Thousands attend state funeral for for former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe’s founding president Robert Mugabe was given a state funeral on Saturday, after he died in Singapore aged 95.

The ceremony, which took place at the National Sports Stadium in the capital, Harare, was attended by thousands of people from Zimbabwe along with numerous African heads of state.

His burial has been delayed for at least a month until a special mausoleum can be built for Mr Mugabe’s remains.

The casket of former president Robert Mugabe is escorted by military officers (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
The casket of former president Robert Mugabe is escorted by military officers (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

An announcement by the Mugabe family and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed that it will be postponed until a new resting place for his body can be constructed at the national Heroes’ Acre monument.

The announcement on Friday evening is the latest turn in a dramatic wrangle between his family and Mr Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mr Mugabe from power.

The ex-leader died on 6 September, two years after he was ousted as the country’s President. The cause of death has not been released, but he had been unwell for some time.

Leaders at the ceremony

More than 10 African leaders and several former presidents spoke in praise of Mr Mugabe at the service in the Harare stadium, which attracted a crowd filling about 30 per cent of its 60,000 capacity.

Most of those attending were supporters of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his speech during the funeral (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his speech during the funeral (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa drew boos from the crowd, as a result of the recent attacks in Johannesburg on foreigners, including Zimbabweans.

An official pleaded with the stadium crowd to let him speak. Mr Ramaphosa apologised for the attacks.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described Mr Mugabe as “a great icon of African liberation” and “a visionary leader and relentless champion of African dignity”.

Mourners attend the funeral service for Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Mourners attend the funeral service for Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Mr Mnangagwa presided over the ceremony, attended by Mr Mugabe’s widow Grace, who wore a black veil.

Life under Mr Mugabe’s rule

“Go Well Our Revolutionary Icon” and “Farewell Gallant Son of the Soil” were among the banners praising Mr Mugabe, who led the bitter guerrilla war to end white-minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia.

Supporters the late former Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe hold up his portrait as his remains arrive at the National Sports stadium during a funeral procession in Harare (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Supporters the late former Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe hold up his portrait as his remains arrive at the National Sports stadium during a funeral procession in Harare (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Mr Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first leader and ruled the country from 1980 until 2017.

His savage rule was dominated by murder, bloodshed, torture, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale.

He was deposed in 2017 by the military and Mr Mnangagwa in a bloodless coup that was marked by more than 100,000 people demonstrating in Harare’s streets to demand that he step down.

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's coffin arrives for a state funeral for at the National Sports Stadium in Harare (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s coffin arrives for a state funeral for at the National Sports Stadium in Harare (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Following Mr Mugabe’s resignation, Mr Mnangagwa took power and won elections the next year on campaign promises he would improve the collapsed economy and create jobs.

But Zimbabwe’s economy has lurched from crunch to crisis and some in the crowd expressed the view that life was better under Mr Mugabe’s rule.

Additional reporting by Press Association.  

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Women in Colombia are risking their lives every day to clear the minefields left after 50 years of armed conflict

When Paola Sanchez heard she was being recruited for a job in late 2018 after a friend had recommended her, she knew little more than she would be helping remote communities. She had previously worked with NGOs to support remote Colombian populations with education and technology so she expected more of the same: smart-casual attire, drawn-out meetings and clipboards.

She did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool. “I had no idea what was coming,” the 24-year-old giggles.

Then it all became very clear: Sanchez would become part of a team clearing Colombia’s jungles of antipersonnel mines, a deadly legacy of half a century of armed conflict in which she has seen families and communities destroyed.

“As soon as I found out I was working with explosives I was frightened – we have seen the conflict, we have lived the conflict. My family and friends told me: ‘It’s too dangerous’.”

Where few dare to tread

Paola Sanchez did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool
Paola Sanchez did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool (Photo: © Francisco Javier Profeta/ HI)

Just 10 months later, however, she relishes kitting up every morning, slipping on her black wellington boots, packing up her shears and metal detector and heading into the once-battlefields of guerrilla insurgencies, paramilitaries and the army. “The more I do this, the more I have to continue – not just for myself or my family, but for all of Colombia and her peace process,” she said while taking a break from a training exercise in southwestern Colombia.

Sanchez was raised by her 69-year-old grandmother in a remote Amazonian town as her mother worked far away while she was growing up and she has never known her father.

The town was once dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerrillas so Sanchez is no stranger to Colombia’s war. She has seen children mutilated and orphaned, fathers disappeared and entire families displaced.

Her grandmother’s eldest son was killed in the conflict, and her uncle was recruited as a child soldier at the age of 13 into Farc. “This is the true disaster of war… it touches everyone,” she says sombrely, reflecting on some of her darkest memories of a brutal conflict that left 260,000 people dead and seven million displaced.

50 years of armed conflict

Having demobilised after a historic peace agreement with the government in 2016, Farc is no longer a direct threat. But the thousands of makeshift explosives it laid across vast swathes of the country remain – and still claim victims.

Colombia is one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world in terms of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) according to its demining agency. It has the second highest number of mine and ERW survivors globally – 11,524 between 1990 and January 2018.

International NGOs such as the one Sanchez works for, Humanity and Inclusion, are now working to clear the explosives and return the countryside to its people free of fear.

‘This is a way of developing equality. I am demonstrating to a lot of women that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to’

Paola Sanchez

Starting at 5am at base camp she begins each day by checking her equipment, packing it, and dressing in protective clothing: gloves, visor, bulletproof vest etc. By 6am she is in a truck with up to 10 others on the way to areas too dangerous for civilians.

Each deminer then painstakingly clears their own 10ft-wide (3m) “lane” slowly and steadily following rigorous safety protocols. Should a mine be detected, a series of tests are performed to rule out false alarms. If confirmed, the area is marked off and a national unit is called to disarm it.

Clearing up to 131ft (40m) a day in a country around five times the size of the UK may appear slow, but when it comes to explosives slow and steady wins the race.

“If you don’t follow procedures you’ll be blown to a million pieces,” she says. “I’m not putting my colleagues in danger.”

Rebuilding peace

But like her colleagues, Sanchez is modest and plays down the risk of her work. The hardest part of her job, she says, is being away at a remote base camp far from friends and family for 45 days at a time with little or no phone signal. Lugging around heavy equipment and traversing rugged terrain while battling the heavy rains is also gruelling. Some female colleagues have given up and left.

But for Sanchez, just like the risk, she says it’s ultimately worth it. “I remember the first area we cleared,” she says. “When we met with the local community a lady started to cry with joy because we had cleared the land that had once killed a member of her family. When a person hugs you and thanks you that makes it worthwhile and motivates you to continue.”

And while Sanchez contributes her part to the peace process and healing her country, she also hopes she can break some stereotypes as a woman carrying out a “macho” role in a conservative, Catholic nation.

