolt.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has stressed the importance of democratic rule.

Speaking in Brussels where he has been meeting European foreign ministers, Mr Kerry said the US stood squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey: "We will certainly support bringing perpetrators of the coup to justice - but we also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that 208 "martyrs" had lost their lives during the failed coup attempt, including 60 police, three soldiers and 145 civilians. Another 1,491 were injured, he said.

Twenty-four alleged coup plotters were killed, Mr Yildirim said - a smaller number than Turkish officials previously reported.

Little room for taking risks

A civilian, 2nd left, spits at a member of Turkey armed forces as he is escorted by police for suspected involvement in Friday's attempted coup at the court house in Mugla, a Mediterranean city of Turkey (July 17, 2016)Anger greeted this member of the armed forces as he was taken to court in Mugla on Sunday

Three years ago when the AK Party government began its fight against Fethullah Gulen - a cleric in self-imposed exile in the US, who was a close ally of Mr Erdogan for years - it began with the police department.

The government knew where to find Gulen supporters, in part because it had helped them to take positions within the police when they were still allies.

When the fight against Gulen movement started thousands of police were moved sideways into roles where they would not harm the government.

Now, instead of being reshuffled, thousands of police personnel have been suspended from their duties.

Obviously Mr Erdogan has little room for taking risks. In a country which also faces threats from so-called Islamic State and Kurdish militants in its big cities, and has been targeted by suicide bombs, it is difficult to predict what the result of these large-scale suspensions will be. But with these personnel or without them, it will take time for anyone in Turkey to feel safe.

More than 100 generals and admirals have been detained in raids across the country.

The air force academy in Istanbul was raided on Monday morning.

According to state media, prosecutors have begun questioning an alleged ringleader of the coup attempt, former air force commander Akin Ozturk.

Overnight and into Monday morning the suspended police officers were called to regional headquarters and forced to hand over their weapons, Hurriyet reports.

Many provincial governors and judges have also been relieved of their duties.

Damaged windows are pictured at the police headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016.The police headquarters in Ankara was damaged during the events of Friday night

The Turkish government accuses cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the plot.

Mr Gulen lives in the US and strongly denies any involvement. Mr Kerry said Turkey must produce evidence to support any extradition application for the cleric.

Eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece by helicopter appeared in court in the Greek border city of Alexandropouli charged with entering the country illegally. Proceedings were adjourned until Thursday.

Turkey has requested their extradition; they have applied for asylum in Greece.

Why did the coup in Turkey fail?

Events in Turkey - a Nato member and key EU ally - were high on the agenda at the Brussels meeting.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, stressed the importance of the rule of law prevailing, and said ministers shared concerns about "what is happening in Turkey in these hours" - a reference to the rounding up of suspects.

"We need to respect, have Turkey respect, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms," she said.

Turkey has a long-standing application for EU membership and Johannes Hahn is the commissioner in Brussels dealing with it.

He said it appeared the Turkish government had pre-prepared lists of people to arrest before the coup attempt.

But the Turkish government says it was gathering evidence of a "secretive organisation" working within state structures even before the failed coup.

Military personnel, suspected of being involved in the coup attempt, are escorted by policemen as they arrive at the Justice Palace in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016.Military personnel suspected of involvement were brought to Ankara's Justice Palace on Monday

Turkish military officers are escorted to the courtroom in Alexandroupoli, Greece (18 July 2016)

Turkish officers who flew to Greece in a military helicopter were taken to court in Alexandroupoli

President Erdogan told a crowd on Sunday that Turkey would consider reinstating the death penalty.

Capital punishment was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the EU. Nobody has been executed in the country since 1984.

A spokesman for the German government said that the re-introduction of the death penalty would mean the end to Turkey's EU accession negotiations.

Baton Rouge shootings: Gunman's videos show anger at police
2016-Jul-18 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Gavin Long, video postingGavin Long was a frequent user of social media

US police shootings

The man identified as the killer of three US police officers in Baton Rouge had posted videos complaining at police treatment of African Americans and urging them to "fight back".

One of Gavin Long's videos stresses he is not linked to any group but is "affiliated with justice".

The ex-Marine, 29, was killed by police during the attack on Sunday morning.

Tension has been high since police shot dead a black man in Baton Rouge two weeks ago.

That death - and a second police shooting in Minnesota - sparked protests across the United States and triggered a revenge attack by a black army veteran who shot dead five officers in the city of Dallas.

Responding to the latest killings, President Barack Obama called upon all Americans to unite and refrain from divisive language.

More details have emerged about Gavin Long, who was from Kansas City, Missouri, including his service history.

A Marine from August 2005 until August 2010, he rose to the rank of sergeant and served in Iraq from June 2008 until January 2009, earning a number of medals and commendations. He received an honourable discharge.

His video and online postings used the pseudonym Cosmo Setepenra. He rails against what he sees as injustices against black people, at one point saying "you gotta fight back".

In one video, posted on YouTube, Long says that should "anything happen" to him, he was "not affiliated" with any group.

"I'm affiliated with the spirit of justice, nothing more nothing less. I thought my own thoughts, I made my own decisions," he said.

One website called "convoswithcosmo" says he has travelled to Dallas in the wake of the killing of the police officers there.

In a 10 July video apparently posted from Dallas, he says only violence and financial pressure will bring about change. "We know what it's going to take. It's only fighting back or money. That's all they care about.

The last tweet on the Convos With Cosmo site, on Saturday

Image captionThe last tweet on the Convos With Cosmo Twitter page, on Saturday

"Revenue and blood, revenue and blood, revenue and blood. Nothing else."

Other postings rail against white and Asian people, and "Arabs and Indians".

One tweet last week says: 'Violence is not THE answer (its a answer), but at what point do you stand up so that your people dont become the Native Americans...EXTINCT?"

Sunday's attack reportedly took place on Long's birthday. It is unclear why Long was in Baton Rouge.

Police had responded to reports of a man dressed in black holding a rifle behind a store. They are investigating whether an emergency called lured the officers there.

The exchange of fire lasted about eight minutes. Mayor Kip Holden said it was an "ambush-style" attack.

Petrol station, Baton RougePolice are investigating whether officers were lured by an emergency call

Col Mike Edmonson, of the Louisiana State Police, said the gunman was believed to have acted alone.

The dead officers were named as Montrell Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, of the Baton Rouge police department, and Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola, 45. All three men had families.

Another officer is in critical condition.

It has emerged that just days before the attack Montrell Jackson posted an emotional message on Facebook about how hard it was to be a black police officer in Baton Rouge.

Vigil at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, Baton Rouge, 17 July 2016Police and members of the public attended a vigil on Sunday evening

Montrell JacksonMontrell Jackson had posted an emotional message on Facebook

"I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me," he wrote.

A vigil was attended by police officers and members of the public on Sunday evening at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, just north of Baton Rouge.

In a live broadcast from the White House, President Obama said that "nothing justifies violence against law enforcement".

"Everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further," he said, as the US begins two weeks of political conventions with Republicans meeting in Cleveland later on Monday.

"We need to temper our words and open our hearts... all of us," said the president.

Barack Obama: 'Attacks on police are an attack on all of us'

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards: "The violence and hatred has to stop"

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference it was an "absolutely unspeakable, heinous attack".

But he also told local media the "rhetoric from some people" after the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge may be connected to the shootings.

"Everything's been anti-police," he said.

6,000 arrested as Turkey declares coup attempt over
2016-Jul-18 | By Gehan Jayaratne

6,000 arrested as Turkey declares coup attempt over

Turkey has arrested 6,000 people after a failed coup, with President Erdogan vowing to purge state bodies of the “virus” that caused the revolt.

Mr Erdogan’s top military aide Col Ali Yazici is among those now in custody. The overall death toll for the weekend violence has risen to 290, the foreign ministry said. More than 100 of those were participating in the coup.

Security forces are reported to have met resistance from some coup plotters who were being arrested.

Warning shots were fired at Istanbul’s second largest airport, and also at a military base in central Konya province, unnamed officials said.

“We will continue to cleanse the virus from all state institutions, because this virus has spread. Unfortunately like a cancer, this virus has enveloped the state,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told mourners at a funeral in Istanbul for victims of the coup.

Mr Erdogan broke down in tears while speaking at the funeral of a close political ally, his campaign manager Erol Olcak, and his teenage son. He said he would take the country forward in “unity and solidarity”.

The president repeated an accusation that cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the plot, and called for him to be extradited from the US. Mr Gulen strongly denies any involvement.


Baton Rouge shootings: Obama calls for calm after three police officers killed
2016-Jul-18 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Petrol station, Baton RougePolice were called after reports of a shooting at a petrol station

US police shootings

President Obama has called for restraint after three police officers were shot dead in the city of Baton Rouge in Louisiana.

The gunman, an African-American who had served for five years in the Marines, was also killed.

Tensions in the city have been high since a black man Alton Sterling was shot dead by police two weeks ago.

It remains unclear whether Sunday's incident was related to that death and a second police killing in Minnesota.

Those two deaths spared protests across the United States and triggered a revenge attack by a black army veteran who shot dead five officers in the city of Dallas.

Barack Obama: 'Attacks on police are an attack on all of us'

In a live broadcast from the White House, President Obama called upon all Americans to unite and refrain from divisive language.

"Regardless of motive, the death of these three brave officers underscores the danger that police across the country confront every single day, and we as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement," he said.

"Everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further," he added, as the US begins two weeks of political conventions with Republicans meeting in Cleveland later on Monday.

"We need to temper our words and open our hearts... all of us," said the president.

A vigil was attended by police officers and members of the public on Sunday evening at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, just north of Baton Rouge.

Vigil at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, Baton Rouge, 17 July 2016Police and members of the public attended a vigil on Sunday evening

Exchange of fire

The incident began on Sunday morning with shots being fired at a petrol station on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge.

Police received reports of a man with an assault rifle.

Witness Brady Vancel told WAFB TV he saw what may have been gang members shooting at each other before police arrived.

Another witness said she saw a gunman wearing a black mask and military-style clothing.

Shots were exchanged over a period of more than 15 minutes, leaving three police officers and the suspect dead, with three other officers wounded, one in a critical condition.

The dead officers were named as Montrell Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, of the Baton Rouge police department, and Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola, 45. All three men had families.

The suspect was named as 29-year-old Gavin Long, of Kansas City, Missouri, a former Marine.

He received an honourable discharge, and won several medals while in the military, including one for good conduct.

Media captionLouisiana Governor John Bel Edwards: "The violence and hatred has to stop"

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference it was an "absolutely unspeakable, heinous attack."

Although no other suspects have been identified, police said they were investigating whether the gunman had help from unknown others.

"We are not ready to say he acted alone," said state police spokesman Major Doug Cain.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he had spoken to White House officials who had offered assistance. He said it was "a defining moment" for community relations.

But he also told local media the "rhetoric from some people" after the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge may be connected to the shootings, without elaborating who.

"Everything's been anti-police," he said.


Venezuela re-opens Colombian border to allow shoppers to cross
2016-Jul-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne


A Venezuelan citizen at the border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 10, 2016Around 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the border last week when it opened for 12 hours

Venezuela has opened its border with Colombia for the second time this month to allow people to cross over to shop for basic foods and medicines.

Last week 35,000 crossed over for the first time since the border was closed a year ago by President Nicolas Maduro to fight cross-border crime.

Officials said they were expecting even larger crowds this weekend.

Many basic goods are in short supply in Venezuela because of a severe economic crisis in the country.

The border across a pedestrian bridge connecting Tachira in Venezuela and Cucuta in Colombia opened on Saturday, a day earlier than authorities from both countries had previously announced.

Officials said they wanted to avoid the build-up of too many people.

It was expected to stay open for about 12 hours.

Venezuela has suffered severe shortages for months as a result of the falling price of oil which is the country's prime source of income.

Many supermarket have empty shelves and Venezuelans spend days in queues to buy basic goods.

Government critics also blame President Maduro for severe mismanagement of the economy.

Mr Maduro for his part has blamed the country's business community for the shortages.

He ordered the border to be closed in August 2015 after former Colombian paramilitaries attacked a Venezuelan military patrol and wounded three soldiers.

Turkish crowds rally to democracy calls after coup attempt
2016-Jul-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Crowds on Taksim Square in Istanbul (16/07/2016)Huge crowds chanted, cheered and waved flags on Saturday evening in a number of Turkish cities

Large crowds have gathered in Istanbul and other cities after calls by Turkish authorities to defend democracy after the failed military coup.

Less than 24 hours earlier thousands turned out to help rebuff the plot.

President Erdogan wants the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen over the plot. But Mr Gulen rejects any suggestion of links to what happened.

Nearly 3,000 soldiers have been detained and some 2,700 judges sacked as the government re-asserts power.

Generals are reported to be among those detained.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the coup attempt a "black stain on Turkish democracy".

Explosions and firing were heard in key cities on Friday night. Official figures put the number of civilians and police killed at 161, while 104 soldiers involved in the coup also died. The number of injured was 1,440.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Turkish authorities to respect the rule of law during their investigations into the coup attempt.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on US President Barack Obama to extradite a US-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of being behind the plot.

Mr Gulen has denied this and the US has said that Turkey must prove the allegation before his extradition could be considered.Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shout slogans and hold flags during a demonstration against the failed Army coup attempt at Taksim Sqaure, in Istanbul (16/07/2016)Jubilant supporters of President Erdogan took to the streets again on Saturday evening

Media captionJeremy Bowen examines whether Erdogan can heal divisions in Turkey

Why did coup happen? 

The attempted coup happened because Turkey is deeply divided over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's project to transform the country and because of the contagion of violence from the war in Syria.

President Erdogan and his AK Party have become experts at winning elections, but there have always been doubts about his long-term commitment to democracy. He is a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey's secular heritage. Mr Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian and is trying to turn himself into a strong executive president.

From the beginning Mr Erdogan's government has been deeply involved in the war in Syria, backing Islamist opposition to President Assad. But violence has spread across the border, helping to reignite the fight with the Kurdish PKK, and making Turkey a target for the jihadists who call themselves Islamic State.

That has caused a lot of disquiet. Turkey has faced increasing turmoil and the attempt to overthrow President Erdogan will not be the last of it.

What is happening now?

  • Prime Minister Yildirim said the situation was now "completely under control" and the government's commanders were now back in charge.
  • Earlier, acting military chief of staff Umit Dundar said officers from the air force, the military police and armoured units had mainly been involved in the coup attempt.
  • Although the chief of staff had been rescued, several military commanders were still being held hostage, he said.
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter that eight soldiers who flew to Greece in a helicopter to seek asylum will be extradited. Greece has not yet formally confirmed the move.
  • A US government spokesman said the Turkish government has closed its airspace to military aircraft, and as a result operations from Incirlik Air Base against the so-called Islamic State had been halted.
  • Earlier, some 200 unarmed soldiers left Turkey's military headquarters in Ankara and surrendered to police, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
  • Dramatic images showed dozens of soldiers walking away from their tanks with their hands up on one of Istanbul's Bosphorus bridges.

Events began on Friday evening as tanks took up positions on two of the bridges over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, blocking traffic. Troops were seen on the streets and low-flying military jets were filmed over Ankara.

Media captionTurkish soldiers surrender on Bosphorus bridge

An army faction then issued a statement that a "peace council" was running Turkey and had launched the coup "to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms".

During the violence, the Turkish parliament and presidential buildings in Ankara were attacked. Gunfire was also heard outside Istanbul police headquarters and tanks were said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport.

There were reports of fierce clashes in Taksim Square and gunfire and explosions were heard near the square. One of the helicopters being flown by rebels was reportedly shot down by government troops in Ankara.

President Erdogan, then in the south-west resort of Marmaris, made a televised address via his mobile phone, urging people to take to the streets to oppose the uprising.

After flying to Istanbul, Mr Erdogan said: "What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price."

Turkey: Mass arrests after coup bid quashed, says PM
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


?Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) and his supporters at Istanbul airport. Photo: 16 July 2016President Erdogan (centre) said the coup-plotters would pay a heavy price

Some 2,839 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested over an attempted coup that is now over, says Turkey's PM Binali Yildirim.

In a night he called a "black stain on Turkish democracy", he said 161 people had been killed and 1,440 wounded.

Explosions and gunfire were heard in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere overnight and thousands of Turks heeded President Erdogan's call to rise up against the coup-plotters.

It is not clear who is behind the coup.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed a "parallel structure", in a clear reference to Fethullah Gulen, a powerful but reclusive US-based Muslim cleric he accuses of fomenting unrest.

However, in a statement, Mr Gulen rejected any suggestion he had links to the events, saying he condemned "in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey".

Soldiers with their hands up on Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge

The surrender of soldiers in Istanbul was captured live on television


Reasons behind coup

The attempted coup happened because Turkey is deeply divided over President Erdogan's project to transform the country and because of the contagion of violence from the war in Syria.

President Erdogan and his AK Party have become experts at winning elections, but there have always been doubts about his long-term commitment to democracy. He is a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey's secular heritage. Mr Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian and is trying to turn himself into a strong executive president.

From the beginning Mr Erdogan's government has been deeply involved in the war in Syria, backing Islamist opposition to President Assad. But violence has spread across the border, helping to reignite the fight with the Kurdish PKK, and making Turkey a target for the jihadists who call themselves Islamic State.

That has caused a lot of disquiet. Turkey has faced increasing turmoil and the attempt to overthrow President Erdogan will not be the last of it.


"Here in Turkey there is confusion", 

Events began on Friday evening when tanks took up positions on two bridges over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, blocking it to traffic. Troops were seen on the streets and low-flying military jets were filmed over Ankara.

Shortly after, a faction of the army released a statement saying that a "peace council" was running the country, and it had launched the coup "to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms".

President Erdogan was in the south-west holiday resort of Marmaris at the time. He made a televised address, via his mobile phone, urging people to take to the streets to oppose the uprising.

He then flew on to Istanbul, saying Marmaris had been bombed after he left.

In a speech at Istanbul airport, Mr Erdogan said: "What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price."

Mr Erdogan spoke to CNN Turk via Facetime

Man covered with blood near the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul on 16 July 2016There were fierce clashes overnight in Istanbul and Ankara


People carry an injured man in Ankara, Turkey, on 16 July 2016Many people were injured

Outbreaks of violence

The Turkish parliament and presidential buildings in Ankara were attacked. At least one bomb hit the parliament complex. MPs were believed to be hiding in shelters.

Gunfire was also heard outside Istanbul police headquarters and tanks were said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport.Broadcaster CNN Turk was temporarily taken off air after soldiers entered the building and tried to take it over. Soldiers being arrested by policee was woken by "a very large explosion, followed by, it seemed like one or two helicopters flying above our heads... with machine gun fire".

In the morning, he saw armed men in military fatigues walking around the hotel, but no further violence.

There were reports of fierce clashes in Taksim Square in the centre of Istanbul, and gunfire and explosions were heard near the square.

One of the helicopters being flown by rebels was shot down by government troops in Ankara.

Sporadic gunfire was still being reported in some areas by morning.

Smoke billows from presidential palace in Ankara on 16 July 2016Smoke was seen billowing from the presidential palace in Ankara

What is happening now?

Prime Minister Yildirim said the situation was now "completely under control" and the government's commanders were now back in charge.

Earlier, the acting military chief of staff Umit Dundar said officers from the air force, the military police and armoured units had been mainly involved in the coup attempt.

He said that although the chief of staff had been rescued, several military commanders were still being held hostage.

Greek police say a Turkish military helicopter landed in the north of Greece on Saturday with eight men seeking asylum. Most were in military uniform and were believed to have been involved in the coup attempt, Greek TV reported.

Earlier, some 200 unarmed soldiers left Turkey's military headquarters in Ankara and surrendered to police, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Dramatic images showed dozens of soldiers walking away from their tanks with their hands up on one of Istanbul's Bosphorus bridges.

World reaction

  • In Washington, President Barack Obama urged all parties in Turkey to support the "democratically elected government".
  • Nato, of which Turkey is a member, called for "full respect" for Turkey's democratic institutions.
  • European Council President Donald Tusk said the country was "a key partner for the European Union" and called for a "swift return to Turkey's constitutional order".
  • Russia said it was deeply concerned, saying "the flare-up of the domestic political situation against the backdrop of the existing terrorist threats in this country and the armed conflict in the region brings a heightened risk to international and regional stability".
  • Iran said events in Turkey proved "that a coup d'etat has no place and is doomed to fail in our region".

Erdogan supporters on tanks surrendered by coup-plotters on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul on 16 July 2016Erdogan supporters have been celebrating the surrender of soldiers in Istanbul

Policemen protect a soldier from a mob on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul on 16 July 2016Surrendered soldiers had to be protected by police officers from Erdogan supporters

Turkey's military coups

  • 1997 - also known as "post-modern coup". Turkish military intervention leads to resignation of Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan.
  • 1980 - Military coup following armed conflict between right-wing and left-wing groups in the 1970s
  • 1971 - Military coup known as the "coup by memorandum", which the military delivered instead of sending out tanks
  • 1960 - Coup by group of young military officer outside chain of command, against the democratically-elected Democrat Party
'Clique Within Armed Forces Conducted Coup': Turkish Embassy
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne

'Clique Within Armed Forces Conducted Coup': Turkish Embassy

The Turkish Embassy said that a 'clique' of the armed forces conducted the military coup in the country from last night and it is now under control.

"Our President and Government are in charge" the statement said.

The full text of the statement is as follows:



The situation which unfolded in Turkey was a coup attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government. This attempt was foiled by the Turkish people in unity and solidarity. Our President and Government are in charge. Turkish Armed Forces were not involved in the coup attempt in its entirety. It was conducted by a clique within the Armed Forces and received a well-deserved response from our nation.

At least 60 killed, more than 700 detained as Turkey military coup ‘defeated’
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


At least 60 killed, more than 700 detained as Turkey military coup ‘defeated’

Soldiers involved in the coup attempt surrendered on Bosphorus bridge, Istanbul.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip ensured the country Saturday that his government was in control after a coup attempt brought a night of explosions, dog fights, gunfire and arrest across the capital, leaving dozens dead, at least 150 people wounded and many of the country’s armed forces arrested.

An official in the president’s office said at least 60, including 17 police officers, were killed and at least 754 members of the armed forces were arrested.

Government officials said it appeared the coup had failed as Turks took to the streets overnight to confront troops attempting to take over the country. However, the sounds of explosions, including one that hit the parliament complex, continued to echo across the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul throughout the morning.

Erdogan arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Saturday morning and addressed the crowd of supporters that had gathered there.

“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people. The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything.”

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said security forces have defeated coup plotters in several places, including police and government buildings, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

“There is no where they have they have proper control,” Bozdag said. “God willing, they will be defeated in the remaining areas and those in the air will be brought down.”

It was not clear who was in control of the military headquarters and Erdogan had not left the airport as dawn broke.

Earlier, Erdogan said the government was arresting coup supporters in the military and warned “they will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey.”

“Those who stain the military’s reputation must leave. The process has started today, and it will continue just as we fight other terrorist groups.”

However, those on the pro-coup side dismissed the notion that Erdogan was in control.

In an emailed statement to Reuters, the pro-coup faction said they are determined to fight and urged people to stay indoors. Reports of ongoing violence further fueled the notion that the government still hadn’t attained full power.

Erdogan said at his press conference at the Istanbul airport that his general secretary had been abducted by coup plotters and his officer had declined to say where he was.

In images broadcast on CNN-Turk, dozens of soldiers walked among tanks with their hand held up, surrendering to government forces on Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge. Discarded gear was strewn on the ground. People, some holding flags, climbed onto the tanks.

Erdogan, who said his general secretary had been abducted by the coup plotters, flew into Ataturk airport early Saturday and was greeted by large crowds. Hours earlier, as the coup attempt got underway, his office declined to say where he was, and he was forced to give an interview over FaceTime to a television station.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has called all legislators for an emergency meeting Saturday, Anadolu reported.

The chaos capped a period of political turmoil in Turkey which critics blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, which has included a government shake-up, a crackdown on dissidents and opposition media and renewed conflict in the mainly Kurdish areas of the southeast.

The coup attempt began late Friday, with a statement from the military saying it had seized control “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for law and order to be reinstated.”

Fighter jets buzzed overhead, gunfire erupted outside military headquarters and vehicles blocked two major bridges in Istanbul. Soldiers backed by tanks blocked entry to Istanbul’s airport for a couple of hours before being overtaken by pro-government crowds carrying Turkish flags, according to footage broadcast by the Dogan news agency.

But the military did not appear unified, with top commanders taking to television to condemn the action and order troops back to their barracks.

“Those who are attempting a coup will not succeed. Our people should know that we will overcome this,” Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, the commander of the military special forces, told the private NTV television by telephone.

Fighter jets under the control of loyalist forces were flying over the capital to strike at helicopters flown by coup supporters, the Anadolu news agency said. NTV reported that one helicopter was shot down. Gunfire and explosions rang out.

Erdogan called on Turks to take to the streets across the country, and many did, marching through the streets of Izmir and Istanbul, waving Turkish flags and gathering in the main square in Ankara. The Dogan news agency reported that soldiers fired on a group of people trying to cross the Bosporus bridge to protest the attempted coup, and that some people have been hurt. TV footage showed people running for cover amid gunfire.

Troops also fired in the air to disperse a growing crowd of government supporters at the Taksim monument in Istanbul as military helicopters flew overhead. A nearby mosque made an anti-coup announcement over its loudspeakers. Several blasts and the screech of fighter jets were heard in central Istanbul as dawn approached.

In his TV address, Erdogan blamed the attack on supporters of Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan has long accused the cleric and his supporters of attempting to overthrow the government. The cleric lives in exile in Pennsylvania and promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue.

Turkey, a NATO member, is a key partner in U.S.-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group, and has allowed American jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists in nearby Syria and Iraq. A coup against the democratically elected government could make it difficult for the United States to continue to cooperate with Turkey.

President Barack Obama urged all sides in Turkey to support the democratically elected government. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and called for respect for democracy. -Agencies

India 'gold man' battered to death
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Datta PhugeDatta Phuge was a money lender

An Indian man who bought one of the world's most expensive shirts made entirely of gold has been allegedly battered to death, police said.

Datta Phuge shot into the global limelight in 2013 when he bought a shirt made with more than 3kg of gold and worth $250,000 (£186,943).

A money lender based in western Pune, Mr Phuge was called "the gold man".

Four persons have been detained for questioning. Police suspect a dispute over money have led to the murder.

The police said some 12 people attacked Mr Phuge, 48, in Pune on Thursday night.

One of the suspects had invited Mr Phuge and his 22-year-old son to celebrate a birthday at an open ground in Dighi area when the men attacked him with stones and a sharp weapon.

Police said the son had witnessed his father being murdered and had been spared by the alleged killers.

"However, we are investigating how Mr Phuge reached the open ground where he was murdered," Dighi police station inspector Navnath Ghogare told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Datta PhugeMr Phuge often wore gold all over his body

Mr Phuge often wore gold all over his body: his knuckles, neck, and wrists were weighed down by signet rings, chunky bracelets, and a medallion.

"Some people ask me why I'm wearing so much gold but it was my dream. People have different aspirations. Some elite people want to own an Audi or Mercedes, and have big cars. I chose gold," he told

First Photo Of Truck Attacker's Flat
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


First Photo Of Truck Attacker's Flat

A photograph has been emerged showing the inside of the flat where the man who killed 84 people in an attack in Nice lived.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne lorry into a crowd of hundreds of spectators during a Bastille Day fireworks display before he was shot dead by police.

Turkish President Erdogan Appears In Istanbul After Army Coup Attempt
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Turkish President Erdogan Appears In Istanbul After Army Coup Attempt

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has flown in to Istanbul, after an army group said it took over the country.

He was seen surrounded by cheering supporters, and said the uprising was an act of treason in a live TV speech.

The army group earlier declared that a "peace council" now ran the country and there was a curfew and martial law.

But Prime Minister Binali Yildirim later said the situation was largely under control and a no-fly zone was declared over the capital Ankara.

Soldiers were earlier seen at strategic points in Istanbul with jets flying low in Ankara.

Two large explosion were also heard near Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

There were also reports of blasts at parliament building in Ankara. MPs are believed to be hiding in shelters.

CNN Turk broadcaster was reportedly taken over by soldiers, and its live broadcast was cut.

It is unclear who is leading the plotting army group, or how much support it enjoys. Some top army officials are said to be detained.

People across Turkey are very confused and surprised, the BBC's Katy Watson in Istanbul says.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama urged all parties in Turkey to support the "democratically elected government".

Nato called for "full respect" for Turkey's democratic institutions.

Mr Erdogan earlier told CNN Turk by mobile phone the action was by a "parallel structure" that would bring the necessary response. He has used this term in the past to refer to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric he accuses of fomenting unrest.

Erdogan called on people to take to the streets to oppose the uprising.

He said: "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people."

Reports earlier on Friday said the president was on holiday in the south-western resort of Marmaris.

Defying the announced curfew, a number of Erdogan supporters then turned out on Taksim Square.

There have since been reports of clashes there, with some on Twitter saying that gunfire has been heard near the square.

Yildirim had earlier denounced an "illegal action" by a military "group", stressing it was not a coup. He said that the government remained in charge.

The military group's statement on national broadcaster TRT, read by an announcer, said that democratic and secular rule of law had been eroded by the current government. There would be new constitution, it said.

A Turkish presidential source told Reuters news agency that the statement was not authorised by the army's command.

There are reports Turkey's top general, General Hulusi Akar, is among those taken hostage at the military HQ.

Yildirim told NTV by telephone: "There was an illegal act by a group within the military that was acting out of the chain of military command. Our people should know that we will not allow any activity that would harm democracy."

Traffic has been stopped from crossing both the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges in Istanbul.

There are reports of gunshots and at least one loud explosion in the capital Ankara. Other reports said soldiers were inside buildings of the Turkish state broadcaster in Ankara.

Gunfire was also heard outside Istanbul police HQ and tanks are said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport. All flights are cancelled, reports say.

US Congress Releases Secretive 28 Pages Of 9/11 Report
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


US Congress Releases Secretive 28 Pages Of 9/11 Report

The US Congress has officially released the secretive 28 pages of a 9/11 investigation that allegedly involve Saudi Arabia's role in the terrorist attack.

The pages have been made public by the House Intelligence Committee after intense pressure from the families of 9/11 victims and Congressional lawmakers.

"Releasing the contents of the 28 pages will answer some of the many questions that remain," said Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch, one of the most vocal advocates for the pages' release. "It may help us at least hold those who are responsible accountable."

The findings of the report claim that some of the 9/11 hijackers could have been in contact with Saudi officials and intelligence officers. Moreover, they supposedly received assistance from those officials.

"The Joint Inquiry's review confirmed that the Intelligence Community also has information, much of which has yet to be independently verified, indicating that individuals associated with the Saudi Government in the United States may have other ties to al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups," the findings read.

One portion of the documents suggests that there was a 9/11 "dry run" in 1999.

"According to an FBI agent in Phoenix, the FBI suspects Mohammed al-Qudhaeein of being [redacted]. Al-Qudhaeein was involved in a 1999 incident aboard an America West flight, which the FBI's Phoenix office now suspects may have been a 'dry run' to test airline security."

The 28 pages were originally classifed by former President George W. Bush on the grounds of protecting intelligence sources.

Heroic Motorcyclist Loses Life In Attempt To Stop Terror Attack In Nice 
2016-Jul-16 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Heroic Motorcyclist Loses Life In Attempt To Stop Terror Attack In Nice (VIDEO)

A video posted online shows a desperate attempt by a motorcyclist to stop the terror attack in the French resort of Nice on Thursday. The rider died after flinging himself on to the truck that plowed into the crowd gathered for Bastille Day fireworks.

The video – reportedly filmed from a nearby balcony by journalist Richard Gutjahr – shows the biker racing along on the left side of the truck before jumping off and running up to the cabin of the lorry.

The killer truck "drove very slowly, not fast, he drove slowly and he was chased by a motorcyclist," Gutjahr told AFP.

"The motorcyclist attempted to overtake the truck and even tried to open the driver's door, but he fell and ended up under the wheels of the truck," he added.

In his interview with Meduza website, the journalist compared what he witnessed in Nice to “a [scene from] a movie.”

“At the crossroads, the police opened fire after the truck driver started driving faster and running people over,” Gutjahr told Meduza news website.

The terrorist behind the steering wheel then “stepped on the accelerator and the truck sped up, accelerated and drove in a zig-zag course into the crowd,” Gutjahr told .

At that point, "the panicked crowd ran in all directions. Those who could save themselves ran into the hotels, or sought security in the hotel entrances," he added.

The truck attack killed at least 84 people and injured around 100 others.

France: Nice Airport Being Evacuated, Troops Called In
2016-Jul-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Pic: Twitter @thomasdaigle

Troops have been deployed to the Nice airport and evacuation started from the luggage area, local reports said.

Thomas Daigle, a reported for CBC News posted a photo on Twitter which showed a soldier inside the airport.

It is reported that the evacuation was prompted by an unattended bag.

This comes a few hours after a truck was driven in to the crowds during Bastille Day. The attacker claimed more than 80 lives.

US police shootings: Obama urges unity amid racial tension
2016-Jul-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne


David Muir and Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama has urged police and black communities to come together, saying it should not be "us versus them", in a town hall meeting on race and policing.

Mr Obama and ABC News held the forum amid an increase in racial tensions in the US in recent weeks.

Last week a gunman killed five Dallas police at a Black Lives Matter protest.

Micah Xavier Johnson told police he was angry after recent shooting deaths of black men at the hands of officers.

Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 5 July. A day later, Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Videos of both shootings were widely publicised.

"I don't want a generation of young people to grow up thinking either that they have to mistrust the police or alternatively, that the police who are doing a good job and out there... that they're constantly at risk not just from criminals but also because the community mistrusts them," Mr Obama said.

He added: "It's going to require all of us not to close ourselves off and go to corners but rather require us to come together and listen to each other."

David Muir and Barack ObamaMr Obama took questions from people directly affected by the recent violence

Guests in the town hall meeting included Sterling's 15-year-old son, Cameron, and Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds - who ?live streamed? the aftermath of Castile's shooting.

Mr Obama tried to bridge the divide between police and the black community.

He empathised with victims of police violence but also acknowledged that police face huge challenges - challenges they can't handle alone.

"It is absolutely true that the murder rate in the African-American community is way out of whack compared to the general population," Mr Obama said in response to a question from Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn.

"We can't put the burden on police alone," Mr Obama said. "It is going to require investments in those communities."

Media captionObama talks about experiencing racism as a child

Mr Obama also offered a rare personal account about how he has been affected by racism.

He talked about how, when he was a child growing up in Hawaii, a female neighbour once refused to go in a lift with him.

She was just "worried about riding the elevator with me," Mr Obama said.

He said that sense of being feared as a black man continued as he grew older.

"Over time you start learning as you're crossing the street, suddenly the locks start going on doors," Mr Obama said.

In one tense exchange, Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick - who has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and the president - pressed Mr Obama on his commitment to law enforcement.

Mr Obama insisted that it was possible to be critical of police while still being supportive.

"We shouldn't get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow automatically anti-police," the president said.

France: Nearly 80 Killed In Truck Attack, "Worst Tragedy In History Of Nice" Featured
2016-Jul-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne


France: Nearly 80 Killed In Truck Attack, "Worst Tragedy In History Of Nice"

French officials on Thursday said that dozens have been killed after a van rammed into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day.

"The driver of a van appears to have killed dozens. Stay in your homes for now. More info to follow," said Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur President Christian Estrosi in a tweet.

"This is the worst tragedy in the history of Nice, with more than 70 victims already reported," the regional president added. He later confirmed that the death toll has reached 77.

He told BMFTV that the truck was filled firearms and grenades. "There were guns in this vehicle and larger weapons, but I can't say more than that because that is the prosecutor's job," Estrosi said.

Sebastien Humbert, the sub-prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region, told the French television channel that the "truck rammed into the crowd over a long distance, which explains this extremely heavy toll."

An interior ministry spokesman said there appears to be no signs of a hostage situation. French media also reported that the driver has been shot dead, citing officials.

Witnesses also described hearing gunfire. However, authorities have yet to confirm the reports of weapons being used in the apparent attack.

Crisis meeting

French President Francois Hollande has returned to Paris, where he will hold an emergency meeting at the interior ministry's crisis center to assess the situation.

French authorities have created a crisis hotline, which can be reached at +33 (0)1 43 17 56 46.

The attack comes as Hollande said on Thursday that France's state of emergency would not be extended beyond July 26.

He activated the security measure the evening of November 13, when "Islamic State"-affiliated militants launched several attacks across the capital Paris, leaving 130 people dead.

Nintendo shares up more than 50% since Pokemon Go release
2016-Jul-14 | By Gehan Jayaratne


people in Pikachu costumes onstage in JapanThese people are dressed up as Pikachu, a fast-moving Pokemon with electric powers

Shares in the Japanese company Nintendo have seen a sharp rise since the release of the augmented reality game Pokemon Go, gaining more than 50%.

Shares closed 16% higher on Thursday, making an overall increase of 56% since the release - putting Nintendo's market value at 3.6tn yen ($34bn; £25.7bn).

Pokemon Go players search locations in the real world to find virtual Pokemon creatures on their smartphone screens.

The game has become a global phenomenon since its release.

It topped the app store download chart on both iPhone's App Store and Google Play just days after its initial release in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Nintendo shares had already started the week with a 25% jump on Monday alone.

Pokemon stories

  • An American woman found a dead body while she was looking for a Pokemon in a river near her home. Police said the man had died within the last 24 hours and no foul play was suspected.
  • Four people were arrested after they used the game to lure players to remote places and then rob them at gunpoint. In response, the makers of Pokemon Go have said people should "play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places" and "remember to be safe and alert at all times".
  • The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in the US is the location of a "gym" in the game, and players planted a pink "Clefairy" Pokemon called Love is Love there. The church has responded with a series of social media posts calling the Pokemon a sodomite.
  • There have also been plenty of reports of people falling over and grazing or cutting themselves because they're not paying attention to what's in front of them while they play.


The Pokemon creatures first emerged in the 1990s on Nintendo's Game Boy device.

For the new game, Nintendo has partnered with US-based developer Niantic and the Pokemon Company, which owns the rights to the characters.

Pokemon playerA Pokemon player searches the square in front of the White House

Nintendo, which is also behind the iconic Super Mario game, has traditionally relied on sales of its gaming consoles.

However, sales of those have been slowing in recent years as more gamers move online and onto portable devices.

Analysts have long criticised the company for lagging rivals such as Sony and being late in catering to the growing smartphone market.

10 key moments in David Cameron's time as leader
2016-Jul-14 | By Gehan Jayaratne


David Cameron is stepping down after six years as Britain's prime minister and nearly 11 years as Conservative leader - here are 10 key moments

Hugging huskies in the Arctic

David Cameron in 2006

Within weeks of beating better-known rival David Davis to the Conservative leadership in a December 2005 vote of party members, David Cameron was boarding a plane to the Arctic Circle for a fact-finding mission on global warming. It was a dramatic way of announcing himself as a new kind of Conservative - one who cared about the environment and didn't mind enduring freezing temperatures without a hat to prove it (predecessor William Hague had never recovered from being pictured with a baseball cap in the early days of his leadership so headgear was banned on Mr Cameron's Arctic trip).

The Nick and Dave show

Nick Clegg and David Cameron

He never promised us a rose garden. But that's what we got when David Cameron stunned Westminster by making a "big, open and comprehensive" offer to the Liberal Democrats on the morning after a May 2010 general election that nobody won. The bloom-filled Downing Street garden was the venue for the first press conference with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg after four days of frantic deal-making and intrigue. The body language, as Mr Cameron joshed with Mr Clegg over the insults they had hurled at each other in the past, was good. Britain didn't do coalitions - it had never been tried since World War Two - but this looked like it might just work. Despite the doubters it did last all the way to the 2015 election.

David Cameron: In numbers

11 years

as Tory leader

6 years

as Prime Minister

  • 43 when he became PM - the youngest for more than 200 years

  • 1st leader of a coalition government since WWII

  • 3 referendums held under his premiership

  • 12 Conservative majority in 2015 - the first for 23 years


Bloody Sunday statement

David Cameron's ability to look and sound prime ministerial when the occasion demanded it was one of his biggest strengths. It was never more evident than during his Commons statement on the Bloody Sunday inquiry in June 2010, which drew praise from across the political spectrum. He described the findings of the Saville Report into the shooting dead of 13 marchers on 30 January 1972 in Londonderry as "shocking" - an action that was "unjustified" and "unjustifiable", and for which he was "deeply sorry". His statement in 2012 on Hillsborough and his reaction after the April 2016 inquest verdicts earned similar plaudits.

Libyan war

Cameron and Sarkozy were greeted as heroes by jubilant Libyans in Tripoli

Libya was David Cameron's first, and in terms of its long-lasting impact arguably most disastrous, foreign policy intervention. He had pushed a reluctant US President Barack Obama to come to the aid of rebel fighters attempting to topple Colonel Gaddafi and help impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Mr Cameron was greeted as a hero when he visited Libya with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in September 2011, after Gaddafi had been ousted. He pledged not to allow Libya to turn into another Iraq, but critics say that is exactly what happened, as it it rapidly descended into violence.

Gay marriage vote

Gay marriage campaigners

It was one of David Cameron's proudest achievements as prime minister. On 21 May, 2013, MPs voted to allow same-sex couples in England and Wales, who could already hold civil ceremonies, to marry. For Mr Cameron it sent a powerful signal of the kind of tolerant, inclusive country he said he wanted Britain to be - but it cost him dear in terms of lost support from grassroots Conservatives, many of whom could not accept it.

Announcing an EU referendum

David Cameron's Bloomberg speech

After years of rejecting calls from his own MPs for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, Mr Cameron dramatically announced, in a speech at financial wire service Bloomberg in January 2013, that he would hold one if he won the next election, after first renegotiating the UK's membership of the 28-nation bloc. It was the biggest gamble of his political career, made against the backdrop of Eurosceptic rebels in the Tory party demanding a vote and evidence that traditional Conservative voters were heading to the UK Independence Party. As they say in politics, it kicked the can down the road and arguably helped him win the 2015 election. But it was also the vote that ended his career.

Losing Commons vote on Syria

David Cameron: "It is clear to me that the British parliament... does not want to see British military action"

In August 2013, David Cameron became the first prime minister in more than 100 years to lose a Commons vote on military action. It seemed to be a devastating blow to his authority. He had failed to persuade enough MPs, including many on his own side, that Britain should take part in air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons," he said minutes after the result was announced.

Scottish Referendum panic

David Cameron

Mr Cameron held more referendums than any British prime minister. He easily won the first one in 2011, opposing his deputy PM's bid to change Britain's voting system, but the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum provoked the biggest panic of his first term in office. As polling day approached, he was forced to cancel Prime Minister's Questions and rush north of the border in an effort to save the Union, with an impassioned speech at the HQ of Scottish Widows in Edinburgh, when a poll suggested the Yes campaign would win. He was later forced to issue an apology to the Queen, after he was overheard telling New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Her Majesty had "purred down the line" when he informed her that Scotland had rejected independence.

Unexpected election victory

Exit poll projected on to NBH

In the space of two minutes everything changed. The BBC exit poll predicting the Conservatives would be close to gaining a majority of seats stunned everybody, including, we must assume, David Cameron, who the polls had been suggesting could lose to Labour or have to form another coalition with the Lib Dems. Mr Cameron had been criticised for running a negative, fear-based campaign, but it had succeeded. The pledge to hold an EU referendum if elected also helped gain votes. He formed the first majority Conservative government since 1992 - a personal triumph that would prove to be remarkably short-lived.

Resignation statement

EU vote: David Cameron says the UK "needs fresh leadership"

Mr Cameron had staked everything on his ability to persuade the country to vote to remain in the EU, before realising at a late stage in the campaign that it might not be enough. His tone grew more desperate as he contemplated going down in history as the PM who took Britain out of the EU. Despite insisting he would stay on as PM whatever the result, he announced his departure in an emotional statement in Downing Street within hours of the result becoming clear, with wife Samantha at his side.

US sentences Chinese hacker for stealing military information ?
2016-Jul-14 | By Gehan Jayaratne

F-35 jetThe hackers were after data on military jets like the F-35

A Chinese businessman who pleaded guilty to hacking sensitive military information has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison in the US.

Su Bin admitted collaborating with hackers in the Chinese military to steal data from US defence companies between 2008 and 2014.

He was arrested in Canada in 2014 and extradited to the US.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied any involvement in hacking foreign companies or governments.

In addition to the 46-month prison sentence, the Los Angeles court also ordered Su to pay a $10,000 (£7,600) fine.

"Su Bin's sentence is a just punishment for his admitted role in a conspiracy with hackers from the People's Liberation Army Air Force to illegally access and steal sensitive US military information," assistant attorney general John Carlin said in a statement.

"Su assisted the Chinese military hackers in their efforts to illegally access and steal designs for cutting-edge military aircraft that are indispensable to our national defence," he explained.

Financial gain

Mr Su pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to gain unauthorised access to a protected computer and to violate the Arms Export Control Act.

He said he helped the hackers for personal financial gain, admitting he passed on information to Chinese hackers about which persons, companies and technologies to target.

He also pleaded guilty to translating the stolen material into Chinese.

The hack had targeted information on transport planes and fighter jets that was then offered for sale to Chinese companies.

China and the US have regularly swapped accusations about who is behind the cyber-attacks they each suffer.

In 2015, China arrested a group of hackers after the US government supplied them with a list of cybercrime suspects, accused of having stolen research and development information.

Japanese Emperor Akihito 'plans to abdicate'?
2016-Jul-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Japan's Emperor Akihito declares the opening of the ordinary session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan on 4 January 2016Emperor Akihito succeeded his father, Hirohito, in 1989

Japan's Emperor Akihito has announced his intention to abdicate in the coming years, public broadcaster NHK reports.

The 82-year-old, who has had health problems in recent years, reportedly does not wish to remain emperor if he has to reduce his official duties.

He has been head of state for 27 years and his abdication would be an unprecedented move in modern Japan.

His eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is next in line to succeed him to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

He plays a largely ceremonial role but is respected deeply by many Japanese and has been admired for distancing the monarchy from its association with the aggressive nationalism of World War Two.




Emperor Akihito (L), wearing a traditional Japanese costume, stands inside the Takamikura (Imperial throne) during the enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace - to the right Empress Michiko - 12 November 1990 Akihito's coronation was in 1990

Tokyo, says Emperor Akihito would be the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in 200 years.

Our correspondent says in 1989 he succeeded his father, Hirohito, who had had the status of a living god in Japan until he was stripped of that role by the victorious Americans who wrote the country's post-war constitution

Emperor Akihito had surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and a heart bypass operation four years ago.

In 2011, he took the highly unusual step of making a televised national address following the devastating earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima.

This was a revolutionary gesture in a country unused to even hearing or seeing emperors, our reporter says.

Five things about Japan's Emperor:

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michikos peak to local children on a visit to Niijima Island in the Izu island chain, south of Tokyo - July 2001

  • Has adopted a more modern style, making efforts to draw the imperial family closer to the people
  • He married a commoner in 1959 - their love story captured the nation and was dubbed the "tennis court romance" as they met over the nets. Together he and Empress Michiko have three children
  • Has sought to heal the scars of WWII, saying last year: "Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war."
  • Acknowledged his Korean ancestry in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, which Japan and South Korea jointly hosted. This surprised many in Japan given the country's bitter colonial legacy on the Korean peninsula
  • His passion is marine biology and he is an expert on the goby fish.
Theresa May Set To Fill Key Cabinet Positions With Female Allies
2016-Jul-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Theresa May Set To Fill Key Cabinet Positions With Female Allies

Theresa May is preparing to promote a string of female Conservative colleagues, including into key cabinet positions, after she is invited by the Queen to form a new government on Wednesday.

Allies including Amber Rudd, currently the energy secretary, and Justine Greening, the international development secretary, are among those expected to be in line for prominent positions as the second female prime minister shakes up the team running the government.

The incoming prime minister will announce the reshuffle on Wednesday after she moves into Downing Street with her husband, Philip. May will take up residence at No 10 after an audience at Buckingham Palace where the Queen will confirm her new role.

Cameron will face the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the House of Commons for one final prime minister’s questions before making his outgoing remarks on Downing Street. Sometime thereafter he will head to the palace to formally resign. May will make the opposite journey, meeting the Queen for the tradition of “kissing hands”, which usually involves a handshake. She will make her first speech as Britain’s 54th prime minister as she makes her way into Downing Street.

The appointments are intended to create a more gender-balanced cabinet, which has been called for by campaigners as a way to improve policymaking. Some of the most senior roles in the cabinet will be occupied by women. “It was Theresa who set up the campaign to elect more female MPs to parliament, and she has always believed that there should be more women in prominent government positions,” said a spokeswoman for May.

Speculation in Westminster suggested that a woman could be under consideration for the role of chancellor for the first time, although the frontrunners so far include the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, and Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons.

Cameron had made some progress with the gender balance during previous reshuffles, with his final senior team having seven women serving as full members, almost a third of the total. But May intends to go further: other women tipped for ministerial promotions include Harriett Baldwin, Margot James and Karen Bradley, who worked with May at the Home Office as head of the modern slavery bill.

On Monday, May delivered a speech about social justice that included an attack on the government’s industrial strategy, widely interpreted as a swipe at George Osborne. Some were suggesting that he could be moved from the Treasury to the Foreign Office.