Sanchez is the only woman deminer in her team, but her NGO aims for 40 per cent to be female, not only to provide equal opportunities and dispel gender myths, but because they can be more effective than their male peers.

“In Colombia, due to many decades of armed conflict, trust is one of the more important factors to rebuild peace… it is easier for a woman to feel more comfortable and respond to another woman, than with a man,” says Aderito Ismael, Humanity & Inclusion’s explosive ordnance disposal chief of operations in Colombia, of the benefits of women also acting as community liaisons in the field.

Sanchez agrees and believes the best way to break stereotypes is with action. “This is a way of developing equality. I am demonstrating to a lot of women that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to,” she says. “The fact that we are women does not make us less nor more. This is the best way to show that and say to the whole of Colombia that women are made for big things: not by saying it, but by doing it.”

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Google Earth reveals the body of a man missing for 22 years in a Florida lake

A man who disappeared 22 years ago has finally been found after somebody zoomed in on his old neighbourhood on Google Earth and spotted a car submerged in a lake.

The remains of William Moldt, who went missing in 1997 at the age of 40, were found by complete chance and curiosity, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Mr Moldt was discovered after a former resident of the Grand Isles neighborhood in Wellington, Florida, spotted what looked to be a vehicle via Google’s satellite imagery.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said on Thursday that the former resident contacted a current homeowner, who used a drone to confirm it was a white car on the edge of the pond behind his house.

Missing for 22 years

The man called the sheriff’s office on 28 August and deputies later arrived to find the white sedan’s exterior “heavily calcified.” After they got the car out, they found Mr Moldt’s skeletal remains inside.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System said Mr Moldt went to a nightclub in November 1997 but did not appear intoxicated as he left alone before midnight. He had called his girlfriend from the club saying he would return to their Lantana home soon.

The residential area was under construction when Moldt went missing, but the pond was already there. Barry Fay, whose home is near where the car was found, told The Palm Beach Post that he had never noticed anything from the shoreline.

“Never did I believe there would be a 22-year-old dead body,” he told the newspaper.

The Charley Project, a missing person’s database, said the “vehicle had been plainly visible on a Google Earth satellite photo of the area since 2007, but apparently no one had noticed it until 2019”.

‘Google search’

A statement from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said: “A previous resident living in Grand Isles was doing a ‘google search’ on Google Earth in the area and noticed what appeared to be a vehicle in the pond behind a residence.

“That previous resident contacted the current resident living on Moon Bay Circle and advised he noticed what appears to be a vehicle in a pond behind his home. The current resident activated his personal drone and confirmed what the previous resident saw and immediately contacted PBSO.

“Upon arrival deputies confirmed there was a vehicle in the pond. The vehicle’s exterior was heavily calcified and was obviously in the water for a significant amount of time. Upon removing the vehicle skeleton remains were found inside.

“Detectives and Crime Scene responded and assumed the investigation. The vehicle and the remains were towed to the Medical Examiner’s Office for processing.

“On 10 September 10, the remains were positively identified as William Moldt, who was reported missing on November 8, 1997.”

Mr Moldt’s family have been informed.

Additional reporting by agencies 

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Venezuela’s People Self-Determination Not Trump will Decide their Future

A completely misplaced criticism of the Scottish Socialist Party, particularly from socialists in England, is that we are some kind of nationalist party because of our support for Scottish independence. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are a socialist party which is part of an independence movement. Our aim is the break up of […] Read More

Huge seal helped thwart criminal gang in £800m Australian drug bust

A “huge” seal helped to thwart an international drug smuggling ring in Australia after it prevented two men from fleeing from police.

A $1bn (£810m) drug haul was discovered on the tiny Burton Island, off Western Australia after a yacht ran aground and was abandoned, local reports say. Police rushed to the island and two suspects were seen running toward a dinghy in an effort to get away – only to be confronted by the animal, which sealed their fate.

“The men woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them,” Damien Healy, a vice-commander with the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service, told Australia’s ABC Radio.

“The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested,” he added. Briton Graham Palmer, 34, and Frenchman Antoine Dicenta, 51, were allegedly found with more than a tonne of methylamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy in dozens of bags they had attempted to hide under seaweed. They were refused bail along with three other men.

International drug syndicate

“We’ve disrupted a big international drug syndicate here,” Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said.

It is not known what species the meritorious marine mammal was. Of the seal species found in Australian waters, only the Australian sea lion and the Australian and New Zealand fur seals can be found on the mainland and in Tasmanian waters. The others, including the threatened leopard seal and southern elephant seal, are found in Australia’s Antarctic territories.

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Remembering Allende’s Unidad Popular and the New Song Movement as catalysts of change

September 4, 1970 marked the electoral triumph of Chile’s Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) coalition led by Salvador Allende, despite the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interference in Chile’s electoral process through the funding of right-wing political parties. Following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1 1959, the US’s greatest fear was that the […] Read More

Spilt coffee forced transatlantic flight to turn back and land in Ireland for repairs

A coffee spillage in the cockpit of an airliner flying over the Atlantic Ocean forced the plane to turn back and land in Ireland.

The hot liquid damaged an audio control panel, producing an electrical burning smell and smoke, an accident report revealed.

It created “significant communication difficulty” for the pilots flying the Condor aircraft, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

The incident happened on 6 February and resulted in the Airbus A330 flight from Frankfurt in Germany to Cancun in Mexico being diverted to Shannon.

Diversion costs thousands

The smoke stopped and the fumes did not result in injuries to any of the 11 crew or 326 passengers on board.

The plane was heading for Cancun in Mexico (Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty)
The plane was heading for Cancun in Mexico (Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty)

Diversions typically cost airlines between £10,000 and £80,000 depending on the size of the aircraft and where it diverts to, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The report found the 49-year-old captain had put his coffee cup on a tray table – where objects are “vulnerable to being knocked over” – despite Airbus recommending pilots use the cup holders provided.

The AAIB said the small size of cups used by Condor “generally discouraged” use of the holders as it was difficult to grasp them.

Investigators also noted putting a lid on the cup may have reduced the amount of coffee spilled.

Coffee care reminder

Condor responded to the accident by ensuring cup lids are provided on all flights, reminding pilots to be careful with liquids and supplying cups that are an appropriate size for cup holders.

A spokeswoman for the airline, which is a subsidiary of Thomas Cook Group, said: “Flight DE2116 from Frankfurt to Cancun on February 6 2019 diverted to Shannon airport as a precautionary measure due to a minor amount of smoke in the cockpit after a liquid spillage.

“After the aircraft was fully inspected and repaired by our team of engineers, the flight continued via Manchester due to the legal operating hours of the crew.

“We have comprehensively investigated this incident and reviewed the procedures of liquids in the cockpit.

“Our crews were reminded of (the need for) careful handling as well as to use appropriate containers for their water or coffee.

“We apologise for any inconveniences the diversion might have caused to our guests.”

Additional reporting from Press Association.

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Jolie King and Mark Firkin: Australian and British bloggers detained in Iran prison named

Two Australian citizens who have been detained in Iran have been identified as Jolie King and Mark Firkin.

Ms King, who also holds a UK passport, and Mr Firkin were reportedly arrested 10 weeks ago near Tehran.

News of the arrests, which happened several months after another British-Australian woman was detained – and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison – only surfaced on Wednesday. The woman, who is reportedly an academic from Melbourne, has not been named.

Blogging about travels

Ms King and Mr Firkin, from Perth, were said to have been blogging about their adventures in the Middle East when they were arrested.

They are understood to have been detained after allegedly camping in a military area outside of Jajrood, in Tehran province.

Manoto TV, a Persian-language broadcaster in London, reported the couple were arrested for flying a drone near Tehran. The couple use a drone to make videos of their travels which they post on social media.

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The Karakoram Highway. The highest paved international road in the world topping out at around 4800m, and somewhere we had been looking forward to getting to for months. . The Highway stretches for 1300kms weaving through the lower more green and open landscape, up into the narrow and steep valleys, then over the snow capped Khunjerab Pass. . In the pic is the Passu Cones. Like the rest of the scenery it is pretty spectacular, isn’t it!? . (To our very generous Patreons, new video’s up now! 🙂) . . . . . . . . . #pakistan #karakoram #overland #vanlife #roadtrip #expedition #vlog #troopy #4wd #landcruiser #youtube #thekarakoramclub #toyota #troopcarrier #cnntravel #mountain #bbctravel #4×4 #travellingthroughtheworld #projectvanlife #hunza #passu #passucones #overlandjournal #hdj78r #camperlifestyle #expeditionportal #iamtb #gilgit #nature

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The two British-Australian women are said to be incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail, where 41-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one, has been held on spying charges since 2016.

Australia said it had repeatedly raised the cases with Iran, including in a meeting between officials last week, in order to assist its citizens.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the BBC she has lobbied on their behalf in a meeting with her Iranian counterpart.

On Thursday, Ms Payne described the detentions as “a matter of deep concern” and confirmed help had been given to the families of those involved.

“Since they were detained, the Australian government has been pressing at the Iranian government for their release,” she said.

“The government has been making efforts to ensure they are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international norms,” she added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to say whether he intends to raise the issue with his Iranian counterpart.

“Engaging in public commentary about process on consular cases is never in the interests of those who are caught up in these issues,” Morrison told reporters.

Family statement

“[We] hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible,” their families have said.

The blogger and her boyfriend had been documenting their travels on YouTube and Instagram, with their followers having become concerned in the past several weeks by the absence of any new posts.

The cases of the two women are believed to be the first imprisonments in Iran of British passport holders who do not also have Iranian nationality.

Their arrests come amid a downturn in relations between Britain and Iran, sparked by issues including the seizure by the Royal Marines in July of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has agreed to their Australian counterparts handling the case.

Additional reporting by agencies

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European Central Bank launches financial stimulus to boost economies amid US-China trade conflict and Brexit uncertainty

The European Central Bank (ECB) has launched a new round of monetary stimulus to support economic growth in the face of uncertainties such as the US-China trade conflict and Brexit.

The central bank for the 19 Eurozone countries said it would cut the rate on deposits – a penalty rate that pushes banks to lend excess cash – from minus 0.5 per cent to minus 0.4 per cent in its latest quantitative easing efforts. It also said it would purchase €20bn (£17.7bn) a month in government and corporate bonds for as long as necessary. The purchases pump newly created money into the financial system to lower borrowing costs and raise inflation.

The bank also extended a promise to keep rates at record lows for as long as necessary and held interest rates at zero. Eurozone inflation remains well below its 2 per cent  target.

Marchel Alexandrovich, senior European economist at Jefferies, said: “What the monetary policy decision statement does not mention is how generous the tiering system is, the precise mix of assets the new QE programme will contain, and whether the ECB raised the issuer limit on its sovereign bond purchases.”

Germany set to fall into recession

Meanwhile, the Eurozone’s largest economy is expected to fall into recession in the third quarter. According to the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO), the German economy is set to shrink by 0.1 per cent in the third quarter, which would amount to a recession after a similar contraction in the April to June period.

“The outlook is weighed down by high uncertainties,” said IFO’s Timo Wollmershauser, pointing to possible risks to the economy from a no-deal Brexit and an escalation of US President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

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Angela Merkel warns EU about danger of UK becoming Singapore-style low regulation banking haven

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned European allies of the danger of the UK becoming a Singapore-style magnet to international investment at their expense.

She said she believes that a deal can still be reached with Britain and she vowed to fight until the “last day” for an agreement.

Speaking in Berlin to the Bundestag, Germany’s lower parliamentary chamber, Mrs Merkel said yesterday there was still time to negotiate a deal before Britain’s scheduled departure from the bloc on 31 October.

But she warned that Britain could adopt a low-tariff regime that could undermine EU economies.

‘Economic competitor’

“After the withdrawal of Britain, we will have an economic competitor at our own doorstep, even if we want to keep close economic, foreign and security cooperation and friendly relations,” she said.

The UK’s banking industry dwarfs that of any other European country, and is nearly three times the size as that of France or Germany.

Mrs Merkel said she regretted the exit of one of the EU’s “most important member states” in the coming months, but she insisted Germany was ready for a no-deal Brexit.

“I’m firmly convinced, as before, that we have every opportunity to do it in an orderly fashion, and the German government will work until the last day to ensure that that’s possible,” she said. “But I can also say that we’re prepared for a disorderly exit.”

Yellowhammer

There may be days-long delays for lorries crossing the channel from Calais, the document warns
There may be days-long delays for lorries crossing the channel from Calais, the document warns (Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

A new Whitehall “Operation Yellowhammer” document was released on Wednesday night that warned the UK could face shortages of food and medicine and civil unrest if the UK left the EU without a deal.

Ministers published the information just three hours before the deadline imposed by Parliament, who had compelled the Government to publish the documents in a vote in the Commons.

Truck drivers face delays as long as two and a half days, with the disruption lasting for three months. The crunch at the Channel will have knock-on effects for fresh food – leading to shortages and price rises – and medicine. The papers say it is “not practical” to stockpile enough drugs to last for an extended time.

They also warn: “Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.”

The EU is planning to divert funds earmarked for natural disasters to help areas in member states that will be hit by a no-deal, particularly Ireland, Belgium and parts of Northern France.

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Bones from extinct species including dodo and giant skink discovered at 12,000-year-old Mauritius swamp

Hundreds of bones from extinct species such as the dodo and giant skink have been discovered at a swamp in Mauritius dating back 12,000 years.