Officials within the Home Office suggested Grayling could become home secretary, although Rudd is considered a contender to succeed May in taking responsibility for immigration policy.

It was unclear whether May would keep Michael Gove in his job as justice secretary following a number of clashes under Cameron’s premiership. However, she is likely to try to unify a party divided by the EU referendum campaign and appoint some senior Brexit campaigners such as Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel alongside Grayling.

Cameron will bow out and make a speech in which he will hope to cement a legacy beyond the EU referendum, and will urge May not to drop the commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid.

May’s spokeswoman said work was already under way to set up a new department dedicated to negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. “Civil servants have already been charged with finding a building to house the Brexit department – an indication of Theresa’s commitment to get on with delivering the verdict of the EU referendum. Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it,” she has said.

The prime minister in waiting spent her final day as home secretary planning her entry into Downing Street and also addressing staff at the Home Office. She highlighted areas of policy reform including measures against terrorism and the investigatory powers bill, also known as the snooper’s charter.

May then told civil servants she believed the “social justice agenda” had been at the heart of her tenure, naming inquiries into the Hillsborough tragedy, undercover policing and child sex abuse as proud achievements. Telling officials that “there will always be a little bit of the Home Office inside me”, May said her department had focused on the most vulnerable in society.

May is expected to make the life chances strategy – a cross-government policy that Cameron hoped would be his flagship reform had he carried on as prime minister – a priority for the new government. The strategy is being led by the Department for Work and Pensions and includes reforms that affect a child’s earliest years, including access to high-quality childcare, a focus on schooling, university, rehabilitation for offenders and work opportunities.

Lauding the policy in cabinet, May then told Cameron that he had the “warmth and respect” of colleagues, and that he had led the country through a difficult time, with particularly tough economic circumstances.

Later, the incoming prime minister went to Conservative headquarters and told staff that it was “an honour and a privilege to be the new leader of this great party”. She thanked staff for their work and set out her priorities. “Now, more than ever, we need to work together, to deliver on Brexit, to build a country that works for everyone, and to truly unite our party and our country,” she said, attacking Labour as a party that had brought the country to bankruptcy.

In combative language, May claimed it did not matter whether Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour party, because “when Labour prospers the country suffers”.

During her time as home secretary and as part of the coalition, May clashed with the then deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, particularly over the controversial snooper’s charter and other anti-terrorism legislation.

Alex Dziedzan, who worked for Clegg as an adviser, said: “There were lots of disagreements between Theresa May and the Liberal Democrats on asylum, immigration and issues involving human rights.

“But she is the toughest negotiator I have ever seen and she was the most formidable person we ever came across in government without a shadow of a doubt. I expect her to be much more forceful in delivering her policies than Cameron ever has been.”

James Cleverly, the Tory MP for Braintree, said he suspected it would be a “balanced cabinet”, arguing there were able people who satisfied a number of demographics. “Then you can stop thinking about tick-box exercises,” he said.

Hundreds forcibly disappeared in Egypt crackdown, says Amnesty
2016-Jul-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?Egyptian police special forces patrol streets in al-Haram district of Giza on 25 January 2016Police special forces patrolled the streets of Cairo on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising

Egypt under Sisi

Egypt's security services have forcibly disappeared and tortured hundreds of people in the past year in an effort to wipe out dissent, a rights group says.

Students, political activists and protesters - some as young as 14 - have vanished without a trace, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

Many are alleged to have been held for months and often kept blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire period.

Egypt's government has denied it uses enforced disappearances and torture.

Interior Minister Magdy Abdul Ghaffar has insisted the security services operate within a framework established by Egyptian law.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and 40,000 are believed to have been jailed since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi led the military's overthrew of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically-elected head of state, in 2013.

Prosecutors 'complicit'

Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said enforced disappearances had become a "key instrument of state policy" under Mr Sisi and Mr Abdul Ghaffar, who took office in March 2015.

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdul Ghaffar speaks during a news conference in Cairo on 6 March 2016Interior Minister Magdy Abdul Ghaffar says its forces operate within a framework of Egyptian law

Citing local non-governmental organisations, Amnesty said that on average three to four people per day had been seized, usually when heavily armed security forces led by the National Security Agency (NSA) stormed their homes.

Hundreds of people were thought to be held at the NSA's offices, inside the interior ministry's headquarters at Cairo's Lazoughly Square.

Mr Luther said the report exposed collusion between the security services and judicial authorities, who he alleged had been "prepared to lie to cover their tracks or failed to investigate torture allegations, making them complicit in serious human rights violations".

One of the cases in the report is that of 14-year-old Mazen Mohamed Abdallah, who was taken from his home in the Nasser City district of Cairo by NSA agents on 30 September and accused of being a member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and participating in unauthorised protests.

People hold an Italian flag with photos of Giulio Regeni during a demonstration in front of the Egypt's embassy in Rome on 25 February 2016Amnesty said it had found "clear similarities" between Giulio Regeni's injuries and those of Egyptians who had died in custody

Mazen said that after he denied the charges, interrogators repeatedly raped him with a wooden stick in order to force him to "memorise" a false confession, applied electric shocks to his genitals and other parts of his body, and threatened to arrest his parents if he retracted the confession.

The boy retracted the confession when questioned by a prosecutor, but was still charged and only released from custody on 31 January to await trial, Amnesty said.

Another of the cases featured in the report is that of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

The 28-year-old Cambridge University PhD student was found dead on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo in February, his body bearing signs of torture.

The Egyptian authorities have denied any involvement in his killing, but Amnesty said its report had found "clear similarities" between his injuries and those of Egyptians who had died in custody.

Dallas shooting: Obama urges US to 'reject despair'
2016-Jul-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Obama reflects on role as 'consoler-in-chief' during Dallas speech

President Barack Obama has urged the US to "reject despair" as he paid tribute to five police officers killed during a deadly sniper attack in Dallas.

He told a memorial service in the city the US must "try to find some meaning amidst our sorrow" and could unite.

His trip came amid mounting racial tensions across the country.

Micah Johnson killed the Dallas officers at a protest held over the recent police shootings of African Americans in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Before he was killed by police, he said he was angry about the shootings.

Meanwhile, protests over excessive police force against black Americans have been held in cities across the US.

But speaking at Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on Tuesday, Mr Obama urged the country not to despair.

Americans are struggling with what has happened in the past week, he said, and events appeared to have revealed "the deepest fault line of our democracy".

"I'm here to say we must reject such despair. I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem."

He honoured the bravery of police officers and said fewer people were being mourned at the service because of the courage of the officers killed.

The service featured five portraits of the officers and five empty chairs.

Ex-President George W Bush, a Texan, praised the police: "Their courage is our protection and shield."

And Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who spoke first, said: "The soul of our city was pierced."

First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will also hold a private meeting with the families of the victims on Wednesday.

Pictures of the five fallen officersPictures of the five fallen officers were central to the service

Barack Obama hugs Police Chief David BrownEUROPEAN PHOTOPRESS AGENCY

 Chief David Brown received a standing ovation when he was introduced

George W BushGeorge W Bush praised the courage of the police

Supporters participate in the Dallas Strong Candlelight Vigil in TexasThe city held a candlelight vigil to remember the slain officers

The US has been on edge in the wake of the recent string of violence, with protests over police reform and race relations roiling across the country.

And Mr Obama has been criticised for not doing enough to support the police, many of whom say they feel under attack because of the protests and criticism.

Reaction to President Obama's speech

  • Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times called the speech "excellent" and that Mr Obama is "so eloquent on race"
  • Conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch said it was good until it became "a partisan political lecture on gun control, race, and policing"
  • Domenico Montanaro of NPR News called it the biggest race speech of Mr Obama's presidency
  • Conservative political operative Tim Miller said Mr Obama and George Bush's speeches had "hope, dignity and constructiveness"

Mr Obama and Mr Biden on Monday met with law enforcement officials to discuss police reform and how to repair relations between police officers and the communities they protect.

The president, who cut short a trip to Europe over the recent violence, is expected to host a similar meeting on Wednesday in Dallas with law enforcement as well as local leaders and activists.

Kashmir clashes over militant Burhan Wani leave 30 dead
2016-Jul-12 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Volunteers carry an injured man from an ambulance outside a hospital who was shot during clashes between security forces and protesters in Srinagar on July 11, 2016.More than 200 people have been injured in the clashes

Police in Indian-administered Kashmir say at least 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces following the shooting of a well-known militant leader.

Burhan Wani, 22, died in a gunfight with the Indian army on Friday.

More deaths were reported on Monday after a weekend of violence left 23 dead, including a policeman.

The violence is the worst seen in the region for years. Some 800 extra troops are being sent to help restore order.

More than 200 other people have been injured in the clashes, in which government forces have fired live rounds and tear gas.

A curfew is in place across much of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley after a police post was set alight and a military airbase targeted during the latest clashes.

Disputed Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years, sparking two wars between the countries.


Within the disputed Muslim-majority territory, some militant groups have taken up arms to fight for independence from Indian rule or a merger with Pakistan.

The last bout of serious violence in the region was in the summer of 2010, when more than 100 people died in anti-India protests, which broke out after police shot dead a teenager.

Kashmiri protestors clash with Indian police in Srinagar on July 10, 2016.The clashes began after popular militant commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces

Who was Burhan Wani? By Shujaat Bukhari, Srinagar

Burhan Wani is largely credited with reviving the image of militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Born to a highly educated upper-class Kashmiri family, Wani is believed to have been driven to militancy at the age of 15, when he was beaten up by police along with his brother "for no reason".

Wani was extremely active on social media and, unlike militants in the past, did not hide his identity.

His video messages, which would often go viral in Kashmir, were on the topics of Indian injustice, and the need for young people to stand up to oppression.

Indian officials have said that he was instrumental in persuading local boys to take up arms.


Curfew under strain

Almost all the dead in the current outbreak of violence are protesters.

The policeman died after his car went into a river in the Jhelum area on Sunday.

Police say the vehicle was pushed in by crowds but some accounts say it went into the water after the driver lost control in an attempt to avoid stone-throwing mobs.

 Tensions remained high on Monday, with crowds attempting to breach curfew orders.

Four top separatist leaders released a joint statement in which they called on India's government to "abandon the policy of stopping people's marches by bullets".

The violence has led to the suspension of a popular Hindu religious pilgrimage to the Amarnath temple shrine, which has stranded some 15,000 devotees in the neighbouring region of Jammu, Indian media reported.

More than 2,000 pilgrims who were on the way back from the temple have been airlifted out of Kashmir, police officials told.

Crowds at Burhan Wani's funeralThousands attended Wani's funeral which was held in his hometown of Tral

Protesters in KashmirPolice stations and military installations have been attacked in violent clashes across the region

Thousands attended Wani's funeral which was held in his hometown of Tral, about 40km (25 miles) south of Srinagar, on Saturday.

Police stations and military installations were attacked in violent clashes afterwards, with several buildings burned down, police added.

The state government has said that it would also investigate reports of excessive police violence towards unarmed protesters.

Rights groups have described the current situation as a state of emergency. Hospitals struggled to cope with wounded protesters and phone and internet services were suspended.

The level of separatist insurgency violence in the region has ebbed and flowed since 1989, but it has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians.

Michigan courthouse shooting: Two deputies and gunman killed
2016-Jul-12 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Berrien County CourthouseTwo sheriff's deputies were fatally shot inside the courthouse

An inmate being moved from a holding cell shot and killed two law enforcement officers at a courthouse in the US state of Michigan.

The officers, known as bailiffs in the US, provide security for courthouses.

The inmate, who was due in court, grabbed an officer's gun during a scuffle and opened fire, Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said.

People in the courthouse took shelter before other officers shot and killed the inmate, Mr Bailey said.

A deputy sheriff and another person were also wounded and were taken to hospital, where they are in a stable condition.

The inmate was not identified, and Mr Bailey did not say what charges he was facing.

The shooting occurred is in the resort town of St Joseph - about 100 miles (160km) northeast of Chicago.

Mr Bailey called the deaths of his colleagues "terrible".

"Our hearts are torn apart. ... I have known them for over 30 years. It's a sad day," he said.

David Cameron: Theresa May will be in place as PM by Wednesday evening
2016-Jul-12 | By Gehan Jayaratne


David Cameron: Theresa May will be in place as PM by Wednesday evening

David Cameron has issued a statement outside Number 10 to welcome the speed at which it appears he will hand over as Prime Minister to Theresa May.

Mr Cameron said he will hand in his resignation on Wednesday.

He said he will take PMQs at noon, after which he will go to the palace and resign formally before the Queen.

He said he expects the new Prime Minister to be in place by Wednesday evening.

Secretary Theresa May has emerged as the only candidate to replace Prime Minister David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party after Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom dropped out Monday. She is expected to be sworn in later this week.


Kashmir 'mob drowns policeman'
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Kashmiri protestors clash with Indian police in Srinagar on July 10, 2016.Clashes after the death of a popular militant commander have left 23 dead and dozens injured

There are fears of more violence in Indian-administered Kashmir, after a policeman drowned when his car was pushed into a river, police say.

However some accounts have said the car was not pushed into the river, but fell in after the driver lost control in an attempt to avoid stone pelting mobs.

At least 23 people have died and many more injured in clashes over the death of a popular separatist rebel.

Burhan Wani, 22, died in a gunfight with the Indian army on Friday.

The violence that has erupted after his death is the worst seen for years in the restive region, claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan.

Kashmir has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years, sparking wars between the countries.

Within the disputed Muslim-majority territory, some militant groups have taken up arms to fight for independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The last bout of serious violence in the region was in the summer of 2010, when over 100 people died in anti-India protests, which broke out after police shot dead a teenager.

Who was Burhan Wani? By Shujaat Bukhari

Burhan Wani is largely credited with reviving the image of militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Born to a highly educated upper-class Kashmiri family, Wani is believed to have been driven to militancy at the age of 15, when - alongside his brother - he was beaten up by police "for no reason".

Wani was extremely active on social media and, unlike militants in the past, did not hide his identity.

His video messages, which would often go viral in Kashmir, were on the topics of Indian injustice, and the need for youth to stand up to oppression.

Indian officials have said that he was instrumental in persuading local boys to take up arms, which also increased local support towards them.

Curfew under strain

In the latest incident on Sunday, the culmination of a weekend of violence, a crowd in the Jhelum area pelted a police officer's car with stones and pushed it into a river where he drowned while inside the vehicle, police said.

However some accounts say that the car fell in after the driver tried to avoid a stone-pelting mob.

The policeman, identified as Feroz Ahmad, is among more than 20,000 "irregulars" who are used to provide additional manpower during operations in Kashmir.

Our correspondent says tensions remain high on Monday, with crowds attempting to violate curfew orders

The situation has also led to the suspension of a popular Hindu religious pilgrimage to the Amarnath temple shrine, which has stranded some 15,000 devotees in the neighbouring state of Jammu, Indian media reported.

Over 2,000 pilgrims who were on the way back from the temple have been airlifted out of Kashmir, police officials told .

Crowds at Burhan Wani's funeralThousands attended Wani's funeral which was held in his hometown of Tral

Protesters in KashmirPolice stations and military installations have been attacked in violent clashes across the region

What sparked the violence?

The violence was sparked by the death of Wani, a commander of the region's largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen.

Thousands attended his funeral which was held in his hometown of Tral, about 40km (25 miles) south of Srinagar, on Saturday.

Police stations and military installations were attacked in violent clashes after the funeral, with several buildings burned down, police added.

The state government has said that it will also investigate reports of excessive police violence towards unarmed protesters.

What is the fear now?

Rights groups have described the current situation as a state of emergency. Hospitals remain filled with wounded protesters and phone and internet services are suspended.

 This is the worst violence in the region for some years and the fear is that if it is not brought under control soon, many more people could be killed and injured.

The level of separatist insurgency violence in the region has ebbed and flowed since 1989, but it has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians.

Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski to visit Sri Lanka
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne



Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski to visit Sri Lanka

The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski will visit Sri Lanka between July 12 and 20, US Department of State announced.

He is expected to engage with government officials and local civil society representatives.

Assistant Secretary Malinowski will focus on Sri Lanka’s continued progress in meeting the commitments made during last September’s UN Human Rights Council session, the State Department said.

He will also discuss the work that remains in the areas of justice and reconciliation, and confirm the United States continued support to Sri Lankan efforts to tackle these issues.


N Korea threatens 'physical response' to US-South Korea anti-missile system
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne


People watch a television news broadcast at a railway station in Seoul on July 9, 2016, showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch. North Korea on July 9

North Korea has threatened a "physical response" after the US and South Korea announced an agreement to deploy an advanced missile defence system.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be solely to counter the threat from Pyongyang.

A statement by the military in North Korean state media sets out the "unwavering will of our army to deal a ruthless retaliatory strike."

The North regularly makes such threats against the South and the US.

The rhetoric is normally ratcheted up at times of high tension. When the US imposed sanctions last week on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang described the move as an "open declaration of war".

Just one day after the announcement about THAAD the North test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its eastern coast, but South Korea's military says the launch was a failure.

It is not yet clear when the system would be deployed, where it would be sited and who would have final control.

What is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD)?

  • Shoots down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their flight
  • Uses hit-to-kill technology - where kinetic energy destroys the incoming warhead
  • Has a range of 200km and can reach an altitude of 150km
  • US has previously deployed it in Guam and Hawaii as a measure against potential attacks from North Korea

Thaad missile defence system graphic

1. The enemy launches a missile

2. The Thaad radar system detects the launch, which is relayed to command and control

3. Thaad command and control instructs the launch of an interceptor missile

4. The interceptor missile is fired at the enemy projectile

5. The enemy projectile is destroyed in the terminal phase of flight

The launcher trucks can hold up to eight interceptor missiles.

Thaad system launcher

The statement from the artillery bureau of the North's military said it will take a "physical counter-action to thoroughly control THAAD... from the moment its location and place have been confirmed in South Korea" .

The THAAD system is also opposed by Beijing and Moscow, who see it as the US hardening its military presence in the region. On Friday China said the system will harm peace and stability, and lodged a protest with the US and South Korean envoys.

But the US and South Korea argue it is necessary in the wake of intensifying threats from the North which, although banned from such activity by the UN, has conducted a series of missile tests and in January carried out its fourth nuclear test.


Dallas shootings: Killer 'prepared larger attack'
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Micah Johnson, handout picMicah Johnson left the initials 'RB' written in his own blood, police say

The man who shot dead five police officers in Dallas and wounded seven more was planning an even larger attack, the city's police chief says.

Micah Johnson, 25, was angry with the recent killings of black men by police and wanted to kill white officers, police say.

Police chief David Brown said he was "convinced" Johnson had wider plans.

He told CNN that Johnson, a military veteran, appeared to have practised detonating explosives.

Mr Brown also said police were trying to find the significance of the letters "RB" that Johnson had written in his own blood, near where he was killed by a remote detonation by police.

Officers were also reading a journal found in Johnson's house that Mr Brown said was proving "hard to decipher".

Mr Brown also revealed that during two hours of negotiations last Thursday, the attacker taunted police.

"He just basically lied to us - playing games, laughing at us, singing, asking how many [police officers] did he get and that he wanted to kill some more and that there were bombs there."

"So there was no progress on the negotiation... I began to feel that it was only at a split second he would charge us and take out many more before we could kill him," Mr Brown added.

Johnson launched his attack in Dallas as a protest was taking place against the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

The deaths of Philando Castile in St Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week led to more protests across US cities on Saturday.

Demonstrator detained near police HQ in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (9 July)Scores of arrests were made in Baton Rouge - this image by Reuters' Jonathan Bachman has been widely shared on social media


Police arrest activist DeRay McKesson during a protest along Airline Highway, a major road that passes in front of the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters Saturday, July 9, 2016Prominent activist DeRay Mckesson was among those detained in Baton Rouge

Hundreds of people were arrested in the demonstrations nationwide. While most passed peacefully, fireworks, bottles and rocks were thrown at police in St Paul in clashes along a main interstate highway.

Close to 100 people were arrested there as 21 police officers were injured.

In Baton Rouge, several hundred protesters gathered outside the police department shouting "No justice! No peace!" and also at the convenience store where Alton Sterling was shot.

There was also tension as armed members of the New Black Panther Party stood face to face with officers in riot gear. Louisiana law allows weapons to be carried openly.

Among the 100 people held was DeRay Mckesson, who has become a national voice for the Black Lives Matter movement, and three journalists.

Mr Mckesson was freed on bond on Sunday.


Police officer with small child, Dallas (10 July)

In contrast to protesters in other parts of the country, the people of Dallas are uniting behind their police officers.

A makeshift shrine in memory of the five officers gunned down on Thursday night sprang up outside police headquarters in the Cedars district of the city within hours of the attack, and it is now a mass of flowers, balloons, stuffed toys and messages of sympathy.

Throughout the day, a constant stream of visitors have come here - black, white, Hispanic; young couples, elderly folk, little girls in sun dresses - to pay their respects, say a prayer or simply shed a tear.

An impromptu prayer session on the steps of police headquarters ended with hugs and a police officer breaking down in tears.

Earlier, a mother was overheard telling her son it was up to his generation to make things better: "This generation tried, but soon it will be up to you," she said.

"The police in Baton Rouge have been truly awful tonight," Mr Mckesson said in a livestreamed Periscope video on Saturday night.

"They have provoked people. They chase people just for kicks. The police have been violent tonight. The protesters have not.''

Millennials worry about what's in store for the next generation of black Americans

Boy looks at flowers in front of Dallas police HQ (10 July)

Flowers in memory of the murdered Dallas officers have been piling up

Other protests took place in Nashville, Indianapolis and Washington DC.

Demonstrations have continued despite an effort by President Barack Obama to soothe the tension.

On a visit to Spain on Sunday, he demanded an end to anti-police violence.

"Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause," he said.

Also on Sunday, the White House said Mr Obama would travel to Dallas on Tuesday. He will speak at an interfaith memorial service.

Michael Mata of the Dallas Police Association: Police had built links with community

UN seeks end to South Sudan violence
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne


South Sudan police and soldier stand guard on Juba street - 10 JulyThere are fears of renewed instability, as South Sudan celebrates five years of independence

South Sudan strife

The UN Security Council has called on warring factions in South Sudan to immediately end the recent fighting and prevent the spread of violence.

In a unanimous statement, the council condemned the fighting "in the strongest terms" and expressed "particular shock and outrage" at attacks on UN sites.

It also called for additional peacekeepers as a response.

Hundreds are reported killed in clashes between rival groups since Friday.

Forces loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar say government troops supporting President Salva Kiir attacked their positions in the capital, Juba.

A spokesman for Mr Machar told the BBC on Sunday that the country was "back to war" - but Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth described reports of war as "dishonest".

Calm was restored on Saturday, but fighting resumed on Sunday morning.

Mr Machar (l) and Mr KiirGunfire erupted shortly after Mr Machar (L) and Mr Kiir (R) met on Friday

The UN mission said hundreds of people had sought shelter in its compounds.

UN officials said a Chinese peacekeeper was killed and several Chinese and Rwandan troops injured.

In a statement on Sunday, the US state department said it strongly condemned the latest outbreak of fighting in Juba.

Spokesman John Kirby said Washington had ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from the US embassy in Juba.

The violence has raised fears of renewed instability, with a 2015 peace deal failing to quell unrest.

Friday's exchanges were apparently sparked by a shootout between President Kiir's and Mr Machar's bodyguards. At least 150 died in the clashes.

The two men met at the presidential palace the same day, and issued a call for calm.

Calm was apparently restored on Saturday but heavy gunfire was reported on Sunday near a military barracks occupied by troops loyal to Mr Machar.

How did we get here?

Cattle in South SudanSouth Sudan's short history has been marked by violence and poverty

July 2011 - South Sudan becomes an independent country, after more than 20 years of guerrilla warfare, which claimed the lives of at least 1.5 million people and displaced more than four million.

December 2013 - Civil war breaks out after President Salva Kiir sacks the cabinet and accuses Vice-President Riek Machar of planning a coup. The war is fought broadly between the country's biggest ethnic groups - the Dinka, led by Mr Kiir, and the Nuer, under Mr Machar.

More than 2.2 million people are displaced by the fighting. Famine puts the lives of thousands at risk. Tens of thousands of people are reported killed, and Mr Machar flees the country.

News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan

There is no dominant culture in South Sudan - the Dinka and the Nuer are the largest of more than 60 ethnic groups, each with its own language and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam

August 2015 - President Kiir signs a peace deal with rebels after a threat of sanctions from the UN.

April 2016 - Mr Machar returns to South Sudan to take up his job as first vice president in a new unity government led by President Kiir.

The move marks "the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to South Sudan", Mr Kiir says.

Indian probe into IS ties extends to Sri Lanka - report
2016-Jul-11 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Most mainstream Muslim organisations in Kerala have denounced the Islamic State (IS) even as the investigation into the suspected defection of at least 12 Keralites to the proscribed organisation unfolded across India and beyond the country’s borders, the Hindu reports.

Syed Ibrahim Khaleel Buhari, general secretary, Kerala Muslim Jamaat, the apex body of Sunni Muslims in the State, told The Hindu that the organisation was poised to undertake a sweeping social campaign to insulate impressionable youth from the nihilistic and seductive lure of the IS.

Meanwhile, Central and State security agencies were trying to gauge whether the IS, which runs a slick online propaganda campaign, had gained any local appeal.

They were investigating whether any ultra-conservative religious outfit had recruited the “missing persons” for the embattled IS in Iraq and Syria.

Officials privy to the Central and State inquiries said the focus has also shifted to Sri Lanka, which “reports indicated” was the “common transit camp” for several of the “missing families” suspected to have joined the IS.

Sri Lanka orders probe

They said the Sri Lankan government was conducting its own investigation after reports emerged that at least two of its citizens had joined the IS last year.

The inquiries would also focus on how the “missing families” were radicalised, if they were at all.

They would centre on whether the missing persons were in IS territory and who guided them to their destination.

The agencies were sifting through hundreds of FB groups, which claim to be affiliated to the IS to see whether any evidence of the “missing families” would crop up.

Meanwhile, the police intelligence has warned the State government that the public furore over the “missing persons” had outsize propaganda value for divisive forces on either end of the religious spectrum.

For one, the issue had led to political muckraking in the case of controversial preacher Zakir Naik whose speeches were linked to rising radicalisation in Kerala and Bangladesh, the Hindu reports.

US police shootings: Protests spread with dozens of arrests
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Protesters in Minneapolis call for justice for Philando CastileProtesters in Minneapolis call for justice for Philando Castile

Protests continue to spread across US cities against the killing of black men by police, following recent deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Roads were blocked and missiles thrown in Minnesota, while armed New Black Panther Party members confronted police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Dozens of arrests have been made but the rallies were mostly peaceful.

The situation is also tense in Dallas, where five officers were killed by a black man during a protest rally.

Security levels were raised at the police HQ after anonymous threats were received but an all clear was given after a search of a car park for a "suspicious person".

The protests against police killings were sparked by the deaths of Philando Castilein Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana.

In St Paul, Minnesota, overnight, fireworks, bottles and rocks were thrown at police as the demonstration closed a main interstate highway, causing gridlock.

Fists raised - BBC's Laura Bicker in Baton Rouge

New Black Panther Party membersNew Black Panther Party members face off with police

This is the fifth night of protests in Baton Rouge where there is not just anger, there is rage.

Each night the gathering has intensified and police have responded with officers in riot gear. The two sides faced each other, often blocking the main highway outside police headquarters.

Occasionally the force would line up and rush into the crowd to make several arrests. Earlier, hundreds marched to the Louisiana State Capitol and stood on the steps with clenched fists raised up high - a salute to black power.

Police said some officers had been hurt by fireworks and a number of arrests made. Demonstrators said police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Baton Rouge, several hundred protesters gathered outside the police department shouting "No justice! No peace!" and also at the convenience store where Alton Sterling was shot.

There was also tension as armed members of the New Black Panther Party stood face to face with officers in riot gear. Louisiana law allows weapons to be carried openly.

Key Black Lives Matter figure DeRay Mckesson is arrested in Baton Rouge Black Lives Matter figure DeRay Mckesson was arrested in Baton Rouge

An interstate highway was closed overnight amid protests in St Paul, MinnesotaAn interstate highway was closed overnight amid protests in St Paul, Minnesota

Dozens of people were reported to have been arrested and at least two firearms confiscated. Among those held was DeRay Mckesson, who has become a national voice for the Black Lives Matter movement, and two journalists.

Baton Rouge protester Marie Flowers told Associated Press: "Black boys are being killed and this is just the culmination of what has been going on for decades."

Several hundred protesters blocked roads and bridges in San Francisco and Fresno in California, hundreds more protested peacefully in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami in Florida.

In New York, at least 20 people were arrested as hundreds of protesters marched through Manhattan.

Hundreds march in Manhattan, New YorkHundreds marched in Manhattan, New York

Protester Lorena Ambrosio told Reuters: "I'm feeling very haunted, very sad and just angry that black bodies just keep piling and piling up."

A "Weekend of Rage" called in Philadelphia saw a six-hour march by a multi-racial crowd. One protester told an officer: "Without the uniform and badge, you are just like us," AP reported.

Other protests took place in Nashville, Indianapolis and Washington DC.

The protests have continued despite an effort by President Barack Obama to soothe the tension.

On a trip to Europe, he said: "First of all, as painful as this week has been, I firmly believe that America is not as divided as some have suggested.

"When we start suggesting that somehow there's this enormous polarisation, and we're back to the situation in the 60s, that's just not true. You're not seeing riots, and you're not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully."

'Kill white people'

On Thursday, five white police officers were shot dead by a black man, Micah Johnson, during a protest rally against the police killings. Seven other officers and two civilians were injured.

'We have to value each other'

Johnson, who was himself killed during the assault, supported black militant groups who encouraged violence against police.

Dallas police chief David Brown said Johnson had told a negotiator that he had wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, because he was angry about the recent shootings of black men by police.

Media captionMichael Mata of the Dallas Police Association: Police had built links with community

Johnson, 25, who officials say acted alone, was killed by remotely detonated explosives that were sent into a car park where he had taken refuge after the shootings.

Australian PM Turnbull declares elections victory
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne



Australian PM Turnbull declares elections victory

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared victory in the federal election, saying it is vital for the nation that all sides of politics work together to make this term of parliament work.

Mr Turnbull’s victory speech on Sunday afternoon came just hours after Opposition Leader Bill Shorten rang him to concede defeat.

“We have won the election,” Mr Turnbull told reporters, noting that the Coalition has received around 800,000 more first preference votes than Labor.

Mr Turnbull said he would visit the Governor General next week to be officially sworn in again as prime minister. Before then he will have to sign an official Coalition agreement with Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce. 

“It is vital that this parliament work,” Mr Turnbull said. 

“It is vital that we work together and as far as we can ensure that we all agree… consistent with our policies that we took to the election.”

Mr Turnbull said he had his one-year old granddaughter Isla on his hip when Mr Shorten rang to concede defeat eight days after Australians went to the polls.

He said he would work with Mr Shorten on a proposal to introduce electronic voting to speed up the process of finalising the election results.

“Yes, this is something we must look at,” he said. 

“This has been a passion of mine, an interest of mine, for a long time.”

Mr Turnbull said he also wanted to investigate the regulation of “robocalls” and text messages sent out by political parties during election campaigns. 

He said parties should be required to declare they had authorised such messages as they do with television and radio advertisements. 

The Coalition is confident it will win the 76 seats required to form a majority government and could win 77 seats if the counting of postal and absentee votes continues to trend its way. 

Mr Shorten earlier held a press conference to officially acknowledge Mr Turnbull would form government. 

“I respect that Mr Turnbull has won government - be it a minority government or a majority of one or two,” Mr Shorten said.

“I believe that the government has won the election absolutely.”


Killing Fields journalist Sydney Schanberg dies at 82
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?Sydney Schanberg in 1991In 1975, Schanberg ignored directives to leave Cambodia and stayed to report on the Khmer Rouge

US journalist Sydney Schanberg, whose reporting inspired the Oscar-winning Hollywood film, The Killing Fields, has died at the age of 82, the New York Times reports.

Schanberg worked for the Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

His colleague, Dith Pran, was unable to leave and his four-year ordeal inspired Schanberg's work.

Schanberg died in Poughkeepsie after a heart attack earlier in the week.

His death was confirmed by Charles Kaiser, a friend and former Times reporter, the paper said.

In 1980, Schanberg described his Cambodian colleague's ordeal of torture and starvation at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in a magazine article, and later a book called The Death and Life of Dith Pran.

Oscar awards

In 1975, Schanberg and Dith Pran ignored directives from Times editors to evacuate and stayed in Cambodia as almost all Western diplomats and journalists fled.

Both were seized by the Khmer Rouge and threatened with death.

Photos of prisoners executed by the Khmer Rouge

Photos of prisoners executed by the Khmer Rouge

Dith Pran's pleas saved Schanberg's life. The pair took refuge in the French Embassy but Dith Pran was forced to leave and was sent into the countryside.

Two weeks later Schanberg was evacuated by truck to Thailand.

Dith Pran eventually managed to escape to Thailand and died in 2008. It was he who coined the term "killing fields".

The Killing Fields won eight BAFTA Awards and three Academy Awards. Sam Waterston played Schanberg in the movie, with Haing S Ngor, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, in the role of Dith Pran.

The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, during which it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century. The genocide claimed the lives of more than a million people - some estimates say up to 2.5 million.

Under the Maoist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside.

But the attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost, and whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

South Sudan clashes 'leave dozens dead' in Juba
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?Mr Machar (l) and Mr KiirGunfire erupted shortly after Mr Machar (L) and Mr Kiir met on Friday

South Sudan strife

Dozens of people have been killed in clashes in South Sudan's capital Juba, military, medical and journalistic sources have said.

Gunfire broke out on Friday evening near the state house where President Salva Kiir was meeting his sometime rival, Vice-President Riek Machar.

Estimates of the death toll vary, but most accounts put the number over 100 - some as high as 150.

A 2015 peace deal to end a 20-month civil war has failed to quell unrest.

Juba is in lockdown as South Sudan, the world's newest country, marks the fifth anniversary of independence from neighbouring Sudan.

Friday's fighting was apparently sparked by a shootout between Mr Kiir's and Mr Machar's bodyguards . The two men met at the presidential palace on Friday.

The half-hour gun battle then escalated, with heavy weapons and artillery being used in several parts of the city.

In a speech marking independence, Mr Kiir said: "Making South Sudan glorious will only happen if we see ourselves as South Sudanese first rather than tribal or political groupings," Juba's Miraya FM station reported.

He added that everyone in South Sudan should "use our rich cultural diversity as the source of our unity".

Five years of South Sudan

On Saturday, a South Sudanese journalist told the BBC that other journalists stuck inside the state house counted at least 100 bodies, inside and outside the compound.

A hospital doctor told the Associated Press that scores of bodies had been brought in, while a military spokesman for the opposition - Mr Machar's faction - told Reuters 115 people had been killed.

Mr Kiir and Mr Machar described Friday's violence as "unfortunate".

Under a peace deal agreed last August, the two armed factions took up positions in Juba in April.

Tens of thousands died in the civil war and millions were forced from their homes.

South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, is so short of money that the authorities say no official anniversary celebrations will be held.

The streets of Juba were reported to be quiet on Saturday.

Roadblocks have been set up in the capital, with troops searching people for weapons.

South Sudan map


John Prescott: Ex-deputy PM says Iraq War was illegal
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne



John Prescott

John Prescott, who was deputy prime minister when Britain went to war with Iraq in 2003, says the invasion by UK and US forces was "illegal".

He said he would live with the "catastrophic decision" for the rest of his life.

Lord Prescott said he now agreed "with great sadness and anger" with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan that the war was illegal.

He also praised Labour's Jeremy Corbyn for apologising on the party's behalf.

Lord Prescott also said Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement that "I am with you, whatever" in a message to US President George W Bush before the invasion in March 2003, was "devastating".

Sunday Mirror front page

"A day doesn't go by when I don't think of the decision we made to go to war. Of the British troops who gave their lives or suffered injuries for their country. Of the 175,000 civilians who died from the Pandora's Box we opened by removing Saddam Hussein," he went on.

Lord Prescott said he was "pleased Jeremy Corbyn has apologised on behalf of the Labour Party to the relatives of those who died and suffered injury".

He also expressed his own "fullest apology", especially to the families of British personnel who died.

The former deputy PM said the Chilcot report had gone into great detail about what went wrong, but he wanted to identify "certain lessons we must learn".

"My first concern was the way Tony Blair ran Cabinet. We were given too little paper documentation to make decisions," he wrote.

No documentation was provided to justify Attorney-general Lord Goldsmith's opinion that action against Iraq was legal, he added.

The report by the UK's Iraq War inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, was published last week. It said estimates of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were presented with a certainty which was not justified.

British troops suffered from inadequate preparation and equipment and plans for the aftermath of the war were "wholly inadequate", it concluded.

It also said the 2003 invasion was not the "last resort" action presented to MPs and the public, and there was no "imminent threat" from Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair apologised for any mistakes made but not the decision to go to war.

Dallas shooting: Police give all clear after security scare ?
2016-Jul-10 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Police officers outside Dallas police's main headquartersArmed police officers have been deployed at the main police headquarters in Dallas

Dallas police have given the all clear, hours after security levels were raised at their headquarters in the city.

They said they had received an anonymous threat, two days after the deadly shooting in the city.

A nearby parking lot was searched for a "suspicious person" but no-one was found. SWAT officers were deployed at the main building.

On Thursday, five white police officers were shot dead by a black man, Micah Johnson, during a protest rally.

The march was against the killing of black men by police. Two deaths this week have led to nationwide protests.

In a statement, the police said on Saturday: "The Dallas Police Department received an anonymous threat against law enforcement across the city and has taken precautionary measures to heightened security."

An armoured vehicle was moved close to the main HQ in central Dallas and heavily armed officers were seen nearby, according to the Associated Press news agency.

But it added that members of the public were still able to walk about freely around the building.

The police asked media to stop all live feeds around HQ "for the safety of our officers", the BBC's James Cook reports.

The shooting happened late on Thursday during the protest march.

'We have to value each other'

Johnson, who was himself killed during the assault, supported black militant groups who encouraged violence against police.

Dallas police chief David Brown said Johnson had told a negotiator that he had wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, because he was angry about the recent shootings of black men by police.

The attack came after the police killings of Philando Castile in Minnesota andAlton Sterling in Louisiana.

'Unity shown'

Earlier on Saturday, President Barack Obama said the US was "not as divided as some have suggested" in the wake of the shootings involving African-Americans.

He said Americans of "all races, all backgrounds", including many of those who were protesting, were outraged by the Dallas killings.

As well as the five police officers killed, another seven were injured on Thursday. Two civilians were also hurt.

Michael Mata of the Dallas Police Association: Police had built links with community

Johnson, 25, who officials say acted alone, was killed by remotely detonated explosives that were sent into a car park where he had taken refuge after the shootings.

He was a member of the US Army Reserve from 2009 to 2015 who had served in Afghanistan.

Bomb-making material, rifles and a combat journal were found his home in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite.

A number of gun attacks involving police officers and civilians have occurred in other parts of the US in the aftermath of the deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Leaders of the Black Lives Matter organisation have condemned the Dallas killings but say planned marches, including a "Weekend of Rage" in Philadelphia, will go ahead.

Indonesia traffic jam: 12 die in Java gridlock during Ramadan
2016-Jul-09 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?four lanes of traffic backed up all the way to a junction in IndonesiaThe traffic jam was more than 13 miles (21km) long

At least 12 people have died of dehydration and exhaustion while sitting in traffic in Indonesia.

Traffic filled up three lanes for several days on the island of Java.

Crowds travelling to their home villages to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan converged around a single traffic junction, where building work forced them to wait.

Most victims were elderly and died in hot cars, officials say. One toddler was poisoned to death by exhaust fumes.

Daytime temperatures in the city of Brebes, where the jam occurred, have been close to 30C (86F) all week.

The authorities have set up a hotline for stranded drivers to call in a medical emergency but correspondents say it is unclear how help would reach anyone in trouble.

Transport officials said the deaths happened between Sunday and Tuesday.

The traffic jam was more than 13 miles (21km) long.

"There's no space on the road," transport ministry spokesman Hemi Pramuraharjo told the Agence France-Presse news agency. "We don't have a solution."

The Indonesian health ministry said people who were planning a long car journey should rest along the way and take necessary precautions.

Local media reported that roads in to the capital Jakarta are expected to be busy over the weekend as people return from the Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadan.

map of Indonesia showing Java island and Brebes city

long snaking traffic jamSome people left their vehicles to wait for the traffic to move

US expels two Russian diplomats over Moscow 'attack'
2016-Jul-09 | By Gehan Jayaratne

?Moscow skyline

The US has expelled two Russian diplomats in response to an attack on an American diplomat in Moscow, the state department says.

Spokesman John Kirby said the two officials - who have not been named - were told to leave on 17 June.

Mr Kirby said that earlier that month, a Russian policeman attacked the US diplomat near the US embassy in Moscow.

"The action was unprovoked," he said. Russia said the diplomat worked for the CIA and had refused to show ID papers.

Last month, US officials said harassment against US diplomats by Russian security and intelligence services was on the rise.

Russia has denied the allegation.

'In disguise'

"On 17 June, we expelled two Russian officials from the United States to respond to this attack," Mr Kirby said on Friday.

He said this was in response to the attack on the US diplomat on 6 June.

The assault happened after the accredited American official had identified himself to the policeman, Mr Kirby said.

"The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim that the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue."

Russia said earlier this week that the US official was a CIA agent who had refused to provide his identification papers and hit the policeman in the face.

"Instead of the CIA employee, who was in disguise, as we understand, it could have been anyone - a terrorist, an extremist, a suicide bomber," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Russian media have also released a video of what they say was the scuffle between the US diplomat and the Russian policeman.

Last month, the US said it had raised the issue of the alleged harassment of US diplomats in Russia directly with President Vladimir Putin.

'Family pet killed'

Washington said the problems began two years ago after the US - as well as the EU - imposed sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and its ongoing involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Specific incidents have not officially been revealed.

But the Washington Post said last month they included breaking into the homes of embassy staff, rearranging furniture and even killing a family pet.

No official response has been made by Russia but a statement to the Post did not deny the charge and said there had been US provocation against Russian diplomats.

The former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, told the newspaper that while his family was living in Moscow, they were routinely followed by security services that wanted him to know they were being watched.

US and South Korea agree THAAD missile defence deployment
2016-Jul-08 | By Gehan Jayaratne


?A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system will be deployed solely to counter the threat from Pyongyang

The US and South Korea have agreed to deploy a controversial missile defence system, in the wake of intensifying threats from North Korea.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system will be deployed solely to counter the threat from Pyongyang, a statement said.

It is unclear exactly where it will be sited and who will have final control.

China, which has consistently opposed the plan, lodged a protest with the US and South Korean envoys.

China's foreign ministry said that the THAAD system will harm peace and stability in the region, despite its ability to detect and shoot down North Korean missiles.

"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute objection to this", it said in a statement on its website.

What is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD)?

  • Shoots down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their flight
  • Uses hit-to-kill technology - where kinetic energy destroys the incoming warhead
  • Has a range of 200km and can reach an altitude of 150km
  • US has previously deployed it in Guam and Hawaii as a measure against potential attacks from North Korea

Thaad missile defence system graphic

1. The enemy launches a missile

2. The Thaad radar system detects the launch, which is relayed to command and control

3. Thaad command and control instructs the launch of an interceptor missile

4. The interceptor missile is fired at the enemy projectile

5. The enemy projectile is destroyed in the terminal phase of flight

The launcher trucks can hold up to eight interceptor missiles.

Thaad system launcher

The BBC's Korea Correspondent Stephen Evans says that Beijing fears the system's radars would be able to see far into its territory. China, the North's closest ally, supported the most recent UN sanctions after North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

A television screen broadcasts news coverage of a North Korean rocket launch, at Seoul station on June 22, 2016.

North Korea is already under an extensive sanctions regime for its nuclear activities

Discussions between the two countries began in February after North Korea fired a long-range missile.

"South Korea and the US have made the joint decision to deploy the THAAD system as part of a defensive action to guarantee the security of the Republic of Korea," South Korea's Defence Ministry said on Friday.

It will be deployed "as soon as possible."

THAAD is "critical" to the US' defensive strategy, Lt. Gen Thomas S. Vandal of the US Eighth Army in South Korea told AP. He added that the North's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction required that the allies made sure that they could defend themselves.

The announcement comes after North Korea denounced US sanctions on Kim Jong-un, calling it an "open declaration of war", after the leader was accused of human rights abuses.

The US had put sanctions onto the leader for the first time, calling him directly responsible for violations in his country.

Pyongyang has warned that it will close down all diplomatic channels with the US unless the blacklisting is revoked, reported news agency Yonhap.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the 3rd Meeting of Activists in Fisheries under the Korean People

Image captionPyongyang has warned that it will close down all diplomatic channels with the US unless the blacklisting is revoked

The measures freeze any property the individuals have in the US and prevent US citizens doing business with them.

"Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labour, and torture," the Treasury statement said.

It estimates that between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are being held in North Korean prison camps where torture, sexual assault and executions are routine.


Dallas police shooting: Five officers killed, six hurt by gunmen
2016-Jul-08 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Five Dallas police officers have been killed and six wounded by gunmen during protests against the shooting of black men by police, authorities say.

Three people are in custody and one man who was in a stand-off with police shot himself dead, US media have reported.

Gunfire broke out at around 20:45 local time on Thursday (01:45 GMT Friday) as demonstrators marched through the city.

The protests came after this week's deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana.

The Dallas attack marks the deadliest day for US law enforcement officers since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

President Barack Obama, who is visiting Poland, said it was a "vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement". He said the entire city of Dallas was grieving and the "tight-knit US police community feels this loss to their core".

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the suspects were all believed to have been working together, using rifles to carry out attacks while the protest rally was drawing to a close.

Two snipers had fired from "elevated positions", shooting some officers in the back.

"We believe that these suspects were positioning themselves in a way to triangulate on these officers from two different perches... and planned to injure and kill as many law enforcement officers as they could," Chief Brown said.

Officers later surrounded a car park near El Centro College, as an armed man fired off rounds with a rifle.

Chief Brown said the suspect had told negotiators that "the end is coming" and that he was going to attack more officers and had "bombs all over the place".

US media say the man is now dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and the stand-off is over, although the police have yet to confirm this.

Eyewitness: "I didn't see anyone else being shot, it was just the cops"

Police are continuing to sweep the downtown area.

A woman who was in the vicinity of the suspect at the car park is being questioned.

Police also said officers had intercepted a car after a person threw a camouflaged bag into the back and sped off. Two occupants were detained.

Chief Brown said earlier: "We do not have a comfort level that we have all the suspects."

A transport police officer comforts a relative at Baylor University Hospital, 7 JulyDallas police and residents, 7 July

He said that 11 officers had been shot "ambush style" by sniper fire.

One of those killed was Brent Thompson, 43, a transport police officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). He is the first DART officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Amateur video footage showed one police officer approaching a gunman and taking cover behind a concrete pillar. The gunman shoots the officer at least twice, leaving him motionless, and then flees.

One civilian, named by her family as Shetamia Taylor, was shot in the leg while protecting her children and is recovering in hospital.

Media captionPeople in Dallas started running when they heard dozens of gunshots

Mr Obama said that "anyone involved in these senseless murders will be held fully accountable".

He said the attacks were a "wrenching reminder" of the sacrifices made by law enforcement officers.

The Officer Down Memorial website says 53 US officers have died in the line of duty in 2016, 21 of them as a result of gunfire. The toll does not include those killed in Dallas.

Mr Obama added that "when people are armed with powerful weapons it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic", a subject that, he said, must be addressed in "the coming days".

Police had earlier issued a photo of one man at the rally with a rifle slung over his shoulder, saying he was a suspect.

The man, named as Mark Hughes, turned himself in to police and was later released.

Captured on video

The Dallas protests were among several held across the US over the police use of lethal force against African Americans.


Dallas police detain a driver after sniper shootings

A protest in Dallas against the deaths of black men by police

Protest in Dallas, 7 July

Philando Castile was shot dead at a traffic stop in St Paul, Minnesota , on Wednesday, while Alton Sterling was killed by police a day earlier in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Both incidents were captured on video, reigniting what has become a national debate.

Pointing to statistics showing African-American citizens are far more likely to be shot by police than whites, Mr Obama has called on law enforcement to root out internal bias.

Saudis arrest 12 Pakistanis over bombs
2016-Jul-08 | By Gehan Jayaratne



black smoke billowing from behind a huge mosque with many people outside

Saudi officials say 12 out of 19 people arrested over Monday's three bomb attacks in the country are Pakistani.

An interior ministry spokesman also named a suicide bomber who killed four security officers near a mosque in the sacred city of Medina as Naer Muslim Hamad, a 26-year-old Saudi man.

The ministry said he had a history of drug abuse.

Three people who allegedly carried out attacks in Qatif were also named. Their nationalities are not clear.

Their names were given as Abdulrahman al-Omar (23), Ibrahim al-Omar (20) and Abdulkarim al-Husni (20). The ministry said none of them had Saudi IDs.

The attacks in Qatif took place on the same day and were also suicide bombings.

man died in Jeddah on Monday when attempting to detonate a bomb.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet but they are suspected to have been the work of people with allegiances to so-called Islamic State.