The swamp is so full of remains that they are totalling around 600 per cubic metre, according to scientists excavating the area. Material found at the site also includes fossil plant seeds and pollen, which the team believes will help them build a picture of what the island was like before it was inhabited by humans.

The decision to excavate the area was inspired by a remark from an 1832 report which said it was so full of extinct animal bones that one only needed to put a hand into the water to find them. Dr Julian Hume, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum and member of the research team, said the swamp was “one of the most exciting” fossil excavations he had ever worked on.

“We are literally peeling back the history of Mauritius layer by layer,” he said. “The sheer volume of remains, including extinct giant tortoises, giant skinks and dodos, a culturally significant bird to Mauritius and global icon of extinction, we have found has been incredible.”

At least 2,000 bones have so far been excavated from the site. (Photo: Julia Heinen/Fay Grant/Natural History Museum)
At least 2,000 bones have so far been excavated from the site (Photo: Julia Heinen/Fay Grant/Natural History Museum)

‘Peeling back history’

The material found so far has been dated back 12,000 years, making the swamp at Mare la Chaux the oldest fossil site in the western Indian Ocean apart from Madagascar and Aldabra.

The team plan to excavate the site for years to come and hope it will provide information which will help with assessing the impact of climate change and cyclone activity on the island.

“The amount we have and can learn from this one site is unprecedented,” said Dr Hume added.

“Over the coming years I am sure many scientific discoveries will emerge from the soil here helping use to better understand the ecology of Mauritius’ past and so better help us protect its future.”

Shell remains

At least 2,000 bones have been found so far at the site, which has also been found to contain shells from several species of land and freshwater snail.

The area’s remains are considered to be the first significant material found in a marsh site since 1865.

“Until now, we knew very little about the natural dynamics of the lowland rainforests of Mauritius,” said Dr Erik de Boer, a paleoecologist based at the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera in Barcelona.

“Mare la Chaux is the first site to study the long-term ecology of this dense and rich ecosystem and the impact of climate change during the last 12,000 years.”

The dodo species evolved from a flock of pigeons that landed on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Now extinct, its last confirmed sightings came in the 1660s.

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In Italy, the underpopulated region of Molise will pay you €700 per month to move in

In the Molise region of southern Italy, newcomers are being offered €700 per month to live in one of the region’s underpopulated villages.

Rural parts of the country, particularly in the south, have suffered in a challenging economic period, which has led to many young people turning to cities in the north in search of work, leaving many towns and villages sparsely populated.

Donato Toma, the president of Molise, said anyone willing to live in a village with fewer than 2,000 residents will be offered €700 per month for three years.

The money isn’t entirely without caveat: anyone who takes the plunge will need to pledge to open a business in the hope of stimulating the local economy.

Ageing population

Molise Italy
New residents will be able to open any kind of business they desire, from a restaurant to a stationary shop (Photo: Getty)

“If we had offered funding, it would have been yet another charity gesture,” Mr Toma told The Guardian.

“We wanted to do more; we wanted people to invest here. They can open any sort of activity: a bread shop, a stationery shop, a restaurant, anything. It’s a way to breathe life into our towns while also increasing the population.”

Toma also announced that each town with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants would receive €10,000 (£9,000) per month, which it would be required to use to build infrastructure and promote cultural activities.

He said while increasing the population is important, people also need a reason to stay.

Wider problem

Molise is among the Italian regions most affected by a telling decline. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat), 9,000 people have left Molise since 2014, and just 305,000 remain.

The Guardian reported that last year more than 2,800 inhabitants died or moved to another area, nearly 1,000 more than in 2017. And not a single birth was registered in nine of its towns.

Pope Francis visits the Basilica Santuario di Maria Santissima Addolorata Castelpetroso, as part of his one day visit in the Molise region (Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Molise isn’t alone. Italy, like Japan, is suffering from an ageing population. Today, the number of Italian citizens has plummeted to just 55 million, the lowest it’s been in 90 years.

Anyone willing to move to Molise, Italy’s second smallest region, will be met by sunshine and postcard-ready landscapes. It sits to the east of Naples, has a coast facing the Adriatic sea, and, like most areas of Italy, is best known for its local cuisine.

Molisani food

Molisani food is as classically peasant as anywhere in Italy, reflecting frugality and tradition. Those who manage to make a living won’t have to part with much of their profits to eat well.

Unlike in the north of the country, where pasta is usually enriched with egg yolks, Molisani pasta relies only on semolina flour and water, but doesn’t suffer for it.

Cavatelli (small shells) and fusilli both originated in Molise. The latter is most commonly served with lamb ragu – lamb and goat meat are the predominant proteins away from the sea, where cuttlefish is cooked in hearty stews rich with tomato and paprika.

Otherwise, pecorino cheese – thanks to a significant number of sheep – is common, and chilli and salumi are all go-to ingredients and foods.

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Vaping deaths: 6 people have died from an unknown illness ‘linked to e-cigarettes’ – but no one is sure why

A sixth person has died from an outbreak of lung disease linked to vaping in the United States, as hundreds of cases of the illness have been reported across the country.

The victim, a woman from Kansas over the age of 50, had a series of underlying health issues but became seriously ill after using e-cigarettes, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed on Tuesday. The patient, who has not been named, was hospitalised with symptoms that progressed rapidly.

“She had some underlying medical illnesses, but nothing that would have foretold the fact that within a week after starting using e-cigarettes for the first time, she developed full-blown acute respiratory distress syndrome and died,” Dr Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, told NBC News.

In what is becoming a national issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said 450 possible cases of lung disease related to vaping have been reported across 33 states and the US Virgin Islands. As many as six cases nationwide have ended in death, including the now confirmed Kansas death.

Chemical exposure

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo, a high school principal displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students at the school in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, the Vapor Technology Association filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to delay a review of electronic cigarettes. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes (Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Patients are coming into hospitals with coughs, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting. Many of the reports involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in previously healthy people, with many patients receiving oxygen, and some needing to be put on breathing machines before they recovered. Antibiotics didn’t work, and it’s not clear yet whether steroid drugs helped those affected.

The CDC says no evidence of infectious diseases have been identified, meaning the illnesses are likely associated with chemical exposure.

It says no specific substance or product has been linked to all cases, though many cases involve people who reported vaping THC, marijuana’s high-inducing chemical. Health officials said they do not have detailed information on what specific e-cigarette products were used by the deceased patient in Kansas.

Public health officials in the US are attempting to understand the developing epidemic, with the CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health departments making investigations into the illness.

“It is time to stop vaping,” Dr Norman said in a statement. “If you or a loved one is vaping, please stop. The recent deaths across our country, combined with hundreds of reported lung injury cases continue to intensify.”

A US problem?