The group has targeted Saudi security personnel before. Some online observerspointed out that the guards had been protecting the Sunni-ruled country's Shia, who IS considers irredeemable apostates subject to punishment by death, and facilitating their access to the sacred cities Medina and Mecca.

The attacks happened at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, shocking many moderate Muslims. But after an IS spokesman called for "a month of calamity for unbelievers" there have been multiple attacks carried out by IS sympathisers across the world during Ramadan this year.

Obama: US police shootings of black men 'should concern all'
2016-Jul-08 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Barack Obama: "This is not just a black issue, not an Hispanic issue, this is an American issue"

US President Barack Obama has said all Americans should be concerned about the frequent police killings of black men.

His comments, as he arrived in Poland for a Nato summit, came after two more black men died in such incidents.

Philando Castile was shot dead during a traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday, while Alton Sterling was shot dead by police in Louisiana a day before.

Mr Obama said the US must say "we're better than this", and that its importance went beyond race.

"This is not just a black issue. It's not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about," he said.

"All fair-minded people should be concerned."

Pointing to statistics showing African-American citizens are far more likely to be shot by police by whites, Mr Obama called on law enforcement to root out internal bias.

"When incidents like this occur, there's a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if it's because of the colour of their skin, they are not being treated the same,'' he said. "And that hurts."

The latest incidents follow a long line of controversial deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police that has ignited a national debate about the use of lethal force.

At the scene - Barbara Plett Usher, BBC News, St Paul, Minnesota

Some of the people bringing bouquets to the site of the shooting are too emotional to talk. "I'm just numb and sad," mumbles a middle-aged black woman.

An elderly white woman, Diana, has driven 40 miles to this quiet middle-class suburb to pay her respects. She was part of the civil rights movement that protested against discrimination, she says, "and it's still going on".

Joe, an elderly man passing round blueberries to protesters gathered outside the governor's mansion, agrees: "It's an indictment of my generation of white people."

The rally is multi-racial and peaceful but black anger is visceral. "He (Castile) lost his life for a broken tail light," spits out one speaker.

"Use your white privilege to help us," admonishes another. A pastor and Iraqi war vet, Thomas, offers this bleak view of the police: "This is the same as a combat zone," he says. "If black people get pulled over we need to position ourselves as prisoners of war and survive the encounter."

Protesters marched along the streets of New York on Thursday against the latest police shootings.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who has requested a federal investigation into the shooting in St Paul, , Minnesota, said he didn't think Philando Castile would have been shot if he had been white.

"Would this have happened if the driver and the passengers were white? I don't think it would have," he told reporters.

"This kind of racism exists and it's incumbent on all of us to vow and ensure that it doesn't continue to happen."

The national debate has been stoked by videos of both incidents that quickly went viral on social media.

Media caption"You shot four bullets into him, sir" - Philando Castile's girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting

Philando Castile's girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting in St Paul showing him covered in blood as an officer pointed a gun at him.

Diamond "Lavish" Reynolds was heard telling the police officer that her boyfriend had been reaching for his wallet, as he had been instructed to do.

"You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his licence and registration, sir," she says in the video.

The officer can be heard shouting: "I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out."

Philando Castile

Diamond Reynolds, girlfriend of Philando Castile, weeps during press conference outside governor's residence in St Paul. Thursday, July 7, 2016.

An emotional Ms Reynolds joined protesters outside Governor Dayton's official residence in St Paul, saying that she had filmed the incident so "the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us, they are here to assassinate us".

Leading black celebrities also joined the calls for action. Singer Beyonce published a statement on her website, calling on people to "take a stand and demand that they stop killing us".

Mr Castile, 32, worked as a cafeteria supervisor at a Montessori school. His cousin Antonio Johnson told the Star Tribune newspaper he was "immediately criminally profiled" because he was black.

Hundreds of people also gathered for a second night of protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the shop where Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was killed on Tuesday.


A second piece of video from Baton Rouge emerged on Wednesday appearing to show Mr Sterling being held down and then shot several times, although some shots are heard when the camera moves away from the confrontation.

Seconds later, one of the officers is seen removing an object from the man's trousers as he lies on the ground with blood on his chest.

A witness said he saw officers take a gun from Mr Sterling's pocket after the shooting, but police have not commented on this.

The officers involved, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, have been put on administrative leave and the US department of justice has launched a civil rights investigation.

The officer involved in the St Paul shooting has also been placed on administrative leave.

Police killings that scar the US

Walter Scott - unarmed and shot in the back as he ran away from an officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April 2015. Former officer Michael Slager facing murder charge

Laquan McDonald - 17-year-old was holding a knife but appeared to be moving away from police in Chicago when shot 16 times in 2014. Officer Jason Van Dyke denies murder charge

Michael Brown - 18-year-old shot at least seven times in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, sparking nationwide protests. Officer Darren Wilson cleared of wrongdoing

Eric Garner - died after being placed in a chokehold by New York police while selling cigarettes in July 2014. Grand jury decides against charges, police disciplinary action taken against supervising officer Sgt Kizzy Adonis

US police violence


people killed by police in 2015

  • 30% of victims were black

  • 13% of US population is black

  • 97% of deaths were not followed by any charges against police officers, US Census Bureau

Tony Blair says world is better as a result of Iraq War
2016-Jul-07 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Tony Blair says the world would be "in a worse position" had he not taken the decision to invade Iraq.

The former PM said despite the "terrible consequences", removing Saddam Hussein "moved with the grain" of what was to come in the region.

He also said it would be "far better" if he had challenged intelligence on Iraq's weapons in the run-up to war.

The official inquiry into the 2003 war was strongly critical of Mr Blair's government and UK military chiefs.

Sir John Chilcot's report, published on Wednesday, said Mr Blair had overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle and had "wholly inadequate" plans for the aftermath of the conflict.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Blair insisted that although mistakes had been made, the decision to join the US-led invasion had been the right one.

And he hit back at claims he had secretly committed the UK to help US President George W Bush topple Saddam Hussein and then overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction to sell the war to the public and MPs.

'Flawed' intelligence

In a December 2001 memo, among more than 30 such notes released with the Chilcot report, Mr Blair said to Mr Bush that he would be "with you, whatever", before setting out some of the conditions he believed the US would need to meet to attract support, including seeking UN authorisation.

Mr Blair told Today he had not "made some irrevocable decision to go to war" at that point.

"We were giving the United States a very clear commitment that we would be alongside them in dealing with this issue," he said.

Times/Guardian front pages


Daily Mail

The Chilcot report said Saddam Hussein had posed "no imminent threat" at the time of the invasion, which had been launched on the basis of "flawed" intelligence.

It also found that warnings about the increased risk of terrorist activity and regional instability had not been shared with the public and MPs.

The inquiry's chairman, Sir John Chilcot, said Mr Blair and his ministers should not have accepted the intelligence reports on Saddam's weapons at face value.

Mr Blair said he had relied on these reports, but acknowledged: "It would have been far better to have challenged them more clearly."


He added: "It wasn't that I wanted to believe it. I did believe it, and one of the reasons for that was because Saddam Hussein had used these weapons against his own people."

The former prime minister said he understood "all the criticisms" of the invasion, but said: "When I look at it today I think still that we moved with where the grain of the future is going to be in these countries and this region."

Mr Blair told interviewer John Humphrys people would not accept that he meant his regret over mistakes in the Iraq War until he disowned the decision to join the US coalition to topple Saddam Hussein.

But he said: "I don't believe this struggle was in vain."

 "The UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted"

He added: "I can regret the mistakes and I can regret many things about it - but I genuinely believe not just that we acted out of good motives and I did what I did out of good faith, but I sincerely believe that we would be in a worse position if we hadn't acted that way. I may be completely wrong about that."

He argued that had Saddam Hussein been left in power, "he would have gone back to his [weapons of mass destruction] programmes again".

And if he had been in power during the Arab Spring in 2011, "I believe he would have tried to keep power" in the way that Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, had done.

Instead, Mr Blair said, Iraq had a government "accepted as legitimate, the product of an election".

'Destroyed reputation'

Humphrys suggested some people thought Mr Blair was deluded.

"Why don't they just say they disagree?" the former prime minister replied.

Following the publication of Sir John's report, Mr Blair held a two-hour press conference in which he apologised to the families of those killed in the Iraq War, accepting that they will never "forget or forgive him".

He said he felt sorrow and regret beyond what "people may ever know" at the loss of life.

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott told Today Mr Blair had "destroyed his own reputation".

Tony Blair, ministers and advisers in the run-up to the Iraq War

She said his Labour government had done some "amazing things", but "their reputation has bled to death in the sands of Iraq".

A spokesman for some of the families of the 179 British service personnel and civilians killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 said their loved ones had died "unnecessarily and without just cause and purpose".

The spokesman said all options were being considered, including asking those responsible for the failures identified in the report to "answer for their actions in the courts if such process is found to be viable".

Prime Minister David Cameron, who voted for war in 2003, told MPs it was important to "really learn the lessons for the future" and to improve the workings of government and how it treats legal advice.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who voted against military action - apologised on behalf of the party.

He said the report proved the Iraq War had been an "act of military aggression launched on a false pretext", something he said which has "long been regarded as illegal by the overwhelming weight of international opinion".

Colombian Rebel Unit Vows To Keep Fighting Despite Peace Deal
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Colombian Rebel Unit Vows To Keep Fighting Despite Peace Deal

A unit of Colombia's FARC rebel group says it won't lay down its arms, despite a recently signed peace deal with the government. President Santos has warned anyone who fails to get on board will end up dead or in prison.

The announcement from the influential Armandos Rios First Front rebel unit came less than two weeks after leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government agreed to a ceasefire plan.

"We have decided not to demobilize, we will continue the fight for the taking of power by the people for the people, independent of the decision taken by the rest of the members of the organization," the unit said in a statement. The move is the first public sign of opposition to the accord within rebel ranks.

The 200-strong front, based in the southeastern jungle province of Guaviare, said it objected to the truce, arguing it did not resolve the social and economic problems that had prompted FARC to take up arms in the first place.

The Marxist guerrilla group has been waging an insurgency in Colombia since 1964. More than 220,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in what has become Latin America's longest running armed conflict.

Peace deal under threat?

The Armandos Rios First Front, which famously took ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors hostage, also said it would respect fellow rebels who chose to hand in their weapons.

"We invite all guerrillas and militia who are not in agreement with demobilization and the laying down of FARC weapons to join forces and continue united as an organization," its statement said.

There was no immediate response from FARC leaders, who last month signed a historic bilateral ceasefire with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The agreement stipulated that rebels have 180 days to begin laying down their arms.

Santos had expressed hope that peace talks, which have been taking place in Cuba since 2012, could wrap up as early as this month. But following the statement from the Armandos Rios First Front he warned the group would face consequences if it did not accept the ceasefire.

"Anyone with doubts, best leave them aside and join the peace accord, because it's the last opportunity they will have to change their lives, because otherwise they will end up, I assure you, in a grave or in jail," he said.

Taiwan On High Alert As Storm Approaches
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Taiwan On High Alert As Storm Approaches

Taiwan is bracing itself for the arrival of a vast typhoon, expected to hit the island in the next day.

Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from offshore islands ahead of category five Typhoon Nepartak.

The super typhoon packed winds of up to 263km (163 miles) an hour, some 780km south-east of Taiwan's Hualien city on Wednesday, officials said.

They also warned of the risk of flooding and mudslides as high winds and lashing rains were expected.

"As the typhoon kept gaining strength and approaching Taiwan over the past three hours, the Central Weather Bureau decided to issue a sea warning at 14:30 local time (06:30 GMT)", senior forecaster Chen Yi-liang told AFP.

"Residents must heighten their vigilance."

Around 3,000 tourists have been evacuated from the Green and Orchid Islands, two popular tourists spots off south-eastern Taitung county, said local government officials.

A storm is classed as a super typhoon if it reaches maximum sustained 1-minute surface winds of at least 65 m/s (145mph), the equivalent of a category-five hurricane in the Atlantic basin.

Some 35,000 soldiers have been put on standby, according to the defence ministry.

Transport Minister Hochen Tan also assured citizens that measures have been taken to ensure Taoyuan Airport will not be flooded.

Taiwan is often hit by typhoons, with super typhoon Dujuan killing three people and leaving more than 300 injured in Taiwan in 2015.

In the same year, Typhoon Soudelor killed at least eight people in Taiwan and 21 in China.

The island's rugged terrain, with mountains up to 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) stretching across the territory, increases the risk of flooding and landslides during a typhoon.

Asian trade sees pound hovers around 31-year low
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Pound and US dollar notes

The pound continues to hover around 31-year lows in Asian trading as more UK property funds suspend withdrawals in the wake of Brexit.

However, the Japanese yen is rising for a third day against the dollar as investors buy into the currency, seen as a safe haven for their money.

It has strengthened by nearly 5% since the UK vote to exit the European Union.

The renewed jitters over the fallout from the Brexit vote have also extended a rally in gold prices.

The precious metal is trading near its highest price in more than two years.

On Wednesday UK and European stock markets fell sharply and the pound hit a fresh 31-year low as Brexit fears rattled markets.

Another three UK property funds said they were suspending trade after a surge in withdrawals following the UK's vote to leave the EU.

In Thursday's Asian trade the pound remained lower against the dollar, trading at around $1.2918.

Fed minutes

US Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen

Asian stock markets are trading mixed after the latest Federal Reserve minutes showing that prospects of an interest rate hike have diminished.

The US central bank's last meeting in June took place before the UK's EU referendum.

However policymakers were concerned the vote would heighten global market uncertainty and potentially hurt the US economic outlook.

They were also worried about a possible slowdown in the US labour market following weaker-than-expected payroll data.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 share index fell for a third straight session to close 0.7% lower at 15,276.24 points. The broader Topix also fell 0.7% to 1,226.09.

South Korea's Kospi index gained 1.07% to close at 1,974.08 points.

In Greater China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was up 1% to close at 20,706.92 while the Shanghai Composite wrapped trading flat at 3,016.85.

Australia downgrade

A ferry commutes between Circular Quay and Manly Beach in front of Sydney's central business district skyline

Australia's share market and its currency both fell after ratings agency S&P downgraded its outlook on the country's sovereign debt.

The Australian dollar fell half a US cent to $0.7470 after the move. The S&P/ASX 200 index ended up closing 0.6% higher at 5,227.90 points.

Australia's top AAA credit rating was reduced to "negative" from "stable" because of its large budget deficit and political risks stemming from the inconclusive elections held over the weekend.

Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital said a downgrade is "not disastrous" but a bad sign for Australia.

"Australia has now seen years of slippage in returning the budget to surplus and the messy election outcome threatens more slippage whichever way it goes," he said.

Germany rape law: Will 'No' mean 'No'?
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

A flashmob gather in front of Hauptbahnhof main railway station to protest against the New Year's Eve sex attacks on 9 January 2016 in Cologne, Germany

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, is expected to pass a new law expanding the legal definition of what constitutes rape - widely referred to as the "No" means "No" statute.

Critics believe Germany has long lagged behind other developed nations when it comes to its rape laws, but will this fix the problem?

What is the problem, anyway?

Under existing law, defined in Section 177 of the criminal code (in German), victims should have defended themselves for an act to constitute rape. Simply saying "no" is not sufficient to find the defendant guilty, and there is no attempt to define what constitutes consent.

The inadequacy of the law means many perpetrators are getting away with rape,according to a 2014 study of 107 cases by the German association of women's counselling centres and rape crisis centres (BFF).

The authors said that in every case, sexual assaults had been committed against the victim's unambiguous will, which had been communicated verbally to the perpetrator. However, they said, either charges were not filed or there was no court conviction.

The study went on to note that the law placed too much focus on whether the victim resisted and did not reflect real-life scenarios in which people are raped.

Only one in 10 rapes is reported in Germany currently, according to Germany's n-tv news website. And of those, the conviction rate is only 10%.

What would the new regulations do?

They would take into account both physical and verbal cues from the victim when assessing whether rape took place, meaning - in theory - that saying "no" could prove a lack of consent and, therefore, rape.

What's prompted this change?

Germany has long been backward when it comes to its rape laws, say campaigners - pointing out that marital rape became a criminal offence only in 1997.

A picture made available on 6 January 2016 shows crowds of people outside Cologne Main Station in Cologne, Germany, on 31 December 2015Hundreds of women allege they were assaulted during New Year celebrations in Cologne - but few perpetrators have been convicted

A number of prominent cases have pushed the issue into the spotlight.

The wave of attacks on New Year's Eve in Cologne shocked Germans - though prosecutions have been minimal and many were aghast to learn that, once again, assault could only be proven under German law if the victim resisted.

The attacks prompted a campaign for reform under the hashtag "NeinHeisstNein" (No means No).

And, in a case that has sparked an outcry in Germany, two men were exonerated of drugging and raping German model Gina-Lisa Lohfink - despite having uploaded a video of what took place, in which she was reportedly heard saying, "Stop it, stop it" and "no".

Gina-Lisa Lohfink attends trial in Berlin in JuneGina-Lisa Lohfink has appealed after receiving a fine for false testimony

Not only were the men cleared of wrongdoing, but Ms Lohfink was fined €24,000 (£21,000; $27,000) for falsely testifying.

She has appealed against the the charges. The case has been compared to theStanford University sexual assault furore in the United States.

Will the new law solve the problem?

Campaigners say the new law is a good start, but does not go far enough.

They have expressed concern that the law will not give adequate protection to victims who cannot clearly convey their lack of consent - such as those who have been drugged.

There are also plans to tighten the law governing sexual harassment and group assaults.

Activist Kristina Lunz said it was unacceptable that the vast majority of rapes were still going unpunished in Germany.

The next ambition?

"Of course it should be 'yes means yes'," says Ms Lunz, referring to a 2015 law passed in California making the legal standard for sex affirmative verbal consent.

Focus on flood rescue and relief efforts in Wuhan, China
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Wuhan - in foreground, flooded stadium, in background, skyscrapers covered in fogThe local football team's stadium has been completely flooded

Flood relief and rescue efforts have been stepped up in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been hit by severe flooding.

Transport links and water and power supplies in the city of 10 million are severely affected.

Flooding across central and southern China has killed more than 180 people, state media have reported.

The Chinese premier has called upon local authorities across the country to be prepared for further downpours.

People stand behind sandbags holding back water

Traffic stopped on a motorway by the floodsTransport links have been severely affected by the flooding

On Wednesday the Wuhan meteorological office issued a red alert for further rain and flooding. By Thursday, the rain appeared to have eased off, and attention turned to relief and rescue efforts.

Chinese media is reporting that more than 600mm (1.9ft) of rain has fallen over the past week in Wuhan, the most ever in the history of the city, which is on the Yangtze River.

Roads and metro stations were inundated with water, and trains cancelled.

line break

Caught in the floods - Robin Brant, BBC News in Wuhan, eastern China

The last leg of the journey home for some people leaving Wuhan train station tonight is on foot, wading through the water.

A handful of couples passed me as I stood, almost up to my knees in it, at the traffic lights under the highway overpass by the railway station. A few coaches made it through the temporary pond, as did a few lorries. But there was no rush hour traffic in the worst hit suburbs tonight.

There is some respite; the rain has stopped for now. But as I write this there are still cars driving the wrong way down a highway slip road because the rain has blocked their route.

Map of Wuhan

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On Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned local authorities across China to be prepared for further downpours, and instructed them to ensure measures were in place to avoid potential risks to people's lives.

He has been visiting affected areas in Anhui, Hunan and Hubei provinces and was in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, to oversee relief and rescue operations on Wednesday.

Amid the crisis, official figures for the number of dead have fluctuated. On Wednesday state television put the overall toll at about 170.

A man wades through water up to his kneesSome parts of the city are still submerged in water

Netizens are sharing images on social media showing submerged buildings and cars, and people wading through water up to their knees.

They are also sharing stories of people helping with flood control measures, under the hashtag 'We're mobilising against the Wuhan floods.'

Samsung expects most profitable quarter in over two years
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

A South Korean worker removes scaffolding after setting up an advertisement billboard for Samsung's Galaxy S7 smartphone installed on top of a building in central Seoul

Samsung Electronics expects to post its most profitable quarter in more than two years because of strong sales of its flagship S7 line of smartphones.

The South Korean company estimates operating profit will rise 17.4% from a year earlier to 8.1tn won ($7bn; £5.4bn) for the April to June period.

That's higher than median analyst forecasts and indicates that business may be turning around.

The firm has been struggling with shrinking profits and market share.

The global smartphone market has seen growth slow as users rein back on spending and replace or buy new devices.

Chinese companies like Lenovo, Xiaomi and Oppo have also released cheaper handsets that have eaten into the profit margins of more established players like Apple, which posted its first quarterly revenue decline in 13 years in April.

Shares of Samsung rose by 1.3% in Seoul following the announcement. The final earnings results will be released at the end of the month.

French court jails Rwanda mayors over genocide
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Court sketches of Tito Barahira (l) and Octavien Ngenzi (r)Tito Barahira (l) and Octavien Ngenzi (r) were convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide

A French court has sentenced two former Rwandan mayors to life in prison for their part in the 1994 genocide.

Tito Barahira, 65, and Octavien Ngenzi, 58, were found guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide.

They were accused of playing leading roles in the massacre of 2,000 ethnic Tutsis who sought refuge in a church in the town of Kabarondo.

About 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, died at the hands of Hutu extremists during the Rwandan genocide.

It is the second case of its kind to be brought in France, after Rwandan army captain Pascal Simbikangwa was jailed for 25 years over the mass killings.

Attacks on Tutsis in Kabarondo began soon after Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a rocket attack on his plane, the trigger for the violence.

Survivors of the church massacre testified at the two men's trial. Marie Mukamunana said she lost seven children and her husband, killed by machetes and grenades.

"Someone said 'don't waste the bullets' and they continued with machetes," she said.

A map showing Kabarondo, Rwanda

A lawyer for the civil parties in the case, Gilles Paruelle, said: "To kill one man, hatred is sufficient. To kill 1,000, you need organisation."

Both men had denied any involvement in the killings.

The pair were arrested separately on French territory a few years ago and have been in custody ever since.

4 killed in blast at Bangladesh Eid prayers, gunbattle on
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

4 killed in blast at Bangladesh Eid prayers, gunbattle on

Four persons including a policeman were killed and seven were wounded on Thursday after a bomb blast and gun-battle near a mass Eid prayer gathering in Bangladesh’s Kishoreganj district, the NDTV reported.

The attack - the first on Muslims during Eid in Bangladesh - took place 140 km from capital Dhaka, where seven terrorists attacked a popular cafe last Friday, killing 22 people.

A group of attackers reportedly threw homemade bombs at a police team at a school near a prayer ground where at least 200,000 people were gathered. Firing is still on between security forces and the attackers.

Some reports said the attack was targeted at a the imam or chief cleric of Kishoreganj, who is known for his liberal views. He had reportedly started a signature campaign to condemn terrorism in the name of Islam.

After the Dhaka cafe terror last weekend, the Islamic State terror group had issued a chilling video threatening more attacks. “What you witnessed in Bangladesh was a glimpse. This will repeat, repeat and repeat until you lose and we win and the sharia is established throughout the world,” said a man identified as Bangladeshi fighter Abu Issa al-Bengali, in the video.

Typhoon Nepartak: Taiwan on high alert as storm approaches
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Ferry passengers disembark at the port area in New Taipei City, Taiwan, 06 July 2016Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from offshore islands ahead of category-five Typhoon Nepartak

Taiwan is bracing itself for the arrival of a vast typhoon, expected to hit the island in the next day.

Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from offshore islands ahead of category five Typhoon Nepartak.

The super typhoon packed winds of up to 263km (163 miles) an hour, some 780km south-east of Taiwan's Hualien city on Wednesday, officials said.

They also warned of the risk of flooding and mudslides as high winds and lashing rains were expected.

"As the typhoon kept gaining strength and approaching Taiwan over the past three hours, the Central Weather Bureau decided to issue a sea warning at 14:30 local time (06:30 GMT)", senior forecaster Chen Yi-liang told AFP.

"Residents must heighten their vigilance."

A sailing suspension advisory is posted a port gate in anticipation for typhoon Nepartak at the port area in New Taipei City, Taiwan, 06 July 2016.Around 3,000 tourists have been evacuated from the Green and Orchid Islands

Around 3,000 tourists have been evacuated from the Green and Orchid Islands, two popular tourists spots off south-eastern Taitung county, said local government officials.

A storm is classed as a super typhoon if it reaches maximum sustained 1-minute surface winds of at least 65 m/s (145mph), the equivalent of a category-five hurricane in the Atlantic basin.

A Taiwanese walks past a video screen with the graph of Typhoon Nepartak heading towards TaiwanA storm is classed as a 'super typhoon' if it reaches maximum sustained 1-minute surface winds of at least 65 m/s

Some 35,000 soldiers have been put on standby, according to the defence ministry.

Transport Minister Hochen Tan also assured citizens that measures have been taken to ensure Taoyuan Airport will not be flooded.

Taiwan is often hit by typhoons, with super typhoon Dujuan killing three people and leaving more than 300 injured in Taiwan in 2015.

A local resident collects stones from the Xindian river after Typhoon Dujuan passed in the New Taipei City on September 29, 2015.Typhoon Dujuan injured hundreds in Taiwan last year

In the same year, Typhoon Soudelor killed at least eight people in Taiwan and 21 in China.

The island's rugged terrain, with mountains up to 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) stretching across the territory, increases the risk of flooding and landslides during a typhoon.

Sri Lanka To Amend Laws To Allow Witnesses To Testify From Overseas
2016-Jul-07 | By Sihara Colombage

Minister of Justice

Sri Lanka's cabinet has given approval to amend existing laws to allow witnesses to testify from overseas, the Sri Lankan government announced on Wednesday.

The existing witness and victims protection law was brought into operation in May this year.

However, the government said there have been requests to allow witnesses from overseas to testify under this act.

Accordingly, the government has decided to amend the existing law enabling victims and witnesses to give evidences from outside the country through audio visual media, without being present in court.

"Such evidences may be given at a Sri Lankan Diplomatic Mission in the respective country and provisions should be enacted to protect the freedom of witnesses and prevent any influence," the government said.

The proposal made by Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksha to draft amendments to the law on witness and victim protection has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The cabinet has also approved a proposal from the minister to publish in the gazette and present in parliament a draft Code on Criminal Procedures (Amendment) Act, for enacting provisions enabling a detainee to obtain the service of a desired legal counsel by his expenditure, before presenting him before a magistrate, and to provide that service through a legal counsel of Sri Lanka's legal aid commission, for any detainee who cannot afford the expense.

Oscar Pistorius given six years for Reeva Steenkamp murder
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne


Oscar Pistorius given six years for Reeva Steenkamp murder

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to six years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend in 2013.

He had faced a 15-year sentence. Both the prosecution and defence can appeal. The verdict comes after his initial conviction to manslaughter was changed to murder last December after the prosecution appealed.

Bangladesh attack: Police say hostage mistaken for gunman
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Bangladeshi security personnel stand guard after gunmen stormed Holey Artisan Bakery cafe on July 02, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh police have admitted they mistakenly identified a hostage as one of the gunmen in the deadly attack on a cafe in Dhaka last Friday.

Officials initially said troops killed six gunmen when they ended a siege on the Holey Artisan Bakery.

Police now say one man identified as an attacker was in fact a hostage also held at the bakery. It is unclear how he died and who killed him.

Saiful Islam Chowkidar was later named as a pizza chef at the cafe.

Police told BBC Bengali that although the chef's picture was released along with the other attackers, he has subsequently been cleared of any involvement. They did not confirm earlier reports that police may have mistakenly shot him.

Bangladeshi policemen stand under umbrellas at a checkpoint in Dhaka on July 5, 2016, in a street leading to the entrance of a restaurant which was the site of a bloody siege that ended in the death of seventeen foreigners and five Bangladeshis.

Relatives of Mr Chowkider said they recognised him among the pictures of suspected attackers that police had released.

"We protested. We said he was never a militant. He was a hardworking man and one of the best pizza and pasta makers in Bangladesh," Mr Chowkider's cousin, named only as Solaiman, told AFP.

"We went to the military, but they would not hand over the body, they said he was a suspect."

Mr Chowkider is survived by two daughters and his wife, who is pregnant.

People take part a candle-light vigil organised by Sammilito Sangskritik Jote, an organisation of cultural activists, at Central Shaheed Minar to remember the victims of the Gulshan cafe attack on July 3, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Police named the five gunmen who attacked the restaurant as Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz, Meer Saameh Mubasheer, Khairul Islam and Shafiqul Islam.

Bangladeshi policemen exit from a gate leading to an upscale cafe in Dhaka on July 03, 2016

The attack, which left at least 22 others dead was claimed by the Islamic State. However, Bangladesh's home minister said the attackers belonged to a local militant group.

"They are members of the Jamaeytul Mujahdeen Bangladesh (JMB)," Asaduzzaman Khan said. "They have no connections with the Islamic State."

Mr Khan said the men made no demands during the attack.

Bangladesh authorities who monitored social media saw several messages on Twitter on Friday saying there would be an attack, HT Imam, a political adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told Reuters.

Map of Dhaka showing location of Holey Artisan Bakery

However, police believed that the attack would target embassies or major hotels and restaurants instead, added Mr Imam.

"They (police) didn't think at all it can be this place," said Imam. "It is to be investigated whether there was an intelligence failure."

The attack comes after a spate of murders of secular bloggers, gay activists, academics and members of religious minorities, blamed on Islamist militants.

EgyptAir crash: Recorder shows pilots 'battled fire'
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Flight recorders, images from Egyptian officialsEvidence from both recorders backs up the theory of a fire

Pilots of the EgyptAir jet that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea in May battled to extinguish a fire, the cockpit voice recorder reportedly shows.

The data, revealed by sources close to the investigation but not yet made public, backs up evidence from the flight recorder of smoke in the cabin.

Recovered wreckage also showed signs of high temperature damage and soot on the jet's front section.

All 66 on board died when flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo crashed on 19 May.

Both of the so-called "black box" recorders reinforce the automated electronic messages sent out by the plane that had shown smoke detectors going off in a toilet and in the avionics area below the cockpit, minutes before the plane disappeared.

No distress call was made from the plane prior to the crash.

Egyptian investigators have not ruled out any reasons for the crash, including terrorism, particularly as such catastrophic fires on passenger planes are so rare.

The data recorders had been taken to Paris after being found, and the cockpit voice recorder was in need of considerable repair.

Investigators are still analysing the voice exchanges and no official statement has yet been made on the contents.

What we know

File photo of the EgyptAir Airbus A320-232 (registration SU-GCC), which went missing while flying from Paris to Cairo as Flight MS804 on 19 May 2016EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo crashed into the Mediterranean on 19 May

  • EgyptAir Flight MS804 vanished over the eastern Mediterranean early on Thursday 19 May with 66 passengers and crew on board
  • Some surface debris was found 290km (180 miles) north of the Egyptian city of Alexandria
  • Wreckage was subsequently found in several locations at a depth of about 3,000m (9,800ft)
  • Signals from the plane indicated that smoke was detected in the toilet and in the avionics area below the cockpit
  • Aircraft made a 90-degree left turn followed by a 360-degree turn to the right before vanishing off radar

Map of EgyptAir flight route

Fifa World Cup tickets breach $1,000 for first time
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The FIFA World Cup Trophy is displayed during the Italian Football Federation trophies exhibition in Rome

Some tickets for the World Cup final in Moscow in 2018 will cost more than $1,000 (£775) for the first time, governing body Fifa has revealed.

The most expensive ticket for the 2018 final will be $1,100, up from $990 for the 2014 final in Rio de Janeiro. The other tickets will cost $455 and $710.

However, Russian residents get significantly discounted tickets.

Ticket sales do not begin until next summer and passes for first round matches start at $105.

That is an increase of about 16% and does not include the opening game.

"We wanted to make sure that we priced tickets fairly to make the events accessible to as many people as possible," Fifa Secretary General Fatma Samoura said.

"We therefore conducted thorough market research and have priced the tickets accordingly."

Iraq sees worst bombing since invasion with 250 deaths
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The death toll from Sunday's suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, has risen to 250, the Iraqi government says, making it the deadliest such attack since the 2003 US-led invasion.

A lorry packed with explosives was detonated in the Karrada district while families were shopping for the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it carried out the suicide attack.

An earlier estimate for the attack had put the toll at 165.

Iraq remains under an official state of mourning following the bombing.

The destruction of the area was all but complete. Bewildered local residents have held candlelight vigils and prayed for peace.line break

Major attacks in Iraq since 2003

Iraqi Shia fighters examine a burial site thought to hold victims of the Camp Speicher massacre.Mass graves were discovered near Camp Speicher after Iraqi government forces recaptured the area

  • 3 July 2016: Islamic State bombing in Baghdad kills 250
  • August 2014: IS kill hundreds of minority Yazidi men and boys in Nineveh province, north-west of Baghdad
  • 12 June 2014: Up to 1,700 military recruits are killed by IS at a former US base, an incident known as the Camp Speicher massacre
  • 19 August 2009: Two car bombs near the Green Zone in Baghdad kill at least 155 people
  • 14 August 2007: Multiple suicide bombings targeting the Yazidi community in northern Iraq kill more than 500 people
  • 23 November 2006: More than 200 people killed as six car bombs detonate in the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad

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Engulfed in flames

Scores of people were also injured but most have been released from hospital, according to the Iraqi health ministry.

The ministry said those critically injured had been sent abroad, without giving further details.

The bombing in a mostly Shia Muslim area just after midnight came a week after Iraqi forces had recaptured the city of Falluja from IS.

A bomb victim's funeral in Baghdad, 5 JulyThe funeral of bomb victim Akram Hadi, 24, took place on Tuesday

Iraqis light candles following Sunday's deadly suicide attackIraq declared three days of official mourning following the attack

Reports said a lorry had been packed with explosives and left near the Hadi Center, popular with shoppers.

The powerful blast engulfed the area in flames. Such was the chaos it took days for the scale of the attack to become clear.line break

Hope blasted away: Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, Baghdad

Saddam Hussein's regime was harsh, and it could be murderous. He led the country into a series of disastrous wars and brought crippling international sanctions down on their heads.

But with the benefit of 13 years of hindsight, the world that existed before 9 April 2003 seems to be a calmer, more secure place. They have not had a proper day of peace since the old regime fell.

As for democracy, many I have spoken to believe the hopelessly sectarian political system is broken. At least, they say, law and order existed under Saddam.

Some hoped things might get better after the army's victory over IS in Falluja. The devastating bomb attack in Baghdad in the early hours of Sunday has blasted that hope away.

Read more from our correspondent

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The Iraqi government has been heavily criticised over the attack, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met by angry crowds when he visited the blast site.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Mohammed Ghabban submitted his resignation but it has not yet been accepted.

He described checkpoints dotted through Baghdad as "absolutely useless", according to AFP news agency.

The government has stepped up security in Baghdad and also said a group of prisoners convicted of terror crimes would be put to death in the immediate future.

An Iraqi woman grieves for a relative killed in an IS-claimed suicide attack, 5 JulyThe government has been criticised for failing to do more to prevent such bombings

An Iraqi man looks for victims of a suicide bombing, 5 JulyBodies continue to be recovered

IS follows an extreme version of Sunni Islam and has frequently targeted Shia, whom it regards as apostates.

The group has suffered a series of territorial losses in Iraq and analysts say it is increasingly resorting to insurgent tactics.

Sterling falls to new low against the dollar in Asia trade
2016-Jul-06 | By Gehan Jayaratne

US dollar and UK sterling notes and coins

The pound has hit a new low in Asian trading as concerns about the UK's vote to leave the European Union continue to weigh on investor confidence.

It touched $1.2798 against the dollar on Wednesday, a fresh 31-year low.

The drop came as US government bond yields fell to record lows as investors rushed for perceived safe havens.

The moves follow decisions by fund managers, including Standard Life and Aviva, to stop investors withdrawing money from their UK property funds.

They said the high levels of uncertainty caused by the referendum had led to investors rushing to pull their money out.

Brexit risks 'emerging'

Yields on Australian and Japanese government bonds also hit record lows as the flight to so-called safe havens, or investments that are perceived as less risky, continues.

Financial markets were shaken by the Brexit vote two weeks ago, with trillions of dollars lost from global equity markets and currencies like the pound suffered steep falls.

They have since recovered some ground on speculation central banks will ramp up stimulus measures to stabilise the markets.

However, investors now face more uncertainty after UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU announced his resignation, leading to a sharply contested ballot to replace him as leader of the Conservative Party and PM.

There has been a rush to buy up certain government debt, which saw the yields on the 10-year US, UK and German bonds at or near their lowest on record.

Jitters also sent yields on almost all bonds issued by the Swiss government negative, meaning the return is less than zero.

High demand tends to push up bond prices, and when the price of bonds rises their yield falls.

Investor confidence was undermined by the Bank of England's warning on Tuesday that there was evidence that some of the risks it identified related to Brexit were already emerging.

Disappointing data on the UK services sector and a decline in US factory orders also weighed.

Asian markets

Meanwhile, Asian stock markets are falling due to the renewed Brexit concerns.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 has dropped nearly 3% and the broader Topix has shed 2.6% as the yen, another safe haven investment, strengthened against the US dollar.

South Korea's Kospi fell 2% and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index is down 1.4%.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.9% and the Shanghai Composite is 0.4% lower.

Indonesia, India, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines stock markets are closed for holidays.

Bomb Alert On Israeli El Al Plane: Two Swiss Jets Scrambled
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

Representative image of an El Al plane

Two Swiss Air Force jets were scrambled to escort an El Al Israeli passenger plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv due to a bomb alert on Tuesday, according to Skyguide, a company that monitors Swiss airspace.

The two Swiss fighter jets were scrambled to escort the El Al Boeing 747 airliner and to establish visual contact with the pilot, as it flew over Switzerland, Skyguide spokesman Vladi Barrosa told dpa. The airplane has since left Swiss airspace.

El Al said it had received an anonymous tip about a bomb on board flight LY002. Although it added that the plane was continuing on its way to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, it however would not say whether it was a false alarm.

Paris attacks: Call to overhaul French intelligence services
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

Rescue workers help a woman after a shooting, outside the Bataclan theater in ParisThe attacks last November left 130 people dead

French intelligence services should be overhauled in the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, a parliamentary commission of inquiry has recommended.

Various services should be merged into a single agency, the commission said.

Commission president Georges Fenech proposed a body similar to the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre.

The attacks in November 2015, which left 130 people dead, prompted criticism of the security forces' response.

"Faced with the threat of international terrorism we need to be much more ambitious... in terms of intelligence," said Mr Fenech.

Meanwhile the continuing state of emergency imposed after the attacks was only having a "limited impact" on security, the commission found.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers are on duty in France as part of the extra security measures.

"I am wondering what real added value they provide ion terms of securing the national territory," said commission member Sebastian Pietrasanta.

Malaysia police say bar blast is first Islamic State attack
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

The exterior of the restaurant in Puchong district, outside Kuala Lumpur, on 28 June 2016, showing shattered glass on the floor and a line of police tape in the foreground.Most Malaysians practice a moderate form of Islam and the country had not seen significant attacks for years

Malaysian police have said a blast at a bar last week, which injured eight, was the first attack by the so-called Islamic State group in the country.

Police initially said that business rivalry was a more likely motive for the attack on the Movida bar restaurant outside Kuala Lumpur on 28 June.

They added that two men suspected of involvement had been arrested.

Authorities are increasingly concerned about IS-related attacks as a number of Malaysians have gone to fight in Syria.

"There were elements of IS involvement in the attack," national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.

"We found out that the two of them received instructions from one of our own citizens in Syria... to conduct attacks in Malaysia."

There have been dozens of extremism-related arrests in recent years, including 13 Malaysians detained following the latest attack but who police said were not directly connected to it.

Governments across the region have warned of an increased threat from the group.

Flooding kills more than 180 people in central and southern China
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

More than 180 people have been killed in flooding along the Yangtze River in China following torrential rain, officials say.

Between 10cm and 50cm of rain has fallen in seven provinces, and storms stretching 1,600km (1,000 miles) are sweeping across central and southern China.

At least 45 people are missing and 33 million are affected, officials say.

The rain has also washed away railway lines and shut down road networks.

The dead included 23 people who were killed in a mudslide in Guizhou Province and eight who died in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province when a section of a wall collapsed, state media said.

Heavy rain is forecast to continue until Wednesday across parts of southern and western China, the South China Morning Post reported.

A stadium is flooded after heavy rainfall in Ezhou, Hubei ProvinceRainwater left a stadium flooded in Ezhou, Hubei province

Flooding in WuhanVillages near Wuhan in Hubei Province were submerged

Villager swimming in floodwater in Wuhan

policemen stand in line to block flood in NanjingPolice attempt to block floodwaters in Nanjing

flooding in Guizhou provinceMuch of the city of Bijie in Guizhou Province was left underwater

Flooding in Bijia, Guizhou Province

Jiangxi residents on a scooter in floodwaterLarge areas of Jiangxi Province were also affected

Pauline Hanson: Australian anti-Islam senator criticised
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

Australian senator-elect Pauline HansonAustralian senator-elect Pauline Hanson has outlined a series of protectionist and anti-immigration positions at her first post-election press conference

Comments made by Australian senator-elect Pauline Hanson could lead to violence, according to the country's racial discrimination commissioner.

Ms Hanson won a Senate seat in Australia's recent election, and has called for an inquiry into Islam and "zero-net" migration.

She also repeated claims that Australia was being "swamped by Asians".

Her One Nation party could win several Senate seats once votes are counted.

"We have plenty of examples about how licensing hate can lead to serious violence and ugliness in our streets and communities," racial discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"We shouldn't be doing anything to compromise the remarkable success story of Australian multiculturalism," he said.

Neither of Australia's major parties have been able to form a majority government after Saturday's election, and whoever can once the count is finalised will likely need to negotiate with Ms Hanson and other minor party senators to pass legislation.

A record number of Australians voted for minor parties such as One Nation, with commentators speculating that she secured a conservative vote that would have traditionally gone to the Liberal-National coalition government.

Islam inquiry

During a press conference Ms Hanson said she was "not sold" on climate change, and was against foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land.

She also called for a royal commission into Islam, said no new mosques should be built in Australia and suggested existing Mosques should face increased surveillance.

However, she said her policy priorities would be a royal commission into the banking sector and reform of the family court system, which makes decisions on child-custody disputes.

Ms Hanson first entered Australia's lower house as an independent MP in 1996, using her maiden speech to warn that Australia was at risk of being "swamped by Asians".

She repeated this view after her recent election victory, saying "a lot of Australians feel Asians are buying up prime agricultural land, housing".

Her "zero-net" migration policy would mean the number of people moving to Australia from overseas could be no greater than the amount of people leaving.

Counting of votes resumes on Tuesday and could see one of the major parties secure the 76 seats required to form a majority in Australia's House of Representatives.

US election: Clinton says Trump tweet 'anti-Semitic'
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

Tweet with picture of Hillary Clinton and $100 bills as background and the message "Most corrupt candidate ever" on a form resembling the Star of DavidOne report said the picture had been previously posted on an Internet forum and on Twitter

US Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton says a tweet from rival Donald Trump featuring a six-pointed star was "blatantly anti-Semitic".

The tweet included a shape resembling the Star of David and stacks of money, with text describing Mrs Clinton as "Most corrupt candidate ever!"

It was later deleted then reposted with the slogan contained in a circle.

Mr Trump said the media was "dishonest" for comparing it to the Star of David, a symbol of Judaism.

The Mic website reported the image had first appeared on a message board known for anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

"Donald Trump's use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign would be disturbing enough," Mrs Clinton's campaign team told US media.

"But the fact that it's part of a pattern should give voters major cause for concern."

'Often used by sheriffs'

Mr Trump hit back in a statement, saying it was a "basic star, often used by sheriffs", and that accusations of anti-Semitism were "ridiculous".

He accused Mrs Clinton of trying to deflect attention from her husband's meeting with the US attorney-general.

His campaign team denied that the image had been lifted from an anti-Semitic site.

The Star of David features on the Israeli flag, and was used by the Nazis to identify Jews.

Mr Trump has previously come under scrutiny for reposting comments made by supremacist groups on social media.

Earlier this year, he was criticised on his failure to immediately disavow David Duke, a leader of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, who had endorsed him.

Medina explosion: Suicide bombing near Saudi holy site
2016-Jul-05 | By Sihara Colombage

A suicide bomber has killed four security officers and injured five others near one of Islam's holiest sites in the Saudi city of Medina, according to the interior ministry.

The bomber detonated his explosives after being stopped outside the Prophet's Mosque, a statement said.

The mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad and Medina the second-holiest city in Islam after Mecca.

Suicide blasts also struck two other Saudi cities on Monday.

That an attack happened in Medina at such a place is likely to leave Muslims around the world aghast, BBC World Service's Middle East editor, Alan Johnston, says.

Suspicion is likely to fall on so-called Islamic State (IS), he adds.

Bomb blast site in Medina, 4 JulyImages showed a blazing vehicle near the mosque in Medina

Al-Arabiya gave a different account of the incident, saying the bomber had targeted the security officers by pretending he wanted to break his Ramadan fast with them.

Qari Ziyaad Patel, 36, from South Africa, who was in the mosque, told the Associated Press news agency people had at first thought it was the sound of the cannon fire that marks the breaking of fast.

The ground shook, he said, adding: "The vibrations were very strong. It sounded like a building imploded."

Smoke rises behind the Prophet's Mosque in MedinaThe site is one of Islam's holiest

Earlier, at least one explosion rocked Qatif, an eastern city which is home to many minority Shia Muslims.

The blast appeared to target a Shia mosque. The attacker was killed but no other casualties were reported.

A suspected suicide bomber also died after detonating a device near the US consulate in the city of Jeddah. Two security officers were slightly injured as they tackled the man, but no-one else was hurt.

No-one has yet said they were behind any of the attacks.

They come with the holy month of Ramadan drawing to a close and ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Saudi Arabia has been the target of attacks by IS over the past two years.

In June, the interior ministry said there had been 26 "terror attacks" in the kingdom in that time.

Map of Saudi Arabia

A series of deadly attacks worldwide were either claimed by, or blamed on, IS over the past week:

Death Toll In July 2 Baghdad Bombings Rise To 200
2016-Jul-04 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Death Toll In July 2 Baghdad Bombings Rise To 200

The death toll from Saturday's suicide bombing in Baghdad has risen to 200, the deputy head of the security committee of the Baghdad Provincial Council, Mohamed al-Rubaye‎, said in a televised phone interview Monday.

A suicide truck bomb ripped through a busy shopping district in Baghdad over the weekend, killing more than 100 in what was the deadliest single attack in the war-weary country in years.

The brazen Saturday night attack in the heart of the packed Karrada neighborhood killed at least 125 people, including 25 children and 20 women.

Families had been gathering hours after they broke the fast for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and prepared for Eid al-Fitr -- the day that marks the end of the holiday this week.

As people congregated, shopped and watched soccer matches, the bomb-laden truck plowed into a building housing a coffee shop, stores and a gym. Firefighters rescued wounded and trapped people in adjacent buildings.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. It was the latest in a string of assaults during Ramadan, a period of fasting and prayer for Muslims and also a time when jihadists launch operations against those they regard as their enemies.

China incinerator plans lead thousands to protest
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

lines of riot police surrounded by residents on a street in China, received by BBC Chinese on 03/07/2016The authorities said residents tried to break in to government offices

Thousands of people in southern China have turned out in an unusually large protest against plans for a new incinerator.

Witnesses said at least 3,000 officers were in Lubu on Sunday as a protest of 10,000 people turned violent and some demonstrators tried to break in to government offices.

But the authorities said there were just 1,400 protesters at most.

They said 21 people who "led the trouble" were taken away by police.

Authorities also said police were injured but did not say how many, or how seriously.

One witness told the BBC a police officer was seriously injured while two civilians suffered head injuries.

The incinerator, which would generate power as well as burning waste, is scheduled to be built near the Xi River, the area's main water source.

One resident who gave only her surname, Lin, told the Associated Press agency: "We worry about air and water pollution.

"The river is a major source of our drinking water."

map of China showing Lubu in Guangdong province in the south

The incinerator is due to be built near the Xi river, a source of drinking water for Lubu town

Residents said they took to the streets spontaneously after Lubu's town government announced the project was being halted. No reason was given for the delay, which residents worried would be only temporary.

In a post on social media, the Communist Party propaganda department for the district wrote that "some ordinary people who are unaware of the truth led by some troublemakers attempted to storm the Lubu town government".

It said that those who had attacked police officers should surrender themselves, while people inside the government offices should leave immediately.

More than 70,000 people live in Lubu, which is in Guangdong province. A resident told the BBC that further protests are planned for Monday, but will not be as well attended because many people work outside the town.

China fits final piece on world's largest radio telescope
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

The last panel of China"s world largest radio telescope named "FAST", is installed in Pingtang county, Guizhou Province, China, July 3, 2016.The $180m (£135m) satellite project will be used to explore space and help in looking for extraterrestrial life, said state media outlet Xinhua

China has fitted the final piece on what will be the world's largest radio telescope, due to begin operations in September, state media report.

The 500m-wide Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, is the size of 30 football fields.

The $180m (£135m) satellite project will be used to explore space and help look for extraterrestrial life, Xinhua news agency reported.

Advancing China's space program remains a key priority for Beijing.

Scientists are now due to start debugging and trials of the telescope, Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Xinhua.

FAST will replacae the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is around 300m in diameter, as the world's largest telescope.

A vehicle leaves light trails in a long exposure photo as it drives beneath the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang County in southwestern ChinaScientists are now due to start debugging and trials of the telescope, which took about five years to build

China has stated that its space program has peaceful purposes, but the US Defense Department has said it was pursuing activities aimed to "prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis," reported news agency Reuters.

Beijing is due to launch a "core module" for its first space station in 2018.

New Zealand record cocaine seizure in horse's head
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

Horse's head - handout obtained 3 JulySome of the shipment was believed to be destined for Christchurch

New Zealand police say they have made their biggest ever seizure of cocaine, hidden inside a novel kind of drug mule.

They intercepted the $10m (£7.6m) worth of cocaine inside a huge diamante-encrusted statue of a horse's head.

The shipment of 35kg (77lb) bricks was air-freighted from Mexico to the city of Auckland in May.

An American and two Mexicans were arrested over the weekend following a six-week investigation.

The horse's head weighed 365kg and was 1m (3ft) tall, the New Zealand Herald reported.

"This is a significant win for New Zealand," said Det Supt Virginia Le Bas. "We should be proud to have detected it at the earliest of stages."

Dozens dead in Pakistan and India after floods and landslides
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

Indian soldiers search for survivors after landslide in Uttarakhand state - 2 July handoutIndian soldiers search for survivors after landslide in Uttarakhand state

At least 58 people have been killed in northern Pakistan and India by flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains.

Floods in the Chitral district of Pakistan damaged houses and a mosque killing at least 30, officials said.

Another 28 are now known to have died in floods and landslides in India's Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh states in recent days.

Hundreds die in South Asian monsoon season floods every year.

Bad weather has hampered rescue efforts in both countries.

Flash floods hit the village of Arsun, in Chitral, overnight from Saturday to Sunday.

Several people offering special Ramadan evening prayers in the local mosque were killed, local officials said, adding that women and children were among the dead.


A spokesman for the disaster management authority said there was panic in the area as hundreds rushed to flee their homes.

Dozens of houses were also swept away as well as an army post, leaving eight members of the security forces missing.

Chitral is a mountainous area in Pakistan's far north, bordering Afghanistan. Flooding in the same area last year left several dead and destroyed bridges.

In northern India, officials said the death toll after Friday's heavy rains caused flooding and landslides, had risen to 18 in Uttarakhand and 10 in Arunachal Pradesh.

Women cross a stream after the road was destroyed during flash floods in Ursoon, a village near Chitral, on July 3, 2016.Floods in Chitral have killed at least 30 people

This handout photograph released on July 2, 2016 by the Indian Army shows Indian soldiers searching for survivors of a landslide following torrential rains in the Pithoragarh area of rural Uttarakhand state.

At least 15 people have died in the mountainous district of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand

Several villages have been buried and a national highway is partially blocked.

The worst-affected villages in Uttarakhand are in the remote mountainous districts of Pithoragarh and Chamoli, where 18 people have died.

Many people were trapped under toppled houses and debris from the landslides, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat said.

Uttarakhand was also badly hit by deadly flooding and landslides in 2013.

Authorities had confirmed that some 600 people had died in the disaster, but later said more than 5,700 people who went missing in the devastating floods would be presumed dead.

China to hold military drills in South China Sea
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

The alleged ongoing land reclamation seen from Pagasa or Thitu island in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China SeaChina says it does not recognise the authority of the Hague tribunal to rule on its sovereignty over the South China Sea

China will hold military drills in the disputed South China Sea, ahead of a ruling by an international court on a challenge to its maritime claims.

They will be held in waters around the Paracel Islands, said a statement by the maritime safety administration.

China regularly holds such exercises even though Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the seas.

But tensions are running high ahead of the ruling expected next week.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, based in The Hague, Netherlands, has said it will issue a decision on 12 July on a challenge made by the Philippines to China's claims in the strategic and resource-rich region.

However, China has consistently boycotted the proceedings, insisting that the panel has no authority to rule in the case.

The drills will be held from 5-11 July, with ships prohibited from entering the waters in that time, the Chinese statement said.

line break

What is the South China Sea dispute?

Map of South China Sea

Rival countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.

Its islets and waters are claimed in part or in whole by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols, while the US says it opposes restrictions on freedom of navigation and unlawful sovereignty claims by all sides.

The frictions have sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with possible global consequences.

EgyptAir crash: Flight MS804 bodies are recovered
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

File photo of the EgyptAir Airbus A320-232 (registration SU-GCC), which went missing while flying from Paris to Cairo as Flight MS804 on 19 May 2016EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo crashed into the Mediterranean on 19 May

A search vessel looking for the remains of victims of the EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean in May has recovered all of the mapped bodies from the sea floor, investigators say.

The Mauritian-based ship John Lethbridge is now sailing to Alexandria in Egypt.

It will later return to the crash site to look for more bodies.

The flight from Paris to Cairo crashed on 19 May, killing all 66 on board. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

A statement by the Egyptian Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee said that the search vessel John Lethbridge "retrieved all the human remains that were mapped at the crash location".

A composite picture made of file handout photographs released on 17 June 2016 by Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry showing one of the two black boxes from the EgyptAir plane that crashed in the Mediterranean after the two devices were retrieved.The two flight recorders were recovered from the Mediterranean

The vessel will return to the crash location after delivering the remains in Alexandria "to conduct a new thorough scan of the seabed and to search for any [more] human remains", the committee said.

It said Egyptian and French forensic doctors on board the vessel oversaw the body recovery process.

The remains are due to be examined by prosecutors and forensic specialists in Alexandria before going to Cairo for DNA analysis.

The committee said on Saturday that the memory chips from the airliner's black box voice recorders are not damaged and investigators should be able to make use of them.

The black box from EgyptAir flight MS804 confirmed smoke was on board,Egyptian investigators said last week.

Automated electronic messages sent by the plane revealed that smoke detectors went off in a toilet and in the avionics area below the cockpit, minutes before the plane disappeared.

The recorded data are consistent with those messages, investigators said.

The voice and flight data recorders were recovered from a depth of about 3,000m (9,800ft) in the Mediterranean.

The second black box, the cockpit recorder, is still being repaired in Paris.

No explanation for the disaster has so far been dismissed, but experts are reported by the Reuters news agency to be tending towards the theory that the cause of the crash was a technical failure rather than sabotage.

What we know

  • EgyptAir Flight MS804 vanished over the eastern Mediterranean early on Thursday 19 May with 66 passengers and crew on board
  • Some surface debris was found 290km (180 miles) north of the Egyptian city of Alexandria
  • Wreckage was subsequently found in several locations at a depth of about 3,000m (9,800ft)
  • Signals from the plane indicated that smoke was detected in the toilet and in the avionics area below the cockpit
  • Aircraft made a 90-degree left turn followed by a 360-degree turn to the right before vanishing off radar

Map of EgyptAir flight route


Brexit: Legal steps seek to ensure Commons vote on Article 50
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

David CameronDavid Cameron has said he will not trigger Article 50 before he steps down as prime minister

A law firm is taking action to ensure the formal process for the UK leaving the EU is not started without an act of Parliament.

Mishcon de Reya, lawyers acting for a group of business people and academics, said it would be unlawful for a prime minister to trigger Article 50 without a full debate and vote in Parliament.

It comes after the UK voted to leave the EU in the 23 June referendum.

The government said Parliament had "a role" to find "the best way forward".

Following the referendum, David Cameron announced he would stand down as prime minister by October and would leave his replacement to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Once the legal process is triggered there is a two-year time limit to negotiate an exit deal from the EU.

Mishcon de Reya's clients argue that under the UK constitution the decision to trigger Article 50 rests with Parliament.

The firm has been in correspondence with government officials to seek assurances over the process.

The result of the referendum is not in doubt, but we need a process that follows UK law to enact it

Kasra Nouroozi, Mishcon de Reya

The BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said Mishcon de Reya believed that any prime minister using executive powers to start the process would be acting unlawfully because they would be overriding the 1972 European Communities Act that enshrines UK membership of the EU.

The law firm says that constitutionally only legislation can override legislation and an act of Parliament is required to give the prime minister legal authority.

The passage of such an act could in theory provide the majority of MPs who favoured Remain the chance to block the UK leaving, our correspondent said, but he added that this seemed "constitutionally inconceivable".

'Legal certainty'

Kasra Nouroozi, a Mishcon de Reya partner, said: "We must ensure that the government follows the correct process to have legal certainty and protect the UK Constitution and the sovereignty of Parliament in these unprecedented circumstances.

"The result of the referendum is not in doubt, but we need a process that follows UK law to enact it.

"The outcome of the referendum itself is not legally binding and for the current or future prime minister to invoke Article 50 without the approval of Parliament is unlawful.

"We must make sure this is done properly for the benefit of all UK citizens. Article 50 simply cannot be invoked without a full debate and vote in Parliament."


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker briefs the media after Britain voted to leave the bloc, in Brussels, Belgium, June 24, 2016European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the UK does not have "months to meditate" on activating Article 50

By Clive Coleman, BBC legal correspondent

It has come as a shock to many that the referendum result itself is not legally binding in UK law and it alone does not trigger the UK's departure from the EU.

That has to be done under the withdrawal process laid down in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

If it was decided that a prime minister acting alone under prerogative powers lacked the constitutional authority to trigger Article 50, an act of Parliament would need to be passed giving him or her that authority.

The passage of that act would of course provide the opportunity for MPs (a majority of whom favour Remain) to express their views on Brexit and in theory vote according to their consciences.

However, it seems constitutionally inconceivable that Parliament would fly in the face of the Leave vote secured through a national referendum and refuse to pass an act that gave the prime minister authority to begin the "divorce" process.

In other words, the referendum has changed nothing legally but everything politically.

Can the law stop Brexit?

European leaders have said the UK should not delay leaving the EU, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying the UK does not have "months to meditate" on activating Article 50,

The two-year negotiation period under Article 50 can be extended only with the unanimous agreement of the remaining 27 member states.

If there is no extension, the UK ceases to be a member of the EU on the conclusion of an agreement within the two years, but in any event two years after notice has been given.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "As the prime minister said in the Commons, we have now got to look at all the detailed arrangements, and Parliament will clearly have a role in making sure that we find the best way forward.

"It will be important to ensure in moving ahead that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are protected and advanced."

Attack near US consulate in Saudi city of Jeddah
2016-Jul-04 | By Sihara Colombage

US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, file pictureA suspected suicide bomber has died after detonating a device near the US consulate in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, the interior ministry says.

Two security officers were slightly injured as they tackled the man, but no one else was hurt.

The attack came in the early hours of US Independence Day and shortly before dawn prayers marking the start of the daily Ramadan fast.

Militants attacked the Jeddah consulate in 2004, leaving nine people dead.

The US State Department said it was aware of Monday's blast, adding that it "can confirm that all personnel under chief of mission authority are accounted for at this time".

Security guards became suspicious of a man in the car park of the Dr Suleiman Faqeeh hospital around 02:15 (23:15 GMT Sunday), interior ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki said in a statement.

The hospital is opposite the US consulate.

As the guards approached the man, "he blew himself up with a suicide belt inside the hospital parking," the statement said.

The US embassy in Saudi Arabia issued a warning after the attack, urging Americans to "remain aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country".

Dhaka attack: All terrorists were Bangladeshi citizens
2016-Jul-03 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Dhaka attack: All terrorists were Bangladeshi citizens

In a major development in Dhaka attack, authorities have stated that all the attackers from the deadly assault on a cafe were Bangladeshi citizens. Moreover, five of them were militants that police had tried to arrest previously.

Police Inspector General Shahidul Hoque told that two police officers had been killed in a gunfire exchange earlier in the standoff.

The nationalities of the 20 hostages who were found dead inside the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe after Bangladeshi troops stormed the cafe early Saturday morning, ending a nearly 11-hour siege, were also released. Nine of the victims were Italian, seven were Japanese, one was from India, two were Bangladeshi and one was a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, according to the country’s Joint Force Command. Eleven of the victims were male and nine were female.

Six terrorists were killed and one was captured alive, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Saturday.


Dhaka Cafe Siege: Six Gunmen Killed, Thirteen Including Two Sri Lankans Rescued
2016-Jul-03 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Dhaka Cafe Siege: Six Gunmen Killed, Thirteen Including Two Sri Lankans Rescued

Bangladeshi forces have stormed a Dhaka cafe where up to 10 gunmen had taken dozens of people hostage. Thirteen people have reportedly been rescued, while five terrorists have been killed and two captured. ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack.

At around 8 am, following a 13-hour siege and failed negotiations with the terrorists, over 100 heavily armed Bangladeshi forces launched an operation to free the people being held inside the upscale cafe in Dhaka’s diplomatic district.

It has been reported that Italian, Japanese and Indian nationals were among the hostages. Italy’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, confirmed the reports, saying that seven Italians were inside the cafe.

“Intense” gunfire and two massive blasts were heard from the Dhaka restaurant, according to police, though it is unclear what caused the explosions.

According to a Japanese government spokesman, some 12 people have been rescued, but he did not specify whether they were foreigners. By Saturday morning, it was still unclear how many people are still in the cafe, or what their condition is.

Shortly after reports about the hostage-taking started to surface, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

One of the attackers was armed with a sword, and the others carried guns, an employee of a nearby cafe told RT. He estimated the number of hostages as at least 30. 

A kitchen worker who managed to escape the building said the attackers chanted “Allahu Akbar.”

“They blew up several crude bombs, causing wide-scale panic among everyone. I managed to flee during this confusion,” he said, according to The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi English-language newspaper.

Later, ISIS posted graphic photos claiming that those were pictures of dead foreigners killed in the assault on the cafe.

Islamic State claimed it killed 24 people. However, Bangladeshi police stated earlier that only two police officers had been killed and at least 20 people wounded.

Information coming out from the area remains limited, as all TV networks across Bangladesh have stopped live coverage at the request of the police.

Tejas: India Designed Fighter Jet Joins Air Force
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Tejas: India Designed Fighter Jet Joins Air Force

The first Indian-designed fighter jet, the Tejas, has been inducted into the country's air force, 31 years after it was first conceived.

Built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the Tejas - meaning radiant - is expected to replace the ageing fleet of Russian MIG-21s.

The company handed over two of the aircraft to the air force on Friday.

It is not the first Indian-made fighter jet - that was the HF-24 Marut, which was also built by HAL, in 1961.

The Tejas was designed and manufactured in India, although some technologies, such as its engine and radar, have been imported.

It was declared fit to fly in 2011.

The two aircraft will be part of a squadron named 'Flying Daggers' 45, the PTI news agency reported.

The air force aims to induct a total of six Tejas aircraft this financial year and eight in the next, the report added.

The Tejas is touted by Indian defence officials as the smallest lightweight, single-engine, tactical fighter aircraft in the world.

The fighter - which can carry air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons - has been long delayed by technological hurdles.

US sanctions imposed after India carried out nuclear tests in 1998 further stalled development of the jet.

Gambira: Burmese monk freed after new charges dropped
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

File photo of Shin Gambira, leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, talking to supporters while attending a court hearing in YangonU Gambira was one of the most prominent monks during the Saffron Revolution

One of Myanmar's most famous activist monks has been released from prison in Yangon.

U Gambira, a key figure in the 2007 "Saffron Revolution" was due to complete a six month jail sentence this week.

But fresh charges had been brought against him in an apparent bid to keep him behind bars.

"I am very, very, very, happy now," Gambira told me by phone from outside Insein prison.

He said it wasn't clear to him why the charges had been dropped.

A spokesman for Myanmar's State Counsellor -and de facto leader - Aung San Suu Kyi said he had been released as part of a review of all those charged with politically related offences.

Solitary confinement and beatings

Gambira first came to prominence during the demonstrations of August 2007 - an uprising of monks against increased commodity prices that turned into a more general protest about military rule.

He was one of the key leaders of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, speaking at rallies and organising street protests in what became known as the Saffron Revolution.

Buddhist monks march in the rain along Waizayantar Road in the Yangon suburb of Ahlone on 19 September 2007.Gambira and the other monks made powerful enemies

When the Burmese military crushed the protests, Gambira went into hiding, but he was eventually caught, put on trial and sentenced to 68 years in prison. Conditions in jail were harsh and Gambira was kept in solitary confinement for long periods and beaten by guards.

With former President Thein Sein's political reforms came prisoner amnesties, and Gambira was released in one of the largest, in January 2012. It was clear that the experience had left him with serious mental health issues.

Now a free man, Gambira resigned from the monkhood and after a brief courtship married an Australian activist. He's spent most of the last four years in Thailand but returned to Myanmar to try get a passport that would allow him to travel to Australia.

Things quickly went wrong. Gambira was arrested in Mandalay and in January sentenced to six months in prison for immigration offences.

The exterior of Insein Prison, viewed through a wire fence, with a guard outside the entrance. 27 June 2016.Many political prisoners have been kept at the notorious Insein prison

'I need medication'

This week, with his wife counting down the days to his release, Gambira was moved to Yangon's Insein prison and charged with a series of fresh offences.

It was a crude way to keep him behind bars and human rights groups rallied to his cause.

For once, it appears someone was listening and on Thursday night Gambira's lawyer Robert San Aung told the BBC that court officials had informed him that all the new charges were being dropped.

On Friday that was confirmed and he walked free.

"I need medication," he told me. "I will stay in Myanmar just a few days then I will go to Thailand and then to Australia. I have to try and get a passport first."

Zaw Htay, one of Aung San Suu Kyi's spokesmen denied that she had intervened directly in Gambira's case but said: "This is a consequence of the review process of all those charged with political activities that was initiated according to the instructions of the State Counsellor [Suu Kyi]."

Kenya's school arson attacks lead to national debate
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

DormitoryStudents set fire to school dormitories at Itierio Boys High School on Saturday night

School arson attacks carried out by students appear to have become a trend in Kenya, leaving people to speculate about the causes, although no-one seems to agree.

Last Saturday's incident, when dormitories were burned down at a boarding school in western Kenya, was one of many this year.

But it caught people's attention as it appeared to be the result of anger that students were not allowed to watch a live broadcast of a Euro 2016 football match.

Many thought that there must be a more profound reason.

This week alone, there have been four other school fires, and media reports say there have been at least 16 fire incidents in schools in western Kenya this year, mostly around Kisii.

Kenyans have been debating the issue on social media and radio talk shows.

Some suggest that this is a matter of indiscipline, caused by poor parenting, and that caning should be reintroduced.

Kenya banned corporal punishment in 2001.

Fire in a boxThe education minister has banned Itierio Boys pupils from transferring to other schools

The experts and politicians are also looking into the issue and offering their own solutions.

Kenya's Standard newspaper reports that education officials have identified several reasons behind the school unrest.

These include:

  • students panicking about expected stricter supervision in national exams
  • poor school leadership
  • the imposition of stricter rules
  • drug abuse.

There was also the suggestion that some teachers may have been involved in the planning of the attacks.

Kenya's Education Minister Fred Matiang'i joined the chorus of people blaming parents for the indiscipline.

He said they should take responsibility for "instilling the right values" and prevent students from taking antisocial behaviour into schools.

On a visit to the school affected on Saturday, Mr Matiang'i said the parents of those behind the arson should pay for the damage.

Deputy President William Ruto proposed his own solutions, calling for student mentoring and more prayers in schools.

Meanwhile, some local education officials have blamed politicians for not being good role models.

'Bad teacher training'

John Mugo, head of education charity Twaweza, believes the problem lies with poorly prepared teachers.

Map showing location of Kisii

He told the BBC that indiscipline was the result of the absence of guidance to teachers on how to manage students' behaviour.

"The government banned caning in schools and has failed to introduce alternative ways of dealing with indiscipline," he added.

He also thinks that the ministry of education, school management and students are not properly communicating with each other.

As if to underline how serious and difficult the problem is, on Monday, hours after the education minister visited a school to talk about arson there was a fire in one of its dormitories.

Generation gap

The Nation newspaper reported that school officials blamed an electrical fault rather than student action.

Fires were also reported at two other schools on Wednesday but the causes are yet to be established.

As Kenyans mull over who or what to blame for the worrying and frequent cases of school fires, a Facebook post which has been widely shared suggests that there is a yawning generation gap that will never be bridged.

"The average high school student does not know what [Minister] Matiang'i looks like, and they don't care... They wouldn't listen to authority from Nairobi even if it came with a fire-breathing dragon."

Australians cast federal election votes from Antarctica
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Australians based at the Davis station in Antarctica line up to cast their vote in the 2016 electionAustralians based at the Davis station in Antarctica line up to cast their vote in the 2016 election

Votes cast at this year's Australia election will come from as far away as Antarctica.

More than 70 researchers based in the frozen continent were able to cast early ballots.

Australia's electoral office organised polling booths at each of the country's three Antarctic stations.

Opinion polls suggest Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will beat Opposition Leader Bill Shorten when the official poll is held on Saturday.

The bases stay connected to the outside world mainly through a low-bandwidth internet connection.

Temperatures can drop to as low as minus 40C and casting a vote surrounded by snow and ice proved a novelty.

"They spend about six months of the year cut off from the outside world," said a spokeswoman for the Australian Antarctic Division.

"It's a bit of fun for them this time of year."

Australian expeditioner Lesley Eccles casts her vote for the 2016 election at Davis station in AntarcticaA polling booth and ballot boxed were shipped from Australia to Antarctica for the 2016 election

Taiwan navy mistakenly fires supersonic anti-ship missile
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

A man walks past a poster showing a home made Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missile during a press conference of the 2015 Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition at the World Trade Center in Taipei on August 12, 2015The missile landed into waters off the Penghu islands and did not cause any injuries

Taiwan's navy has mistakenly launched a supersonic anti-ship missile from its Kaohsiung naval base, say officials.

A patrol boat was undergoing a drill inspection when the Hsiung Feng III missile was set off, Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) reported.

It landed in waters off the Penghu islands, in the direction of mainland China, and did not cause any injuries.

The incident comes as China celebrates the 95th anniversary of the formation of the Chinese Communist Party.

When asked by reporters if the incident would affect relations with Beijing, Vice-Admiral Mei Chia-hsu said the navy had reported it to the island's defence ministry.

She said the case was under investigation and would be handled "accordingly". It was unclear whether Beijing had been notified directly.

The missile has a range of about 300km (200 miles).

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province, to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

It has hundreds of missile pointed towards the island at all times.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is also head of the military, is currently overseas.

Battle of the Somme: Centenary remembrance events held
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Lochnagar Crater in France

A ceremony at the Lochnagar Crater in La Boiselle, France, was the first event of the day

Commemorations are being held in the UK and France to mark the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

A ceremony at the Lochnagar crater on the World War One battlefield began the day's memorials, ahead of a two-minute silence at 07:28 BST to mark the start of the battle.

On Thursday night, the Queen laid a wreath of flowers on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

The battle saw one million men killed and wounded on all sides.

At a vigil in France, the Duke of Cambridge paid tribute to the fallen soldiers, saying "we lost the flower of a generation".

The Battle of the Somme, one of World War One's bloodiest, was fought in northern France and lasted five months.

The British and French armies fought the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a 15-mile front.


A wreath was laid at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, where a vigil is being held

The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Westminster Abbey service.

The Grave of the Unknown Warrior holds an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield, brought back and buried in the abbey to honour the unknown dead of the war.

At Westminster Abbey

By Nicholas Witchell, BBC royal correspondent

It was to Westminster Abbey that thousands went to pray during the desperate years of World War One.

It was to the Abbey that the body of one unidentified serviceman was brought back from the Western Front to be buried amid the greatest honour on 11 November 1920, two years to the day after the Armistice which ended the war.

And it was to Westminster Abbey that the Queen came to join a congregation in solemn remembrance of one of the most desperate moments of the war, the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.

There has been no more grievous day in the history of the British army, whose soldiers died in their tens of thousands as they advanced on the German lines.

In their remembrance - and in memory of all those who died - the Queen placed a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. A bugle used by the Welsh Guards at the Battle of the Somme sounded the Last Post.

And an all-night vigil was mounted, to remember those young men who - 100 years ago tonight - waited in their trenches to face their destiny.

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, said the legacy should be that people worked towards reconciliation to ensure children never endured what the soldiers of World War One faced.

Society must strive to reach an accord and reject "those who would stir up hatred and division," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who also spoke at the service, his wife Samantha, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were among other figures at the service.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry paid their respects in France, attending a vigil at the Thiepval Memorial, located close to the battlefields of the Somme, near Amiens in the north of the country.

Prince William spoke of European governments "including our own" who failed to "prevent the catastrophe of world war".

"We lost the flower of a generation; and in the years to come it sometimes seemed that with them a sense of vital optimism had disappeared forever from British life," he said.

"It was in many ways the saddest day in the long story of our nation."

Prince Harry also spoke at the event, reading the poem Before Action, by Lieutenant WN Hodgson of the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, who wrote it days before he was killed in action on 1 July 1916.

Before the vigil, the three royals climbed to the top of the huge, newly renovated monument designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to view the battlefield.

Some 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated at the memorial.

Prime Minister David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron, who attended Westminster Abbey with his wife Samantha, read a prayer at the service

Jeremy CorbynLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also among the congregation

Earlier, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "As we imagine the feelings of those preparing for battle, the vigil will allow us to reflect on the cruel effects of warfare and to pray for lasting peace and justice in the world."

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones joined members of the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force for the start of a vigil at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.

"Those who fought bravely for our futures should never be forgotten," he said.

In Scotland, an overnight vigil was held at the National War Memorial.

A whistle, which was sounded to lead men over the top, will be blown by Scots soldier Alan Hamilton at 07:30 BST to mark, to the minute, 100 years since the battle began. The whistle belonged to his great uncle.

And in Northern Ireland, a vigil is being held at the Somme Museum at County Down, near Newtownards. A guard of honour, which includes serving soldiers, will be present throughout the night.

Map of France showing Beaumont-Hamel and Thiepval war memorials

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and 10,000 members of the public chosen by ballot - including hundreds of schoolchildren - will also attend a service of commemoration on Friday.

The royal couple will then attend ceremonies for Northern Irish and Canadian victims of the battle at the nearby Ulster Tower and Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, respectively.

The Duchess of Cornwall will lay a wreath at the grave of her great-uncle, Captain Harry Cubitt, who was killed on the Somme in September 1916 while serving with the Coldstream Guards.

He was the eldest, and the first, of three brothers to die serving on the Western Front.

1st July 1916: British troops climbing from their trench on the first day of 'The Big Push' on the Somme during World War I

The Battle of the Somme

  • Began on 1 July 1916 and was fought along a 15-mile front near the River Somme in northern France
  • 19,240 British soldiers died on the first day - the bloodiest day in the history of the British army
  • The British captured just three square miles of territory on the first day
  • At the end of hostilities, five months later, the British had advanced just seven miles and failed to break the German defence
  • In total, there were more than a million dead and wounded on all sides, including 420,000 British, about 200,000 from France and an estimated 465,000 from Germany

The Battle of the Somme was intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French against Germany's forces.

The British army was forced to play a larger than intended role after the German attack on the French at Verdun in February 1916.

Among the worst hit were the "Pals" battalions, volunteer units of limited fighting experience.

British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, Winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensiveBad weather was turning much of the battlefield into a quagmire. The vermin-ridden trenches were havens for dirt and disease and battle was finally brought to a halt on 18 November.

British troops go over the top of the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, 1916The British army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 deaths on the first day of the Somme

'Sacrifices remembered'

Many were told to walk slowly across no man's land, resulting in massive numbers of dead as they headed straight into German machine-gun fire.

The 2,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Bradford Pals, both part of the West Yorkshire Regiment, suffered 1,770 casualties in the first hour of the offensive as they attacked the heavily fortified village of Serre.

World War One finally ended in November 1918.

Boris Johnson Drops A Bombshell: Decides Not To Run For Tory Leadership
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Boris Johnson Drops A Bombshell: Decides Not To Run For Tory Leadership

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson surprisingly announced on Thursday that he would not be joining the five other candidates seeking leadership of the Conservative Party. With this, the presumed front-runner in the race declined even to enter it.

"Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I've concluded that person cannot be me," Johnson said in London, thanking his friends watching for their patience in waiting for the "punchline" to his speech.

His announcement came just hours after Michael Gove - thought by many to be a logical candidate to run alongside Johnson on an "all-Brexit" ticket - said that he would be seeking the leadership role for himself.

Gove's potential candidacy became apparent on Wednesday, when an email from his wife "accidentally" landed in the public domain. In it, Gove's partner Sarah Vine urged her husband to demand "SPECIFICS" from Johnson before agreeing to run alongside him. She noted that conservative media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre "instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris-Gove ticket."

On announcing his intentions earlier on Thursday, Gove said that Johnson "cannot provide the leadership for the task ahead."

Johnson, the colorful former classmate of still-Prime Minister David Cameron at private school Eton College and then Oxford University, became the Leave campaign's most prominent supporter in the UK's EU referendum. He was criticized, however, for taking a side based on personal gain, with opponents pointing out that as recently as February, he had questioned the sense of holding an EU referendum at all.

In the aftermath of the surprise Brexit vote, Johnson had come in for further criticism, as he seemed to shy away from the limelight, occassionally appearing to issue reassurances that flew in the face of developments on the stock markets and currency exchange rates. His decision not to run elicited similar derision.

Bangladesh killings: Hindu priest hacked to death?
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Bangladeshi police stand guard during a nationwide crackdown on militants, in Dhaka on June 13, 2016.The government says it has launched a nationwide crackdown on militants

A Hindu temple worker has been killed by three men on a motorcycle, local police have said, the latest of dozens of brutal attacks in Bangladesh.

Shaymanonda Das was preparing for morning prayers at a temple in the district of Jhenaidah when he was attacked.

Police said he was hacked on the neck several times with machetes.

More than 40 people have been killed in attacks blamed on Islamist militants in Bangladesh since February 2013.

That includes secular bloggers, academics, gay rights activists and members of religious minorities.

Police said the motive behind the latest attack was not clear.

But local police station chief inspector Hasan Hafizur Rahman told AFP news agency "the pattern of the killing is similar" to ones carried out by local Islamist militants.

Last month, a 70-year-old Hindu priest was hacked to death in a rice paddy fieldin the same district as Friday's attack.

The government says it has launched a drive against militants by arresting thousands of people.

Some of the killings have been clamed by the so-called Islamic State, however the government says IS does not have a presence in the country, and has blamed local militant groups.

This week, Bangladeshi police charged seven people over the murder of an Italian aid worker who was shot dead in Dhaka in late September.

US opens investigation into Tesla after fatal crash
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Tesla logo

US authorities are investigating the first death potentially caused by self-driving technology.

The driver of a Tesla car died in Florida in May after colliding with a lorry.

Under scrutiny is Tesla's Autopilot feature, which automatically changes lanes and reacts to traffic.

In a statement, Tesla said it appeared the Model S car was unable to recognise "the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky" that had driven across the car's path.

The company said the crash this year was a "tragic loss".

The collision led to the death of Tesla driver Joshua Brown, 40. The driver of the truck, which was pulling a trailer, was unhurt.

Autonomous reputation

On Thursday, Tesla stressed that cars being controlled by Autopilot had travelled 130 million safe miles to date.

The company said in a statement: "The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S."

"Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents."

Tesla car

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will look at whether the Autopilot function performed as expected, or was at fault.

Such investigations can sometimes lead to a recall. Should that be the case, it is likely Tesla would put out an "over-the-air" update to its cars, rather than having to physically take the vehicles back.

But the incident could be a serious blow to the reputation of autonomous technology at a time when regulators across the world are considering how to safely introduce it on public roads.

Beta test

The Autopilot function was introduced by Tesla in October last year. In a conference call, the firm's enigmatic chief executive Elon Musk urged caution in using the technology.

"The driver cannot abdicate responsibility," he said.

In Thursday's statement, Tesla said: "It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.

"The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver's hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected.

"It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again."

In its statement, the NHTSA stressed: "The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles."

'Healing' detected in Antarctic ozone hole
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

ozoneThe researchers believe that healing of the ozone hole has begun in the stratosphere above Antarctica

Researchers say they have found the first clear evidence that the thinning in the ozone layer above Antarctica is starting to heal.

The scientists said that in September 2015 the hole was around 4 million sq km smaller than it was in the year 2000 - an area roughly the size of India.

The gains have been credited to the long term phasing out of ozone-destroying chemicals.

The study also sheds new light on the role of volcanoes in making the problem worse.

Skin cancer worry

British scientists first noticed a dramatic thinning of ozone in the stratosphere some 10 kilometres above Antarctica in the mid 1980s.

Ozone is important because it blocks out harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Its absence increases the chances of skin cancer, cataract damage, and harm to animals and plants.

In 1986, US researcher Susan Solomon showed that ozone was being destroyed by the presence of molecules containing chlorine and bromine that came from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases were found in everything from hairsprays to refrigerators to air conditioning units.

The reason the thinning was occurring mainly over Antarctica was because of the extreme cold and large amounts of light. These helped produce what are termedPolar Stratospheric Clouds.

In these chilled-out clouds, the chlorine chemistry occurs that destroys the ozone.

Thanks to the global ban on the use of CFCs in the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the situation in Antarctica has been slowly improving.

Several studies have shown the declining influence of CFCs, but according to the authors this new study shows the "first fingerprints of healing" and the ozone layer is actively growing again.

Prof Solomon and colleagues carried out detailed measurements of the amount of ozone in the stratosphere between 2000 and 2015.

Using data from weather balloons, satellites and model simulations, they were able to show that the thinning of the layer had declined by 4 million sq km over the period. The found that more than half the shrinkage was due solely to the reduction in atmospheric chlorine.

Normally measurements are taken in October when the ozone hole is at its largest. But this team believed they would get a better picture by looking at readings taken in September, when temperatures are still low but other factors that can influence the amount of ozone, such as the weather, are less prevalent.

"Even though we phased out the production of CFCs in all countries including India and China around the year 2000, there's still a lot of chlorine left in the atmosphere," Prof Solomon told the BBC World Service Science in Actionprogramme.

"It has a lifetime of about 50-100 years, so it is starting to slowly decay and the ozone will slowly recover.

"We don't expect to see a complete recovery until about 2050 or 2060 but we are starting to see that in September the ozone hole is not as bad as it used to be."

fridgeRefrigerators were once a major source of CFC gases that damaged the ozone layer

One finding that puzzled researchers was the October 2015 reading that showed the biggest ozone hole on record over Antarctica.

The scientists believe that a key contributor to the record hole was volcanic activity.

"After an eruption, volcanic sulphur forms tiny particles and those are the seeds for Polar Stratospheric Clouds," Prof Solomon told Science in Action.

"You get even more of these clouds when you have a recent major volcanic eruption and that leads to additional ozone loss."

"Until we did our recent work no-one realised that the Calbuco eruption in Chile, actually had significantly affected the ozone loss in October of last year."

The study has been hailed as "historically significant" by some other researchers in the field.

"This is the first convincing evidence that the healing of the Antarctic ozone hole has now started," said Dr Markus Rex from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.

"Right now the state of the ozone layer is still really bad, but I find it very important that we know the Montreal Protocol is working and has an effect on the size of the hole and that is a big step forward."

Differing views

However others are not entirely convinced that the decline shown in the new study is down to a reduction in the amount of chlorine in the stratosphere.

"The data clearly show significant year to year variations that are much greater than the inferred trends shown in the paper," said Dr Paul Newman from Nasa.

"If the paper included this past year, which had a much more significant ozone hole due to lower wave driven forcing, the overall trend would be less."

Regardless of these questions, the scientists involved in the study believe the ozone story is a great role model for how to tackle global environmental problems.

"It's just been remarkable," said Prof Solomon.

"This was an era in which international co-operation went rather well on some issues. I was inspired by the way the developed and developing countries were able to work together on dealing with the ozone hole," said Prof Solomon.

Vietnam blames toxic waste water for mass fish deaths
2016-Jul-01 | By Sihara Colombage

Vietnamese protesters hold banners reading "Formosa destroys the environment, which is a crime" during a rally in Hanoi on 1 May, 2016There were demonstrations in Vietnam over the fish deaths

Toxic waste water from a huge steel plant run by Taiwanese Formosa Plastics caused massive fish deaths in April, Vietnam's government has said.

The fish deaths sparked mass public protests in May when activists demanded a government-led investigation.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel admitted that toxic water released into the sea had caused the fish deaths, Vietnamese officials told a news conference.

The company has agreed to pay $500m (£371m) in compensation, they said.

Formosa Plastics' $10.6bn (£7.8bn) steel plant, located south of Hanoi, is one of the biggest investment projects in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc launched the investigation into the fish deaths three months ago after initial theories of blooming algae or "red tide" were dismissed.

The case has been seen as a test for his new government which came into power four months ago.

A villager shows dead sea fish he collected on a beach in Phu Loc district, in the central province of Thua Thien Hue on April 21, 2016The mass die-off was caused by toxic waste water

Afghanistan: Bombers 'kill up to 40' cadets near Kabul
2016-Jun-30 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Afghan police soldiers inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, June 20, 2016.Afghan police, pictured here at the scene of an attack on 20 June, are frequent targets of the Taliban

Suicide bombers have attacked an Afghan police convoy outside the capital Kabul, killing as many as 40 cadets and civilians, officials say.

Two bombs hit vehicles carrying graduates returning from a ceremony on the city's western outskirts.

Paghman District Governor Haji Mohammad Musa Khan told the BBC many more had been injured.

The bombing was claimed by the Taliban and follows an attack on a bus just over a week ago that killed 14 people.

The dead included Nepali security guards working for the Canadian embassy.

Rodrigo Duterte sworn in as Philippines president
2016-Jun-30 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Rodrigo Duterte has been sworn in as president of the Philippines, after a landslide election victory in May.

The controversial former mayor of Davao City, 71, overthrew the political establishment, promising a "bloody war" on crime and action on corruption.

In his inaugural speech he promised to make sweeping changes to the country's political system.

"I see the erosion of the people's trust in their country's leaders," he said.

"The erosion of faith in our judicial system. The erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people's lives better, safer and healthier."

Rodrigo Duterte is sworn in in Manila, Philippines (30 June 2016)The new president had requested a small ceremony unlike the usual inaugurations

Mr Duterte, who has barely left Davao in the south since his election win, took his oath at a small ceremony at the Malacanang Palace in Manila. Only state media were permitted to cover the event, but it was streamed live online.

Under the constitution, Mr Duterte and the new vice-president, Leni Robredo, will both serve a single six-year term.

Ms Robredo was sworn in at a separate ceremony in Quezon City.

'A leap into the unknown': Jonah Fisher, BBC News

Incoming Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (second right) stands next to outgoing President Benigno Aquino III (right) during the inauguration ceremony in Manila on 30 July 2016.Mr Duterte takes over from Benigno Aquino (R) under whose presidency the economy grew significantly

Rodrigo Duterte revels in his reputation as an outsider and a political maverick .

During 22 years as mayor of Davao, he built a reputation for blunt speaking and for supporting the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals.

Crime rates fell dramatically but human rights groups estimate that more than 1,000 people were killed with no legal process. Many were executed by shadowy death squads.

Mr Duterte's election campaign was littered with obscenities and populist promises but light on details.

So the country must now wait to see how he delivers on pledges to end corruption, restore the death penalty, and shift to a more federal system of government.

On the international front, despite his having bombastically promised to drive a jet-ski to a contested island in the South China Sea, relations between the Philippines and China could be about to improve.

Mr Duterte has indicated that despite differences, and an upcoming ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, he is ready for a more pragmatic, development-focused relationship with the Chinese.

After a period of stability under Benigno Aquino, the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte marks a leap into the unknown.

The two swearing-in ceremonies were being held separately for the first time in the Philippines, which local media attributed to Mr Duterte's decision to a opt for a relatively small event.

But there is a notable political and personality gulf between the two leaders.

Ms Robredo is from the same Liberal Party as outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, who oversaw big improvements in economic growth and foreign investment.

He had less success tackling endemic corruption and inequality.

Self-styled socialist Mr Duterte has promised to change that, by ending corruption and improving the lot of the roughly quarter of the population said to live below the poverty line, while promising to continue the economic policies which have attracted money from abroad.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, second right, is sworn in by village chiefs Ronaldo Coner and Regina Celeste during her inauguration ceremony in Quezon City, north of Manila on 30 June 2016.Anti-poverty campaigner Leni Robredo was sworn in by village chiefs

Ms Robredo, an anti-poverty campaigner and human rights lawyer, was sworn in by the chairman of the poorest ward of a district in her province, as well as the chairman of the ward in which her new office is located.

She won her new position by a wafer-thin margin against Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, the son of late former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose family has staged a remarkable political comeback since being toppled in 1986.

Brexit: Singapore bank UOB suspends London property loans
2016-Jun-30 | By Gehan Jayaratne

London skylineSingapore's other big lenders said they were closely monitoring the situation

One of Singapore's largest lenders, UOB, says it has suspended its loan programme for London properties.

The decision comes in response to uncertainty caused by the UK's decision to leave the EU, the bank said.

The vote on 23 June caused global market turmoil and pushed the pound to 31-year lows. The Singapore dollar has gained about 10% since the referendum.

Singaporeans were the top Asian buyers of UK commercial property in 2015,according to consultancy Knight Frank.

UOB told the BBC in a statement: "We will temporarily stop receiving foreign property loan applications for London properties."

"As the aftermath of the UK referendum is still unfolding and given the uncertainties, we need to ensure our customers are cautious with their London property investments."

Analysis: Karishma Vaswani, Asia Business correspondent

Read this as the bank telling Singapore borrowers - hold your horses chaps, you may be in for a bumpy ride.

Market sources tell me that UOB has the highest exposure amongst the big three banks in Singapore to London property loans. UOB doesn't disclose how much it lends out for the London portfolio but it also offers international loans for Australia and Thailand.

"From a banking perspective, this [the possibility of Brexit] is just the tip of the iceberg," Sam Ahmed, Managing Director of Deriv Asia told me. "And banks will look to protect themselves from unintended consequences and adopt a more conservative approach by limiting their exposure for UK based assets."

Singapore's biggest lender, DBS, is continuing to provide financing, but is advising its customers to be cautious.

"For customers interested in buying properties in London, we would advise them to assess the situation carefully," DBS executive director of secured lending, Tok Geok Peng, told the BBC.

"With foreign exchange risks, even if the value of the overseas property rises, any gains will be eroded if the country's currency depreciates against the Singapore dollar," Mr Tok explained.

Singapore's other big lender, OCBC bank, told the BBC it had not made any changes to its advisory policy.

Head of consumer secured lending Phang Lah Hwa told the BBC that OCBC was still making financing available for London properties and was "monitoring the situation closely".

Tory leadership: Johnson and May to enter contest
2016-Jun-30 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Theresa May and Boris Johnson

Home Secretary Theresa May and former mayor of London Boris Johnson are set to enter the race to become the next Tory leader and prime minister.

They will declare their candidacies, setting out how much support they enjoy and how they propose to unify the party after the Brexit vote.

Ex-minister Liam Fox is also throwing his hat into the ring, joining Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.

The outcome of the contest to succeed David Cameron is due on 9 September.

Mr Cameron, who has been Tory leader for 10 years and led the country since May 2010, is stepping down after losing the vote on the UK's future membership of the EU.

He has said fresh leadership is required to take on the task of negotiating the UK's separation from the EU.

The make-up of the field will become clear when nominations close on Thursday, although Mrs May, Mr Johnson and Dr Fox are expected to announce their intentions in a series of speeches in London.

'Role model'

Mrs May, who has been home secretary since 2010, told the Times newspaperthat she was capable of "uniting Britain" and healing the divisions exposed by the Brexit result.

"Following last week's referendum, our country needs strong, proven leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union," she wrote.

Electing a Conservative leader

The BBC understands Mrs May will announce a plan for a senior minister with a dedicated department to focus on the Brexit negotiations.

She has already won the support of cabinet colleague Justine Greening who told the Evening Standard that she had the "steeliness and professionalism" to secure the best outcome for the UK in Brexit negotiations and was also a "role model" for women coming into politics.

In the Times article, Mrs May calls for an ambitious programme of social reform to improve the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom job insecurity is the norm.

She also stresses her long experience in a top government role.

"Frankly, not everybody in Westminster understands what it's like to live like this," she writes. "And some need to be told that what the government does isn't a game, it's a serious business that has real consequences for people's lives.

She also wrote that the role of the state needed to be thought of differently.

"Instead of thinking of it always as the problem, we should acknowledge that often it is only the state that can provide solutions to the problems we face.

"So yes, the state needs to be small, but it needs to be strong."

'Optimistic vision'

In contrast to Mr Johnson, who was a leading supporter of the UK leaving the EU, Mrs May backed a Remain vote although she kept a low profile during the campaign and also indicated she would favour restrictions to freedom of movement rules if the UK stayed in.

Mr Johnson is expected to place Brexit at the heart of his "optimistic vision" for the country, saying the greater self-determination that leaving the EU will bring is an opportunity to "believe in ourselves and the values of our country".

The ex-London mayor has won the backing of figures on other sides of the EU referendum argument, including Environment Secretary Liz Truss who said his two victories in London showed his ability to "reach out" to people beyond the Conservative base.

She has said the Brexit vote meant "leadership must now come from someone who believes in, and campaigned for, leaving the EU".

Liam FoxLiam Fox also contested the 2005 Conservative leadership election

Mr Johnson's campaign is being run by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who was also a central figure in the Leave campaign. But an e-mail from Mr Gove's wife Sarah Vine to her husband, which emerged on Wednesday, suggested possible obstacles to a Johnson victory.

In it, she urged her husband to get "specific assurances" from Mr Johnson about what role he would have in a future government.

The e-mail, in which a member of the public is mistakenly believed to have been copied in, suggested party members, and press barons like Rupert Murdoch, would not have the "necessary reassurance" to back Mr Johnson without Mr Gove's input.

The two-month contest is inevitably being seen through the prism of the Brexit vote and who is best placed to negotiate an exit from the EU which protects the UK's economic interests while meeting the expectations of those who voted leave about controls on immigration.

Mr Fox, who finished third in the 2005 leadership election and was defence secretary between 2010 and 2012, said there could be "no backsliding" on referendum pledges on immigration, tweeting that "access to the single market does not require free movement".

He later told LBC Radio that "experience and background" were important characteristics in a future leader and that the leadership campaign could not be totally dominated by Europe - and that issues such as health and defence must feature too.

Gay marriage nabs spotlight in Australia election
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Same-sex marriage supporters march through the streets of the central SydneySame-sex marriage supporters march through the streets of the central Sydney. Some voters expected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to be more progressive on the issue

Same-sex marriage has become a front-page issue in the final days of Australia's election campaign.

The ruling conservative Liberal Party has promised to hold a plebiscite on the issue if it returns to power at this weekend's election.

But questions remain over whether the party would abide by a result in favour of same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile a video has emerged of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten praising the idea of a plebiscite.

Mr Shorten last week slammed the government's plan as a "platform for homophobia" and advocated a parliamentary vote to decide the issue.

But he told a Christian lobby forum in 2013 that he would rather let the public vote on same-sex marriage than leave the issue to MPs.

Ministers dodge questions

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison at a news conferencePrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison at a news conference. Both sides of Australian politics are facing questions about same-sex marriage

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is tipped to hold power at the election on Saturday and is aiming to hold a public vote on same-sex marriage by the end of the year.

But the result of the vote would be non-binding and MPs would need to pass further legislation to make it law.

Two senior Australian ministers have refused to say if they would support same-sex marriage in parliament.

In an interview, Treasurer Scott Morrison refused six times to say how he would vote.

"My view is, if the plebiscite is carried nationally, then the legislation should pass," Mr Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"If the plebiscite is not carried, then I think that settles the matter."

The treasurer - an evangelical Christian who worships at a Pentecostal megachurch - refused to give a straight answer when challenged for "clarity" on the issue.

In a separate interview, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop echoed the treasurer's comments, refusing to be drawn on the "hypothetical" issue.

"I would take my electorate's view into account, but I would also take into account how the plebiscite played out across Australia because, for example, a referendum gets up if it is a majority of states, majority of people in the majority of states," she said.

'Attitudes have moved on'

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten poses for a photo with fans on the campaign trail.Opposition Leader Bill Shorten poses for a photo with fans on the campaign trail. Polls suggest the Labor Party has slipped behind the government ahead of the 2 July election.

Meanwhile the video of Mr Shorten telling church leaders in 2013 that he was "completely relaxed" about a plebiscite on same-sex marriage has undermined his attack on the government.

Mr Shorten has claimed that the plebiscite would unleash a campaign of homophobia and hate, which could be avoided through a parliamentary vote on gay marriage.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp., he played down his previous comments.

"Community attitudes have moved on in Australia," he said.

"When you look at the experience in Ireland, over a year ago, some of arguments which emerged were really ugly and repugnant."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - who takes a progressive stance on many social issues - says he will vote in favour of the marriage bill.

As a cabinet minister, he indicated he would have voted in favour of a motion to legalise same-sex marriage last year.

The proposal was opposed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Top Gear USA cancelled, BBC confirms
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge WoodTanner Foust, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge Wood host Top Gear USA

Top Gear USA has been cancelled, the BBC has confirmed.

The programme, broadcast on the History channel in the US, is a spin-off from the popular motoring series and not the version shown in the UK starring Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans.

Presenter Rutlege Wood first announced the news on Facebook - and suggested the show could return on a new channel.

"I'm not saying Top Gear is done, but it's done for the immediate future on History," he wrote.

Wood described co-presenters Adam Ferrara and Tanner Foust as "like brothers to me" and described working on the show as "a total dream come true".