US government agencies and state officials are investigating the issue (Photo: Getty)

Advice from experts in the US is to avoid vaping until investigations are complete, however Public Health England (PHE) told that users should use UK-regulated e-liquids as, to its knowledge, many of the US-cases were related to homemade or illicit substances.

According to the NHS, an estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes and of these, 1.5 million people have completely stopped smoking cigarettes.

The recent wave of illness and deaths has mostly been concentrated in the US, with the other five deaths confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon, with all smoking either nicotine, cannabinoid-based products or a combination of the two.

Last month, a patient death in the US was the first to be linked to vaping, as the CDC said the Illinois-based individual was suffering from pulmonary illness from the use of e-cigarettes.

UK products ‘tightly regulated’

Last year the British Medical Journal reported a woman was hospitalised for respiratory failure related to smoking an e-cigarette.

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E-cigarettes ‘damage lungs and heighten risk of infection’

Regulation around vaping ingredients is fairly strict in the UK. One example of this is the ingredient diacetyl, which gives a buttery-flavour in vaping liquids – very high levels of exposure of the substance has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, but it has been banned in the UK since 2016.

Martin Dockrell, Head of Tobacco Control at PHE told i: “A full investigation is not yet available but we’ve heard reports that most of these [US] cases were linked to people using illicit vaping fluid bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products, like THC, or synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice.

“Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and they operate the Yellow Card Scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences.

“Our advice remains that e-cigarettes are a fraction of the risk of smoking, and using one makes it much more likely you’ll quit successfully than relying on willpower alone. But it’s important to use UK-regulated e-liquids and never risk vaping home-made or illicit e-liquids or adding substances, any of which could be harmful.”

Investigation into Vitamin E

Advice from PHE is to continue only smoking UK-regulated e-cigarettes (Photo: Getty)

Health officials have no definitive answer as to why these illnesses and deaths are happening and are looking into whether this is a result of heavy usage or harmful ingredients in vaping liquids.

Last week, the New York health state department confirmed that vitamin E was “a key focus of the Department’s investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses”. The ingredient, Vitamin E acetate, which recently has been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges, was shown to be in very high levels in nearly all cannabis vaping samples but not in the nicotine samples during the investigation.

Suppliers say it dilutes vape oils without making them look watery. Vitamin E is not known to cause harm when ingested or applied to skin, but the department is examining its impacts when inhaled.

New York officials are issuing subpoenas to three companies that sell vaping additives made from vitamin E acetate. The state wants to know more about the ingredients, the quality of the raw materials, any safety testing performed, sales of the products during the past three years and what other additives the companies sell.

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Iran latest: Two British-Australian women arrested and detained in Tehran

Three British-Australian people have been arrested in Iran in two separate incidents, diplomats have confirmed.

Reports say Australian officials are assisting the families of a British-Australian blogger and her Australian boyfriend who were arrested 10 weeks ago for allegedly camping in a military area outside of Jajrood, in Tehran province.

Another British-Australian woman, who works as an academic at an Australian university, was arrested several months ago and sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to agencies.

The two women are reportedly incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail, where 41-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one, has been held on spying charges since 2016.

Increasing tensions

The 40-year-old was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling with her young daughter in April 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of spying, a charge she vehemently denies. Successive British Foreign Secretaries, including Boris Johnson, have failed to secure her release.

A protest calling for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside teh Iranian embassy in London (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
A protest calling for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside teh Iranian embassy in London (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The latest arrests come as tensions in the Gulf intensify.

The Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed on Wednesday it was lending consular assistance to the families of the three people who were more recently arrested, but whose names have not been made public.

“[DFAT] is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran. Due to our privacy obligations, we will not comment further,” the department said in a statement provided to the PA news agency.

While the charges against the second woman, a Cambridge-educated academic, remain unclear, 10-year terms are often handed down in Iran for spying charges.

Warning to travellers

The blogger and her boyfriend had been documenting their travels on YouTube and Instagram, with their followers having become concerned in the past several weeks by the absence of any new posts.

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Iran warns Boris Johnson over rising tensions in Gulf, as MPs demand release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

The cases of the two women are believed to be the first imprisonments in Iran of British passport holders who do not also have Iranian nationality.

Their arrests come amid a downturn in relations between Britain and Iran, sparked by issues including the seizure by the Royal Marines in July of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has agreed to their Australian counterparts handling the case.

DFAT on Monday updated its travel advice for Iran. It remains at a level of “reconsider your need to travel”, with the highest level (“Do not travel”) applying in some parts of the country.

“There is a risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained, or arrested,” the advice notice says.

“You may be at greater risk if you have a profile that can be seen adversely by Iranian authorities, or if you undertake certain activities which could attract the attention of Iranian authorities.”

Additional reporting by PA 

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Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu vows to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to begin annexing West Bank settlements if he is victorious at the country’s upcoming elections.

Mr Netanyahu made the controversial pledge on Tuesday just a week before Israel heads to the polls.

The move represents an apparent attempt to shore up support from hard-line nationalist voters, with the election expected to be closely fought.

Mr Netanyahu is locked in a tight race and has turned to a series of dramatic announcements in recent days as part of a frantic effort to mobilise his supporters.

Contested territory

Mr Netanyahu argued that Israel must lay out its vision as US President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan.

Annexing settlements would likely spell the end of any lingering hopes of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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Mr Netanyahu made no mention of what he would do with the territory’s more than two million Palestinian residents.

Later, rocket fire interrupted a Likud party campaign rally where Mr Netanyahu was speaking in the southern city of Ashdod.

The Israeli military said it intercepted two rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.

After being taken away by security guards, Mr Netanyahu returned minutes later and continued addressing the crowd.

Mr Netanyahu’s announcement was denounced by world leaders.

The Prime Minister point to a map showing which parts of the West Bank are set to be annexed. (Getty)

International outrage

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat labelled the move “manifestly illegal” and added that annexation could be considered a “war crime” that would “bury any chance of peace”.

Stephane Dujarric, a United Nations spokesman, said the organisation maintains that any Israeli move to impose its administration over the Palestinian territory “would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution”.

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The Arab League also condemned his remarks as “a serious development and an Israeli aggression” that, if carried out, amount to “an Israeli declaration for the end of the peace process”.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said in a statement that annexation of Israel’s West Bank settlements would fan the flames of conflict around the region.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said all agreements with Israel will be cancelled if Mr Netanyahu presses forward with his plan.

“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law,” he said.

Israel has maintained a presence in the West Bank since 1967 but has stopped short of annexation.

Palestine has claimed the entire area for a future independent state but Mr Netanyahu previously insisted Israel would always have a military presence there.