"The three of us will stick together and hope to bring you much more Top Gear USA, albeit somewhere else," he said.

Top Gear USA has been running since 2010 - racking up 72 episodes across six seasons.

A spokesperson for BBC Worldwide North America said: "History treated Top Gear USA with great care, and the show had a solid five-season contractual run with the network.

"We are fully committed to the hugely successful Top Gear brand - known all over the world - and have begun exploring new opportunities for the series in the US."

Yang Kaiheng: Singaporean jailed for hate articles on The Real Singapore site
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Yang Kaiheng, 27, co-founder of "The Real Singapore" website, right, arrives with his lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, left, at the State Court on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in Singapore.Yang Kaiheng (right) was the "brainchild" behind the website. the judge ruled

A court in Singapore has sentenced a man to eight months in jail for publishing anti-foreigner material on his website.

Yang Kaiheng, 27, pleaded guilty to sedition and sowing discord between locals and foreigners.

Prosecutors said he had made up stories "designed to provoke hatred against foreigners in Singapore".

The judge said the website, The Real Singapore, ran controversial content purely to generate advertising revenue.

He said nationalist sentiment can have unpredictable consequences, as Britain's vote to leave the EU had shown.

"At the heart of this case against the accused lies the exploitation of such feelings purely for financial gain and not for some noble ideology, misguided or otherwise."

Yang ran the website with his Australian wife Ai Takagi.

The website had nearly 13 million views a month and earned the couple hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue, prosecutors said.

Wife jailed

Prosecutors said the articles were mostly intended to stir up hatred against Indian, Chinese and Filipino immigrants.

One article falsely reported that a Chinese boy had urinated in a bottle on the metro, while another accused a a Filipino family of starting scuffles at a Hindu festival in 2015, AFP news agency reports.

Singapore's sedition act bans behaviour that promotes racial hatred. Critics say it is also used to curb free speech.

About 40% of the city state's 5.5 million population is foreign.

Takagi was found guilty on similar charges in April and is serving a 10-month sentence after admitting editing the site and using a false male identity to post fictitious articles.

Although she was found to have written the articles, the judge said the website was the brainchild of Yang and that he had been in full control of it and its published content.

Amanda Todd cyber-bully case: Dutchman to be extradited to Canada
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Amanda Todd

Amanda Todd's mother said her daughter was being bullied "online and offline".

A Dutch court has approved the extradition of a Dutchman to Canada over the cyber-bullying of a girl who later took her own life.

Canadian teenager Amanda Todd posted her story on YouTube, where it was watched millions of times and sparked a debate about cyber-bullying.

Five weeks later, she took her life.

The court ruled 38-year-old Aydin C will first have to stand trial in the Netherlands on charges of extortion, internet luring, and child pornography.

The man, who is identified only by his first name because of Dutch privacy rules, was arrested in January 2014.

He is suspected of blackmailing dozens of young women from the United States, Britain and Netherlands into performing sex acts in front of their webcams.

Although Canada's extradition request does not relate to charges in connection with Amanda Todd's death, Aydin C is suspected by Canadian law enforcement of committing a number of sexual offences in relation to her, a court said in a statement. (in Dutch).

A girl watches the Amanda Todd YouTube clipThe YouTube video Amanda Todd posted five weeks before taking her own life has been watched millions of times

Amanda Todd's death prompted calls for cyber-bullying to be made a criminal offence.

The 15-year-old took her own life in 2012, after a stranger threatened to publish a photo of her breasts online.

Her story made headlines worldwide and her video, which contains images of self-harm some readers may find distressing, and which she published five weeks before her death, has been watched millions of times.

In it, she said she suffered from anxiety, major depression and panic attacks after a photo of her breasts, which she exposed in an online video chat with a stranger when she was 12, was distributed in her community.

She said she withdrew from those around her and turned to drugs and alcohol, and "cried every night".

The court ruled that all conditions for an extradition request had been fulfilled, but that Aydin C would not be extradited until after his trial in the Netherlands, which is expected to start later this year or in January 2017.

EU leaders to meet without Cameron after Brexit vote
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

The UK seat at a summit in Brussels. Photo: 28 June 2016The UK seat will be empty during the second day of the summit in Brussels

European Union leaders are to begin the second day of their summit in Brussels - but without the UK after it last week voted to leave the bloc.

On Tuesday British PM David Cameron told the other 27 leaders that trade and security co-operation would be vital whatever the future links.

Germany's Angela Merkel urged the EU to "respect the result" of the UK vote.

But she and other leaders renewed their call for Britain to set out plans for leaving as soon as possible.

They insist there can be no negotiation before the UK has formally invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will trigger the withdrawal talks.

'Great concern'

Tuesday's meeting in Brussels was Mr Cameron's final EU summit, after he announced his intention to stand down by October.

The 27 other leaders will shortly gather in the Belgian capital to discuss the future without the UK. This has not happened for more than 40 years.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says there will be calls for unity and for reform, and promises will need to be put into practice quickly because the UK referendum has shaken Europe to the core.

On Tuesday, Mr Cameron said the rest of the EU wanted to have the "closest possible" relationship with the UK after Brexit.

But he said immigration was a "great concern" among UK voters and squaring this with access to the EU single market would be a "huge challenge".

Angela MerkelAngela Merkel said there was "no way" to turn the UK's Brexit vote around

In Brussels, German politicians insisted the UK cannot "cherry-pick" aspects of the EU.

Mrs Merkel stressed that the UK must accept free movement if it wanted to retain access to the single market.

"We all regretted the result and made clear that the legal procedure must be that the UK invokes Article 50," she said. "Mr Cameron said he would hand it over to the new government to do. We all agreed that before that point, there can be no formal or informal negotiations."

She added: "We can see no way to turn this around. It's not a time for wishful thinking, but of contemplating the reality."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK did not have "months to meditate" on activating Article 50.

"If someone from the Remain camp will become British prime minister, this has to be done in two weeks after his appointment," he said.

"If the next British PM is coming from the Leave campaign, it should be done the day after his appointment."

Mr Cameron told reporters the discussions had been "calm, constructive and purposeful".

He said there was "universal respect" for the UK's decision to leave despite a "tone of sadness and regret".

While the EU wanted more information about the UK's negotiating plans going forward and a "clear model appearing", he said there was an acknowledgement that this would take some time and "no great clamour" for talks to begin straight away.

S Korea, US and Japan in first ever joint missile drill
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

Undated image of a missile launch in North KoreaNorth Korea's recent missile tests have alarmed the region

South Korea, the US and Japan have conducted their first joint missile-tracking drill, in the waters off the US state of Hawaii.

The move follows North Korea's repeated tests in recent months of mid-range ballistic missiles.

Most tests have ended in failure, but the apparent success of the sixth last week alarmed the region.

North Korea, which has also conducted four nuclear weapon tests, said the drills were "military provocation".

State media said the US and other "hostile forces" were a "constant threat" to North Korean security and reinforced its commitment to pursuing ballistic and nuclear weapons.

The US military said the drills, called Pacific Dragon, would enhance the "already strong relationship of all three nations participating".

No missiles were fired, said the US Third Fleet, but each country tested its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and tested communications and data collection.

The Aegis system allows warships to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles while they are still in space, before there is any danger of causing any damage.

North Korea is banned by UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology.

But it launched two missiles within hours of each other on 22 June, with one flying about 400km (250 miles) and reaching an altitude of 1,000km.

Both launches are thought to have been intermediate-range Musudan missiles, whose range of about 3,000km is enough to hit South Korea, Japan and the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific.

The move was seen as significant progress for North Korea's weapons programme, with Japan saying it posed "a serious threat".

Istanbul Ataturk airport attack: At least 36 dead and dozens injured
2016-Jun-29 | By Sihara Colombage

A gun and bomb attack on Istanbul's Ataturk international airport has killed 36 people and injured more than 140, officials say.

Three attackers opened fire near an entry point to the terminal late on Tuesday and blew themselves up after police fired at them, officials say.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early signs suggested the so-called Islamic State was behind the attack.

Recent bombings have been linked to either IS or Kurdish separatists.

Tuesday's attack looked like a major co-ordinated assault, says the BBC's Mark Lowen.

Ataturk airport was long seen as a vulnerable target, our Turkey correspondent adds, reporting from a plane stuck on the tarmac in Istanbul.

There are X-ray scanners at the entrance to the terminal but security checks for cars are limited.

Pictures from the airport terminal showed bodies covered in sheets, with glass and abandoned luggage littering the building.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against militant groups.

"The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world," he said.

The US called the attack "heinous", saying America remained "steadfast in our support for Turkey".

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We grieve for the victims. We stand by Turkey".

Speaking several hours after Tuesday's attack, Mr Yildirim said at least 36 people were killed and many wounded, some seriously.

He also said foreigners were likely to be among the dead.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag put the number of injured at 147.

Desperate relatives of those missing later gathered outside a local hospital where many victims were taken. Some expressed anger about the lack of information.

Meanwhile, footage has emerged on social media that appears to show a police officer shooting one of the attackers, who detonates a suicide belt as he is lying injured on the ground.

Flights in and out of the airport were suspended after the attack. The US Federal Aviation Administration initially grounded all services between the US and Istanbul but the stoppage was later lifted.

Some flights have now resumed at the airport.

People walk away from Istanbul Ataturk airportTerrified passengers were seen leaving the airport on foot

An armed police officer at Istanbul's Ataturk airportArmed police sealed off the area

A Kalashnikov assault rifle is seen on the floor at Ataturk airportA Kalashnikov assault rifle was later found at the scene of the attack

Ambulances arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016Ambulances flocked to the airport after explosions were heard

Medics take an injured man to hospital in IstanbulA number of injured people were taken to local hospitals

Taxis were used to rush casualties to hospital after the attack.

Eyewitness Paul Roos told the Associated Press news agency that he was due to fly home to South Africa when the attackers struck.

"We came up from the arrivals to the departures, up the escalator when we heard these shots going off," he said.

"There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a handgun."

Charles Michel, the Prime Minister of Belgium whose capital city was targeted by bombers in Marchtweeted from the EU summit in Brussels: "Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at Istanbul's airport. We condemn these atrocious acts of violence."

In December, a blast on the tarmac at a different Istanbul airport, Sabiha Gokcen, killed a cleaner. That attack was claimed by a Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK).

Major recent attacks


7 June, Istanbul: Car bomb kills seven police officers and four civilians. Claimed by Kurdish militant group TAK

19 March, Istanbul: Suicide bomb kills four people in shopping street. IS blamed.

13 March, Ankara: Car bomb kills 34. Claimed by TAK.

17 February, Ankara: 29 killed in attack on military busses. Claimed by TAK

12 January, Istanbul: 11 Germans killed by Syrian bomber in tourist area


23 December, Istanbul: Bomb kills cleaner at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport. Claimed by TAK

10 October, Ankara: More than 100 killed at peace rally outside railway station. Claimed by IS

20 July, Suruc, near Syrian border: 34 people killed in bombing in Kurdish town. IS blamed

More than 61 million passengers travelled through Ataturk airport in 2015.

However, security concerns and a Russian boycott over last year's downing of a Russian military jet on the Turkey-Syria border have hit the Turkish tourist sector this year.

A US state department travel warning for Turkey, originally published in March and updated on Monday, urges US citizens to "exercise heightened vigilance and caution when visiting public access areas, especially those heavily frequented by tourists."

Brexit: Cameron to face EU leaders after vote to leave
2016-Jun-28 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Francois HollandeDavid Cameron is seen at a previous meeting with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Francois Hollande

David Cameron is to meet European Union leaders for the first time since the UK voted to leave.

The UK prime minister will discuss the implications of the Brexit vote and the way ahead at an EU summit in Brussels.

German, French and Italian leaders said on Monday there could be no "formal or informal" talks on a British exit at this stage.

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne has ruled himself out of replacing Mr Cameron as prime minister.

He said in the Times that "it isn't in my nature to do things by half-measure, and I fought the referendum campaign with everything I've got. I believed in this cause and fought hard for it.

"So it is clear that while I completely accept the result, I am not the person to provide the unity my party needs at this time."

And Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the UK must remain within the EU's single market.

Mr Hunt, who is said to be considering standing for the leadership after Mr Cameron stands down, has floated the idea of a "Norway plus" arrangement outside the EU where the UK would enjoy the current trade benefits of being a full EU member while negotiating revised immigration rules.

In other developments on Tuesday, Labour MPs will vote on a motion of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn - who has insisted he is staying put - while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will address MSPs over Brexit's implications for Scotland's future.

As Europe tries to come to terms with Britain's decision to leave, Mr Cameron will attend a working dinner of EU leaders after meetings with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Cameron is standing down after last week's referendum went against him. The prime minister campaigned for the UK to remain a member but has insisted that the result must be accepted.

Speaking on Monday, he said a special unit within government was being set up to lay the initial groundwork for leaving the EU.

'Swift and coherent'

However, he has said that it must be up to his successor - who will be elected by the start of September - to decide how to proceed and precisely when to give formal notification of the UK's intention to leave by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Under EU rules, once this happens, the UK would have two years to negotiate the terms of its divorce from the EU - unless the remaining 27 members unanimously agreed to extend the process. It must also decide the shape of its future trading relationship with the EU.

Jeremy HuntOne potential candidate to succeed Mr Cameron says the UK must remain in the single market

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said a new UK government must be given time to prepare itself but other EU leaders have said the process cannot be delayed indefinitely amid fears of "contagion" for an organisation facing multiple economic and political challenges.

French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi have emphasised the need to process the UK's exit as quickly as possible and focus on the challenges facing the remaining 27 states such as fighting terrorism and strengthening the borders.

The European Parliament will also meet on Tuesday in emergency session to debate the fallout from the Brexit vote - including a non-binding motion urging the "immediate activation" of Article 50.

'Clock ticking'

MEPs, who must ratify any final agreement with the UK, have said they want to be "fully involved" in the process and that withdrawal must be "swift and coherent" in order to protect the interests of the wider "European project".

After two days of sharp falls in the stock market and sterling and political turmoil engulfing both the Conservative and Labour parties, there is increasing uncertainty about what Brexit will entail and the precise nature of the mandate that Mr Cameron's successor will be given.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, former Chancellor Ken Clarke said it should be up to MPs to decide the terms of the UK's exit and the blueprint set out by the Leave campaign during the referendum - including quitting the single market - should not be sacrosanct.

But Commons leader and Leave campaigner Chris Grayling said the UK was the EU's biggest customer and, as such, negotiations would be a "two way process". There will be "real damage" to European markets if a "sensible agreement" were not reached, he said.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said the UK needed to secure a "sensible compromise" on freedom of movement rules as part of a broader agreement that kept the UK in the single market - an objective which he said must be a "explicit national objective".

The British public's concerns about immigration needed to be addressed, he said, while it was also in the EU's interest to do so as it "faced collapse" unless the current unconditional right of all its citizens to live and work in other member states could be reconsidered.

He also raised the possibility of the public having another vote on the terms of the Brexit deal or an early general election.

"Before setting the clock ticking, we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either through a referendum or through a Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election," he wrote.

Yemen IS: Bombs kill dozens in port city of Mukalla
2016-Jun-28 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Yemen soldiers (file image)Yemeni soldiers (file image) have been regaining territory from militants

Triple bomb attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group have killed at least 35 people and injured 24 in Yemen's south-eastern city of Mukalla.

The militants struck at sunset as soldiers were preparing to break their day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, officials say.

The attacks involved a suicide bomber, a car bomb and an improvised explosive device, Reuters news agency reports.

An offshoot of al-Qaeda controlled the port city until recently.

It was recaptured in April by Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition forces.

'Sleeper cells'

The first explosion occurred as an attacker detonated his suicide vest at a checkpoint on Mukalla's western approaches, Reuters says.

A bomb-laden car then exploded at the military intelligence headquarters, while the last bomb went off as soldiers were preparing to eat, the agency says.

The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group had taken advantage of Yemen's civil war to seize territory, weapons and money.

Yemeni security officials believe there is an overlap between AQAP loyalists and IS, despite the rivalry between the two groups, Reuters says.

"Sleeper cells still exist in Mukalla and we are working against them every day," a security official was quoted as saying.

"Since the liberation of the city, security forces have arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters in raids, uncovered plots and seized around 20 explosive cars."

Pro-government and coalition forces had previously focused on battling Houthi rebels and military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

More than 6,400 people, half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen's conflict, while almost 2.8 million others have been displaced, according to the UN.

Map of Yemen

Rio 2016: Water thrown on Olympic flame in Brazil
2016-Jun-28 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Olympic Flame torch relay at Solimoes River in Iranduba cityThe torch is being taken through Brazil

A man has been arrested in Brazil after trying to put out the Olympic flame by throwing a bucket of water over it.

The 27-year-old later told police the act had been a "dare", police said.

Video footage showed a spray of water being thrown over the group carrying the torch in Maracaju in central Brazil.

The torch relay will cover 20,000km (12,400 mile) and 300 Brazilian cities before the flame arrives in Rio de Janeiro for the Games opening ceremony.

The incident comes a week after a rare jaguar was shot and killed after being used in an Olympic torch ceremony.

VW US emissions settlement reported to cost $15bn
2016-Jun-28 | By Gehan Jayaratne

VW logo

German carmaker Volkswagen has reportedly reached a $15bn (£11.3bn) settlement with US car owners after admitting it cheated emission tests.

The deal would offer to repair or buy back the affected diesel vehicles and pay owners compensation, according to sources close to the talks.

Last year, US regulators discovered that VW cars were fitted with software that could distort emissions tests.

The German giant subsequently said 11 million cars were affected worldwide.

The US settlement is still pending approval by a judge, but it would be the largest car scandal settlement in the country's history. The details are expected to be announced on Tuesday.

According to news agencies, the legal settlement sets aside $10 billion to repair or buy back around 475,000 affected vehicles with 2-litre diesel engines, and to compensate owners with a payment of up to $10,000.

Car owners would still be able to decline the VW offer and sue the firm on their own.

According to the sources quoted by news agencies, the deal also includes $2.7bn in funds to offset excess diesel emissions and $2bn for research into green energy and environment-friendly cars.

Caught cheating

The German carmaker installed software in diesel engines to detect when they were being tested so the cars could cheat the results.

Some models could have been pumping out up to 40 times the legal limit of the pollutant, nitrogen oxide, regulators disclosed.

Volkswagen told its shareholders last year it had set aside $7.3bn to help defray the potential costs of a recall or regulatory penalties.

That amount though might not be enough - the company faces as much as $20bn in fines for Clean Air Act violations alone.

The increased emissions provision pushed VW to an annual pre-tax loss of €1.3bn (€1.4bn), compared with a profit of €14.7bn the previous year.

VW expected group sales to fall by up to 5% in 2016.

Spain's Conservatives Win General Election
2016-Jun-28 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Spain's Conservatives Win General Election

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative People's Party (PP) won the most seats in the parliamentary election on Sunday, exit polls showed.

The repeat parliamentary election aimed at breaking a six-month-long political stalemate, but the outcome looked to leave Spain's political landscape just as fractured as before.

PP was on track to win 137 seats compared to 123 seats last December, according to state broadcaster RTVE with over 90 percent of the votes counted.

Despite the gains, the results put the conservative party far short of the 176 seats needed for a majority in the 350-seat parliament.

The Socialists, a 137-year-old party, came in second place and are set to pick up 85 seats, down from 90 seats last year.

Unidos Podemos, an alliance of leftist parties led by Podemos, was predicted to pick up 71 seats. Earlier results initially suggested that Unidos Podemos had come in second place, which would have been signified an unprecedented shift in Spain, but official results put the coalition in third place.

"We had expected to do better," Podemos alliance head Pablo Iglesias said following the results.

Liberal upstart Ciudadanos, potentially a PP ally, was on course to win 32 seats, down from 40 in December.

Rajoy demands 'right to govern'

Although PP has ruled for the past four years, the party has struggled to find support from rival parties. Sunday's inconclusive ballot now sends political leaders into another six months of negotiations on who should form a government.

Following the surge of support for Rajoy's center-right party, the prime minister declared he would make a push for power in the upcoming coalition talks.

"We won the election, we demand the right to govern," Rajoy told a victory rally in Madrid.

Spain, the European Union's fifth-largest economy, has yet to have a coalition government. Should the parties fail to agree, the country could see a third general election in six months' time.

Political deadlock

The repeat parliamentary polls were called after coalition talks collapsed following December polls, which saw the traditional two-party conservative-socialist balance upset by the success of Podemos and Ciudadanos. The crowded and fractured post-election scene led to a six-month long political stalemate and Sunday's election.

Podemos, which was born out of the anti-austerity Indignados protest movement , has transformed Spanish politics at the national and local level. Last month, they formed an alliance with the communist United Left in a major threat to the Socialists.

Ahead of the Sunday vote, Rajoy - who has run an interim administration ever since December's poll - urged voters to reject "radicalism" and "populism."

Unidos Podemos blames the government for the country's 21 percent unemployment rate and points to a series of corruption scandals that have hit the ruling party.

Rajoy, however, counters that Spain has returned to growth since he was first elected, and that unemployment has fallen from its 27 percent peak in 2013.

The surge of support for PP, one of Spain's traditionally dominant parties, came just days after the Great Britain's vote to leave the European Union. Many PP supporters citted the party's "security" as a reason for voting conservative.

"I prefer the devil I know rather than the devil I don't know," voter Luis Fernandez said in Madrid.

Pope Francis says Church should apologise to gays
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Pope Francis, flanked by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, talks to journalists on flight back to Vatican, at end of three-day visit to Armenia, Sunday, June 26Pope Francis, flanked by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, addressed

Pope Francis has said that the Roman Catholic Church should apologise to gay people for the way it has treated them.

He told reporters that the Church had no right to judge the gay community, and should show them respect.

The pontiff also said the Church should seek forgiveness from other people it had marginalised - women, the poor, and children forced into labour.

The Pope has been hailed by many in the gay community for his positive attitude towards homosexuals.

But some conservative Catholics have criticised him for making comments they say are ambiguous about sexual morality.

Speaking to reporters on his plane returning from Armenia, the Pope said: "I will repeat what the catechism of the Church says, that they [homosexuals] should not be discriminated against, that they should be respected, accompanied pastorally."

Pope Francis said the Church should seek forgiveness from those whom it had marginalised.

The Pope and Armenian patriarch release doves in ceremony at Khor Virap monastery, Armenia, 26 June 2016The Pope and Armenian patriarch Catholicos Karekin II released doves of peace near Mt Ararat

"I think that the Church not only should apologise... to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologise to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by [being forced to] work. It must apologise for having blessed so many weapons."

In 2013, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not.

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said then.

In other remarks on Sunday, the Pope said he hoped the European Union would be able to recover following the UK's decision to leave.

"There is something that is not working in that bulky union, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water, let's try to jump-start things, to re-create," he said.

Armenians wait to see Pope at the Khor Virap monastery, Armenia. 26 June 2016Thousands of Armenians travelled to see the Pope during his visit

During his visit to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the Pope described the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman Turkish rule in World War One as "genocide".

Turkey has always disputed the numbers killed and angrily rejects the term "genocide".

In response, Turkish deputy prime minister Nurettin Canikli said the Pope's comments were "very unfortunate" adding it was "possible to see all the reflections and traces of crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy".

The Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later told reporters: "The Pope is on no crusade. He is not trying to organise wars or build walls but he wants to build bridges. He has not said a word against the Turkish people."

Madagascar stadium blast kills two
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Wounded are treated at a hospital in AntananarivoTeenagers were among the victims

A grenade explosion has killed at least two people during Madagascar's national day celebrations in the capital Antananarivo, officials say.

About 80 people were wounded in the blast at a stadium, general Anthony Rakotoarison told AFP news agency.

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina said it was a "terrorist act", and blamed it on "political divergences".

The situation remains fragile in the country, with supporters and opponents of the president at loggerheads.

The blast happened during a free concert at the Mahamasina stadium. A military parade had been held there earlier.

It was not immediately clear who or what was behind the explosion.

In a statement broadcast on national television, the president said: "Divergences in point of view may exist between us... [But] if the leader does not suit you... you cannot kill the population," he said.

"We will never tolerate destabilisation. Especially because this is not only destabilisation but an act of terrorism."

View of the Mahamasina municipal stadiumThe explosion happened during celebrations at the Mahamasina stadium (File photo)

Mr Rajaonarimampianina's election as president in 2013 brought fresh hope following years of political instability in Madagascar.

But just 18 months into his presidency, the country's National Assembly voted to impeach him for failing to deliver on his election pledges.

The bid failed but his supporters and rivals continue fighting each other.

In 2014, a grenade explosion killed a toddler and injured several other people outside the same stadium.

No arrests were made in connection with that attack and there was no claim of responsibility, AFP reported.

IS claims suicide attack against Jordanian troops
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Jordanian soldiers carry coffin of comrade in Nahleh village after suicide bomb attack on border with Syria. 21 June 2016Those killed had been manning a Jordanian military post

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has said it carried out a suicide truck-bomb attack that killed six Jordanian security personnel on the border with Syria.

A statement said "a fighter of Islamic State" had carried out the attack near a makeshift refugee camp in the remote Rukban area last Tuesday.

IS has previously threatened to "break down" Jordan's borders.

The kingdom is part of the US-led coalition against IS.

Its military jets have carried out air strikes on militants in Syria.

The attack in Rukban was the first of its kind in Jordan since the conflict in Syria began in 2011.

Jordanian soldiers guarding the Jordan-Syria at Rukban (10 September 2015)The makeshift camp for Syrian refugees at Rukban is in a Jordanian military control zone

The suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden lorry at high speed over the border from Syria and detonated it near a Jordanian military post.

Four border guards were killed along with two personnel from the Civil Defence and Public Security Department.

In response, King Abdullah said Jordan would "respond with an iron fist" against any group that sought to harm its borders or security.

Jordan later declared its northern and north-eastern borders would become closed military zones.

Aid workers say more than 50,000 refugees are stranded at the Rukban camp, living in deplorable conditions while awaiting entry to Jordan.

Clashes at white-supremacist rally in Sacramento leave 10 injured
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Wounded men sitting on steps of California State Capitol after members of right-wing extremist groups clashed with counter-protesters in Sacramento, Sunday, June 26, 2016As the rally began, the counter-protesters charged in, witnesses said

At least 10 people have been wounded, two seriously, in clashes between right-wing extremists and counter-protesters in Sacramento, California.

Police said about 30 members of a white supremacist group were holding a rally outside the California State Capitol when about 400 counter-protesters turned up and fights broke out.

Nine men and one woman were treated for stab wounds, cuts and bruises, officials said.

No arrests have been reported so far.

Video posted on social media showed dozens of people, some wearing masks and wielding what appeared to be wooden bats, racing across the capitol grounds and attacking others.

The two people seriously wounded had suffered stab wounds, Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Chris Harvey said.

"There was a large number of people carrying sticks and rushing to either get into the melee or see what was going on," he said.

KCRA TV reporter Mike Luery runs from members of group called ANTIFA Sacramento (Anti-Fascism Action). 26 June 2016A TV reporter was caught up in the melee as anti-fascist protesters moved in

Matthew Heimbach, chairman of white supremacist group the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), told the Los Angeles Times that his group and the Golden State Skinheads had organised the rally.

He said one of their marchers had been stabbed in an artery and six of the counter-protesters had also been stabbed.

TWP vice chairman Matt Parrott, who was at the rally, blamed "leftist radicals" for the violence.

The TWP is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the political wing of the Traditionalist Youth Network, which aims to "indoctrinate high school and college students into white nationalism".

Protesters try to set light to white supremacist flag. 26 June 2016Protesters tried to set light to a flag outside the capitol building

Japan shares recover after Friday's post-Brexit bout
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Japanese flag

Japanese shares have managed to recover some ground after their historic plunge last Friday following the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Traders are taking some confidence from a pledge by the Japanese government to stabilise the financial markets.

The Nikkei 225 was up 1.8% to 15,221.30 - after losing almost 8% on Friday.

The yen though remains strong at 101 to the dollar, which hurts Japan's exporting firms by making their goods more expensive on world markets.

The yen has gained ground due to its status as a safe haven currency - a status which has been bolstered by the continued decline of the pound.

It has continued its slide in early trading in Asia on Monday, adding to Friday's record one-day decline.

Japan reassures investors

In a response to the currency woes and the risk it poses to Japan's crucial export sector, the government held an emergency meeting with the central bank.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Finance Minister Taro Aso to watch currency movements "ever more closely" and take steps if necessary.

"Risks and uncertainty remain in financial markets," Abe said. "We need to continue to work toward market stability."

Yen bills

Analysis: Mariko Oi, Tokyo

After suffering its biggest one-day fall in five years on Friday, Japan's main stock index, the Nikkei 225, has recovered the psychologically important 15,000 mark on Monday morning.

It is difficult to guess if investors are bargain hunting or if the prime minister's repeated promise to intervene if necessary has calmed the market.

The Japanese yen, which is seen as a safe haven asset and surged to the highest level since 2013 on Friday, has also stabilised for now which helps shares in Japanese exporters as it helps to make their products more competitive abroad.

But analysts say the volatility in the Japanese yen will continue and the government might still have to intervene. Shoppers that I spoke to in Ginza on Sunday all expressed their concerns over the uncertainty caused by the result of the referendum.

No recovery elsewhere

Other markets in Asia though failed to reverse their Friday losses.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down by another 1.4% at 19,974.85, adding to Friday's losses.

The mainland's benchmark Shanghai Composite was flat at 2,853.59 points.

China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei over the weekend said the consequences of the UK leaving the EU were still unclear, but that they would be felt for years to come.

The country's central bank weakened the yuan fix by 0.9%, on Monday, the biggest daily move since August 2015.

South Korea's benchmark Kospi index was down 0.7% to 1,910.92 points.

Australia's ASX/200 in Sydney was flat at 5,111.80.

Both the Kospi and the ASX/200 had lost more than 3% on Friday in the wake of the UK's Brexit decision.

Singapore Airlines plane catches fire after emergency landing
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

A Singapore Airlines plane bound for Milan caught fire shortly after making an emergency landing.

Flight SQ368, which departed at 02:05 local time on Monday (18:00 GMT Sunday), was two hours into the flight when the pilot announced there was an engine problem.

The plane turned back and landed before the right engine of the Boeing 777 burst into flames.

All 222 passengers and 19 crew on board were safely evacuated.

"We were in the air for roughly an hour before we began to smell gas," one passenger who gave his name as Chuan told the BBC.

"The pilot came on the intercom and said that there was an oil leak in one of the engines and that they were going to turn and go back to Singapore."

This image provided by Lee Bee Yee shows the aftermath of an engine fire on a Singapore Airlines flight, at Changi International Airport on Monday, June 27, 2016.Firefighters took about five to 10 minutes to extinguish the flames on the plane

This image provided by Lee Bee Yee shows the aftermath of an engine fire on a Singapore Airlines flight, at Changi International Airport on Monday, June 27, 2016.Everyone on board was safely evacuated

Chuan added that all the passengers were very calm and that he actually "went back to sleep" after the announcement was made.

It was only after he got off the flight that he realised how "close to death" he and his wife had been.

Firefighters took about five to 10 minutes to extinguish the flames, he said.

Passengers will be transferred to another aircraft which is expected to depart for Milan later on Monday, said Singapore Airlines in a statement on Facebook.

Lebanon suicide attack hits village near Syria border
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

Map locator

At least five people have been killed and 13 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack in a village in eastern Lebanon, reports say.

Three bombers blew themselves up in the village of Qaa, close to the Syrian border, the Lebanese Red Cross told AFP news agency.

The Hezbollah TV station al-Manar put the death toll at six. It is not clear who carried out the attack or why.

Sectarian tensions in Lebanon have been stoked by the civil war in Syria.

Brexit: France and Germany 'in agreement' over UK's EU exit
2016-Jun-27 | By Sihara Colombage

File images of Francois Hollande and Angela MerkelAngela Merkel will host talks with Francois Hollande and other EU leaders on Monday

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have said they are in "full agreement" on how to handle the fallout from the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

Mr Hollande warned that "separated, we run the risk of divisions, dissension and quarrels".

The two will hold talks later in Berlin amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the wake of so-called "Brexit".

The pound fell further in early trading in Asia on Monday as markets reacted.

UK Chancellor George Osborne will issue a statement before the start of trading in the UK in a bid to calm markets.

In other developments:

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Hollande said there was no going back on the UK's decision, adding: "What was once unthinkable has become irreversible."

Chancellor Merkel is to host President Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and European Council President Donald Tusk later on Monday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also due in London and Brussels for talks.

Speaking in Rome on Sunday, Mr Kerry expressed regret at the UK's decision but said the US would maintain close ties with the EU.

"Brexit and the changes that are now being thought through have to be thought through in the context of the interests and values that bind us together with the EU," he said.

US President Barack Obama has already said that the special relationship between the US and the UK would endure despite Britain's decision.

Share prices board showing numbers from Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on June 27, 2016Markets have been volatile since the UK's decision to leave the EU

Over the weekend, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the process for Britain's withdrawal from the bloc should begin "immediately".

Several EU foreign ministers also urged Britain to start the process soon.

However, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond indicated the UK would resist pressure for a swift start to negotiations, insisting that "nothing is going to happen at the moment".

That position was supported by Chancellor Merkel's chief of staff, who said Britain's politicians should take time to review the consequences of leaving the EU.

"Politicians in London should take the time to reconsider the consequences of the Brexit decision - but by that I emphatically do not mean Brexit itself," Peter Altmaier said.

David Cameron has said he will step down by October, allowing his successor to conduct the talks and, presumably, trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which sets a two-year deadline for an exit deal.

Flag with Scotland - Ecosse in French - voted strongly to remain in the EU

Last Thursday's referendum result has shaken the European Union but also exposed deep divisions within the UK itself.

Britain as a whole voted by 52% to 48% to leave but in Scotland the picture was different, with 62% backing remain.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC that the Scottish parliament could try to block the UK's exit from the EU.

She said that she and her colleagues would begin talks with Brussels officials about Scotland possibly remaining in the EU.

On Friday, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that a second Scottish independence referendum was back on the table.

BBC graphic

Image captionThe process to take the UK out of the European Union starts with invoking Article 50 and will take at least two years from that point

Twenty people die in West Virginia floods
2016-Jun-25 | By Sihara Colombage

A man cleans out a box with creek water as he cleans up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.Flooding has destroyed more than 100 homes in some areas of West Virginia

At least 20 people, including an eight-year-old boy and a toddler, have died in flooding in West Virginia, according to state officials.

Heavy storms and flooding have caused widespread damage throughout the state, said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. 

A state of emergency was declared in 44 of the state's 55 counties. 

Rescue efforts were under way for about 500 people trapped in a shopping centre while officials continued to search for others stranded in devastated areas. 

The flooding has destroyed more than 100 homes and knocked out power for thousands after a storm system dumped nine inches of rain on parts of the state. 

A resident sorts through debris as the cleanup begins from severe flooding in West Virginia on 24 JuneGovernor Tomblin said destruction was widespread across the state

Jimmy Scott gets a hug from Anna May Watson, left, as they clean up from severe flooding in West Virginia.At least 20 people have died in the flooding

Mark Bowes, of White Sulphur Springs W. Va., makes his way to the road as he cleans up from severe flooding.A state of emergency was declared in 44 of the state's 55 counties

The governor said 200 National Guard soldiers were carrying out search and rescue efforts as well as health and welfare checks in eight counties across the state. 

A church pastor told the AP news agency an eight-year-old boy slipped, fell into a creek and was swept away. 

The boy's mother attempted to save him but lost her grip on the child, according to Harry Croft, pastor at Marwin Church of the Nazarene at Wheeling. 

The child's body was found about a half-mile from where the family lives. 

The body of a four-year-old boy was also recovered a day after the child slipped into a creek swollen with flood waters. 

Ravenswood Fire Department official Bob Bibbee said the toddler was with his grandfather when he fell into the water in Jackson County. 

The grandfather jumped into the creek to try and save the boy, but was overcome by the rushing water. 

Governor Tomblin called the flooding "among the worst in a century for some parts of the state".

Twitter image showing a house under water in West Virginia flooding.


David Cameron resigns as British prime minister
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

David Cameron resigns as British prime minister

David Cameron has resigned as British Prime Minister after Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Mr Cameron said the result was the “will of the British people” which was an “instruction which must be delivered”.

“I fought this campiagn the only way I know going with what I strongly believe. Although I will try to steady this ship, I think we should have a new UK PM by October. Negotiation with EU will need to begin under a new PM,” he said.

“I will do everything I can as PM to steady the ship over coming weeks and months,” he added.

The referendum, called by Mr Cameron, delivered a shock victory for the Leave campaign.

The Brexit vote immediately sent the pound tumbling and sparked calls for Mr Cameron’s resignation.

Mr Cameron called the vote on Brexit in 2013 under pressure from the anti-EU wing of his Conservative Party and Ukip, hoping to end decades of debate over the UK’s ties with Europe.

However, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after 43 years, plunging the region and its neighbours into an uncertain future and shocking international financial markets.

With a turnout of 72.2 per cent, 51.9 per cent voted to leave; 48.1 per cent voted to remain.

Over 17 million people voted to leave (17,410,742), while just over 16 million (16,141,241) voted to leave.

The result surprised Leave campaigners as well as most pollsters and political analysts.

London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain in the EU.

But there were big majorities for Leave in other parts of the country, particularly in the north of England, and Wales and the English shires also backed Brexit.

More than 30 million people voted in the referendum and the turnout of 71.8 per cent was the highest for any UK-wide vote since 1992.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage told supporters that July 23rd would go down in history as Britain’s Independence Day.

“Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” he said.

84 Conservative MPs who supported Vote Leave, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, had written to Mr Cameron saying he should stay on as prime minister regardless of the referendum outcome.

Migrant crisis: 4,500 rescued in Mediterranean in one day
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Exhausted migrants rest on the deck of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Topaz Responder after being rescued around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016

The Italian navy and coastguard say they have rescued about 4,500 migrants from dozens of small boats in the Mediterranean during the course of Thursday.

A woman's body was recovered from one of the vessels.

More favourable weather conditions have resulted in a major increase in the number of people leaving north Africa.

Many of the unseaworthy boats were spotted about 40km (25 miles) from the Libyan coast.

"We saved a total of about 4,500 people in about 40 rescue operations," a coastguard spokesman told AFP news agency.

He added that the operations were continuing and the number might rise.

Migrants in a dinghy reach out for life jackets thrown to them by rescuers of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) some 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016

More than 10,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, according to United Nations figures.

An agreement between Turkey and the European Union to halt migrants from travelling to Greek islands has reduced boat arrivals by 98% during the first five months of the year, compared with the same period in 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

But arrivals in Italy continue at about the same rate as last year, the IOM added.

Brexit: Asian investors in panic mode
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Currency traders watch computer monitors near the screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 23, 2016.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, one trader in Singapore told me this morning. His clients had priced in a Remain vote, and were - as he put it - pretty "complacent" about the results from the EU Referendum.

But as the results started to show a likely victory for the Brexit camp, the mood in Asia soured.

Investors are in panic mode, and clients here are telling their brokers to sell the British sterling and buy safe havens like the Japanese yen and gold.

Just after the BBC forecast a win for the Leave campaign, the sterling had fallen by more than 10% against the US dollar, touching levels not seen since 1985.

Pound coins and notes

In contrast the Japanese yen - a safe haven currency - soared, touching 100 yen against one unit of the US dollar.

That's bad news for Japan's economy which needs the yen to stay weak so its exports are more attractive around the world. The Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso has tried to reassure financial investors in Tokyo by saying he's watching the situation urgently and Japan will take action if needed to calm markets if necessary.

He has declined to comment on whether there's been intervention in the markets already or not.

The Japanese benchmark index, the Nikkei 225 has fallen by more than 7% so far in Friday's session, at one point triggering the circuit breaker on the Nikkei Futures index. Major Japanese companies that are heavily invested in the UK - like Nissan, Toyota Motors and Hitachi have all seen big slumps this morning.

Nikkei stock board

'Sell, sell, sell'

It's the same all over Asia.

Shares sensitive to what goes on in the British economy and that are listed in London and in Hong Kong, like HSBC - at one point dropping to its lowest level in seven years - Standard Chartered Bank, Prudential and Glencore are all taking a hit as investors sell, sell, sell and pour their money into traditional safe bets like gold.

Markets in India - which is a major investor in the UK - have also fallen. The Sensex opened down by more than 900 points or 3.43% lower.

Traders say they believe that the central bank in India may step in to support the Indian rupee, which is down more than 1.5%. Big Indian firms that have exposure to the UK like Tata steel and Tata motors have also been hit.

In other Asian currencies - the Australian dollar, the Malaysian ringgit and the Korean won have all tumbled, reflecting nervousness and uncertainty about how markets around the world will react to this news.

As one market watcher in Singapore told me, the last time there was this much volatility in the markets was during the "Great Fall of China's stocks" last summer.

Markets had been pricing in a remain vote - this result is their worst nightmare.

And this is just the start: the process for the UK to leave will take at least two years to sort out. Governments in Asia will need to negotiate new trade deals with the UK, which until now has negotiated trade deals from within the EU.

The uncertainty has only just begun.

Asian shares see severe falls ahead of UK referendum result
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

EU and UK flags

Asian shares have fallen sharply as the UK referendum on EU membership sees the Leave campaign take the lead.

After initial gains, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 was down 7.7% to 14,982.48 points.

With the majority of votes counted, the BBC forecasts that the UK has voted for their country to leave the European Union.

Investor sentiment is rattled by the looming uncertainty on global markets should the UK leave the bloc.

As the British pound, hits its lowest levels since 1985, the yen has surged to 101 to the US dollar as investors now see the Japanese currency as a safe haven.

Analysis: Karishma Vaswani, Asia Business correspondent

It wasn't supposed to be like this, one trader in Singapore told me this morning. His clients had priced in a Remain vote, and were - as he put it - pretty "complacent" about the results from the EU Referendum.

But as the results started trickling in, the mood has most definitely soured. Another trader told me that activity on the firm's trading desk in Australia was so frenetic, that Singapore had to start taking some of the calls. Investors are in panic mode.

It's the same all over Asia. Shares sensitive to what goes on in the British economy and that are listed in London and in HK like Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC, Prudential and Glencore all taking a hit as investors sell, sell, sell and pour their money into traditional safe bets like gold.

Investors in Asia are on edge today, as they try and make sense of the results coming in from the UK. As one market watcher in Singapore told me, the last time there was this much chopping and changing in the markets was during the "Great Fall of China's stocks" last summer.

In South Korea, the Kospi index was 3.9% lower at 1,909.18. The Korean won has dropped the most against the US dollar since October 2011.

Australia's ASX/200 fell sharply by 3.4% to 5,100.00 points.

In China, the mainland Shanghai Composite was down 1.2% to 2,857.58 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng is down sharply 4.7% to 19,894.12 points.

Mumbai's Sensex in India also fell by 3.4% to 26,022.60 points.

"There has been a sharp knee-jerk reaction in markets, as hopes of Bremain had gained traction in the past week," Shubhada Rao, analyst with Yes Bank in Mumbai told the BBC.

"In the near-term, equity and currency markets could test new lows, while continuing to closely watch developments in UK for the way ahead."

China weather: Tornado and hail kill scores in Jiangsu
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

A tornado and hailstorm have killed at least 98 people and injured nearly 800 in the east Chinese province of Jiangsu, according to state media.

Accompanied by torrential rain, the tornado struck the outskirts of the city of Yancheng on Thursday afternoon.

Counties on the city's outskirts saw winds of up to 125km/h (78 mph).

Heavy rains and the possibility of more hailstorms and tornadoes have further complicated rescue efforts, the CCTV network reported.

Residents walk in the rubble of destroyed houses after a tornado in Funing, in Yancheng, in ChinaThe winds were powerful enough to pick up vehicles

On Friday, rescuers were carrying injured villagers into ambulances and delivering food and water to others, said state news agency Xinhua.

Tents and other emergency supplies were being sent from Beijing.

'The end of the world'

Footage from the scene of the tornado showed overturned vehicles, snapped trees and street light poles, and toppled electricity pylons.

Residents walk in the rubble of destroyed houses after a tornado in Funing, in Yancheng, in ChinaHeavy rains and the possibility of further hailstorms and tornadoes have complicated rescue efforts

"It was like the end of the world," local resident Xie Litian told Xinhua.

"I heard the gales and ran upstairs to shut the windows. I had hardly reached the top of the stairs when I heard a boom and saw the entire wall with the windows on it torn away."

President Xi Jinping has ordered "all-out rescue efforts" to help those affected by the storms.

A villager stands near destroyed houses in China's Jiangsu province. Photo: 23 June 2016Houses were flattened by the powerful storms, leaving many local residents homeless

A car goes through a flooded street in rain, in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China June 23, 2016

Damaged houses are seen after a tornado hit Funing county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China June 23, 2016Many parts of China have been hit by torrential rains this week.

Floods in the south killed 22 people earlier this week and displaced nearly 200,000, state media said.


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Media captionMeteorologist Matt Taylor explains what El Nino is

The southern part of China is hit every year during the monsoon season, which runs from May to July.

But this year's rainy season has been particularly wet, with water levels in some major rivers exceeding those of 1998, when disastrous floods affected 180 million people, according to state media.

Direct economic losses from the floods are estimated to be 2.7bn yuan ($410m).

Vice-Premier Wang Yang said China faced volatile weather conditions as a result of the influence of El Nino on weather patterns.

Oil Prices Slump, Gold Rallies Amid Uncertainty Over Brexit Vote
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Pic - Getty

Prices of oil and gold moved sharply in Asian trade as market sentiment swayed and the Brexit vote count veered between remain and leave in the lead, but appeared to show momentum going toward the leave camp.

Crude oil futures fell sharply, reversing overnight gains, and after U.S. crude held steady in earlier after-hours trading.

Benchmark light, sweet crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange was was recently down 6.6 percent at $46.81 a barrel, after settling 2 percent higher in the U.S. session, while Brent crude oil prices were 6.5 percent lower at $47.60 a barrel, after settling 2 .1 percent higher at $50.91 a barrel.

Safe-haven gold breached two-year highs and was most recently up 8 percent to hit $1,355 an ounce before noon in Singapore and Hong Kong, after prices hit a two-week low of $1,251.16 an ounce in the U.S. session.

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Forex in London, said gold had been under immense selling pressure in recent days but was now having a great day, adding that the next resistance level was at $1,400.

"The precious metal is on fire and it is the real winner of Brexit situation," Aslam said. "Investors are really trying to protect their investment and we are seeing some big bets coming in the market, which is pushing the metal price higher."

Colombia Farc: Celebrations after ceasefire ends five decades of war
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Colombians are celebrating the signing of a ceasefire by the government and the Farc rebel movement, which ended 50 years of civil war.

In the capital, Bogota, people took to the streets, hugging each other and singing the national anthem.

The announcement is seen as one of the last steps before a full peace deal is signed, which is expected within weeks.

The longest-running insurgency in the Western hemisphere left some 220,000 people dead and millions displaced.

Thursday's announcement in Havana caps formal peace talks that started three years ago in the Cuban capital.

But it does not mark the start of the ceasefire, which will only begin with the signing of a final accord.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos has previously said he hopes to sign that by the end of July.

Still primed for war: Will Grant, BBC News, western Colombia

Rebels forming in camp

The Farc in the 21st Century is a strange beast.

Gone is the bipolar vision of the Cold War, and gone too are most of the group's original intellectual architects, many killed in combat.

Today, somewhat anchorless, the rebels continue to go through motions of an armed insurgency but they know a new future is beckoning.

They remain primed for war - machine guns by their beds, handguns under their pillows, all night lookouts keeping watch for an enemy that no longer seems to be searching for them.

Thursday's announcement included:

  • A commitment that rebels will lay down arms within 180 days of a final peace deal
  • The creation of temporary transition zones and camps for the estimated 7,000 rebels
  • A provision that no civilians will be allowed to enter Farc camps, to guarantee rebel security
  • A provision that UN monitors will receive all the group's weapons

A woman cries as she watches a live broadcast from Havana of the ceremony of the agreement between the Colombian president and the head of the Farc rebels on a cease-fire and rebel disarmament deal, in Bogota, Colombia, 23 JuneHundreds of Colombians watched the announcement on a giant screen in downtown Bogota

Women in Bogota hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels, 23 June 2016.People hugged each other and sang the national anthem

Colombians celebrate in downtown Bogota as they watch the signing of the ceasefire between the Government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana on a giant screen, on 23 June 2016The signing of the ceasefire led to large celebrations with people waving the national flag

Colombians celebrate at Botero square in Medellin, Antioquia department, after the signing of the ceasefire between the Government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, on 23 June 23, 2016.People in Bogota left messages marking the end of the civil war

"Let this be the last day of the war," Farc leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, said at the announcement.

Both sides agreed to let the courts rule whether a popular vote can be held in Colombia to endorse the deal, which was a promise made by Mr Santos.

The president said at the ceremony that this was a "historic day".

"We have reached the end of 50 years of death, attacks and pain," he said. "This is the end of the armed conflict with the Farc."

Grey line

The ceasefire and the Colombian media, by BBC Monitoring

Colombians read newspapers with headlines about the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Farc in Bogota on June 23The deal has made headlines in Colombia: "Goodbye to the weapons!" said this newspaper

The announcement of the Farc ceasefire dominated the headlines of the online editions of the main Colombian newspapers and other media outlets.

Centre-left newspaper El Espectador featured extensive coverage of the news of the agreement and a banner headline, which reads: "The guns went silent" along a striking image of two guerrilla fighters in action. It also covered the key points of the deal as well as the history of the conflict.