Despite international condemnation Israel has built about 140 settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem which are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Additional reporting from the Press Association

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Donald Trump sacks national security adviser John Bolton, who had been sent to negotiate Brexit trade deals

US President Donald Trump has abruptly fired his national security adviser John Bolton, saying he had serious policy disagreements with his hardline aide.

Mr Trump tweeted that he told Mr Bolton on Monday night that his services were no longer needed at the White House.

The leading foreign policy hawk was President Trump’s third national security adviser since he took office in January 2017.

He was also a strong supporter of Brexit and had been sent to the UK earlier this year to open discussions on a trade deal between the US and UK.

Services not needed

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with now sacked national security adviser John Bolton (Photo: Reuters)

The president wrote on Twitter: “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House.

“I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump wrote, adding that he would name a replacement next week.

Mr Bolton was widely known to have pressed the president for a harder line on issues such as North Korea, and was a chief architect of Trump’s strong stance on Iran, as well as advocating a tougher approach on Russia and Afghanistan.

It is understood he was sometimes at odds with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of Trump’s main loyalists.

Brexit deals

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In August, shortly after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Mr Bolton held talks with senior Cabinet ministers about post-Brexit deals.

He described his meeting with Chancellor Mr Javid as excellent and said the pair discussed a “broad range of topics critical to securing our nations’ shared security and prosperity”.

Offering a different version of events than Trump, Bolton tweeted: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”

President Trump had sometimes joked about Bolton’s image as a warmonger, reportedly saying in one Oval Office meeting that “John has never seen a war he doesn’t like.”

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Ursula von der Leyen criticised for ‘Protecting European Way of Life’ commissioner who will deal with migration and security

European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen has received criticism for appointing a commissioner for ‘Protecting Our European Way of Life’ who will be in charge of migration and security.

The German politician unveiled her new 27 commissioners on Tuesday who will head up various arms of the EU’s powerful civil service if they are approved by the European Parliament.

The title for the role given to former Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas has raised eyebrows.

The Greek politician will be in charge of “migration, security, employment and education” and chair a commissioner’s group on “Protecting our European Way of Life.”

‘Deeply insulting’

(Photo: Getty)

Labour London MEP Claude Moraes tweeted: “Calling the European Commission migration portfolio ‘protecting our way of life’ is deeply insulting. And if this is migration what will the Home Affairs Commissioner do? I sense confusion with these weird and odd titles.”

He added: “Combining security with migration. Throwing in employment and education. Calling the portfolio “Protecting our Way of Life”. Seriously. Any idea how this comes across?”

He also reminded the Commission that the European Parliament must approve all the nominees and that “a portfolio with a title like this just cannot stand in my view.”

Meanwhile, charity Amnesty International’s EU office tweeted: “Linking migration with security in the portfolio of the ‘Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life’ risks sending a worrying message.

“People who have migrated have contributed to the way of life in Europe throughout its history.

“We trust that Commissioner-designate Margaritis Schinas will work hard for an EU in which safe and legal routes allow migrants to continue to contribute to the future of Europe.”

‘A genuine Union of equality and diversity’

In her mission letter to the proposed future Commissioner, Ms von der Leyen said that he should focus on “skills, education and integration” while also trying to build consensus on migration and working on the “security union”.

She said: “The European way of life is built on the principle of dignity and equality for all. You will coordinate the work on inclusion and building a genuine Union of equality and diversity.”

She later said: “You will lead the Commission’s work on making our communities more united and cohesive. As part of this, you will coordinate the work on improving the integration of migrants and refugees into society.”

‘New pact on migration and asylum’

Jean-Claude Juncker meets his successor Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: Getty)

On migration, she asked him to look into “building bridges between those most entrenched” and asked him to formulate a “new pact on migration and asylum” and also creating new pathways for legal migration.

This issue is a major point of contention between member states, with many eastern European countries previously refusing to comply with EU refugee resettlement programs.

But she also gave Mr Schinas responsibility for the EU’s “Security Union” telling him: “You will coordinate the Commission’s work to enhance the EU’s ability to prevent,
detect and respond to hybrid threats.”

Ms von der Leyen said her commission would be the most “diverse ever.” Out of the nominees, 12 are women and fourteen men, compared with just eight in the previous term, although all the designate are white.

The UK has not nominated a commissioner, although Ms von der Leyen said it would have to if Brexit is extended beyond 31 October.

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Fukushima: Japan says it will have to dump radioactive water from nuclear disaster site into Pacific

The owner of the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant will likely have to dump tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean as it runs out of storage space, Japan’s environment minister has said.

Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, has collected more than one million tonnes of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting since the plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Japan‘s environment minister said on Tuesday that the only way to cope with the waste water is to drain it into the sea.

“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Yoshiaki Harada told a news briefing in Tokyo.

“The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.”

Harada did not say how much water would need to be dumped into the ocean.

One million tonnes

Fukushima sea waste
The disaster devastated Japan (Photo: TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

More than one million tonnes of contaminated water has accumulated at Fukushima since a tsunami triggered a triple meltdown eight years ago.

The water is being held in almost 1,000 tanks at the site, but officials at the plant have warned it will run out of storage space by summer 2022.

The government is awaiting a report from an expert panel before making a final decision on how to dispose of the radioactive water.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in a separate press briefing, described Harada’s comments as “his personal opinion”.

Tepco was not in a position to decide what to do but would follow the policy once the government made a decision, a spokesman for the utility said.

Sensitive issue

Fukushima sea waste
Tanks are filling up (Photo: JAPAN POOL/AFP/Getty Images)

Any green light from the government to dump the waste into the sea would anger neighbours such as South Korea, which summoned a senior Japanese embassy official last month to explain how the Fukushima water would be dealt with.

“We’re just hoping to hear more details of the discussions that are under way in Tokyo so that there won’t be a surprise announcement,” a South Korean diplomat, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement said it had asked Japan “to take a wise and prudent decision on the issue”.

Relations between the East Asian nations are already frosty following a dispute over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japanese factories in World War Two.

Coastal nuclear plants commonly dump into the ocean water that contains tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate and is considered to be relatively harmless.

Tepco, which also faces opposition from fishermen, admitted last year that the water in its tanks still contained contaminants beside tritium.

“The government must commit to the only environmentally acceptable option for managing this water crisis which is long term storage and processing to remove radioactivity, including tritium,” Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, said in an email.

Additional reporting by Reuters 

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US extracted high-level Kremlin spy after Donald Trump shared intelligence with Russia, reports claim

The US extracted a high-level spy from inside Russia in 2017, it is claimed. The mole, said to be the highest-level US source inside Russia, was taken with his family to the US because US intelligence feared the source’s cover could be blown by US officials.

The decision was made soon after a meeting in which President Trump unexpectedly shared classified US intelligence with Russian officials, it was reported.

It was claimed the source was outside the inner circle of Russian leader President Putin but had regular access to Mr Putin and was even able to photograph documents on the leader’s desk.