Conservative newspaper El Tiempo emphasised President Juan Manuel Santos's statement that the final agreement would be signed in Colombia, not Cuba.

Medellin-based newspaper El Colombiano featured a commentary by former President Alvaro Uribe, who remains sceptical about the prospects for peace, saying "the word peace is wounded".

One of the main national radio networks RCN ran a story citing Farc leader Timochenko saying: "We are going to do politics without arms."

Grey line

Who are the Farc?

Undated picture of two armed Farc rebels monitoring the Berlin pass

  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc, after the initials in Spanish) are Colombia's largest rebel group
  • The main enemy of the Farc have been the Colombian security forces. Farc fighters have attacked police stations and military posts, and ambushed patrols
  • They have been hit hard by the Colombian security forces over the past years

Grey line

Both sides still need to establish how the peace deal in its entirety will be implemented, verified and approved.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leaders of Latin American countries also attended the ceremony.

The agreement was welcomed elsewhere, with the EU's foreign representative Federica Mogherini calling it "a turning point in the Colombian peace process".

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that "although hard work remains to be done, the finish line is approaching and nearer now than it has ever been".

Brexit: UK votes to leave EU in historic referendum
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The UK has voted to leave the European Union after 43 years in a historic referendum.

Leave won by 52% to 48% with England and Wales voting strongly for Brexit, while London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backed staying in the EU.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed it as the UK's "independence day" but the Remain camp called it a "catastrophe".

The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results.

The referendum turnout was 71.8% - with more than 30 million people voting - the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992.

Wales and the majority of England outside London voted in large numbers for Brexit.

Labour's Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Bank of England may have to intervene to shore up the pound, which lost 3% within moments of the first result showing a strong result for Leave in Sunderland and fell as much as 6.5% against the euro.

'Independence day'

UKIP leader Nigel Farage - who has campaigned for the past 20 years for Britain to leave the EU - told cheering supporters "this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people".

Mr Farage - who predicted a Remain win at the start of the night after polls suggested that would happen - said Thursday 23 June would "go down in history as our independence day".

He called on Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum but campaigned passionately for a Remain vote, to quit "immediately".

A teller counts ballot papers at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast

A Labour source said: "If we vote to leave, Cameron should seriously consider his position."

But pro-Leave Conservatives including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have signed a letter to Mr Cameron urging him to stay on whatever the result.

Labour former Europe Minister Keith Vaz told the BBC the British people had voted with their "emotions" and rejected the advice of experts who had warned about the economic impact of leaving the EU.

He said the EU should call an emergency summit to deal with the aftermath of the vote, which he described as "catastrophic for our country, for the rest of Europe and for the rest of the world".

Germany's foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier described the referendum result as as "a sad day for Europe and Great Britain".

But Leave supporting Tory MP Liam Fox said voters had shown great "courage" by deciding to "change the course of history" for the UK and, he hoped, the rest of Europe.

And he called for a "period of calm, a period of reflection, to let it all sink in and to work through what the actual technicalities are," insisting that Mr Cameron must stay on as PM.

Exit process

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the EU vote "makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union" after all 32 local authority areas returned majorities for Remain.

Analysis by Prof John Curtice

Remain campaigners

London has voted to stay in the EU by around 60% to 40%.

However, no other region of England has voted in favour of remaining.

The referendum has underlined the social and cultural gap between London and provincial England.

Remain's defeat seems to have been primarily the product of the decisions made by voters living north of the M4.

Throughout the Midlands and the North of England the level of support for Remain was well below what was required for it to win at least 50% of the vote across the UK as a whole.

Britain would be the first country to leave the EU since its formation - but a leave vote will not immediately mean Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc.

That process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 - the date of the next scheduled general election.

Foreign exchange in TokyoTraders in Tokyo monitor exchange rates

The prime minister will have to decide when to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal.

Once Article 50 has been triggered a country can not rejoin without the consent of all member states.

Mr Cameron has previously said he would trigger Article 50 as soon as possible after a leave vote but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who led the campaign to get Britain out of the EU have said he should not rush into it.

But they also said they want to make immediate changes before the UK actually leaves the EU, such as curbing the power of EU judges and limiting the free movement of workers, potentially in breach the UK's treaty obligations.

The government will also have to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU and fix trade deals with non-EU countries.

In Whitehall and Westminster, there will now begin the massive task of unstitching the UK from more than 40 years of EU law, deciding which directives and regulations to keep, amend or ditch.

The Leave campaign argued during a bitter four-month referendum campaign that the only way Britain could "take back control" of its own affairs would be to leave the EU.

Leave dismissed warnings from economists and international bodies about the economic impact of Brexit as "scaremongering" by a self-serving elite.

House Democrats Stage Sit-in For Gun Control
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

House Democrats Stage Sit-in For Gun Control

More than 200 Democratic lawmakers blocked the House's legislative agenda on Wednesday, taking to the floor in a bid to force a vote on stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando.

Led by Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the lawmakers are demanding the House vote to expand background checks and prevent gun purchases for people on certain government watch lists.

Gun legislation has moved to the top of the US political agenda in the election year after a gunman who claimed allegiance to the so-called "Islamic State" shot up a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 people.

"How many more mothers, how many more fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?" Lewis, a veteran civil rights leader, said from the floor.

"Today we come to the well of the House to dramatize the need for action, not next month, not next year, but today," he said.

By late afternoon, 168 House Democrats and 34 Senate Democrats had joined the protest in front of the speaker's podium. Some sat in seats, others sat on the ground.

"No bill, no break," the Democrats shouted, referring to the legislative break next week.

The protest forced the Republican-led House to go into recess.

"The House cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair," said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan said on Wednesday that Democrats were engaging in a publicity stunt.

"They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person's constitutionally guaranteed rights without ... due process," Ryan said in an interview with CNN. "We don't agree with that. The Senate already doesn't agree with that.... This is a publicity stunt."

The House speaker said the the lower chamber was waiting to see if any compromise comes out of the Senate before proceeding with a vote on gun legislation.

Bipartisan legislation could reach the Senate floor later this week, after four pieces of separate gun legislation failed to muster support on Monday.

Gun control is a hot button political issue in Congress, which hasn't passed significant gun legislation since 1994. Republicans and the powerful National Rifle Association view any gun legislation as infringing on the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Legislation prohibiting people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns is opposed by Republicans on the grounds that nearly one million people are on the list, many for no justifiable reason.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would allow a vote on possible compromise legislation that would prevent about 100,000 people on the government's no-fly and other surveillance lists from purchasing firearms.

C-SPAN, which broadcasts House and Senate legislative affairs, was forced to cut coverage after Republicans cut the cameras. The non-profit independent channel does not control the cameras and relies on legislative leaders.

C-SPAN turned to Democratic lawmakers, who shared video though social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Periscope to cover the unfolding events.

EU referendum: Pound hits lowest level since 1985
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

ETX trading floorTraders have been working through the night

The value of the pound has fallen dramatically as it emerged that the UK had voted to leave the EU.

At one stage it hit $1.3305, a fall of more than 10%, and a low not seen since 1985.

Before the results started to come in, the pound had risen as high as $1.50, as traders bet on a Remain victory.

But following early strong Leave votes in north-east England it tumbled to $1.43 and then took another dive after 03:00 BST as Leave maintained its lead.

The move in sterling is the biggest one-day fall ever seen and London' main share index, the FTSE 100, is expected to open sharply lower, with indications of a fall of around 7%.

Against the euro, the pound dropped 7% to around €1.2085.

The euro also fell 3.3% against the dollar, its biggest one-day fall since the currency's inception.

Currency traders say these moves are more extreme than those seen during the financial crisis of 2008.

"Never seen anything like it. These are once-in-a-lifetime moves, bigger than Lehmans and Black Wednesday, and we haven't even had the result yet," said Joe Rundle, head of trading at ETX Capital.

"It's worth noting that trading desks are not fully staffed and these are only the initial reactions," he added.

"We're waiting for the big money to crank into action over the coming days and even weeks, which will likely exert further downward pressure on sterling."

Around midnight sterling had risen to $1.50 after leading Leave campaigner Nigel Farage said it looked as though Remain had "edged" the vote.

But those gains were short lived as the first results showed surprisingly strong votes to leave the EU.

As for shares, the markets are pointing to a 8% slump when the FTSE 100 opens on Friday.

'Nervous moves'

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 share index has fallen by more than 8% with the yen up 5% as investors piled into the Japanese currency, which is seen as a safe-haven.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) said it stood ready to supply money to the markets if necessary.

"The BoJ, in close co-operation with relevant domestic and foreign authorities, will continue to carefully monitor how the (British referendum) would affect global financial markets," the Bank's governor Haruhiko Kuroda said in a statement.

Japan's finance minister Taro Aso said he was ready to respond to movements on the currency market if necessary to prevent "extremely nervous moves".

A increase in the value of the Japanese yen hurts the country's exporting companies.

In commodities, the price of gold jumped nearly 7% to $1,348.27 an ounce.

Top four pound moves post World War II

Lehman Brothers sign

  • 1971 Pound moves 3.4% after Nixon Shock -- cancellation of the direct international convertibility of the United States dollar to gold.
  • 1 November 1978 4.3% "Winter of discontent" shakes global investors confidence in UK's economy.
  • 16 September 1992 4.29% when the UK exited the exchange rate mechanism.
  • 20 Jan 2009 - Pound slides 3.9% at the peak of the financial crisis following the demise of Lehman Brothers.

Source Bank of New York Mellon

Dozens Wounded As Masked Man Opens Fire At Cinema Complex In Western Germany
2016-Jun-24 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Dozens Wounded As Masked Man Opens Fire At Cinema Complex In Western Germany

An armed man has opened fire at a cinema complex in western Germany, Bild newspaper has reported. Several people have been wounded.

The man, wearing a disguise and a cartridge belt around his shoulder, entered the Kinopolis in Viernheim at around 3pm local time.

He has reportedly barricaded himself inside the premises.

Between 20 and 50 people have been wounded, according to the Darmstadter Echo.

Indonesia president visits islands in disputed waters
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

Picture of Natuna fishermenMost people living on the islands are fishermen and farmers

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has visited the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea, amid an ongoing maritime rights dispute with China.

The visit, aboard a warship, comes a week after the Indonesian navy fired on a Chinese fishing boat in waters near the islands, detaining the crew.

Mr Widodo was accompanied by his foreign and chief security ministers.

Beijing does not claim the islands but says it has "overlapping claims" in their waters.

Map of South China Sea, showing competing claims, including China's

Indonesia has recently been stepping up its response to Chinese fishing in what it considers its exclusive waters, sending warships to back up coast guard vessels that have previously struggled to enforce territorial exclusivity.

"In the course of our history, we've never been this stern [with China]," Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told The Jakarta Post newspaper.

The region is bracing for increased tension over an expected ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague over complaints brought by The Philippines against China and its claims and activities in the South China Sea.

European Union referendum: UK goes to the polls
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

Polling station in London

Voting is under way in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave.

A record 46,499,537 people are entitled to take part, according to provisional figures from the Electoral Commission.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 BST and will close at 22:00 BST.

It is only the third nationwide referendum in UK history and comes after a four-month battle for votes between the Leave and Remain campaigns.

In common with other broadcasters, the BBC is limited in what it can report while polls are open but you can follow the results as they come in across the BBC after polls close on Thursday evening.

The referendum ballot paper asks the following question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.

The weather forecast for polling day is mixed.

There have been thunderstorms in London and south-east England which caused flooding overnight.

David and Samantha CameronPrime Minister David Cameron cast his vote in London with wife Samantha

Polling station in EssexPolling stations are open until 22:00 BST

Sunshine and heavy showers are forecast for Northern Ireland and Scotland but it is set to be drier and brighter elsewhere.

After the referendum polls close, sealed ballot boxes will be collected and transported to the count venue for each of the 382 local counting areas.

These represent all 380 local government areas in England, Scotland and Wales, plus one each for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

Results from these areas will then be declared throughout the night, along with result totals from 11 nations and regions.

Depending on how close the poll is, the result may become clear before the final national result is officially declared by the Chief Counting Officer, who will be based at Manchester Town Hall.

The Electoral Commission estimates a final result "around breakfast time" on Friday.

The last nationwide referendum took place five years ago, when voters rejected an attempt to change the way MPs are elected.

The first one was in 1975, when the country was asked whether the UK should continue to be a member of what was then called the European Economic Community.

Abortion demand 'soars' amid Zika fear
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

Baby born with small brain

Fears over the Zika virus have contributed to a "huge" increase in the number of women in Latin America wanting abortions, researchers say.

Estimates suggest there has been at least a doubling in requests in Brazil and an increase of a third in other countries.

Many governments have advised women not to get pregnant due to the risk of babies being born with tiny brains.

The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A termination remains illegal in many parts of Latin America, but women simply turn to unofficial providers.

Women on Web, which advises women online and then delivers pills to end a pregnancy, is one of the largest.

The researchers analysed the thousands of requests received by Women on Web in the five years before the Pan American Health Organization issued its warning on Zika on 17 November 2015.

It used this to predict how many abortion requests would have been expected between 17 November 2015 and 1 March 2016.

The analysis of countries that advised against getting pregnant suggested Brazil and Ecuador had had more than twice the expected demand for abortions.

Country Expected Actual Increase
Brazil 582 1210 +108%
Colombia 102 141 +39%
Costa Rica 49 67 +36%
El Salvador 18 24 +36%
Ecuador 34 71 +108%
Honduras 21 36 +76%
Venezuela 45 86 +93%

Analysis from other countries, which did not advise against pregnancy, suggested smaller increases in abortion demand.

One woman from Peru told Women on Web: "I'm very concerned, I'm two months pregnant and in my country Zika has been detected.

"We are all very alarmed and I do not want have a sick baby, please, I do not want to continue my pregnancy because it is very dangerous."

Another from Venezuela said: "I contracted Zika four days ago.

"I love children, but I don't believe it is a wise decision to keep a baby who will suffer. I need an abortion. I don't know who to turn to. Please help me ASAP."

'Tremendous surge'

Dr Catherine Aiken, one of the researchers, from the University of Cambridge, told the BBC News website: "Everywhere governments said, 'Don't get pregnant' and there was Zika transmission, there was a tremendous surge in the number of women taking matters into their own hands.

"There were huge increases in abortions across the region."

Dr Aiken criticised the countries' "very hollow" messages to delay pregnancy that had generated "fear, anxiety and panic with no means to act on it".

Meanwhile Abigail Aiken, an assistant professor from the University of Texas at Austin, said: "Accurate data on the choices pregnant women make in Latin America is hard to obtain.

"If anything, our approach may underestimate the impact of health warning on requests for abortion, as many women may have used an unsafe method or visited local underground providers."

Prof Jimmy Whitworth, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the report "agrees with what I have heard informally from several sources in Latin America about increased interest in finding out more, and in making requests for abortions".

He told the BBC: "This apparent increase in making requests for abortion looks plausible and is not surprising given the situation with the epidemic and societal pressures."

Solar Impulse on course to complete Atlantic crossing in Spain
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

Solar ImpulseThe plane has made swift progress across the Atlantic

The zero-fuel aeroplane, Solar Impulse, has entered Spanish airspace with the aim of landing in Seville to complete its Atlantic crossing.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard will bring the craft down around sunrise if local air traffic controllers give the all-clear.

The Swiss adventurer has made swift progress over the ocean since leaving New York on Monday.

The current flight is the 15th stage in Solar Impulse's bid to circumnavigate the globe.

Once in Seville, mission managers will plot a route to Abu Dhabi where the venture began in March, 2015.

The project had hoped to end the Atlantic leg in Paris, to echo the pioneering flight in 1927 of Charles Lindbergh.

His Spirit of St Louis aircraft was the first to make the solo crossing.

As it turned out, the forecast this week in Paris was for storms, and so Seville was therefore chosen as the safest option.

Solar ImpulseThe previous leg saw a night-time entry into New York

Solar Impulse has moved rapidly around the Earth since renewing its challenge in Hawaii on 21 April.

In 2015, the plane flew eight stages from Abu Dhabi to Kalaeloa, including a remarkable four-day, 21-hour leg over the western Pacific - the longest solo flight in aviation history in terms of the time it took.

But it was damage to its batteries on that stage that forced Solar Impulse to then lay up for 10 months, for repairs and to wait for optimum daylight length in the northern hemisphere to return.

Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse is covered in 17,000 photovoltaic cells.

These either power the vehicle's electric motors directly, or charge its lithium-ion batteries, which sustain the aircraft during the night hours.

The project is not really intended to be a template for the future of aviation, but rather a demonstration of the capabilities of solar power in general.

Mr Piccard shares the flying duties with his business partner, Andre Borschberg.

The former Swiss air force pilot will take charge for the next leg, across the Mediterranean.

Setting off from Seville will be easier than from Paris in this respect, said project team-member Yves Andre Fasel who liaises with air traffic control.

"If we would have arrived in Paris like we wished, it would have been very complicated because we would have had to cross a lot of air traffic controls.

"From Seville, if we go along North Africa, I don't think there will be a lot of difficulties - from traffic. The difficulties will be more to do with military reasons and things like that."

Plane graphic


LEG 1: 9 March. Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Muscat (Oman) - 772km; 13 Hours 1 Minute

LEG 2: 10 March. Muscat (Oman) to Ahmedabad (India) - 1,593km; 15 Hours 20 Minutes

LEG 3: 18 March. Ahmedabad (India) to Varanasi (India) - 1,170km; 13 Hours 15 Minutes

LEG 4: 18 March. Varanasi (India) to Mandalay (Myanmar) - 1,536km; 13 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 5: 29 March. Mandalay (Myanmar) to Chongqing (China) - 1,636km; 20 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 6: 21 April. Chongqing (China) to Nanjing (China) - 1,384km; 17 Hours 22 Minutes

LEG 7: 30 May. Nanjing (China) to Nagoya (Japan) - 2,942km; 1 Day 20 Hours 9 Minutes

LEG 8: 28 June. Nagoya (Japan) to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) - 8,924km; 4 Days 21 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 9: 21 April. Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) to Mountain View, California (US) - 4,523km; 2 Days 17 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 10: 2 May. Mountain View, California (US) to Phoenix, Arizona (US) - 1,199km; 15 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 11: 12 May. Phoenix, Arizona (US) to Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) - 1,570 km; 18 Hours 10 Minutes

LEG 12: 21 May. Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) to Dayton, Ohio (US) - 1,113 km; 16 Hours 34 Minutes

LEG 13: 25 May. Dayton, Ohio (US) to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) - 1,044 km; 16 Hours 47 Minutes

LEG 14: 11 June. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) to New York (US) - 230km; 4 Hours 41 Minutes

LEG 15: 20 June. New York (US) to Seville (Spain)

South Korea's Kia tops US car quality ranking
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

Kia car

South Korean car maker Kia has come top in a closely watched US car quality ranking, edging out the luxury brands that usually claim the crown.

It is the first time that a non-premium brand has come first in the annual study by consultancy J.D. Power.

The survey of more than 80,000 car buyers found that Kia had the fewest problems in the first 90 days, followed by Porsche, Hyundai, Toyota and BMW.

Worst performers were Daimler's Smart, Fiat, Volvo, Land Rover and Mini.

In the ranking of 33 cars brands, 21 saw an improvement over the past year.

The study also showed that for only the second time in the past 30 years, US brands received better marks collectively than foreign cars.

J.D. Power said that in past years, electronic features such as Bluetooth, voice recognition and touch screens had often been prone to glitches dragging down the results and that this year carmakers had managed to improve their reliability.

Together with its affiliate Hyundai Motor, Kia is the world's fifth largest automaker by sales.

Nigeria Boko Haram: Scores of refugees starved to death - MSF
2016-Jun-23 | By Sihara Colombage

A screengrab taken on 13 July 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (C).Boko Haram frequently attacks villages, forcing people to flee their homes

Nearly 200 refugees fleeing Boko Haram militants have starved to death over the past month in Bama, Nigeria, the medical charity MSF says.

A "catastrophic humanitarian emergency" is unfolding at a camp it visited where 24,000 people have taken refuge.

Many inhabitants are traumatised and one in five children is suffering from acute malnutrition, MSF says.

The Islamist group's seven-year rebellion has left 20,000 people dead and more than two million displaced.

Nigeria's military has carried out a large-scale offensive against them but Boko Haram still attacks villages in the north-east, destroying homes and burning down wells.

Displaced people in Bama say new graves are appearing on a daily basis, according to a statement from MSF.

It quoted inhabitants as saying about 30 people died every day due to hunger or illness.

Although the area has been unsafe to travel through, MSF says one of its teams reached Bama on Tuesday.

It went in with a military convoy from the city of Maiduguri in Borno state.

"This is the first time MSF has been able to access Bama, but we already know the needs of the people there are beyond critical," said Ghada Hatim, MSF head of mission in Nigeria.

"We are treating malnourished children in medical facilities in Maiduguri and see the trauma on the faces of our patients who have witnessed and survived many horrors," he said.

Lightning in Indian states 'kills 79'
2016-Jun-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne

India monsoonIndia receives 80% of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season

At least 79 people have been killed by lightning strikes in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, officials say.

Fifty three people died in Bihar. Ten people were killed in the eastern state of Jharkhand, and at least 16 died in Madhya Pradesh.

Most of the people who died were working on farms during torrential rains on Tuesday, reports said.

Lightning strikes are common in India during heavy monsoon rains.

In Bihar, the deaths occurred in Nalanda, Aurangabad, Rohtas, Purnea, Munger, Gaya, Saharsa, Bhagalpur, Banka and Kaimur.

At least 2,000 people have died in lightning strikes in India every year since 2005, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

India receives 80% of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season, which runs between June and September.

Safety tips when lightning strikes

  • Seek shelter inside a large building or a car
  • Get out of wide, open spaces and away from exposed hilltops
  • If you have nowhere to shelter, make yourself as small a target as possible by crouching down with your feet together, hands on knees and head tucked in
  • Do not shelter beneath tall or isolated trees
  • If you are on water, get to the shore and off wide, open beaches as quickly as possible
Could Australia swing the UK’s EU vote?
2016-Jun-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Vote card for the EU referendum1.2 million British nationals live in Australia and many are eligible to vote in the UK referendum on EU membership

Australians sending in postal votes for the upcoming UK referendum on European Union membership could have considerable influence on the result, writes Julian Lorkin.

Fresh from Australia's success at Eurovision - when contestant Dami Im came in second - many Australian residents are about to cast a much more important vote on Europe and its future.

Anyone with a British passport who lives Down Under is eligible to participate in the UK's referendum on exiting the EU if they have registered to vote in the past 15 years.

With 1.2 million British nationals in Australia, and 250,000 in New Zealand, both the stay and leave camps are in full campaign mode half a world away from the UK. Southern hemisphere votes have the potential to swing the knife-edge referendum.

Posters supporting both sides have sprouted in areas popular with UK residents. In some locations, such as Perth, up to 15% of the population was born in England.

The referendum vote is optional. As a result there has been a strong campaign just urging voters to post their ballot slips back from Australia.

"Expat conversations swirl around it," says the Guardian's cartoonist David Squires. He is a household name in Britain, even though he migrated to Australia several years ago. "I'm just overloaded trying to work out the issues and the timing is woeful - the vote comes right after Eurovision, just before the Australian general election - and with all the noise of the US election too."

He feels that it's odd to have a postal vote when he has essentially left the UK behind. "I really shouldn't have a vote. I'm an ex-pat who has migrated - almost the opposite as to what the vote is about. It's great for comedy though."

Some expats have been incorrectly told they need to pay to return their postal vote, which uses the free International Business Reply Service (IBRS).

Post offices have asked for up to A$68 (£32) to courier votes. The UK's Electoral Commission told the BBC in a statement it was working closely with postal operators to correct misunderstandings.

A pounding for the pound?

Expats are also closely watching the sterling and the Australian dollar, among the world's most-traded and most-volatile currency pairs. The value of the pound has recently veered between A$1.50 and A$3. At its last meeting the Reserve Bank of Australia deferred changing interest rates ahead of the Brexit vote, calling it a "near-term risk" with considerable implications for the Australian dollar.

"Sterling could take a pounding with a Brexit," confirms Australian business commentator Ross Greenwood. He has spoken to many business leaders in the UK about the impact of a Brexit.

A campaign poster hangs on a pole in the beachside Sydney suburb of Maroubra, where many British expats liveA campaign poster hangs on a pole in the beachside Sydney suburb of Maroubra, where many British expats live

"Mind you, the pound dropping would make the UK's exports more competitive, giving a boon to UK tourism. Aussies would queue at Kingsford Smith [Sydney's airport] keen to get a cheap trip back," he says.

"Hundreds of Australian companies are champing at the bit to get access to Britain. They want a UK Free Trade Agreement on much better terms than Europe.

"Many farmers have been enviously eyeing up their traditional British market for Australian milk, beef and wool. It would build an economic relationship that used to be the cornerstone of the Australian and British partnership."

'Considerable influence'

However, he thinks Australian banks would be very cautious. "Australia's NAB had an ill-fated adventure into UK regional banking, losing millions on Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank. Once bitten, they'd fight shy of jumping in feet-first again."

Although the UK might eye-up Australia, he says, "Down Under is linked now to Korea, Japan and the US. But make no mistake; a newly independent UK would be welcomed with open arms by trade delegations from Canberra."

However, Annmarie Elijah, from the ANU Centre for European Studies, urges caution. "The UK and Australia cannot dig the UK-Australia Trade Agreement [UKATA] out of the bottom drawer, dust it off and carry on."

Creating a new trade agreement would take time. "There is no reason to think that Australia would be top of the UK's prospective trade partners."

Far more British expats live Down Under than elsewhere in the world. Only Spain, with 760,000, and the United States at 600,000 come close. As such they will wield considerable influence over whether the UK stays in the EU.

And Ross Greenwood, whose parents are from the UK, says one other thing might change with a Brexit - the EU passport queues. "It might also heal the small hurt that Aussies of British parentage feel, when they have to queue in the non-UK, non-EU passport line at Heathrow."

India launches 20 satellites in single mission
2016-Jun-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Panoramic View of Fully integrated PSLV-C34 with all the 20 Spacecrafts being moved to second launch pad (SLThe rocket carrying 20 satellites was launched from the Sriharikota space centre

India has successfully launched 20 satellites in a single mission, the most in the history of the country's ambitious space programme.

They include satellites belonging to the United States, Canada, Germany and Indonesia.

The launch took place from the Sriharikota space centre off India's east coast.

Observers say it is a sign that India is emerging as a major player in the multi-billion dollar space market.

The record for the most number of satellites launched in a single mission belongs to the US space agency, Nasa, which sent up 29 satellites three years ago.

As scientists and government ministers kept a close watch, the rocket carrying 20 satellites blasted off from the launch facility.

The payload included devices ranging in weight from more than 700kg to as little as 1.5kg.

They include an Indian cartographic satellite as well as those belonging to the country's universities and international customers - 13 satellites are from the US, including one made by a Google-owned company.

Significant moment

It is a significant moment for India's ambitious space programme which has recorded a number of achievements including sending probes to the moon and Mars.

Launching several satellites in a single mission reduces cost and India has been positioning itself as a key player in the lucrative international commercial space market as an effective but low cost operator, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi.

The chairman of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Kiran Kumar told the NDTV news channel that launching 20 satellites in a single mission was like "allowing birds to fly in space".

"Each of these small objects that you are putting into space will carry out their own activity, which is independent of the other, and each of them will live a wonderful life for the finite period for which they have been designed," he said, ahead of the launch.

North Korea test-fires missiles in defiance of UN sanctions
2016-Jun-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne

A man in Seoul watches a TV report about North Korea's missile launch (31 May 2016)Four recent North Korean missile launches - such as this one last month - are said to have failed

North Korea has test-fired two mid-range ballistic missiles from its eastern coast, says South Korea.

The first launch was considered to have failed, travelling about 150km (90 miles) before landing in the sea.

The second, launched hours later, flew about 400km. Military officials in the South said both were intermediate-range Musudan missiles.

A confirmed successful test would mark a step forward for North Korea after four failed launches in recent months.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Seoul and the US were "carrying out an in-depth analysis" of the second launch, and did not say whether it was considered a success.

North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons, is banned by UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology.

South Korea's presidential office announced that it would hold a national security meeting to discuss the launch.

Analysis: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul

North Korea has tested these medium range missiles six times now in three months. Outside experts and intelligence agencies believe the first five launches were certainly failures, but aren't sure about the sixth (today's second launch).

It seems to have gone about 400km (250 miles), far short of its maximum range. That may be because it failed or it may be because a decision was taken not to send it over Japan which had said it would shoot any missile down.

So why is North Korea conducting tests so frequently?

Some Western scientists say that the more conventional way of testing is to conduct the test, and if it fails, to go away and work out why before trying again some months or even a year later.

If this steady method over a long period isn't being followed by North Korea, it may be because of intense pressure from the top, a pressure the scientists on the ground will no doubt feel.

'Provocative actions'

The US State Department has strongly condemned the launches, with spokesman John Kirby saying the tests would only increase efforts to stop North Korea's weapons programme.

A Musudan missile on display at a military parade in North Korea (2010)North Korea has yet to conduct a full flight test of a Musudan missile

"We intend to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding [North Korea] accountable for these provocative actions," said Mr Kirby in a statement.

North American Defense Command (Norad), which tracked the missiles, determined they did not pose a threat to North American territories.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said such tests "clearly cannot be tolerated".

The Musudan is believed to have a range of about 3,000km (1,800 miles), enough for it to hit South Korea, Japan and the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific.

An underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile is pictured in this undated photo released by North KoreaSouth Korea's presidential office has announced that it would hold a national security meeting to discuss the launch

North Korea is thought to have dozens of them but has never successfully tested one.

The four other missiles tested in the last two months either exploded mid-air or crashed.

Surrounding countries had detected preparations for a launch in the past few days and warned that it was about to happen.

The Musudan missile

  • The Musudan, also known as the Nodong-B or the Taepodong-X is an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
  • Estimates differ dramatically on its range, with Israeli intelligence putting it at 2,500km and the US Missile Defense Agency estimating about 3,200km. Other sources put its upper limit at 4,000km.
  • The lower range of the Musudan will enable it to hit the whole of South Korea and Japan. At its upper range it would be able to target US military bases on Guam.
  • Its payload is unknown, but is estimated at 1.0-1.25 tonnes, according to AFP news agency.
Rio 2016: Jaguar in Amazon torch relay shot dead
2016-Jun-22 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The jaguar had been used during an Olympic torch ceremony at the zoo

A jaguar has been shot dead shortly after it was used in an Olympic torch relay at a zoo in the Brazilian city of Manaus, the army said.

The female jaguar escaped its handlers after the ceremony on Monday and attacked a soldier, a spokesman said.

Four tranquiliser darts failed to stop it and a soldier shot it with a pistol.

Organisers for the Rio Games said it had been a mistake to exhibit the Olympic torch next to a chained wild animal.

Animal rights groups have condemned the killing, with some questioning why the animal was involved in the Olympic event.

"When will we learn? Wild animals held captive and forced to do things that are frightening, sometimes painful, and always unnatural are ticking time bombs," Brittany Peet, director of captive animal law enforcement at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in a statement.

Brazilian physiotherapist Igor Simoes Andrade poses for picture next to jaguar Juma as he takes part in the Olympic Flame torch relay in Manaus, Brazil, 20 June 2016.Rio 2016 organisers promised there would be no more such incidents

The animal, called Juma, had been raised in the zoo in the Amazon since it was a cub along with half-a-dozen siblings.

The Olympic torch is relayed through Brazil leading up to the August opening ceremony.

Jordanian troops killed in bomb attack at Syria border
2016-Jun-21 | By Sihara Colombage

Jordanian soldiers guarding the Jordan-Syria at Rukban (10 September 2015)Jordan deployed soldiers to guard the makeshift camp for Syrian refugees at Rukban

Six Jordanian security personnel have been killed and 14 hurt in a car bomb attack near a makeshift refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border, officials say.

The attack took place at about 05:30 (02:30 GMT) in the remote Rukban area, a few hundred metres from the camp.

A number of other "hostile" vehicles were destroyed.

It is not yet clear who carried out the attack, but the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has threatened in the past to "break down" Jordan's borders.

The kingdom is part of the US-led coalition against IS and has carried out air strikes on militants in Syria.

'Criminal act'

Tuesday's attack, the first of its kind since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, saw an explosives-laden vehicle blown up beside a military post.

Map showing locations of Rukban and Hadalat

The blast left four border guards and two personnel from the Civil Defence and Public Security Department dead, a military statement said.

"Such criminal act will only add to our unshaken determination to fight terrorism and terrorists' ideologies regardless of their motives," it added.

Earlier this month, Jordanian intelligence service officers and two other employees were killed in a Palestinian refugee camp near the capital, Amman, in what the government said was a terrorist attack.

The Rukban camp is located beside an earthen berm in the desert, about 8km (5 miles) west of the point at which the Iraq, Syria, and Jordan borders meet.

Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rukban refugee camp after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families (21 June 2016)Activists say thousands of Syrians are stranded at the border in deplorable conditions

The rocky area is devoid of shade, water or vegetation and is far from any towns.

Aid workers say more than 50,000 refugees are stranded at the camp, living in deplorable conditions while awaiting entry to Jordan.

UN satellite analysts mapped more than 6,400 probable shelters in the area in late April.

The Jordanian authorities currently only allow in about 50 to 100 refugees each day, citing security concerns.

Satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe showing Rukban Syrian refugee encampment on the Jordan-Syria border (23 May 2016)This satellite image from May shows shelters at Rukban camp, on the Syria-Jordan border

Many of the refugees are believed to have fled areas controlled by IS in eastern Homs province and neighbouring Raqqa, where forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have made gains in the past year with the support of Russian air strikes.

Thousands of other refugees are stranded at another tented camp on the border at Hadalat, about 90km west of Rukban, where the UN mapped 1,900 shelters.

The UN acknowledged in December that Jordan had legitimate security concerns, but called on the country to allow all the refugees at the two camps to enter.

Jordan is hosting 655,000 of the 4.84 million Syrians registered as refugees with the UN.

The government says more than one million other Syrians are living there, including those who arrived before the uprising against Mr Assad began.

Australian Paralympian robbed at gunpoint in Rio
2016-Jun-21 | By Sihara Colombage

Paralympian Liesl TeschParalympian Liesl Tesch has warned athletes to be cautious during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio

An Australian athlete who has competed in six Paralympic Games has been robbed at gunpoint in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

Liesl Tesch said a man brandishing a gun pushed her off her bicycle and stole it on Sunday.

Australian Paralympic team physiotherapist Sarah Ross also lost her bicycle in the attack.

The Australian Olympic Committee has said Rio must improve security in the city in the aftermath of the robbery.

Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller said: "We're demanding that the level of security forces, which number about 100,000, is reviewed and also we are also asking that they are deployed earlier prior to Games time, especially around training and competition venues.

"It's not an isolated incident. It's got to a point now that steps and measures are taken to ensure that all our team members who go to Rio for the Olympic Games next month are safe."


Tesch, who has won medals in wheelchair basketball and sailing, said athletes needed to be on their guard.

The 47-year-old, who described the incident as "absolutely horrific", said the two men who robbed her and Ms Ross initially demanded money.

When Tesch she told the gunman that she didn't have any money, "he just pushed me on the shoulder with his bare hand and I just fell down on the cobblestones," she told Australia's Seven Network.

Person holds tickets to Rio Olympics sporting eventRio is expecting about 380,000 visitors to come to the city during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in August

The two women were training near Flamengo Beach. Tesch said several people saw the incident but no-one came to their aid.

Brazilian authorities insist that the Olympic and Paralympic Games in August will be safe for athletes and tourists, with 85,000 soldiers and police officers deployed in Rio.

But recent reports have indicated an upswing in crime. Three members of the Spanish Olympics sailing team were robbed at gunpoint while walking through the city in May.

Rio State Security Secretary José Beltrame told the Washington Post that a recession and police funding problem had contributed to the issue.

Mr Beltrame said the funding issues were being solved and insisted that Rio was ready to host the Olympics.

Concerns over the Zika virus have also weighed heavily on Rio's Olympic preparations, but authorities insist proper precautions are in place.

Brussels terror alert: No bomb found
2016-Jun-21 | By Sihara Colombage

Picture shows police vehicles outside the City 2 shopping centreThe City 2 shopping centre is in central Brussels

A man has been arrested amid an anti-terror operation sparked by a bomb alert at a shopping centre in Brussels, authorities say.

The man called police earlier in the morning and said he was wearing explosives, Belgian media report.

Several reports citing security services now say that no explosives were found on him.

Streets around the City 2 shopping centre have been closed off and a bomb disposal unit is at the scene.

"For the moment, the situation is under control," Prime Minister Charles Michel said after a meeting the national crisis response centre, according to the Le Soir daily.

He said security services remained "extremely vigilant".

Belgium's terror alert level remains at three, one step down from a maximum level of four.

City 2 tightened security measures last week in response to media reports of a heightened threat to shopping centres based on an internal police memo, Le Soir reports.

Bomb attacks on Brussels airport and the city's metro killed 32 people in March and were claimed by the Islamic State group.

Greece, UK and Israel help tackle deadly forest fire in Cyprus
2016-Jun-21 | By Sihara Colombage

A helicopter drops water on a forest fire in the village of Eyrixou in the Troodos mountain area, Cyprus, 20 June 2016.The difficult terrain, high temperatures and shifting winds are making firefighting efforts difficult

Aircraft from Greece, the UK and Israel have joined efforts in Cyprus to tackle one of the country's largest forest fires in years.

The blaze, in the Troodos mountain region, has been spread by strong winds and high temperatures.

The Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, said damage caused by the fire was a tragedy for rural communities.

One firefighter died after being crushed when his truck overturned.

It was the first fatality among firefighters for years in Cyprus, which suffers frequent forest fires during its hot summer months.

The operation to battle the fire is due to continue on Tuesday morning, but most of it is under control.

Yulin dog meat festival begins in China amid widespread criticism??
2016-Jun-21 | By Sihara Colombage

Dogs are seen in cages for sale at a market ahead of a dog meat festival in Yulin in south China"s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Monday, June 20, 2016The festival sees people gather to have dog meat hotpot, fruit lychees and liquor

An annual dog meat festival has begun in southern China, amid widespread domestic and international opposition.

About 10,000 dogs and cats are expected to be killed and eaten during the controversial 10-day festival in Yulin.

Activists say the event is cruel, and this year a petition calling for it to be banned collected 11 million signatures.

The local government says the festival does not have official backing but is staged by private businesses.

What is the festival about?

The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival sees people gathering in Yulin to sample dog meat hotpot, lychee fruits and local liquor.

A tradition of eating dog meat dates back some 500 years in China, South Korea and other countries, where many believe it wards off the heat in summer months.

However the Yulin festival, celebrated during the summer solstice, is a relatively new one, beginning only in recent years.

What happens to the animals?

A vendor waits for buyers beside dogs for sale at a market in Yulin city, southern ChinaDogs come from as far as 1,000 miles away and are sometimes denied food and water for days during their trip, activists say

Residents and vendors in Yulin say the animals are killed in a humane way. But critics say animals are killed brutally and publicly, and are sometimes beaten to death or cooked while still alive.

Ahead of the festival, dogs are often kept in small, cramped cages. Some photographs show animals wearing collars, suggesting they may have been stolen pets.

Many dogs are transported from other cities in cramped lorries and unsanitary conditions, allowing diseases to spread easily. According to campaign group Stop Yulin Forever, dogs are denied food and water for days during their trip.

Does the festival have popular support?

People eating dog meat at a restaurant in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi region (9 May 2016)Many people travel to Yulin from other cities to take part in the festival

Selling dog meat for human consumption is legal in China, with an estimated 10 million dogs killed for human consumption every year.

The Yulin event is a source of pride for many locals, with many restaurants serving dog dishes and people travelling to the city to join in. But it attracts widespread and growing criticism each year.

A poll published this week in state media Xinhua showed that 64% of people aged 16 to 50 would support a permanent end to the festival.

Another 51.%, including Yulin residents, wanted the dog meat trade banned completely, with 69.5% claiming to have never eaten dog meat.

"It's embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture," said Qin Xiaona, director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, one of many groups that commissioned the survey. "It isn't."

Many activist groups, like Humane Society International (HSI) are also working to rescue dogs from local slaughterhouses. The HSI rescued 20 dogs from a slaughterhouse just a day ahead of the festival.

"It's shocking to think that if we had not been there, all these animals would have been beaten to death and eaten," said Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist.

On China's Sina Weibo social network, the majority of netizens have voiced disapproval, with one user saying his dog was "family, not food".

My dog is almost ten years old and is like my family, writes this Weibo user"My dog is almost ten years old and is like my family", writes this Weibo user

However, another Weibo user said it was hypocritical to say that eating other forms of meat such as pork was alright, yet shun dog meat just because dogs "were cute".

Have the protests had any impact?

The Yulin government has distanced itself from the gathering, saying that it does not officially organise the festival.

This year, media reports say officials have banned the slaughter of dogs in public. In anticipation of protests, they have also increased security on streets near well-known restaurants and markets.

Animal rights advocates hold protest signs outside the Yulin government office in Beijing, Friday, June 10, 2016.Some activists say there is little chance of a stop to the festival

HSI says it believes that business is slowing down.

"A Yulin official told us that contrary to what has been reported in some media, dog meat sales have in fact been declining continuously," said Mr Li. "The authorities seem nervous and are alerting government employees to stay away from the dog meat restaurants."

Andrea Gung, founder of the Duo Duo project which aims to end the dog and cat meat trade, says the local government is aware of the problem, but no one wants to "stick their neck out" to stop it.

However, one dog meat seller said that the opposition to the festival had actually backfired.

"Because of the protests, more people know that Yulin has a dog meat festival, so everyone comes and tries it," Lin told AFP.

Suicide attack on minibus in Kabul kills at at least 14
2016-Jun-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Police and fire fighters are seen at the site of a blast in Kabul June 20, 2016.Authorities said security guards from a foreign company were on board the minibus

A suicide attack on a minibus in Kabul has killed at least 14 people and injured several more, authorities said.

The bus, which was said to be carrying Nepalese security guards, was on a road to the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The attacker, who was on foot, waited for the bus as it left a compound, police said.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack, the first since the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

"The suicide bomber targeted a minibus of security guards of a foreign company, right now we are working to identify the nationalities of the victims," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press.

More than two dozen ambulances were present at the scene, according to an AFP witness.

The incident follows a suicide attack on a bus near Kabul last month and an attack on a court in Ghazni in June. Both attacks were claimed by the Taliban in revenge for the execution of six prisoners.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency against the government since 2001. Nato ended its combat mission in December 2014, although about 13,000 training and counter-terrorism troops remain in Afghanistan.

Peace efforts have stalled after the Taliban refused to participate in new talks with the Afghan government until foreign forces had left the country.

Donald Trump Mulls Increased Racial Profiling In Wake Of Orlando Attack
2016-Jun-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Donald Trump Mulls Increased Racial Profiling In Wake Of Orlando Attack

Presumptive US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Sunday that the United States should consider more racial profiling, in the wake of last week's massacre at an Orlando nightclub.

"I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country," Trump told the CBS political talk show "Face the Nation."

"You look at Israel and you look at others, and they do it and they do it successfully. And you know, I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to start using common sense," he said.

Trump sparked criticism for his comments on American Muslims after the Orlando shooting, in which a US-born Muslim man killed 49 people at a gay nightclub. He stood by his call to suspend immigration from countries with "a proven history of terrorism."

Trump had also previously called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to America after a Muslim-American and his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December.

US Muslims, Trump said, should "cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad."

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was born in the US to Afghan immigrant parents.

He had expressed support for the so-called "Islamic State" during the three-hour siege at the Pulse nightclub, but officials believe he was self-radicalized.

Trump said in the interview that there were "red flags" around Mateen, who had been investigated by the FBI but not arrested. He also called for increased scrutiny of mosques.

"If you go to France right now, they're doing it in France. In fact, in some instances they're closing down mosques," he said.

Some mosques in France were closed in the wake of the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Trump roundly criticized

Trump's proposals have been criticized by Democrats as well as Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Civil libertarians, Muslims and others also have strongly disagreed, arguing profiling is unconstitutional and constitutes unlawful discrimination based on race, religion and other factors.

Meanwhile, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an interview that law enforcement should remain allied with groups that might have helpful information,

"It is very important for to us maintain our contacts within the Muslim community, because, often, individuals, if they're from that community and they're being radicalized, their friends and family members will see it first. They will see activity first. And we want that information to come to us," Lynch told CNN's "State of Union."

Deadly Floods Wreak Havoc Across Indonesia
2016-Jun-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Deadly Floods Wreak Havoc Across Indonesia

A deadly mix of flash flooding and landslides in Central Java on Sunday left at least 24 people dead and 26 others missing, Indonesia's disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

"Rescue operations are still underway to search for other victims, while dozens of houses are damaged and buried in the landslide and thousands of homes are inundated," Nugroho said in a statement.

Torrential rain on Saturday triggered the unexpected flooding across the province, causing deadly landslides. In one instance, a mud avalanche buried five people in their homes as it swept across a village.

In another district, "a huge landslide struck the cars and people on the street. Nine bodies were retrieved," Nugroho added.

The country's disaster mitigation agency sent five emergency rescue teams to assist regional bodies in searching for survivors and evacuating victims.

Authorities erected temporary shelters to house those fleeing the natural disaster.

"Purworejo district is the hardest hit with the most people killed in numerous villages in the district," Nugroho said.

The vast tropical archipelago is especially prone to landslides caused by extreme weather.

In 2014, over 70 people went missing after a mudslide buried 105 houses in the village of Jemblung in Central Java.

Rome Elects First Female Mayor
2016-Jun-20 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Rome Elects First Female Mayor

Rome elected its first female mayor in local elections on Sunday, a victory that will provide the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement with a platform to pursue its policies and momentum its leaders believe will turn it into Italy's main opposition force.

Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer and local councilor, was widely expected to win in the capital, but the 62 to 66 percent support predicted by exit polls signaled a squashing defeat for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD).

The PD looked set to secure the country's financial capital, Milan, by a slim margin, but 5-Star was predicted to win in Turin, a traditional bastion of PD support. In the country's third largest city, Naples, the independent former magistrate Luigi de Magistris was heading to victory over a center-right opponent. The PD maintained control of Bologna.

Setback for Renzi

The election results are a setback for Renzi, coming just four months ahead of a referendum on constitutional reforms on which he has staked his political future. The prime minister has sought to downplay the local elections and their impact on national politics.

Raggi campaigned against corruption and poor services in the capital, where the city administration has been ensnarled in several scandals.

Dozens of former city officials and business leaders have been on trial since last November in a case known as "Mafia Capitale." They are accused of corruption and other behavior that has led to millions of euros being removed from the administration.

Some 8.6 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's runoff elections. The votes were held in 126 towns and cities where no candidate had secured a majority of the vote in the first round of polling on June 5.

UK astronaut Tim Peake returns to Earth
2016-Jun-19 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Tim PeakeAfter exiting the capsule, Tim Peake said the "smells of Earth are just so strong"

UK astronaut Tim Peake is back on Earth after a historic six-month stay on the International Space Station.

A Soyuz capsule carrying Major Peake and two other crew members touched down in Kazakhstan at 10:15 BST.

He called the journey back "the best ride I've been on ever", adding: "The smells of Earth are just so strong."

Maj Peake is the first person to fly to space under the UK banner since Helen Sharman in 1991 and made the first spacewalk by a UK astronaut.

During the 186-day mission mission, Maj Peake also remotely steered a robot on Earth and ran the London Marathon.

Just before 15:00 BST, Maj Peake landed by helicopter on the runway at Karagandy airport. 

But neither he nor his American colleague Tim Kopra made it to the subsequent press conference. They were presumed to be tired after their gruelling return journey.

Later on Saturday, a Nasa gulfstream jet is due to fly Tim Peake to Norway. He will then go on to Cologne, Germany, where the European Astronaut Centre is based.

LandingCameras captured the moment the Soyuz capsule touched down in Kazakhstan

Search and rescue team members roll the Soyuz capsule overThe Soyuz capsule was left charred by the extreme temperatures on the descent

Tim PeakeMaj Peake was helped through the airport at Karagandy in Kazakhstan

His mission has taken him on about 3,000 orbits of Earth, covering a distance of about 125 million km. 

Asked how he felt after landing, Maj Peake said: "Truly elated, the smells of Earth are just so strong, just so good to be back on Earth. I'll look forward to seeing the family."

The spacecraft turned over several times after it landed relatively hard due to the wind speed on the Kazakh steppe. An official from Russia's Yuri Gagarin training centre said this was why they looked "a little green" after coming out of the capsule.

"It is going to be quite tricky for me to adapt. It's probably going to take me two or three days before I feel well," Maj Peake said in his last news conference before the return.

"It will take me several months before my body fully recovers in terms of bone density. And it will be interesting to see any lasting changes to eyesight etc.

"But generally speaking in two or three days I should be fairly comfortable back on Earth."


In 2009, Maj Peake was chosen from a pool of 8,000 applicants to join the European Space Agency (Esa) astronaut training programme, along with five other recruits.

"He's done an amazing job," said the agency's director of human spaceflight, Dr David Parker. "He's exceeded all expectations, certainly in terms of the impact that he's had back in the UK."

On Friday, Colonel Tim Kopra handed over command of the ISS to his Nasa colleague Jeff Williams. 