The Kremlin played down US media reports of a CIA spy inside Russia’s presidential administration, calling them “pulp fiction”, but said a low-level official who Russian media suggested was the agent had worked there before being fired.

US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump land in France
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump land in France (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

High-level covert source

CNN reported that the United States had successfully extracted one of its highest-level covert sources inside Russia in 2017. The New York Times later said the informant had sent secrets to Washington for decades.

A source familiar with US monitoring of Russian activities told Reuters news agency that such a CIA informant inside the Russian government did exist and that the informant had been extracted and brought to the United States.

The source indicated that US officials were seriously concerned that Kremlin officials had made public what they claimed was the individual’s name.

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Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said on Tuesday the official may have been a man called Oleg Smolenkov, who is reported to have disappeared with his wife and three children while on holiday in Montenegro in 2017 and is now reported to be living in the United States.

Kommersant published a picture of a house in Virginia which it said had been bought by a man called Smolenkov in 2018. Asked about the matter, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Smolenkov had really worked in the Russian presidential administration but had been fired in 2016/17.

Intelligence briefings

CNN reported the US decision to extract its informant had occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which US President Donald Trump had discussed highly classified intelligence with Lavrov.

Lavrov said nobody had divulged any secrets to him at the meeting with Trump.

According to the New York Times, the source was instrumental in the conclusion by US intelligence agencies in 2016 that Mr Putin had personally orchestrated Russia’s interference in the US presidential election.

The source’s information was so sensitive that then-CIA director John Brennan prepared special sealed files for President Obama, rather than include it in the president’s ordinary briefing, the Times report said.

The CIA – the intelligence agency said to have run the mole – declined to comment on the apparent revelations. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said CNN’s reporting was “not only incorrect” but had “the potential to put lives in danger”.

Extra reporting from Press Association

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Tom Hanks: Cynicism has become ‘default position’ but people should still be allowed to feel good

Tom Hanks has said cynicism is now society’s “default position” but that people should still be allowed to feel good as they go about their daily lives.

The Forrest Gump star was speaking about his decision to take on the role of children’s television presenter Fred Rogers in the forthcoming film A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood.

Mr Rogers, who died in 2003, was known for his cheerful manner while fronting the children’s series Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, which was broadcast in the US from 1968 to 2001.

Cynical attitudes

The new film will explore his relationship with an initially sceptical journalist from Esquire magazine who profiled him in 1998.

“Cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse,” Hanks told reporters at the Toronto film festival.

“Why? Because it’s easy, and there’s good money to be made.”

Fred Rogers pictured with Bill Clinton in 1993. (Photo: J. David Ake/AFP/Getty)
Fred Rogers pictured with Bill Clinton in 1993. (Photo: J. David Ake/AFP/Getty)

Hanks said cynicism was a “great product to sell” and made for the “perfect beginning of examination of anything”.

But he added: “I think when Fred Rogers first saw children’s programming, he saw something that was cynical, and why would you put something that is cynical in front of a two or three-year-old kid?

“That you are not cool because you don’t have this toy? That it’s funny to see someone being bopped on the head?

“That’s a cynical treatment of the audience, and we have become so inured to that, that when we are met with as simple a message as ‘Hey you know what, it’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood!’ we get slapped a little bit.

‘We are allowed to feel good’

“We are allowed, I think, to feel good. There’s a place for cynicism, but why begin with it right off the bat?”

Hanks is reported to have passed on the role of Mr Rogers several times before eventually taking it up when director Marielle Heller joined the project.

Matthew Rhys, who plays Esquire journalist Tom Junod, said the film tapped into a vulnerability which men often keep hidden under the surface.

“I think it was instantly relatable that someone was so desperately wanting to be seen, but hiding behind this castle that he built for himself, and I think it’s a message of hope,” he said.

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Hurricane Dorian: Bahamas completely devastated by tropical storm that left 43 dead

Rescue workers in the Bahamas have been searching for bodies and survivors after Hurricane Dorian struck this month.

Emergency personnel, clad in white hazard suits, have been operating now for more than a week, sifting through debris, shattered homes and flooded roads.

An estimated 43 people died – though officials say the figure is expected to dramatically rise – when Dorian ravaged the Caribbean islands on 1 September, flattening buildings and tossing cars into the air.

Dorian, a Category 5 storm, was one of the most powerful on record, with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days and has been recorded as the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Shelters struggling to cope

Hurricane Dorian
Houses were toppled (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
Hurricane Dorian
The disaster is the worst in the country’s history (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

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The aftermath is grim. As relief agencies work to deliver supplies, food and safe water, thousands of people have been searching for shelter.

Many have poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm hit shelters are straining to house evacuees.

The National Emergency Management Agency said late Sunday that 2,500 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most of them from Abaco.

Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

Hurricane Dorian
Agencies are trying to get food and drink to locals (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
Hurricane Dorian
Many have sought safety in America (Photo: Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, nearly 1,500 evacuees arrived in Palm Beach, Florida, on board the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship, according to CNN.

The US news channel said US Customs had informed reporters that all those travelling from the Bahamas were properly documented to enter the country.

Needy ‘denied help’

But on Sunday, as a new wave of evacuees sought safe passage on another vessel, CNN said they were told to disembark.

“This is the height of cruelty – denying help to those who need it most,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said on Twitter.

Back in the Bahamas, shelters are, as of Monday 9 September, housing about 1,100 people. Many more are staying with friends and relatives.

Hurricane Dorian
Thousands have been left homeless (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
Hurricane Dorian
Winds reached 185mph (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

Some 90 per cent of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbour, the worst hit area, were damaged, the World Food Programme said.

Some 70,000 people were left in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhoea and waterborne diseases was high as drinking water may be tainted with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organisation.

Additional reporting by Reuters 

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France to insist on a ‘two-year’ extension to allow Brexit re-evaluation

France will demand that any extension to the Brexit deadline should be at least two years to allow the UK to “re-evaluate” its departure from the European Union, a senior En Marche MP has said.

It comes after the French foreign minister suggested on Sunday that France could veto any Brexit delay unless the UK can overcome its internal political turmoil.

Legislation due to become law on Monday will demand Boris Johnson ask for an extension until at least 31 January if he fails to secure a Brexit deal by 19 October.

Under the terms of the bill, however, Brussels can insist on a longer delay which must then be voted on by Parliament.

Macron has been clear

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Sending a second letter telling the EU to ignore extension request ‘would not be legal’

Bruno Bonnell, who is a member of Emanuel Macron’s party, said France would insist on a lengthier time limit to the UK’s exit in order to avoid repeated crises every three months.

“I think that our president has been really clear. Even the last time the UK requested it, it is really the dead-end limit – after the 31 October the game is over,” Mr Bonnell said.