At about 03:35 BST on Saturday, Maj Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Col Kopra made their farewells and entered the Russian Soyuz TMA-19M space capsule to return home from the International Space Station.

After undocking at 06:53 BST, the Soyuz performed two separation burns to distance the spacecraft from the orbiting outpost.

The vehicle then fired its engines again at 09:22 for a duration of four-and-a-half minutes to begin the re-entry through the atmosphere.

UndockingThe Soyuz capsule undocked from the ISS at 06:53 BST

Soyuz parachuting down to EarthAs the vehicle plummeted to Earth, parachutes opened to further slow its descent

Peake, Malenchenko, KopraThe crew members were carried out of the capsule and placed in chairs to recover

Screaming towards Earth at 25 times the speed of sound, the Soyuz was enveloped in a fiery ball of superheated plasma. During this phase, the crew members inside can be subjected to forces of about 5Gs - a level at which some people pass out.

As it neared the ground, the capsule deployed its parachutes to slow the descent, firing engines to cushion its landing on the steppe, near the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan at 10:15 BST.

Dr Simon Evetts, from the UK's Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, said: "During re-entry, Tim will undergo significant strain on his body and will also feel the effects of his landmark mission for weeks to come. 

"Upon arrival, Tim will feel weaker due to muscle loss and reduced cardiovascular fitness, and will feel heavy in Earth's gravity."

On 15 January this year, just a month after arriving at the station, Maj Peake participated in the first spacewalk for a UK astronaut. He and Tim Kopra set out to change a faulty component on the outside of the ISS, along with other tasks.

They completed the primary goal, but the walk had to be called off early when water began to leak into Col Kopra's helmet - a matter that is still under investigation.

In April, he secured himself to a treadmill on the ISS to run the distance of the London Marathon, completing the event in three hours, 35 minutes.

He also participated in a programme of experiments in medical science, radiation physics and materials.

Italy elections: Rome set to elect first female mayor
2016-Jun-19 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement candidate for the mayoral elections in RomeMs Raggi is seen as a rising start of the Five Star Movement

Rome is set to elect its first female mayor in a run-off vote in municipal elections.

Virginia Raggi, from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, is seen as favourite against Roberto Giachetti of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Her victory would be a blow to Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

His PD party may also lose in Italy's financial capital, Milan, and faces tough battles in Turin and Bologna.

Ms Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer, won 35% of the vote in the first round two weeks ago, against 24% of Mr Giachetti.

Correspondents say a victory in Rome would give Five Star a platform for parliamentary elections due in 2018.

When in Rome shake up the politics

Roberto Giachetti, the Democratic Party (PD) candidate for the mayoral elections in RomeMr Giachetti is the candidate from the Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Renzi

The next mayor of Rome will find a city mired in debts of more than €13bn (£10bn; $15bn) - twice its annual budget.

Romans are frustrated by potholes, piles of rubbish and serious deficiencies in public transport and housing, the BBC's James Reynolds in reports from the Italian capital.

Five Star rise

Five Star, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, campaigned against the corruption that has plagued Italian politics for decades. 

Rome's last mayor, Ignazio Marino of the PD, resigned in October because of an expenses scandal, since when the city has been without a mayor.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during a meeting on 5 MayMr Renzi's image has been affected by the struggling economy after years of austerity measures

A much bigger scandal, involving alleged Mafia influence in Rome city hall, also appears to have fuelled Five Star's rise.

Five Star is looking to establish itself as the main opposition party in general elections due in 2018.

Prime Minister Renzi has staked his political future on an October referendum in which he wants Italians to back far-reaching constitutional reforms. 

The plan is to end Italy's tradition of "revolving-door" governments and inject stability into Italian politics after years of party infighting and legislative logjams.

Canada's parliament passes assisted suicide bill
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during session in Parliament in Ottawa on 31 MaySenators gave in to pressure by Mr Trudeau's Liberal government and approved a more restricted bill

Canada's parliament has passed a contentious bill to allow medically-assisted death for terminally ill people.

The law was put forward after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on doctors helping the incurably sick to die.

The move makes Canada one of the few countries where doctors can legally help sick people die.

But critics say the new legislation is too restrictive.

They argue it will prevent people with degenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, from seeking assisted suicide.

Government officials say the new law is a first step and can be expanded in the future.

The legislation had already passed by the House of Commons and Friday's Senate vote means it now only needs the formality of royal assent from the governor-general to become law.

Some senators were in favour of a much broader law but after weeks of political wrangling they gave in to pressure by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, which had narrowed the scope of the bill.

In a statement, Canada's Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott said the bill struck "the right balance between personal autonomy for those seeking access to medically assisted dying and protecting the vulnerable".

Assisted suicide is currently legal in just a few countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Albania, Colombia and Japan.

The practice is legal in the US states of Washington, California, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana.

Turkey: Istanbul gay pride march banned over 'security' concern
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

A gay couple kisses during the Gay Pride parade on 28 June 2015 in Istanbul.Istanbul's annual gay pride parade had seen little trouble until last year

An annual gay pride march in Istanbul planned for later this month will not be allowed to take place, the Turkish city's authorities have said.

A statement cited "safeguarding security and public order" as the reason for calling off the event.

The order means anyone taking part risks facing intervention by the security forces. 

Organisers of the march have denounced the ban as a "flagrant violation of the constitution and the law". 

They said the city authorities were failing in their duty to protect the rights of citizens to exercise their rights, and that they would launch legal action.

Security in the city is already tight after bombings in recent months blamed on Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish militants.

Earlier this week, an ultra-nationalist youth group, the Alperen Hearths, called those planning to participate in the gay pride event immoral and said it would "stop the march" if it went ahead. 


Last year, Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon at marchers in an attempt to disperse those taking part.

Organisers said permission for last year's event had been refused because it coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as did this year's planned date of 26 June.

Twelve previous gay pride events had taken place annually in Istanbul with little trouble reported. 

Unlike in many Arab countries, homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey but analysts say homophobia remains widespread.

Brazil 'mass rape' video: Seven suspects to be charged
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

Police investigator Cristiana Bento points to a screen during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on 17 JunePolice investigator shows image of the area where the rape took place in a poor Rio community

Six men and a minor are to be charged in Rio de Janeiro with raping a 16-year-old girl and posting pictures and video on the internet, police say.

The lead investigator in the case has sent her conclusions to prosecutors, asking for all of them to be arrested.

The victim said she was doped after going to her boyfriend's house and woke up in a different house, surrounded by 33 men, in May.

The case shocked Brazil and led to protests by women's groups.

It came to light after a 40-second video of the attack, in a poor community in the west of the city was posted on Twitter.

Police investigator Cristiana Bento said one of the main pieces of evidence was the phone with which the recording was made.

The inquiry determined that the victim, now under state protection, was raped in two different incidents, Ms Bento added.

Two of the accused have already been detained, local media said.

They could face up to 15 years in jail for rape, eight years for making the images and six years for sharing them, Ms Bento said.

A new investigation is expected to determine if more people took part in the rape.

The case led to an online campaign against what activists called a culture of rape in Brazil.

Rape in Brazil

  • 47,636 rapes were reported to the police in 2014
  • It is estimated only 35% of rape cases are reported
  • One rape is reported to police in Brazil every 11 minutes
  • Experts say many cases go unreported as victims fear retaliation, shame and blame for the violence they have suffered
IS conflict: Iraqi forces 'retake most' of Falluja
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

Iraqi military vehicles in the centre of Falluja (17 June 2016)Iraqi forces pushed into central Falluja early on Friday after capturing southern and eastern areas

Iraqi government forces have retaken most of the city of Falluja from so-called Islamic State fighters who have held it since 2014, officials say.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said there was "still some fighting to be done" as IS still controls a significant part of the city.

But Iraq's prime minister hailed the day's events as a "liberation".

A senior army spokesperson said he expects IS to "suffer a total breakdown during the next hours".

"The enemy is collapsing. They have lost control of their fighters. They are on the run now," Lt Gen Abdul Ameer al-Shammari said.

Special forces commander Brig Haider al-Obedi told AP that his troops controlled 80% of the city.

Falluja, only 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, has been held by IS for longer than any other city in Iraq or Syria.

They captured it in January 2014.

Iraqi forces said on Friday that they had retaken Falluja's main government compound as well as southern and eastern areas.

They were backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition.

Map of Falluja showing location of city council compound and hospital

Iraqi soldiers walk through central Falluja (17 June 2016)Military commanders said they had faced little resistance from IS

Baghdad Operations Command's head Lt-Gen Abdul Ameer al-Shammari (centre) stands in the centre of Falluja 17/06/2016Lt Gen Abdul Ameer al-Shammari was among those who went into Falluja on Friday

A statement said the Iraqi flag was raised above the city council building after its capture by Counter Terrorism Force troops, police and soldiers.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, said only small numbers of militants remained. Speaking on state TV, he said: "We promised to liberate Falluja, and we took it back. Our brave forces went into Falluja and took control of the city centre. 

"There are still some pockets that need to be cleared in the next few hours". 

"I directed all the government institutions to mobilise all efforts to help civilians and provide humanitarian aid to them."

Mr al-Abadi tweeted that the city had "returned to the nation" and Daesh (another name for Islamic State) would be defeated.

He also said Mosul was "the next battle". The northern city has been under IS control since 2014 and the Iraqi army launched an operation in March aiming to retake it. 

Iraq recaptured the central city of Ramadi from IS in December 2015.

IS overran Falluja, a predominantly Sunni Arab area, in January 2014 - six months before it seized control of large parts of northern and western Iraq.

Government forces launched the offensive to take back Falluja almost four weeks ago, after besieging the city and its suburbs for several months.

Analysis - By Jonathan Marcus, defence and diplomatic correspondent

Falluja's capture would represent a significant blow to IS morale, recruitment and funding. Being a mere 50km west of Baghdad, it might also relieve some pressure on the Iraqi capital as well. 

IS's defeat should equally bolster the morale of the Iraqi forces who after a series of slow but deliberate campaigns - backed up by US and allied air power and advisers - have begun to have some success. However, the military battle is only part of the story. 

The capture of Falluja will present the Iraqi government with a major test. Can its forces - which include a significant Shia militia element - prevent the mistreatment of local Sunnis? 

The government needs to show that Sunni and Shia forces can work together. Veteran US analyst Anthony Cordesman says: "Falluja has become a test of whether Iraq can move back towards some form of unity or federalism."

Smoke rises from clashes between Iraqi government forces and IS militants inside Falluja (17 June 2016)The militants are believed to be regrouping in the west of Falluja

There was no immediate information about the thousands of civilians trapped in central Falluja in dire conditions and with little food or fresh water.

IS militants are reported to have used residents as human shields to slow the advance of government forces and limit air strikes by a US-led coalition.

Several civilians have also been killed by militants while attempting to escape the city, including, on Monday, a two-year-old boy who was being carried by his mother.

The UN says about 68,000 people have now fled Falluja since the government offensive began on 23 May, although Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) put the figure at closer to 30,000.

The NRC has warned its supplies of emergency aid for them are running low

Jo Cox MP death: Man charged with murder
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

Labour MP Jo CoxLabour MP Jo Cox died after the attack in her constituency in Birstall

A man has been charged with murder in connection with the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox.

West Yorkshire Police said Thomas Mair, 52, has been charged with the murder of the 41-year-old.

She was shot and stabbed outside her constituency surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire, on Thursday. 

Mr Mair will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Saturday and faces a number of other charges, including grievous bodily harm.

He is further charged with possession of a firearm with intent and possession of an offensive weapon, the force said.

Speaking on Friday, temporary Chief Constable Dee Collins said a 77-year-old man remains in a stable condition in hospital after he was injured when he "bravely intervened" in an effort to help the mother of two.

Vigils were held across the country on Friday evening as members of the public and politicians came together to lay flowers, light candles and stand in silence in memory of Mrs Cox.

Memorial in London

Flowers and candles have been laid in Parliament Square

David cameron and Jeremy CorbynDavid Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn laid flowers in tribute to Jo Cox in her constituency of Batley and Spen

The Prime Minister said the whole nation was "rightly shocked" at her death and called for people to "value, and see as precious, the democracy we have on these islands". 

Politics is about public service and MPs want to "make the world a better place", he said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the former aid worker as "an exceptional, wonderful, very talented woman.... [who] had so much to give and so much of her life ahead of her", during a joint visit to her home town.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has confirmed a female MP wrote to Mr Cameron last year raising concerns about the safety of her colleagues and attacks on her personally.

'Inadequate protection'

A statement from Number 10 said: "The Prime Minister replied to the letter and voiced deep concern about the attacks she had suffered." 

It said "action was taken at the highest levels of government" in response, and the Home Secretary had met the MP and the chief constable of the MP's police force. A new security package for MPs had also been unveiled in January, it added.

Chris Bryant, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, told BBC Newsnight he had warned Westminster authorities about "inadequate protection in their constituencies". 

"I've said in terms an MP will be shot. This will happen. And the truth is we all know we can't guarantee that something like this won't happen again but we need to make sure that we've taken all the proper precautions," he said.

Tribute from David CameronThe prime minister's tribute included a message which described Mrs Cox as 'a passionate MP and campaigner'

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Naz ShahConservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Labour MP Naz Shah attended a vigil in Batley

"I don't think the system is right to be able to deliver real security... for constituents when they come to a surgery, for staff in MPs offices, for MPs. There needs to be a regular risk assessment."

Tributes have flooded in from across the world to the "humanitarian with political nous".

President Barack Obama offered his condolences and phoned Mrs Cox's husband from Air Force One.

'Zest and energy'

A White House statement said: "The president noted that the world is a better place because of her selfless service to others, and that there can be no justification for this heinous crime, which robbed a family, a community, and a nation of a dedicated wife, mother and public servant."

Canadian MP Nathan Cullen, who was a friend of Mrs Cox, broke down with emotion as he paid tribute to the late MP in Canada's House of Commons.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Twitter the killing was an attack on the democratic ideal.

The Remain and Vote Leave sides have suspended national campaigning in light of Mrs Cox's death, while the Prime Minster confirmed Parliament would be recalled on Monday. The House of Lords has also been recalled to pay tribute to Mrs Cox.

Mrs Cox is the first sitting MP to be killed since 1990, when Ian Gow was the last in a string of politicians to die at the hands of Northern Irish terror groups.

She entered Parliament as MP for Batley and Spen in last year's general election.

Labour MP Jo Cox

Jo Cox was elected as Labour MP for Batley and Spen in 2015

She was married to campaigner Brendan Cox and had two young children, with the family dividing its time between its constituency home and a river boat on the Thames.

In a statement, he said: "Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.

"Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people."

A fund set up in her memory has raised more than £218,000 for three causes which her family and friends said were close to her heart.

The charities are:

  • The Royal Voluntary Service, to support volunteers helping combat loneliness in Mrs Cox's constituency
  • HOPE not hate, who seek to challenge and defeat the politics of hate and extremism within local communities across Britain
  • The White Helmets who are volunteer search and rescue workers in Syria
Rio state declares 'public calamity' over finances
2016-Jun-18 | By Sihara Colombage

Aerial view of Christ the Redeemer, the Sugar Loaf and Guanabara BayThe Olympics in Rio are due to start on 5 August

The Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro has declared a financial emergency less than 50 days before the Olympics.

Interim Governor Francisco Dornelles says the "serious economic crisis" threatens to stop the state from honouring commitments for the games.

Most public funding for the Olympics has come from Rio's city government, but the state is responsible for areas such as transport and policing.

Interim President Michel Temer has promised significant financial help.

The governor has blamed the crisis on a tax shortfall, especially from the oil industry, while Brazil overall has faced a deep recession.

The measure could accelerate the release of federal emergency funds.

Rio state employees and pensioners are owed wages in arrears. Hospitals and police stations have been severely affected.

View of the new Nossa Senhora da Paz metro station as a part of the expansion works of the Rio metro for the Olympics, on 2 JuneRio state is responsible for the expansion of the metro for the Olympics

In a decree, Mr Dornelles said the state faced "public calamity" that could lead to a "total collapse" in public services, such as security, health and education.

He authorised "exceptional measures" to be taken ahead of the Games that could impact "all essential public services", but no details were given.

The state has projected a budget deficit of $5.5bn (£3.9bn) for this year.

Rio's mayor Eduardo Paes said on Twitter the state's decision "in no way delays the delivery of Olympic projects and the promises assumed by the city of Rio".

There are also concerns over an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects, and the impact it could have on the city's tourism.

Rio expects about 500,000 foreign visitors during the Olympics.

Middle East worst hit by rise in sand and dust storms
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

An Iraqi woman walks through a dust storm at a refugee camp outside FallujaUN scientists predict that Iraq could witness 300 dust events in a year within 10 years.

The Middle East has been the worst hit by significant rise in sand and dust storms, with major impacts on human health, United Nations scientists say.

Iran and Kuwait are the most affected countries, largely because of sand and dust blowing in from Syria and Iraq.

Mismanagement of land and water amid conflicts in the region has been a key factor, as well as climate change.

Meteorologists say sand and dust storms are also happening in new places like some parts of Central Asia.

"In the Middle East there has been a significant increase in the frequency and the intensity of sand and dust storms in the past 15 years or so," said Enric Terradellas a meteorologist with the World Meteorology Organisation's sand and dust storm prediction centre for the region.

"One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq, where the flow of rivers has decreased because of a race in dam constructions in upstream countries.

"That has led to the disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes both in Iraq and Iran, and the sediments left behind are very important sources of dust in the region."

Workers set up a natural gas pipeline during a dust storm at Iraq's border with Iran in BasraThe disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes has led to an increase in the intensity and frequency of sand dust storms in Iraq

Deserts have always been the source of sand storms in the region, but scientists say unsustainable mining, oil extraction and agriculture as well as intensive military conflicts are worsening the situation.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has predicted that Iraq could witness 300 dust events in a year within 10 years, up from around 120 per year now.

Health toll

Iranian health department officials have said 14 provinces are affected today by dust storms, including Tehran.

"The air is so polluted here and I have developed breathing problem," Jasem, a businessman in Ahvaz in southwest Iran told the BBC, coughing over the phone.

"Coughing is usual thing for me now and we need to keep the windows closed and use the air-conditioner all the time."

Iranians walk amid a sand storm in Tehran (2 June 2014)Iranian health officials have said up to 14 provinces have been affected by dust storms recently

Iman, a university lecturer in south-eastern Iran, said going out was becoming increasingly difficult.

"We can feel the sand coming in from the west of the country and we don't let our kids play outside the house."

Scientists said data from Syria was not easily available, but that there were enough grounds to believe that it is another major source of sand and dust.

"People aren't tending the land in agricultural areas appropriately - which means planting crops and tending them in a way that is sustainable - because they are off either being refugees or involved in the fighting," said Nick Middleton of St Anne's College, Oxford, one of the reviewers of the UN study.

"So the former agricultural areas, I suspect, are more active as wind erosion sources now."

Meteorologists say some parts of Central Asia are also experiencing the storms.

Abandoned ship in dried-up area of the Aral Sea in KazakhstanDesert-like conditions are witnessed in what used to be the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan

"The Aral Sea is drying up and the dust problem is also increasing in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, for instance," said Alexander Baklanov, another sand and dust storm expert with the World Meteorology Organisation.

The dust and sand from Mongolia and the Gobi desert reach China, the Korean peninsula and Japan, where they have caused major health concerns.

Storms from the Sahara desert are also believed to be spreading lethal meningitis spores throughout central Africa.

"A dust storm consists of massive amount of particulates in the air and when people breathe it, these can get down their lungs and cause respiratory illness and heart disease and so on," said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a health and climate change expert with the World Health Organisation.

The WHO has said dust storms contribute to poor air quality that is blamed for the death of 7 million people every year.

Revlon to buy Elizabeth Arden for $870m
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Pop singer Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift launched her Wonderstruck fragrance with Elizabeth Arden

Cosmetics firm Revlon has agreed to buy Elizabeth Arden in a $870m (£609m) deal that it says will help expand its global footprint.

Revlon said it would pay $14 per share for the luxury skincare company, which also sells fragrances by celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.

The offer represents a 50% premium to Elizabeth Arden's closing price of $9.31 on 16 June.

Revlon expects the combined company to have sales of about $3bn.

It hopes to benefit from Elizabeth Arden's presence in fast-growing markets such as Asia-Pacific, as well as its strength in prestige skincare and fragrances, which would complement Revlon's expertise in colour cosmetics, hair care and men's grooming.

Revlon products are sold in about 130 countries while the Elizabeth Arden brand is available in more than 120 countries.

"This acquisition is strategically and financially compelling," Fabian Garcia, Revlon's chief executive, said in a statement.

"Combining our brands, talent, and global distribution will give our company a significant presence in all major channels and categories, while accelerating sales growth in existing and new geographic regions."

Revlon expects the tie-up to result in savings of up to $140m.

The transaction values Elizabeth Arden at about $870m including debt, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016 if it is approved by shareholders and regulators.

VW plans huge investment to become electric cars leader
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

VW car

Volkswagen plans to launch 30 all-electric models to reposition itself as a leader in "green" transport.

Matthias Mueller, chief executive of Europe's biggest carmaker, said huge investments would be needed as the firm moves beyond the "dieselgate" scandal.

He hopes that by 2025, all-electric cars would account for about 20-25% of the German carmaker's annual sales.

Latest figures show that sales growth of Volkswagen-branded cars continues to fall behind European rivals.

Outlining what he described as the "key building blocks in the new group strategy", Mr Mueller said VW aimed to "transform its core automotive business or, to put it another way, make a fundamental realignment in readiness for the new age of mobility".

VW will focus on "the most attractive and fastest-growing market segments", he said. "Special emphasis will be place on e-mobility. The group is planning a broad-based initiative in this area: it intends to launch more than 30 purely battery-powered electric vehicles over the next ten years," he said.

VW was plunged into crisis when it was revealed in the US last September that diesel engines had been fitted with software that could distort emissions tests. The company later revealed that some 11 million cars worldwide were affected.


Mr Mueller said VW's transformation would involve investments in the double-digit billions of euros, funded by savings and cost-cuts, with all brands and businesses having to contribute.

He told reporters at VW headquarters, in Wolfsburg: "This will require us - following the serious setback as a result of the diesel issue - to learn from mistakes made, rectify shortcomings and establish a corporate culture that is open, value-driven and rooted in integrity."

The company's components business, spread across 26 plants, will be streamlined, and there will be a focus on cutting sales and administration costs.

On Thursday, car sales data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association suggested that the VW group continues to suffer from the impact of the diesel scandal.

Sales of Volkswagen-branded cars rose 4.1% in May, compared to the same month last year. But that was sluggish when compared to 28.7% growth for Renault and 18.7% growth at PSA Group, owner of Peugeot and Citroen.

Market share for the group, which includes Audi, Skoda, and Seat, for the five months to May, was 23.9%, the lowest for the period since 2011.

Rami Hamdallah: Israel waging water war on Palestinians
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Palestinians call Israel's manipulation of water supplies to large areas of West Bank “inhumane and outrageous”.

Palestine has decried Israel’s practice of siphoning off water supplies from large areas of the occupied West Bank.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said that Israel was "waging a water war against the Palestinians.

“Israel wants to prevent Palestinians from leading a dignified life and uses its control over our water resources to this end; while illegal Israeli settlements enjoy uninterrupted water service, Palestinians are forced to spend great sums of money to buy water that is theirs in the first place,” Hamdallah said in the statement.

Mekorot, the main supplier of water to Palestinian towns and cities, is accused of manipulating water supplies to the municipality of Jenin, several Nablus villages and the city of Salfit and its surrounding villages, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians without access to safe drinking water during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Jamal Dajani, director of strategic media and communications at the prime pinister’s office, called Mekorot’s practice “inhumane and outrageous.

“It is not enough for Israel to systematically appropriate Palestinian land and usurp Palestine’s natural resources; they also refuse the Palestinians the right to water.”

On Tuesday, the executive director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, an NGO focusing on water and sanitation issues, told Al Jazeera that "some areas had not received any water for more than 40 days.

"People are relying on purchasing water from water trucks or finding it from alternative sources such as springs and other filling points in their vicinity," Ayman Rabi said.

"Families are having to live on two, three or 10 litres per capita per day," he added, pointing out that in some areas they had started rationing water.

The city of Jenin, which has a population of more than 40,000 people, said its water supplies had been cut by half, and warned that it would hold Mekorot solely responsible for any tragedies resulting from water shortages during the hot summer months.

Israeli denial

Israel's national water company, Mekorot, denied cutting the water supplies to large parts of the occupied West Bank, saying there was only broad reduction in water supply to the Palestinians.

"As a result of the shortage of water supply in the West Bank ... we have made a broad reduction of the supply to all residents in the area," Mekorot told Al Jazeera late on Wednesday.

"All the facilities are working and the capability to supply is less than the rate of consumption. The water authority recently approved a master plan for the water sector and accordingly we will build the systems that will meet the West Bank's required consumption."

Israel's COGAT agency, a main body of the Israeli army that regulates the occupation in the West Bank, also pointed to a burst pipe, which was said to have disrupted supplies to the villages of Marda, Biddya, Jammain, Salfit and Tapuach.

"The water flow has been regulated and is currently up and running," COGAT told Al Jazeera.

“The water supply to Hebron and Bethlehem has been expanded a further 5,000 cubic metres per hour in order to meet the needs of the residents,” COGAT said.

According to the UN, 7.5 litres per person per day is the minimum requirement for most people under most conditions but in some areas of Palestine - where temperatures exceed 35C - the minimum requirement is much higher.

Israel has limited the water available to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since its forces occupied the territories in 1967.

Israelis, including settlers, consume five times more water than Palestinians in the West Bank: 350 litres per person per day in Israel compared with 60 litres per Palestinian per day in the West Bank.

UK astronaut Tim Peake prepares for return to Earth
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Tim PeakeIn six months on the ISS, Major Peake performed a spacewalk and ran the London Marathon

UK astronaut Tim Peake is preparing to return to Earth after an historic six-month mission to the space station.

During his stay, he made the first spacewalk by a UK astronaut, remotely steered a robot on Earth and ran the London Marathon.


A Soyuz capsule carrying Major Peake and two other crew members will land in Kazakhstan at 10:15 BST on Saturday.

He is the first person to visit space under the UK banner since Helen Sharman in 1991.

Speaking in his last live link-up from space, Major Peake said: "It's been a fantastic six months up here - [a] really remarkable, incredible experience.

"I'm looking forward to coming home, looking forward to seeing my friends and my family, but I am going to miss this place [the ISS]."

After 03:00 BST on Saturday, Major Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Timothy Kopra will make their farewells and enter the Russian spacecraft that will carry them home from the ISS.

Squeezed into custom-moulded seats in a tiny return ship that hasn't changed substantially in design since the Soviet era, the three crew members will wait for more than three hours before they are clear to undock from the outpost that has been their home for 186 days.

The Soyuz performs several engine burns to nudge itself clear of the space station and, after it has drifted about 12km from the orbiting platform, the engines fire again to begin the fiery descent to Earth.


This is the most unsettling stage of the journey: as the craft plunges toward Earth at 25 times the speed of sound, atmospheric molecules dissociate and their atoms ionise, enveloping the vehicle in superheated plasma which raises the temperature outside to around 2,500 degrees C.

Once the capsule has decelerated past the plasma phase and has reached an altitude of 10.7km above the Earth's surface, parachutes open to further slow its descent. As the Soyuz floats to the ground, an engine fires to cushion its landing on the Kazakh steppe, scheduled for 10:15 BST.

British Isles from the ISSMajor Peake took numerous photos from the ISS, including this one of the British Isles

Tim Peake on spacewallkMajor Peake participated in a spacewalk in January, just a month after his launch

A rescue team flown in by chopper will then help the astronauts out of the capsule before carrying them into a tent for medical checks.

Extended stays in zero gravity have a number of effects on the body, including muscle wastage and a loss of bone density. The lack of gravity also redistributes fluid more evenly throughout the body, causing astronauts' face and neck to swell that gives them a characteristic puffy appearance during their first few weeks on orbit.

Tim Peake banner


Britain's first astronaut, Helen Sharman, who stayed for a week on the Soviet Mir space station in May 1991, told the BBC: "To start with (after landing) you actually feel faint, more than anything because gravity's pulling blood away from your head. That faintness is the biggest reason why he'll be carried.

"I was quite wobbly for a while even though my body hadn't adapted to the pressure difference sufficiently in space. So it took me a few paces to learn to walk in a straight line again."

In 2009, Mr Peake was chosen from a pool of 8,000 applicants to join the European Space Agency (Esa) astronaut training programme, along with five other recruits.

The former Army helicopter pilot is the first Briton to be selected as an Esa astronaut.

On 15 January this year, just a month after arriving at the station, Major Peake participated in the first spacewalk for a UK astronaut. He and Tim Kopra set out to change a faulty component on the outside of the ISS, along with other tasks.

They completed the primary goal, but the walk had to be called off early when water began to leak into Col Kopra's helmet - a matter that is still under investigation.

In April, he secured himself to a treadmill on the ISS to run the distance of the London Marathon, completing the event in three hours, 35 minutes.

Major Peake carried out more than 250 experiments in medical science, radiation physics and materials.

Syria conflict: US diplomats press for strikes against Assad?
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

AV-8B Harrier assigned to 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit on deck of USS Boxer in GulfThe US leads a coalition carrying out air strikes on so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq

Dozens of US State Department officials have signed an internal memo protesting against US policy in Syria and calling for targeted military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's government.

They argue the current approach is working against the Syrian opposition and helping Mr Assad to stay in power.

It was signed by 51 mid-to-high level officials who advise on Syria issues.

It is not unusual for internal "dissent cables" to be filed through State Department channels.

However, it is rare to have this number of diplomats voice opposition to a White House position.

A State Department spokesman acknowledged receipt of the memo but declined to comment on its contents.

However, an official familiar with the letter told the BBC that it was sent "because the status quo is not sustainable".

The document urges a credible threat of military action against the Assad government. Otherwise, it says, Damascus will feel no pressure to negotiate with the rebels.

This reflects concerns that the collapse of a joint US-Russian peace process is benefitting the regime.

There have been violations of the ceasefire by both the opposition and the government.

But President Assad has openly defied the truce, and his forces, backed militarily by Iran and Russia, seem intent on regaining strategic territory such as the crucial city of Aleppo.

Syrian men inspect damage after air strikes on rebel-held Mashhad district of Aleppo (13 June 2016)Syrian cities such as Aleppo have been left in ruins by years of war

Moscow argues that it is supporting strikes against jihadist insurgents not covered by the ceasefire.

But Secretary of State John Kerry, who has pushed opposition groups to lay down their arms, is growing increasingly frustrated as the Syrian regime continues to change facts on the ground while he calls for diplomacy.

"The United States is not going to sit there and be used as an instrument that permits a so-called ceasefire to be in place while one principal party is trying to take advantage of it to the detriment of the entire process," he said recently.

Mr Kerry has pressed the administration for tougher action against the regime in order to force it to the negotiating table, and signatories to the dissent letter believe he'll be sympathetic to their concerns, according to sources involved in the process.

But that's unlikely to sway the Obama administration, which has prioritised the fight against so called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and largely stayed clear of the civil war.

President Obama is wary of being drawn into another Mid-East conflict after the messy results of US intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

However, his possible successor, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has argued for a more assertive policy in Syria, including stronger support for non-Islamist rebels.

Perhaps the letter is aimed as much at her as it is at Mr Kerry.

Gujarat riots: India court jails 11 for life over Gulbarg massacre
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

A court in India has sentenced 11 people to life in prison for their roles in a notorious massacre during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.

Of the 24 people convicted for the so-called Gulbarg Society killings, 12 were jailed for seven years while one man was sentenced to 10 years.

During the attack, 69 people were hacked and burned to death by a mob.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots, sparked by a fire on a train that killed 60 Hindu pilgrims.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the state chief minister at the time, say he did little to stop the riots.

The special court in Ahmedabad called the incident the "darkest day in the history of civil society".

However, Zakia Jafri, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, a prominent Muslim politician and a former Congress party MP, who was among those killed, has expressed disappointment at the sentencing.

"I was there when Ehsaan Jafri was killed, it's not justice at all," she told reporters.

Survivors of the Gulbarg massacre say he fired his gun in self-defence as the mob attacked the complex.

Mrs Jafri says her husband called Mr Modi for help but it never came.

Orlando shooting: Obama condemns LGBT discrimination
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Discrimination against LGBT people must be tackled at home and abroad, President Obama has said after meeting relatives of Orlando attack victims.

A gunman killed 49 people on Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in the city.

Mr Obama challenged the Republican-controlled Congress to pass gun control legislation.

But Republican Senator John McCain said the president was "directly responsible" because he had failed to tackle the Islamic State group.

Gunman Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to the militant group as he carried out the massacre.

Senator McCain said: "When he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became Isis [Islamic State], and Isis is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama's failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq."

He later clarified that he did not mean the president was personally responsible.

On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered outside the Amway Center in Orlando as the president and Vice-President Joe Biden consoled relatives inside.

"I held and hugged grieving relatives and they asked: Why does it keep happening?" Mr Obama said, adding: "They don't care about the politics."Obama and Biden at memorialVice-President Biden and President Obama visited the memorial in Orlando

Mayor Buddy Dyer embraces Mr ObamaOrlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Mr Obama embraced when the president landed

The two men laid wreaths at a makeshift memorial and met the owners of the Pulse nightclub where the shooting took place.

The gunman, the president said, had violated a sanctuary for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and now people should reflect on how to end violence and discrimination against them, in the US and overseas.

According to data collected by the New York Times, LGBT people are more likely to be targets of hate crime than any other minority group.

A wake took place on Thursday for one of the victims, Javier Jorge-ReyesA wake took place on Thursday for one of the victims, Javier Jorge-Reyes

Mr Obama also urged Congress to pass gun control legislation.

"We will not be able to stop every tragedy. We can't wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in this world, but we can stop some tragedies. We can save some lives. We can reduce the impact of a terrorist attack if we're smart," he said.

"And if we don't act, we will keep seeing more massacres like this. Because we will be choosing to allow them to happen."

At the scene - Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News, Orlando

The piles of flowers, cards and letters outside Orlando's Dr Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts are getting larger. In the baking heat, people continue to arrive at this memorial to the victims.

Some kneel on the grass, bowing their heads in contemplation. Others embrace one another, before they leave their tribute. "Hate will never win," reads one of the many signs. It's a sentiment felt by many in the LGBT community here, who believe breaking down barriers of prejudice can be one lasting legacy from this horrific attack.

Across the city, rainbow flags have started to hang from shop fronts and outside bars and restaurants. As President Obama arrives here to meet the families, there's hope he can bring comfort at this anguished time. But there's also hope that this horror can bring harmony.

The attack - using a semi-automatic rifle - has sparked renewed calls for tighter gun laws and one member of Congress spoke for 15 hours on Wednesday in an attempt to force the Senate to act.

Mateen, who was shot dead at the club by police, was on a terror watch list while the FBI investigated him over inflammatory remarks. But they concluded he was no terror threat.

Opponents of changes to the law want guarantees that law-abiding Americans will not have their rights infringed upon.

Gun control is a very divisive issue in the US, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution.

It is unclear why Mateen, a 29-year-old born in New York, carried out the killings.

It has emerged that before or during the attack, he raged on Facebook about the "filthy ways of the West".

There are also claims by friends and family that he had a hatred for gay people, although he had frequented this gay nightclub many times and used gay dating apps.

UK MP Jo Cox Murdered
2016-Jun-17 | By Gehan Jayaratne

UK MP Jo Cox Murdered

Labour MP Jo Cox has died after she was shot at least two times and stabbed in her West Yorkshire constituency.

The 41-year-old politician, who was married with two young daughters aged three and five, was also kicked and left lying bleeding on the pavement in Birstall, near Leeds, an eyewitness said.

A second witness reported three shots, including one "round the head area".

Cox was taken to hospital in a critical condition following the attack but did not survive.

Temporary chief constable for West Yorkshire Dee Collins told a news conference: "I am now very sad to have to report that she has died as a result of her injuries."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the country would be "in shock at the horrific murder" of the MP, who was a "much loved colleague".

A 52-year-old man has been arrested in the area following the attack. He has been named locally as Tommy Mair, who neighbours described as a "loner".

The shooting is believed to have taken place as Mrs Cox came out of the town's library where she had been holding an advice surgery and meeting constituents.

Eyewitness Hichem Ben Abdallah said a "very brave" bystander tried to stop a man who pulled out a gun and shot her twice and also assaulted her.

Some reports said that two men had been involved in an argument in the street before Ms Cox intervened and was then attacked.

Abdallah, who was in a cafe next door to the library, told Sky News he saw people rushing down the road towards the library and heard two shots.

He saw a man wearing a "dirty white baseball cap" who started "jostling with somebody", a bystander who appeared to be trying to stop him.

He said: "There was a guy who was being very brave and another guy with a white baseball cap who he was trying to control, and the man in the baseball cap suddenly pulled a gun from his bag.

"He was fighting with her and wrestling with her and then the gun went off twice."

Abdallah said Cox was shot from between two cars and then kicked as she lay on the ground.

"It looked like a gun from, I don't know, the First World War or a makeshift, handmade gun. It's not sort of like the kind of gun you see normally."

Abdallah said he could see Mrs Cox lying on the ground with her face bleeding and her hair "roughed up".

He described a hysterical situation with lots of people screaming and said he was "absolutely shocked".

He added that the gunman walked off "very, very coolly, very slowly".

England Fans And Police Clash In Lille, Russia Summons French Ambassador
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

England Fans And Police Clash In Lille, Russia Summons French Ambassador

French police have contained and arrested 36 mainly English fans in Lille as group rivals Russia lost to Slovakia. Russia, meanwhile, has complained to France's ambassador of police double standards.

England supporters on the streets of Lille, ready for Thursday's game against Wales in nearby Lens, turned rowdy on Wednesday after watching Russia's 2-0 defeat to Slovakia.

Some 36 people were arrested and 16 taken to hospital on Wednesday after French police clashed with English soccer, police in Lille said in a statement. Riot police charged groups of rowdy, chanting English soccer fans and used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse them on Wednesday night

Group B matches have already been a major flashpoint for French police. Fighting flared up before and after Russia's encounter with England - involving locals in Marseille, Russians and English supporters.

In response to the scenes within the stadium, Russia had already received a final warning from European football association UEFA, threatening expulsion in the event of more fan violence during matches. UEFA's powers to punish fan misbehavior stop at the stadium turnstiles, where the issue becomes a police matter.

As Slovakia sought to end Russia's Euro 2016 campaign on the pitch - as opposed to them being sent home - England supporters watched and drank, before matters began to escalate.

At one point, chants at the French police officers turned to: "Where were you in Marseille?" This was a reference to what English authorities criticized as a lax police presence at the 1-1 draw against Russia, when hooligans set upon supporters immediately after the final whistle.

Russia cries foul

The images in Lille seemed likely to serve as grist to the mill for Russia's team and the Kremlin - coming shortly after Moscow's Foreign Ministry summoned France's ambassador to complain about perceived double standards in how police had handled violent supporters.

The ministry had taken umbrage with Tuesday's decision by prosecutors in Marseille to detain a bus load of Russian football fans for 48 hours, including far-right sympathizer Alexander Shprygin. Of those on board, 11 were soon released but another 43 were ordered to be held.

"The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the French Ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert," the Ministry said, warning that "further stoking of anti-Russian sentiments ... could significantly aggravate the atmosphere in Russian-French relations."

Those being held could face criminal charges or be expelled from the country. The Kremlin called the detentions unjustified.

Speaking to the Russian parliament, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "It was an absolutely unacceptable incident when a bus with more than 40 Russian fans was stopped by police."

French police "demanded that they get off the bus for document and identification checks," Lavrov said.

Among those detained during Tuesday's bus stop was far-right sympathizer Alexander Shprygin, who heads the Russian football supporters association.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that [the French] are trying to ignore the absolutely provocative actions of fans from other countries," Lavrov said, apparently referring to British fans.

"You probably saw the outrageous scenes on television of them trampling on the Russian flag," he said, "and screaming insults directed at the Russian leadership and leading Russian athletes."

Hollande Threatens To Ban Demos As French Anti-labor Law Protests Grow
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

Hollande Threatens To Ban Demos As French Anti-labor Law Protests Grow

President Francois Hollande has proposed to ban demonstrations in France, according to his presidential spokesman, who said that at a time when the country is plagued by terrorism, the conditions are not in place to protect “personal or public property."

"At a time when France is hosting the Euro 2016 [football tournament], when it is faced with terrorism, demonstrations can no longer be authorized if property, people and public property cannot be safeguarded," Hollande told a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, according to his spokesman Stephane Le Foll, AFP reported. 

“The conditions under which a manifestation is authorized is a subject of discussion between the organizers and the authorities representing the state,” Le Foll said.

"If the conditions are not in place to protect personal or public property, and as things stand now they are not, decisions are currently being made case-by-case not to allow the protests," he added.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris, shouting slogans against the new labor law being imposed by the government and carrying placards that read: “For new rights.” Some protestors torched a police car at the Place de la Republique in the heart of Paris. Staff working at the Eiffel Tower announced the closure of the city’s iconic landmark, saying they “would join the protest.” They also warned that sites near it would be unsafe.

A group of black-clad demonstrators allegedly vandalized the Necker Children's Hospital, where a three-year-old child, whose mother and father, a policeman, were stabbed to death by an Islamic State militant Monday evening outside their home near Paris, is currently staying.

At least 40 people, including 29 officers, were injured as protesters clashed with police in the center of the French capital. Police made at least 58 arrests and deployed tear gas and water cannons against the demonstrators. Health Minister Marisol Touraine called the damage "shameful" and its perpetrators "hooligans."

Similar demonstrations were held across the whole of France. Nearly 20,000 gathered in the city of Toulouse, according to the demonstration’s organizers. In Nantes, protesters gathered in the streets, despite a recently-imposed ban on rallies.

Despite mass protests, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has vowed to stand firm behind the unpopular labor law.

"The government will not change a text which is already the outcome of negotiations with the unions,” Manuel Valls told France Inter radio, adding: “It's a text that is good for employees, for companies that create new rights.” 

The unpopular law, initiated by Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, forces employers to pay only 10 percent of an overtime bonus, instead of the current 25 percent. The bill technically maintains the 35-hour working week, but says that in case of “exceptional circumstances,” employees can be asked to work up to 60 hours a week.

Anti-labor law protests in France have grown into something more far-reaching and long-lasting, with people saying they are rallying against capitalism, intolerance and French government policies on the whole. The protests’ slogans seem very similar to the Occupy movement, which first started in the US and eventually spread globally.

Germany warns Brexit could lead to EU 'disintegration'
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) and Jean-Marc Ayrault in Brandenburg, 15 JuneFrank-Walter Steinmeier (left) and Jean-Marc Ayrault took a boat ride together on the River Havel when they met in Brandenburg

If the UK votes to leave the EU next week, the move could ultimately lead to the bloc's disintegration, Germany's foreign minister has warned.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was speaking near Berlin after talks with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Mr Steinmeier warned against "a nationalism that pits one European state against another".

Leave campaigners in the UK have previously dismissed similar warnings as scaremongering.

The referendum on whether to leave or remain will be held on 23 June.

Germany is the UK's biggest trade partner in Europe.

"A vote to leave would shake the union," Mr Steinmeier said at a joint news conference in Brandenburg.

"It would not just carry on as 28 [members] minus one. It would require concerted efforts to ensure that the union holds together and that a decades-long, successful integration effort does not end in disintegration."

Mr Ayrault said the EU would keep evolving with the times.

"Europe can't be static, it must keep moving," he said. "Today it faces contradictions, slow-downs, difficulties, anxieties and fears. We want to give Europe a new dynamism."

Brazil President Temer implicated in Petrobras bribery scheme
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016,Michel Temer has denied the allegations

Brazilian interim President Michel Temer has been implicated in a bribery scheme at the state oil company, Petrobras.

The allegations came from a former Petrobras executive, Sergio Machado, who has been giving plea bargain evidence to prosecutors.

He said Mr Temer, among others, had asked him for illegal campaign contributions for a political ally.

Michel Temer has denied all the allegations.

Reuters quoted his office as saying that he had always observed campaign finance laws.

Mr Machado, who is himself accused of corruption, said Mr Temer requested the donation of around $440,000 (£309,000) for his PMDB party's candidate's campaign in the mayoral elections in Sao Paulo in 2012.

He said the contribution was made by a construction company and masked as an official campaign donation.

The money originated from the kickback scheme involving contracts handed out by Petrobras, he added.

He said that at the time he had made it clear to Mr Temer that the funds requested would come from "illicit resources".

According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, Mr Temer has denied asking for illegal contributions to his party's electoral campaigns and has said he never found himself in an "inappropriate place" with Sergio Machado.

He took office a month ago after his party played a leading part in getting President Dilma Rousseff suspended to face an impeachment trial.

Since then he has lost two cabinet members over an alleged corruption cover-up related to the Petrobras scandal.

Obama tells Dalai Lama to speak to China
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

This file photo taken on June 21, 2015 shows the Dalai Lama attending an event.China has objected to President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama

US President Barack Obama has met the Dalai Lama in private and told him he encourages dialogue with China, the White House has said.

The two met in Washington despite Chinese objections.

China has denounced meetings between foreign leaders and the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, whom the country considers a separatist.

The pair, who have met several times before, talked behind closed doors in the White House Map Room.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman condemned Wednesday's meeting.

"If the United States plans this meeting, it will send the wrong signal to Tibet independence and separatist forces and harm China-US mutual trust and cooperation," said Lu Kang.

Mr Obama encouraged direct dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China, the White House said.

"Tibet, per US policy, is considered part of the People's Republic of China, and the United States has not articulated our support for Tibetan independence,'' said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

"Both the Dalai Lama and President Obama value the importance of a constructive and productive relationship between the United States and China.

"All of those were policy positions of the United States before the meeting occurred. Our policy hasn't changed after the meeting.''

US President Barack Obama (R) meets the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, 21 February 2014.The Dalai Lama last visited the White House in 2014

Mr Obama has previously described the Tibetan Buddhist leader as a "good friend".

The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

The Buddhist leader has pushed for more Tibetan autonomy while China accuses him of encouraging outright independence.

Orlando shootings: US senators stage gun control filibuster
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

Sen Chris Murphy on the floor of the Senate in Washington, Wednesday, June 15, 2016Democratic Senator Chris Murphy staged a marathon address in the Senate, demanding action on gun control

US Democratic senators are conducting a filibuster in an attempt to force a vote on gun control legislation following the shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left 49 people dead.

Senator Chris Murphy vowed to stay on the Senate floor "until we get some signal... that we can come together".

Meanwhile, the first wakes have been held for victims of the shooting.

Mourners gathered to remember those killed when gunman Omar Mateen burst into the Pulse gay nightclub on Sunday.

It was the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Dozens of people remain in hospital, some in a critical condition.

In another development, Mateen reportedly made a series of Facebook posts before and during his attack in which he raged against the "filthy ways of the west" and blamed the US for the deaths of "innocent women and children", a Senate committee letter has revealed.According to the letter Mateen also said on Facebook: "America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state."

The Senate Homeland Security Committee has asked Facebook to provide information on Mateen's online activity.

Mourners attend the wake for Javier Jorge Reyes in Orlando. 15 June 2016Mourners attended the wake for one gun attack victim, Javier Jorge Reyes, in Orlando

People support mourners of gun attack victim Javier Jorge-Reyes in Orlando, Florida. 15 June 2016Funerals for the victims are due to be held over the next few days.

Senator Murphy began the filibuster - prolonged speaking on the floor to interrupt other business - at 11:21 and he was still standing several hours later, although addressing a largely empty chamber.

He is from Connecticut, where 26 people died in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Senator Murphy says he wants to force Republicans and Democrats to agree on legislation to deny suspected terrorists the right to buy guns and require universal background checks.

"For those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything, anything at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn't just painful to us, it's unconscionable," he said.

Gun control is a divisive topic in the US, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution.

Earlier on Wednesday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said anyone on a terror watch list should be prevented from buying guns.

He tweeted that he would meet powerful lobby group the National Rifle Association to discuss the gun control issue.

Women grieve at memorial site for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, June 15, 2016 in Orlando, FloridaThere has been an outpouring of grief for those killed by Omar Mateen

The NRA responded by saying it would meet him but it already opposes terrorists buying guns.

Until now, Mr Trump has been a strong supporter of protecting gun rights and his candidacy was endorsed by the NRA.

US Vice-President Joe Biden, speaking at a gun-control fundraising event in Washington, said the idea that a suspect on a terror watch list could still legally buy guns was absurd.

He said it had taken seven years for Congress to approve a ban on assault weapons which expired in 2004.

"I refuse to give up. We refuse to give up. It took me seven years to get the first ban put in place. There is no reason why we should ever stop," he said.

Mr Biden and President Barack Obama are due to visit Orlando on Thursday.

The FBI has two terror "watch lists". The smaller one bans flying to and from the US and there is also a larger one, which Mateen was on.

Mateen was put on that list for 10 months while under investigation following inflammatory comments at work.

But the FBI concluded there was no evidence he was a terror threat.

The 29-year-old, a US national with Afghan parents, bought an assault rifle and a handgun in early June.

Mateen pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State as he carried out the attack and people who knew him said he displayed an apparent hatred towards gay people.

His wife is also being questioned in connection with the atrocity.

EgyptAir crash: Wreckage found in Mediterranean
2016-Jun-16 | By Sihara Colombage

Search plane crew member uses binoculars to look through window of US patrol aircraft searching for missing EgyptAir flight. Sunday, May 22, 2016An air and sea search has scoured the area of the Mediterranean where the plane went missing

Wreckage of the EgyptAir flight that went missing over the Mediterranean last month has been found, Egyptian investigators say.

A statement said "several main locations of the wreckage" had been identified.

A deep sea search vessel had also sent back the first images of the wreckage, the statement added.

There were 66 people on board flight MS804 when it crashed on 19 May while flying from Paris to Cairo.

The Airbus A320 plane vanished from Greek and Egyptian radar screens, apparently without having sent a distress call.

The Egyptian investigation committee said that investigators on board the John Lethbridge search vessel, which has been contracted by the Egyptian government, would now draw up a map of the wreckage distribution.

What do we know so far?

  • EgyptAir Flight MS804 vanished over the eastern Mediterranean early on Thursday 19 May with 66 passengers and crew on board
  • Some surface debris was found 290km (180 miles) north of the Egyptian city of Alexandria
  • Signals from the plane indicated that smoke was detected in the toilet and in the avionics area below the cockpit
  • Search area is one of deepest in the Mediterranean - more than 3,000 metres (10,000ft) in some parts

Earlier this month, search teams said signals from one of the "black box" flight recorders had been detected.

Signals emitted by the recorders are expected to expire by 24 June, experts have warned.

The cause of the crash remains a mystery.

A terror attack has not been ruled out but no extremist group has claimed the downing of the plane.

Analysts say human or technical error is also a possibility. Satellite data revealed that smoke detectors went off in the toilet and the aircraft's electrics, minutes before the plane's signal was lost.

According to Greek investigators, the plane turned 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right, dropping from 11,300m (37,000ft) to 4,600m (15,000ft) and then 3,000m (10,000ft) before it was lost from radar.

Map of EgyptAir flight route

ocean depth map for area where authorities are searching for flight MS804

Orlando gunman's wife, Noor Salman, 'may face charges'
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Undated photo of Omar Mateen

Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State, police said

The wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando could face charges in connection with the attack, according to reports.

Prosecutors have convened a grand jury to investigate Noor Salman, wife of gunman Omar Mateen, sources quoted by Fox News and Reuters say.

She is reported to have told police she tried to talk her husband out of attacking the Pulse nightclub.

The attack in Florida was the worst mass shooting in recent US history.

Fifty-three people were wounded and six remain in a critical condition.

Prosecutors quoted by Fox News said they were seeking to charge Noor Salman as an accessory to 49 counts of murder and 53 counts of attempted murder, as well as with failure to warn authorities about the impending attack.

It was possible that Mateen had called his wife from inside the club while the killings were taking place, Fox quoted a source as saying.

Although Ms Salman has been questioned since the attack early on Sunday, she has not been arrested.

US Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee which received a briefing on the investigation, told CNN that "it appears she had some knowledge of what was going on".

"She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be co-operating and can provide us with some important information," he added.

Men, draped in rainbow flag embrace ahead of candle light vigil in memory of victims of shooting at Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida. 13 June 2016Vigils for the victims have been held in Orlando and around the world

On Tuesday, US media reported that Noor Salman had gone with Omar Mateen to buy ammunition and had also driven him to the Pulse nightclub on a previous occasion because he had wanted to survey it.

However, she said she had tried to talk her husband out of carrying out the attack, sources quoted by NBC News said.

Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, said on Tuesday that Ms Salman - his son's second wife - had returned to the couple's flat on Monday to pick up some clothes. He said she and the couple's young son were still in Florida but declined to say where.

Mateen, 29, who was killed when police stormed the club, pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State (IS) during the attack, authorities say.

The FBI is investigating reports that Mateen made several visits to the Pulse nightclub and made contact with other men on gay dating apps.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said Mateen appeared to have been "an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalised".

He also attacked a proposed ban on Muslims travelling to America from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as "not the America we want".

Investigators have said there is no evidence that Mateen had been in contact with any outside groups such as IS. Mateen was a US citizen, born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents.

President Obama will travel to the scene of the attack in Orlando on Thursday.

Pulse nightclub on 13 June 2016The Pulse nightclub was packed with revellers when Mateen burst in

France labour dispute: Paris protests descend into violence
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Protests in Paris over a French labour reform bill have turned violent, with at least 40 people injured, including 29 police officers, and 58 arrests.

At least 75,000 demonstrators had convened in the capital as the upper house of parliament debated changes to employment laws.

One of the city's best-known attractions, the Eiffel Tower, was closed due to strike action by staff.

The labour reform makes it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

It would also relax the limit on working hours. The bill has been approved by the National Assembly (lower house) and is now going through the Senate.

Police said the clashes in Paris involved "several hundred masked people", who threw chunks of paving, set bins ablaze and smashed some shop windows. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

In the evening two "Autolib" electric cars were set ablaze, as were four other vehicles elsewhere in Paris, police said.

French firemen extinguish fires that destroyed two Autolib electric cars, 14 Jun 16Violence continued in the evening: Two electric cars were set ablaze

Students and several unions organised protests across the country, part of weeks of industrial action.

The CGT union said 1.3 million people demonstrated, but the police estimate was much lower - about 125,000.

Rail workers and taxi drivers are also on strike, disrupting transport.

Demonstrators clash with police officers during a protest against proposed labour reforms in Paris, 14 June

Protesters gather during a demonstration against proposed labour reforms near the Grand Palais, in Paris on June 14, 2016

Masked youths and French police clash during a demonstration in Paris as part of nationwide protests against plans to reform French labour laws, France, June 14, 2016.

Masked youths face off with French police and gendarmes during clashes at the Invalides square during a demonstration in Paris as part of nationwide protests against plans to reform French labour laws.

French CRS riot police apprehend a demonstrator during clashes at the Invalides square during a demonstration in Paris as part of nationwide protests against plans to reform French labour laws.

A shopping cart burns as protesters gather near the Invalides during a demonstration against proposed labour reforms in Paris on June 14, 2016.

The crowd marched from south-east Paris to the Invalides, a monument complex and magnet for tourists.

The unrest coincided with the Euro 2016 football championship - a major challenge for French police, marred already by violence among fans.

In a separate protest, Air France pilots went on strike to demand better working conditions.

An estimated 20% of all Air France flights were cancelled as a result, the company said.

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French labour reform bill - key points:

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, which is strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers to get more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

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French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he could "no longer bear the attacks against the police".

He called on protesters "to find within themselves a little humanity, tolerance and respect".

Demonstrations against the reform bill began on 9 March and led to a massive demonstration on 31 March, when nearly 400,000 people came out in protest across France.

Nepal's Lhakpa Sherpa: 'I want to climb Everest 10 times'
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

File photo of Lhakpa Sherpa on EverestLhakpa Sherpa has conducted more successful Everest climbs than any other woman

Last month Lhakpa Sherpa, reached the peak of Mount Everest for the seventh time, breaking her own world record for the number of ascents by a woman. But she told BBC Nepali's Surendra Phuyal that she isn't done with climbing yet.

Lounging on a sofa at her brother's home in Kathmandu, Lhakpa looked sunburned and a little exhausted as she described her latest expedition to the summit, on 20 May.

"We began our final ascent at night, stars were twinkling as we moved up."

"I didn't feel weak. I felt strong enough to climb and get to the top.

"I prayed for my children when I reached the top. I thought of my children and felt much stronger to descend much faster."

A childhood of mountains

Lhakpa is 43 and a mother of three. She was born in Nepal but has travelled repeatedly to the Himalayas from her home in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she works as a housekeeper.

"I work very hard in the US," she said. "It's not easy. But I want to educate my children. And I am working hard for them."

Nepalese climber Lhakpa Sherpa, who holds the world record for most successful climbs of Mount Everest for a woman with seven ascents, poses with her Guinness record certificate in Kathmandu on May 27, 2016.The mother-of-three started her career as kitchen help for trekkers and climbers in Nepal

Lhakpa grew up in a remote village in the shadows of Mount Makalu, as one of 11 children of a yak-herder-turned-lodge-owner.

She began her career as kitchen help, preparing meals for trekkers and climbers.

But like many of her relatives worked in the mountaineering industry, she often had the chance to climb, and worked carrying loads for climbers.

In 2000, she climbed Everest for the first time, as part of the Nepali Women Millennium Expedition, following in the footsteps of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to reach the summit.

"Our equipment was old-fashioned and heavy, boots and other gears weren't that good compared to what we have now. It was hard."

Afterwards, at a gathering of mountaineers in Kathmandu, Lhakpa met US-based Romanian-born climber George Dijmarescu, who she went on to marry.

File photo of Lhakpa's certificate"You did it for Nepali women" Lhakpa's father told her after knowing she scaled Everest successfully

The couple climbed Everest together five times between 2001 and 2006.

In between, they had two girls - now 13 and nine.

"I climbed Everest eight months after giving birth to my first daughter," she recalled, "and I climbed when I was two months pregnant with my smaller daughter. It was not easy, but I managed alright."

On the 2003 climb, she was joined by her brother and sister, becoming the first three siblings simultaneously on an 8,000m mountain - a feat recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.

But during the 2004 Connecticut Everest Expedition, she and Djimarescu had a violent altercation that left her seriously hurt, and sparked a sort of media sensation in the mountaineering world.

The couple divorced in 2015, after a lengthy court battle.

'You did it for Nepali women'

Lhakpa still lives in Connecticut, with their daughters and her 19-year-old son from a previous relationship.

Several of her relatives live in the US, too, who are part of the growing Nepali Sherpa expatriate community there.

But her parents are still in Makalu, where she visited soon after her first ascent in 2000.

"They were very happy. My father told me, 'Great, you did it for Nepal, you did it for Nepali women. It's achievement for Nepal'."

In this Feb. 19, 2016, file photo, trekkers make their way to Dingboche, a popular Mount Everest base camp, in Pangboche, Nepal.Lhakpa says she still feels strong enough to climb many more peaks

She has not been able to visit them since, but said they follow her climbs closely.

During her most recent ascent, she said, "they were not sleeping; they were getting up in the middle of the night and were trying to get updates about me".

Lhakpa - who never went to school herself, nor learned to read or write as a child - said she's happy things are changing in the mountains of Nepal.

"Nowadays, there are schools up there and little boys and girls are getting proper education.

"Still, parents should not discriminate between the boy and girl child. Everyone deserves good education."

She also insists she has many more climbs left to do, including the world's second-highest mountain, K2 in Pakistan.

Her attempt to climb it in 2010 was ended by bad weather.

"I am planning to return to Nepal again in October to climb Choyu," she says. That's the sixth highest mountain in the world, standing at 8,201m.

"I am still not tired. I want to climb Everest a few more times. I want to climb it 10 times."

Orlando shootings: Obama attacks Trump's Muslim ban call
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The Muslim ban proposed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is "not the America we want", President Barack Obama has said.

Treating Muslim-Americans differently will only make the country less safe by increasing division between the West and the Muslim world, he said.

On Monday Mr Trump extended his ban plan to people from all countries with a terror history against the US.

He said the deadly Orlando nightclub shootings justified such action.

Forty-nine people were killed when Omar Mateen, a US national with Afghan parents, opened fire in a gay club early on Sunday.

Mr Trump said his proposal could be implemented through unilateral executive action, given the president's power to "suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the president deems detrimental to the interests or security of the United States".

But on Tuesday at the US Treasury in Washington, a visibly angry Mr Obama launched his strongest assault yet on the man who is expected to be confirmed as the Republican nominee next month.

Analysis - Nick Bryant, BBC News, Washington

President Obama is often criticised for being emotionally aloof, for being too calm, deliberative. But today, after convening his national security council, his anger came to the fore as he delivered this presidential rebuttal, a general at his side, to Donald Trump and his demand for a ban on Muslims entering America.

Tellingly, he avoided uttering Donald Trump's name, but the billionaire's demand after the Orlando massacre that he should resign as president for refusing to use the term "radical Islam" has clearly enraged him.

Mr Trump's tough-worded response questioned the president's patriotism. While delighting many of his rusted-on supporters, who see Mr Obama as a weak commander-in-chief who has not done anywhere near enough to combat so-called Islamic State, it may lead more moderate Republicans to again question his temperament and judgment.

In modern-day America, traumatic events like the massacre in Orlando tend to expose the country's divisions as much as bringing it together. And that's especially so in this angry election season.

Mourners in OrlandoOrlando is in shock over the worst shooting in modern US history

The president said the US had been founded on freedom of religion and having a "religious test" would be against the US Constitution.

He also noted that recent terror attacks in the US had been carried out by people born in the US.

Mateen was born in the same New York neighbourhood as Mr Trump.

The president also urged the US to reinstate the ban on assault weapons.

And he dismissed Mr Trump's suggestion that he resign because he refuses to use the word "radical Islamic terrorism".

"If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them," he said.

Mr Obama will visit the scene of the carnage in Orlando on Thursday.

Anti-gay preacher linked to Orlando leaves Australia
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar speaks at the University of Michigan in 2013Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar has left Australia after anger over comments he has made about putting homosexuals to death

An Islamic preacher who has said homosexuals should be put to death has left Australia.

British-born Shia cleric Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar lectured near Orlando, Florida in April and was being widely quoted in the wake of Sunday's killing.

He was visiting Australia as a guest of Sydney's Imam Husain Islamic Centre.

Media reports on Wednesday said Sheikh Sekaleshfar left the country after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review of his visa.

Australia's immigration minister Peter Dutton said he had officially revoked Sheikh Sekaleshfar's visa and that it would be "very difficult, if not impossible for him to return" to the country.

But Mr Dutton defended his department against accusations that a visa for the sheik should never have been approved.

'It's difficult for the department to go through the Facebook or social media postings of millions of millions of people each year who seek visas,' Mr Dutton told Sky News.

'Nothing to be embarrassed about'

Sheikh Sekaleshfar was born in Manchester, UK and currently lives in Iran.

In April he delivered a sermon entitled How to Deal with the Phenomenon of Homosexuality at the Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford, Florida.

There is no evidence that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, attended the lecture.

During lectures, clips of which were posted online, the cleric has said the death penalty is justified for homosexuals in societies operating under Islamic laws.

"Death is the sentence. There's nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence," he said during a 2013 lecture at the University of Michigan.

He told Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper that his comments had been taken out of context and said he did not believe his words could have inspired Mateen's nightclub attack.

Sheikh Sekaleshfar said Mateen was a follower of the so-called Islamic State, which follows the Wahabi doctrine of Sunni Islam and had been "killing homosexuals in the most wrongful way for years now", whereas he was a Shia scholar.

"This barbaric act was beyond all definitions of humanity," he told the paper.

Police To Investigate Singapore Man Accused Of Threatening To ‘Open Fire’ On LGBT Event
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Police To Investigate Singapore Man Accused Of Threatening To ‘Open Fire’ On LGBT Event

A Singaporean Facebook user who implied that he wanted to “open fire” on a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) event because he wanted to “protect my nation” will be investigated after several police reports were lodged against him.

The investigation comes just two days after 49 people were tragically killed in a popular gay nightclub by gunman Omar Mateen in Orlando, Florida. Mateen was shot dead by police after a three-hour stand-off.

Bryan Lim, a regional performance consultant for Canon Singapore, made the comments on a Facebook page titled ‘We are against Pinkdot in Singapore’, an anti-LGBT group that protests against the presence of the non-profit organization Pink Dot SG.

Lim responded to a post referring to news that the government told foreign brands such as Facebook and Google to stop sponsoring Pink Dot SG’s event, the Singaporean equivalent of the pro-LGBT pride movement, which was held on June 4.

According to local newspaper, Today, he wrote in a June 4 post: “I am a Singaporean citizen. I am a NSman. I am a father. And I swore to protect my nation. Give me permission to open fire. I would like to see these £@€$^*s die for their causes.”

His comments, which have been interpreted as violent hate speech against the LGBT community, raised concern among other netizens.

Several Facebook users flagged Lim’s comments to the Singapore Police Force, which said Lim is not a police national serviceman, as he appears to claim, and that investigations are ongoing.

According to Yahoo Singapore, Lim has since apologized for the “misunderstanding” and deleted his Facebook account.

He wrote on Monday that he was referring to “Bloomberg and foreign intervention in local matters”.

“My words were strong. I did not mean anyone… This was taken out of context. I hope this clears the air,” he said. “I did not mean physical bullets nor physical death. I mean open fire on debate and remove them from Singapore domestic matters.”

A spokesman for Pink Dot SG, Paerin Choa, said in a statement: “Recent horrific acts of hate underscore the discrimination that continues to be directed at the LGBT community.

“The presence of individuals who harbour such thoughts and who publicly perpetuate intolerance based on their narrow perspectives of the world deeply saddens and concerns us.

“This clearly shows we should never take what we have for granted and continue to seek dialogue and opportunities to highlight to others the dangers of discrimination and intolerance.”

Lim’s employer, Canon Singapore, also responded to the furore around his comments. In a Facebook post, Canon said it does “not condone violence in any form” and will be looking into the matter.

Syria State TV: ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Dead In U.S. Air Strike
2016-Jun-15 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Syria State TV: ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Dead In U.S. Air Strike

Syrian state television reported on Tuesday morning that the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) was killed by a U.S. Coalition airstrike in the Al-Raqqa Governorate last week.

Reports about Ibrahim Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s death first surfaced last week after several ISIS social media activists posted about the terrorist leader being severely wounded by an airstrike in Al-Raqqa.

However, the Pentagon could not confirm whether or not the Islamic State leader was killed by their airstrike last week.

This is not the first time that Baghdadi has been reported “dead”; furthermore, the Islamic State’s official media wing, Al-‘Amaq, has not confirmed this news.

If Baghdadi was killed by a Coalition airstrike, Al-‘Amaq will officially announce his “martyrdom” via several social media platforms.

Libya claims $1.2bn damages from Goldman Sachs over trades
2016-Jun-14 | By Sihara Colombage

Libyan oil generates cashLibyan oil fields generate cash for its wealth fund

Libya's $67bn national investment fund is seeking damages from Goldman Sachs, saying the bank encouraged it to make complex, money-losing investments.

The Libyan Investment Authority, which runs the fund, is looking to claw back $1.2bn (£840m) it says was lost through nine disputed trades conducted in 2008.

The Libyans said the trades were made under "undue influence".

Goldman said the claims were without merit and it would fight them vigorously.

The trial started on Monday at the High Court in London.

Allegations denied

The Libyan Investment Authority said that Goldman Sachs gained its trust and then abused it by encouraging it to participate in complex trades that it did not understand.

"The disputed trades were inherently unsuitable for a nascent sovereign wealth fund such as the LIA and Goldman Sachs knew (or at the very least suspected) that the LIA did not properly understand the trades, which were highly structured, complex and risky, a document submitted to the court by the LIA said.

However Goldman Sachs says that the LIA is responsible for the losses generated.

"The LIA selected the underlying stocks based on its own research, conducted over weeks or months, and did so because, like other Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, it thought they were undervalued," the bank stated in a document submitted to the court.

Rival chairmen are laying claim to control of the LIA, as factions in Libya are battling for control of the reigns of power in the country, and the nation's oil production has been hit by fighting.

The fund was set up in 2006 under the rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi to manage the huge revenues generated by Libya's oil sales.

The case is scheduled to run for seven weeks.

Massacre of 11 people in Mexico linked to rapist's 'grudge'
2016-Jun-14 | By Sihara Colombage

Mass for the 11 family members killed, in Coxcatlan, MexicoMany residents say they are too scared to return to their homes in remote villages of Puebla state

The funeral has taken place in Mexico of 11 people from the same family who were shot by masked gunmen in a remote village in the early hours of Friday.

Police in the central state of Puebla initially said that they were looking into allegations that the violence was caused by religious intolerance.

But prosecutors now say the motive was vengeance and two suspects have been identified and are being sought.

The main suspect is a man who nine years ago raped a family member.

He had threatened to go back and kill everyone in the Sanchez Hernandez family if they reported the crime.

The family ignored his warnings and took the case to the police.

The man fled but was eventually jailed and sentenced, returning now to carry out his revenge, state prosecutors said.

Only one person was spared from last week's attack: the boy who was born from the sexual attack of nine years ago. His mother was shot dead.

That led investigators to believe that the boy's father could be one of the killers.

'We are scared'

Two young girls and a woman who was eight months pregnant were among the victims. Two young girls were injured but survived the attack.

House were the 11 members of the Mexican family were killed, 10 June 2016Five adult women, four men and two young girls were killed inside the house in a remote rural area

The Sanchez Hernandez family were Evangelical Christians and lived in the remote village of San Jose El Mirador, which split 15 years ago from the predominantly Roman Catholic neighbouring community of El Potrero.

But residents have told local media that the two communities respected each other.

The two villages are part of the municipality of Coxcatlan.

"We are scared that the criminals will come back and repeat the attack," a resident told El Universal newspaper.

"We don't really know did this, where they came from, because it happened in the middle of the night and no one heard anything," a woman who lives outside El Mirador told El Milenio newspaper.

Many have refused to go back to their homes in the rural areas of Coxcatlan, said Mayor Vicente Lopez de la Vega.

Philippines Condemns Abu Sayyaf Killing Of Canadian Robert Hall
2016-Jun-14 | By Sihara Colombage

Philippines Condemns Abu Sayyaf Killing Of Canadian Robert Hall

The Philippine president has condemned the "brutal and senseless murder" of a Canadian man by Abu Sayyaf militants.

Robert Hall was kidnapped by the Islamist group in September along with three others from Canada, the Philippines and Norway.

Fellow Canadian John Ridsdel was killed by the group in April after a multi-million dollar ransom deadline expired.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier said he believed it was "likely" Hall was dead.

In a statement on Tuesday, outgoing Philippines President Benigno Aquino confirmed the killing.

"This latest heinous crime serves to strengthen our government's resolve to put an end to this reign of terror and banditry," he said.

Hall, his Filipina partner Marites Flor, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Canadian John Ridsdel were kidnapped from a marina near the city of Davao in September.

They were taken to an Abu Sayyaf stronghold on the remote southern island of Jolo. Ridsdel was beheaded on 25 April.

Last month, a video emerged showing the three hostages pleading for their governments to meet the captors' demands or they would also be executed.

The Philippine and Canadian governments are opposed to paying ransoms for hostages.

The Philippines have launched military operations against the militant group.

Trudeau said in a statement. that Canada "will not give into their fear mongering tactics and despicable attitude toward the suffering of others".

Abu Sayyaf is still holding several captives, including a Dutch birdwatcher taken in 2012.

Iranian Women Dressing Western Are 'Causing Rivers To Run Dry' - Senior Cleric
2016-Jun-14 | By Sihara Colombage

Iranian Women Dressing Western Are 'Causing Rivers To Run Dry' - Senior Cleric

Iran’s senior cleric criticized what he perceived as women’s overly liberal choices of clothing “as if they were in Europe,” and accused the trend of being behind one of Iran’s rivers drying up.

“My office has received photos of women next to the dry Zayandeh-rud River [the largest river in central Iran] pictured as if they are in Europe. It is these sorts of acts that cause the river to dry up even further,” ISNA News Agency cited cleric Seyyed Youssef Tabatabi-nejad as saying.

He then called on the Communications Ministry to ramp up its tactics on bringing to justice the “networks” that encourage immodesty in Iran’s women. “If you don’t do so, then you will have failed to carry out your duty. The Communications Ministry can discover and suffocate these individuals,” he went on.

“If we see a sin it’s useless that we only bicker about it. The police force can use the [paramilitary] Hezbollahi forces to carry out operations to root out vice,” the cleric said.

Dress code issues are normally dealt with by the morality police, whose activity has been on the rise, particularly with regards to failure by women to veil themselves properly – but not just that: listening to music too loudly in cars is also perceived as crossing the lines of decency.

Tabatabi-nejad is a senior official on the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body of 88 senior clerics who appoint Iran’s Supreme Leader. He’s not the only cleric who claimed natural disasters can be caused by dressing immorally. 

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad warned in 2010 that an earthquake was coming, 12 million people were advised to relocate, another Iranian Mullah, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, then said: “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."

Despite religious practice informing a large part of society’s life in Iran, the Shiite country has long been discussed as a place where religious conduct and dress codes are observed strictly only by a portion of the population, while the rest continues to do so largely for the benefit of the morality police. Iranian dress custom is quite liberal compared to some of its neighbors.

Iran also goes a step further than some of its Islamic peers in terms of things like female representation in politics. According to the official voting results for parliamentary elections issued on Saturday, 17 women will become members of the 290-seat parliament – as compared to clerics, who only won 16 seats. That is an all-time low for clerics, according to AFP.

Three Dead After Siege Outside Paris, "Islamic State" Link Investigated
2016-Jun-14 | By Sihara Colombage

Three Dead After Siege Outside Paris, "Islamic State" Link Investigated

Police have shot dead a man who killed a policeman and his wife in a suburban area northwest of Paris. Authorities have launched an anti-terror investigation into the killings amid reports of a potential "IS" link.

Police sources said the suspect attacked the 42-year-old police commander with a knife in front of his home in Magnanville, about 55 kilometers (32 miles) from the French capital late Monday.

The assailant then barricaded himself inside the house and took the policeman's wife and son hostage.

Elite police commandos surrounded the property and forced their way inside after attempting for a number of hours to negotiate with the man. The suspect was shot dead during the operation.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters that police had managed to rescue a three-year-old boy from the home, but that the policeman and his partner had been found dead.

"The investigation is beginning. We have no indication - serious (indication) - on the motivation behind this act," French prosecutor Vincent Lesclous said, adding that the assailant's identity was unknown.

The slain policeman worked in nearby Les Mureaux, while his partner was a civil servant with the interior ministry.

Possible 'IS' link

The Amaq news agency linked to "Islamic State" (IS) cited an unnamed "source" as saying the man was an IS militant, however the terror group has not officially claimed responsibility for the killings.

If it is confirmed that IS is behind the murders, it would be the first militant strike in France since the government imposed a state of emergency after the November Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack as an "odious act," and said an emergency meeting would be held at his Elysee office on Tuesday.

"Light will be shed on the circumstances of this abominable drama whose investigation, under the authority of justice, will determine the exact nature," Hollande said in a statement.

Orlando Attack: Who Was Omar Mateen?
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Orlando Attack: Who Was Omar Mateen?

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, a New York-born resident of Florida, as the gunman in the worst mass shooting in the country's history. 

Mateen, who was described by President Barack Obama as "a person filled with hate", attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando early on Sunday, killing at least 50 people and injuring 53 others.

According to Ron Hopper, head of the FBI in Orlando, his office first became aware of Mateen in 2013, when he made "inflammatory comments" to co-workers alleging possible "terrorist ties".

In that incident, the FBI interviewed Mateen twice, and also carried out separate interviews with other witnesses, as well as physical surveillance and checks on his records.

"Ultimately, we were unable to verify the substance of his comments, and the investigation was closed," Hopper said.    

In 2014, authorities interrogated Mateen anew for "possible ties" to an American suicide bomber, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who appeared in an al-Nusra Front video in Syria.

Hopper said the FBI determined that Mateen's contact with Abusalha "was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or threat at that time".

Following those "inconclusive" findings, both investigations on Mateen were closed.

Trevor Velinor, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Mateen legally bought the two guns believed to have been used in the attack within "the last few days". 

When asked by reporters how Mateen obtained firearms despite being under the FBI radar, Hopper said, "there was nothing to keep the investigation going forward".

When pressed further, he said, "Again, investigation was closed".  

Security guard

Al Jazeera's Andy Gallacher, reporting from Orlando, noted that Mateen worked as a security guard.

He said that to get the job, gun laws require Mateen to train with weapons, including fulfilling the required eight hours on a shooting range.

In a statement sent to the Palm Beach Post, security company G4S confirmed his employment.

"We are shocked and saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Orlando nightclub. We can confirm that Omar Mateen had been employed with G4S since September 10, 2007," the company said.

"We are cooperating fully with all law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, as they conduct their investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends, families and people affected by this unspeakable tragedy."

'Nothing to do with religion'

At the press conference in Orlando, Hopper, from the FBI confirmed that Mateen had called the police early on Sunday.

Hopper did not comment on whether Mateen declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also know as ISIS) group as reported in US media, but said the caller made references "to the Islamic State". 

"We are looking into any and all connections both domestic and international," he said.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive NBC News interview Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, said that during a visit to Miami, a neighbouring city also in Florida, the suspect became enraged after seeing two men kissing, in front of his wife and their child. 

The father said he was not aware of any plan by his son, adding, "this had nothing to do with religion".

Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Exclusive: Laser technology reveals cities concealed under the earth which would have made up the world’s largest empire in 12th century

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Some experts believe that the recently analysed data – captured in 2015 during the most extensive airborne study ever undertaken by an archaeological project, covering 734 sq miles (1,901 sq km) – shows that the colossal, densely populated cities would have constituted the largest empire on earth at the time of its peak in the 12th century.

Evans said: “We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there – at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] … this time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big.”

A research fellow at Siem Reap’s École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and the architect of the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative (Cali), Evans will speak at the Royal Geographic Society in London about the findings on Monday.

Evans obtained European Research Council (ERC) funding for the project, based on the success of his first lidar (light detection and ranging) survey in Cambodia in 2012. That uncovered a complex urban landscape connecting medieval temple-cities, such as Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, to Angkor, and confirmed what archaeologists had long suspected, that there was a city beneath Mount Kulen. It was not until the results of the significantly larger 2015 survey were analysed that the size of the city was apparent.

That survey uncovered an array of discoveries, including elaborate water systems that were built hundreds of years before historians believed the technology existed. The findings are expected to challenge theories on how the Khmer empire developed, dominated the region, and declined around the 15th century, and the role of climate change and water management in that process.

“Our coverage of the post-Angkorian capitals also provides some fascinating new insights on the ‘collapse’ of Angkor,” Evans said. “There’s an idea that somehow the Thais invaded and everyone fled down south – that didn’t happen, there are no cities [revealed by the aerial survey] that they fled to. It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse.”

The Angkor temple ruins, which sprawl across the Unesco-protected Angkor archaeological park, are the country’s top tourist destination, with the main temple-city, Angkor Wat, appearing on the Cambodian national flag. Considered the most extensive urban settlement of pre-industrial times, and boasting a highly sophisticated water management system, Angkor’s supposed decline has long occupied archaeologists.

The new cities were found by firing lasers to the ground from a helicopter to produce extremely detailed imagery of the Earth’s surface. Evans said the airborne laser scanners had also identified large numbers of mysterious geometric patterns formed from earthen embankments, which could have been gardens.

Experts in the archaeological world agree these are the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent years.

Michael Coe, emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University and one of the world’s pre-eminent archaeologists, specialises in Angkor and the Khmer civilisation.

“I think that these airborne laser discoveries mark the greatest advance in the past 50 or even 100 years of our knowledge of Angkorian civilisation,” he said from Long Island in the US.

 There is an undiscovered city beneath Mount Kulen.

“I saw Angkor for the first time in 1954, when I wondered at the magnificent temples, but there was nothing to tell us who had lived in the city, where they had lived, and how such an amazing culture was supported. To a visitor, Angkor was nothing but temples and rice paddies.”

Charles Higham, research professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and the leading archaeologist of mainland south-east Asia, said it was the most exciting paper he could recall reading.

“I have been to all the sites described and at a stroke, they spring into life … it is as if a bright light has been switched on to illuminate the previous dark veil that covered these great sites,” Higham said. “Personally, it is wonderful to be alive as these new discoveries are being made. Emotionally, I am stunned. Intellectually, I am stimulated.”

David Chandler, emeritus professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, the foremost expert on Cambodian history and the author of several books and articles on the subject, said the work was thrilling and credited Evans and his colleagues with “rewriting history”. 

Chandler said he believed it would open up a series of perspectives that would help people know more about Angkorian civilisation, and how it flourished and eventually collapsed.

“It will take time for their game-changing findings to drift into guide books, tour guides, and published histories,” Chandler said. “But their success at putting hundreds of nameless, ordinary, Khmer-speaking people back into Cambodia’s past is a giant step for anyone trying to deal with Cambodian history.”

David Kyle, an archaeologist and ecological anthropologist has conducted projects at Phnom Kulen, the location of the biggest findings, the massive city of Mahendraparvata, the size of Phnom Penh, beneath the forest floor.

He said the “survey results have revolutionised our understanding and approaches. It’s impossible not to be excited. It facilitates a paradigm shift in our comprehension of the complexity, size and the questions we can address.”

While the 2012 survey identified a sprawling, highly urbanised landscape at Greater Angkor, including rather “spectacularly” in the “downtown” area of the temple-city of Angkor Wat, the 2015 project has revealed a similar pattern of equally intense urbanism at remote archaeological ruins, including pre- and post-Angkorian sites.

Dr Peter Sharrock, who is on the south-east Asian board at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies and has a decades-long connection to Cambodia, said the findings showed “clear data for the first time of dense populations settled in and around all ancient Khmer temples”.

“This urban and rural landscape, linked by road and canal networks, now seems to have constituted the largest empire on earth in the 12th century,” Sharrock said.

Evans, whose domain is an air-conditioned room full of computers at the French archaeological centre in Siem Reap, rather than dirt trenches at far-flung digs, is modest about his achievements and quick to credit his colleagues on the Cali project.

 A fight scene depicted in detail in the bas-reliefs at the Banteay Chhmar temple complex. 

He said he believed the discoveries would completely upend many assumptions about the Khmer empire. He also hoped it would bring the study of people back into the picture.

Coe, who has been to many of the places covered by the survey and has seen the imagery, said that while the 2012 survey of Phnom Kulen demonstrated what the technology could do – “it could look through the dense jungle covering these hills and reveal an unexpected city which predated Angkor itself” – the 2015 survey took this into new dimensions.

This view was shared by Dr Mitch Hendrickson, the director of the industries of Angkor project and assistant professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Illinois. He said the initial survey had been “an incredible leap forward” in archaeologists’ ability to see everything for the first time and had been “a major game-changer” in understanding how the Angkorian Khmer people built, modified and lived in their cities. But he was “stunned” by the second survey.

“The results for Preah Khan of Kompong Svay are truly remarkable and are arguably the jewel in the crown of this mission. The lidar shows us that there was much, much more,” Hendrickson said, referencing a full-blown community layout that was previously unknown. “It’s both humbling and exciting. There are so many fantastic new discoveries.”

“We knew that Preah Khan of Kompong Svay was significant before the lidar – it’s the largest complex ever built during the Angkorian period at 22 sq km, it is connected to Angkor directly by a major road fitted with infrastructure, and likely played a role in facilitating iron supply to the capital. 

 The team at Siem Reap’s École Française d’Extrême-Orient look at a map of the site.

“The new results suggest that it may have been more important than many temples built in Angkor and that it had a decent-sized population supporting it.”

Dr Martin Polkinghorne, a research fellow in the department of archaeology at Adelaide’s Flinders University who is conducting a joint research project on Longvek and Oudong, the post-Angkorian capitals, said his team would use the data during excavations scheduled until 2019 to understand the cities.

“The decline of Angkor is among the most significant events in the history of south-east Asia, but we do not have a precise date for the event,” Polkinghorne said. “By using lidar to guide excavations on the capitals of Cambodia that followed we can determine when the kings of Angkor moved south and clarify the end of Angkor.

“Cambodia after Angkor is customarily understood in terms of loss, retreat and absence; a dark age,” he said. “Yet, Cambodia was alive with activity after Angkor. South-east Asia was the hub of international trade between east and west. Using the lidar at Longvek and Oudong in combination with conventional archaeology we will reveal the dark age as equally rich, complex and diverse.”

What is a lidar survey?

An airborne laser scanner (ALS) is mounted to a helicopter skid pad. Flying with pre-determined guidelines, including altitude, flight path and airspeed, the ALS pulses the terrain with more than 16 laser beams per square metre during flights. The time the laser pulse takes to return to the sensor determines the elevation of each individual data point.

The data downloaded from the ALS is calibrated and creates a 3D model of the information captured during the flights. In order to negate tree foliage and manmade obstacles from the data, any sudden and radical changes in ground height are mapped out, with technicians who have models of the terrain fine-tuning the thresholds in processing these data points. Once completed, the final 3D model is handed over to the archaeologists for analysis, which can take months to process into maps.

Shanghai Pudong airport explosion wounds four
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the site of a blast at a terminal in Shanghai's Pudong International Airport 12 June 2016Paramilitary police sealed off the area around Sunday's blast

A man has set off a homemade explosive device at Shanghai international airport, injuring four people as well as himself, Chinese officials say.

The attacker threw a bottle containing explosives, which went off near a check-in counter in Terminal Two.

The man then took out a knife and stabbed his own neck, officials say.

In 2013 a man in a wheelchair detonated a bomb at Beijing airport to highlight a personal grievance. He was later sentenced to six years in prison.

The latest incident happened at about 15:00 (07:00) on Sunday.

Eyewitness Ni Bowen told the Associated Press news agency that she was waiting to check in at Pudong International Airport when there was a loud bang.

"A beer bottle filled with white smoke rolled right by my feet. I was scared and made off at once,'' she said.

The four victims sustained light wounds and are being treated in hospital. The unnamed attacker is said to be in a critical condition.

Warning after four people killed in bear attacks in Japan
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

The separate attacks in Akita prefecture over three weeks may be act of one bear which has got used to human flesh says local vet

Two bears walk down the street in Shari town in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. A bear in Akita prefecture is believed responsible for the death of four people in three weeks. 

People in northern Japan have been warned to stay away from mountain forests after four people were killed in a spate of bear attacks, amid a dramatic rise in the number of bear sightings.

Police in Akita prefecture found the body of a woman they suspect was mauled by a bear in a mountain forest at the weekend. The victim, Tsuwa Suzuki, 74, suffered injuries so horrific that local authorities were initially unable to identify her.

Suzuki, who lived in neighbouring Aomori prefecture, had gone to the area alone to pick edible wild plants, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Her death comes soon after three men – two in their seventies and one in his sixties – died from what have been described as “severe” injuries sustained in separate attacks in the same area.

The men were foraging for bamboo shoots when they were attacked, Japanese media reported.

Takeshi Komatsu, a local vet, said it was possible that the four were killed by the same bear. “After tasting human flesh (for the first time), the bear may have realised that it can eat them,” Komatsu told Kyodo news agency.

While officials have set traps and told people not to go into the mountains in search of plants and vegetables, local media pointed out that the number of fatal attacks in Akita this year is already half the eight deaths reported in the area between 1979 and last year.

Sightings of brown bears and black Asiatic bears in northern Japan have risen to over 1,200 already this year, almost twice the number reported last year. In some cases, the animals have been spotted near residential areas.

Aside from Akita, there have been sightings of mother with their cubs in several other prefectures, as well as reports of injuries due to bear attacks.

Bear attacks are usually blamed on food shortages that send the animals straying out of their habitats into towns and villages. The recent attacks, however, appear to have been sparked by an abundance of beechnuts, which has led to a boom in the number of surviving cubs.

“From summer to after autumn, people risk being attacked by mature cubs,” Kazuhiko Maita, chief director of the Institute for Asiatic Black Bear Research and Preservation, told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Yohei Sasaki, chairman of the national hunters association, told the newspaper that female Asiatic black bears with cubs can be particularly aggressive towards humans.

Even though adult Asiatic black bears generally grow to between one and 1.5 metres in length from nose to tail, “even hunters find them unmanageable,” Sasaki told the newspaper, adding that an unarmed person foraging in the forest “would be helpless in an attack”.

Experts say people can lower the risk of being attacked by carrying a bell, since in most cases bears are wary of humans. In the event that they come face to face with a bear, the advice is to retreat slowly, watching the animal the whole time.

The recent killings have revived memories of Japan’s deadliest bear attacks – known collectively as the Sankebetsu incident - in which an 8.85 ft brown bear weighing 749 lb killed seven villagers and injured three others on the northern island of Hokkaido in 1915.

The bear, whose rampage inspired novels, radio and stage productions, and a film, was tracked down and shot dead by a hunter.

ISIS claims responsibility for Orlando nightclub mass shooting 
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

ISIS claims responsibility for Orlando nightclub mass shooting

Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said on Sunday that the Islamist militant group was responsible for the shooting that killed at least 50 people in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“The armed attack that targeted a gay nightclub in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter,” Amaq said.

However, two U.S. officials familiar with the investigation into the massacre said that no evidence had yet been found showing a direct link between the massacre and Islamic State or any other militant group. 

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said they had yet to see any direct contacts between any extremist group and the suspect.

A leading theory, said the officials was that the suspect somehow was inspired by Islamic militants without explicit oversight or orders to carry out the attack. One official said early information, the nature of which he did not disclose, indicated that the shooter was motivated by a mixture of “hate” and religion.

Libyan Government Forces Capture Sirte Port From ISIS
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Libyan Government Forces Capture Sirte Port From ISIS

Libyan forces say they have re-taken control of the port in the city of Sirte, after fierce fighting against militants from so-called Islamic State.

Sirte is the most significant IS stronghold outside Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this week warplanes bombed IS positions in Sirte while naval forces fired missiles into the port, officials said. The offensive continues.

The forces, aligned to the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, began the battle to re-take the city last month.

Their spokesman, General Muhammad al-Ghusri, said senior IS leaders had fled into the desert to the south, but that many militants were still under siege in the city centre.

Clashes centred on the Ougadougou conference centre, which was once a venue for international summits but has now become an IS command centre.

Forces loyal to the government targeted the conference centre with heavy artillery fire, backed by warplanes.

ISIS fighters responded using sniper fire, machine guns and mortar rounds.

The government said two soldiers were killed and eight were wounded.

Sirte was the hometown of ousted ruler Muammar Gadaffi.

The unity government was formed in Tripoli more than two months ago.

The US said the unity government should be allowed to arm itself against IS. Secretary of State John Kerry has said this would be "the only way to generate the cohesion necessary" to defeat the militants.

Euro 2016: Violence Mars England-Russia Match
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Euro 2016: Violence Mars England-Russia Match

England fans have been embroiled in fresh clashes with police and rival supporters in Marseille on the day the team played its first Euro 2016 game.

The latest violence followed two nights of trouble in the French port city.

French police used tear gas for a third day and a water cannon. They say one Briton was seriously hurt in clashes.

There were also clashes in the stadium following England's 1-1 draw with Russia, after Russia fans appeared to rush at the England supporters.

Witnesses said flares had been let off by Russian fans during the game, and some fans had then climbed across barriers designed to keep rival fans apart.

BBC Sports editor Dan Roan said England fans began jumping over the perimeter fence in panic.

"Big questions for UEFA here," he tweeted. "Stampede appears to have been triggered by explosion. How did such a device make it inside and where was segregation?"

The FA condemned the violence saying they were "very disappointed by the terrible scenes of disorder".

A police spokesman said the Briton who was injured in the clashes before the match had been resuscitated by officers, but gave no further details.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are in contact with French authorities about a British national injured in Marseille and stand ready to provide further support."


Before the game fans had walked past ranks of police officers in riot gear on their way to the Stade Velodrome venue.

The great majority of fans appeared to be peaceful but there were reports of a few scuffles outside the stadium.

European football's governing body Uefa said it "firmly condemns the incidents in Marseille", adding that "people engaging in such violent acts have no place in football".

Earlier on Saturday, shadow home secretary Andy Burnham had said England fans' behaviour was "embarrassing", given the terrorism threat to France.

BBC News correspondent Nick Eardley, who is in Marseille, described the situation as "pretty terrifying" as fans fought with Russia supporters.

He said he had witnessed bloodied England fans being "dragged away by police", to the sound of sirens blaring out across the city's main square.

Six arrested

Police told the BBC that six people had been arrested and at least five had been injured during the scuffles.

Local police chief Laurent Nunez told AFP news agency: "Police intervened in a clash between English, Russian and French supporters in the Vieux Port district."

Some British journalists in the area have described the scenes on social media, and pointed the finger at a gang of black-clad Russians, who they said had entered the port city's main square from a side street apparently seeking violence.

Death Toll In Orlando Nightclub Shooting Rises To 50
2016-Jun-13 | By Gehan Jayaratne

Death Toll In Orlando Nightclub Shooting Rises To 50

Orlando's mayor announced on Sunday that an attack on a gay club in the Florida city left at least 50 dead and 53 others injured.

US Representative Alan Grayso said the shooter was identified as Omar Mateen, a US citizen with Afghan roots. The man was in his late twenties, the lawmaker added.

"We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20 but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter," Orland Mayor Buddy Dyer told a press conference.

"There are another 53 that are hospitalized," he added.

Saturday's attacks marks the one of the worst mass shooting in US history, according to AFP news agency.

'Suspect is dead'

A policeman first engaged a suspect at the entrance of the Pulse club after he started firing around 2 am local time. The shooter then entered the club, turning the firefight into a hostage situation, Orlando police chief John Mina said.

"At approximately 0500 the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there," he said.

A SWAT team moved in and killed the attacker on the premises.

"The suspect is dead; he appeared to be carrying an assault type rife, a handgun, and some kind of device with him," Mina added.

The assailant appeared to have been prepared for the attack, according to the police. An FBI spokesman said that the shooting was being investigated as an act of terrorism.

Witnesses reported that the gunman used an automatic weapon.

Club visitor Jon Alamo said he was in the back of one of the club's rooms when an armed man came into the front.

"I heard 20, 40, 50 shots," Alamo said. "The music stopped."

'Last sip'

Another patron, Rob Rick, said the incident took place around closing time on Sunday morning, with around 100 people still inside.

"Everybody was drinking their last sip," he said.

When the shooting occurred, around 2 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), the club, on Facebook, warned people to "get out of pulse and keep running."

Multiple emergency vehicles were reported to have been dispatched to the scene, including the Fire Department's bomb squad and hazardous material team.

The police said they conducted a controlled explosion in the area.

US media reported that between seven and 20 people had been injured and that the suspected shooter may have been carrying a bomb. People at the club made similar reports on social media.

The incident comes less than a day after a gunman killed American singer Christina Grimmie after an Orlando concert. The assailant committed suicide after the act.

China's Nanshan buys 20% Virgin Australia stake
2016-Jun-10 | By Sihara Colombage

Virgin Australia plane

The Chinese group Nanshan has bought a 20% stake in Virgin Australia from Air New Zealand.

It is the second Chinese firm after the HNA Group to invest in the Australian carrier, which hopes to benefit from growing numbers of China tourists.

More than one million mainlanders visited Australia last year and that is forecast to grow to 1.5m by 2020.

Shares of Virgin Australia, which plans to launch direct flights to China next year, rose by 5.4% on Friday.

Shares of Air New Zealand rose by more than 3% in Wellington trading following the news.

Nanshan will pay 33 Australian cents a share for the slice of the company, valuing it at about 230m Australian dollars (£118m; $170m).

Aside from Nanshan and HNA, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways are also major shareholders in Virgin Australia.

Last month, HNA bought 13% of Virgin Australia for $118m but plans to raise that stake to about 20% in the future.

"We believe Nanshan Group will be a very strong, positive and complimentary shareholder for Virgin Australia," Air New Zealand Chairman Tony Carter said in a statement.

"The sale will allow Air New Zealand to focus on its own growth opportunities, while still continuing its long-standing alliance with Virgin Australia on the trans-Tasman network".

India rejects Google Street View plan over security concerns
2016-Jun-10 | By Sihara Colombage

A Google street view car (R) drives through the streets of Tirana, Albania, 01 May 2016.Google data collection has caused concern in numerous countries

India has rejected Google's plans to collect images for its Street View service in the country after objections from security agencies.

Officials told the BBC there were concerns that the service would compromise the country's security.

Google Street View collects high definition images to give its users 360 degree views of streets, tourist spots, hills and rivers.

Google's data collection has caused concern in numerous countries.

The Press Trust of India agency reported that India's interior ministry had informed Google that its plans to cover India through the service had been rejected.

Security agencies had expressed concerns about allowing such image-capturing services, on the basis that planning for the 2008 Mumbai attacks is believed to have involved photographic reconnaissance of targets by key "planner" David Headley, a US man.


"The main concern was security of sensitive defence installations. The defence ministry said it was not possible to monitor the service once it was launched and it would be detrimental to national security," a senior government official was quoted as saying by The Hindu newspaper.

A spokesman for Google told the BBC that had they had not received a copy of the order as yet.

In 2011, police in the southern city of Bangalore stopped Google from collecting images for its service in the city on an experimental basis after police objections. Cameras mounted on cars and tricycles had been taking pictures of the city.

Google Street View was launched in May 2007, covering San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, New York and Miami, allowing users to navigate virtual streets from photographs gathered from directional cameras on special vehicles.

The service has been hugely successful but has caused problems of privacy in some countries.

In 2010 almost 250,000 Germans told Google to blur pictures of their homes on the Street View service and the Czech government also banned Google from taking any new photos for the service.

Obama officially endorses Hillary Clinton
2016-Jun-10 | By Sihara Colombage

President Barack Obama has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party presidential nominee.

His endorsement came after meeting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who has been battling Mrs Clinton for the nomination.

Speaking in a video tweeted out by Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama said she may be the most qualified person "ever" for the role of president.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also endorsed Mrs Clinton on Thursday.

"I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States," she told MSNBC, "and to make sure that Donald Trump never gets any place close to the White House."

President Obama and Mrs Clinton are set to start campaigning together soon.

"I want those of you who've been with me from the beginning of this incredible journey to be the first to know that 'I'm with Her.' I am fired up and cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary," Mr Obama said in the video.

"Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders may have been rivals during this primary, but they're both patriots who love this country and they share a vision for the America that we all believe in."