“Now if – and this door was open before – if we’re talking about a long delay like maybe a couple of years, to re-evaluate the whole Brexit situation in light of the truth… because the bottom line is what people are realising is that they have been lied to.”

He continued: “What should have been harmless for the UK and simple to set up and we see after two years of heavy negotiation we still have no agreement, so there comes a time when you need to put a stick in the ground.”

Bad cop

Jean-Yves Le Drian
Jean-Yves Le Drian with President Emanuel Macron

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France has taken it upon itself to be the “bad cop” of the EU when it comes to the UK asking for a Brexit extension.

It had been suggested that senior former Cabinet members, who were last week expelled from the parliamentary Tory party, had received private assurances that an extension to Article 50 would be granted.

But Jean-Yves Le Drian, a senior member of Emanuel Macron’s cabinet, ruled out any further delays due to the ongoing political upheaval in the UK.

“In the current circumstances, it’s no. We are not going to go through this every three months,” Mr Le Drian said.

Let the UK take responsibility

The threat dramatically increases the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October as all 27 EU countries must sign up to any extension.

“The [British] say that they want to put forward other solutions, alternative arrangements so that they can leave,” Mr Le Drian said.

“But we have not seen them and so it is ‘no’ – let the British authorities tell us the way forward.”

And he added: “Let them take responsibility for their situation, they have to tell us what they want.”

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When is Ashura 2019? What the Muslim fasting day commemorates and how it’s marked

Ashura is a Muslim holy day marked widely around the world – but it is commemorated by different communities in different ways – and for different reasons.

Here’s what you need to know about when it is, what happens on the day and who celebrates it.

When is Ashura?

Ashura falls on the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic calendar which is known as Muharram.

Shi'ite pilgrims gather ahead of Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi'ite Muslim calendar in the holy city of Kerbala
Shi’ite pilgrims gather ahead of Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi’ite Muslim calendar in the holy city of Kerbala (Photo: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)

The date shifts every year as it is based on lunar cycles.

This year, it falls on 9 or 10 September, depending on the location.

Why is it marked and by who?

It is marked by both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims for different reasons and in different ways.

For many Shi’a Muslims, the day marks when the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali, was killed during the Battle of Karbala, which took place on 10 October, 680 AD.

It is a day of mourning and commemoration of his martyrdom for many, who consider his death as a symbol of the struggle against tyranny and injustice.

Turkish shiite men take part in a religious procession held for the Shiite religious holiday of Ashura in Istanbul
Turkish shiite men take part in a religious procession held for the Shiite religious holiday of Ashura in Istanbul (Photo: Yasin AKGUL / AFP)YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)

The split between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims stemmed from differing views on who was the rightful successor and leader of the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and  was enhanced by the subsequent killing of Husayn ibn Ali.

But for some Sunni Muslims, the day is a joyful one that is celebrated for a different reason – it is believed to be the day that Musa (Moses) was saved by Allah from the Egyptians, parting the sea to help his people escape.

It is also thought by some to be the day that Noah left the Ark.

The day is marked in many countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, but it is an occasion which often highlights the divide between Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities.

Is fasting practised on this day and how else is it marked?

Some people, particularly Sunni Muslims, fast during Ashura voluntarily, but unlike during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, it is not considered compulsory.

A Pakistani Sunni Muslim spits fire during an Ashura procession in Karachi
A Pakistani Sunni Muslim spits fire during an Ashura procession in Karachi (Photo: RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)

It is believed by some that the Prophet Muhammad used to fast on this day and initially encouraged others to do so.

Some say he first decided to do so after discovering that Jewish communities fasted on this day to mark Moses and the Israelites being saved. It was also thought to be a day that Moses himself fasted.

Shi’a Muslim communities mark the day through mournful sermons, prayers, and plays reenacting the battle of Kerbala.

Some make pilgrimages to a shrine to Husayn ibn Ali in Kerbala, while in Shi’a communities around the world, parades take place during which people walk through the streets beating their chests to show grief.

Others practice self-flagellation to commemorate the suffering he went through, but certain clerics discourage this and call for people to give blood donations as an alternative.

It is a day which often highlights the divide between Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities.

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India moon landing mission: Vikram lunar lander spotted on moon’s surface – but scientists can’t make contact

India has located its lunar lander one day after it lost contact with the space station, the head of the nation’s space agency said.

The Vikrum lander was found on the moon’s surface, and there are now efforts to establish contact with it.

On Saturday the landmark mission to soft land a rover on the moon appeared to be a failure after scientists lost contract with the lander moments before it touched down.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K Sivan said cameras from the moon mission’s orbiter had located the lander, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

“It must have been a hard landing,” the PTI quoted Mr Sivan as saying.

The level of damage to the lander is unclear.

Vikram descent

The level of damage to the lander is unclear (Photo: Getty)

The space agency said it lost touch with the Vikram lunar lander on Saturday as it made its final approach to the moon’s south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.

The space agency said on Saturday that the lander’s descent was normal until 2km (1.2 miles) from the lunar surface.

A statement on ISRO’s website said: “This was a unique mission which aimed at studying not just one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface as well as the sub-surface of the moon in a single mission.

“The Orbiter has already been placed in its intended orbit around the Moon and shall enrich our understanding of the moon’s evolution and mapping of the minerals and water molecules in the Polar Regions, using its eight state-of-the-art scientific instruments.

“All the systems and sensors of the Lander functioned excellently until this point and proved many new technologies such as variable thrust propulsion technology used in the Lander.”

Chandrayaan-2

The space agency said that the lunar had “functioned excellently” (Photo: Getty)

The roughly $140m mission, known as Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits found by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.

The latest mission lifted off on 22 July from the Satish Dhawan space centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

After its launch, Chandrayaan-2 spent several weeks making its way towards the moon, ultimately entering lunar orbit on 20 August.

The Vikram lander separated from the mission’s orbiter on 2 September and began a series of braking manoeuvres to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.

Only three nations – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China – have landed a spacecraft on the moon.

Additional reporting from Press Association.

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France rules out Brexit delay until UK political impasse is resolved

France will block any attempt to further delay Brexit unless the UK can overcome its internal political turmoil, the country’s foreign minister has warned.

Fresh legislation designed to prevent Boris Johnson from forcing through a no deal exit from the European Union is due to become law on Monday, as MPs battle the Prime Minister over his Brexit stance.

It had been suggested that senior former Cabinet members, who were last week expelled from the parliamentary Tory party, had received private assurances that an extension to Article 50 would be granted.

But Jean-Yves Le Drian, a senior member of Emanuel Macron’s cabinet, ruled out any further delays due to the ongoing political upheaval in the UK.

It’s a ‘no’

“In the current circumstances, it’s no. We are not going to go through this every three months,” Mr Le Drian said.

The threat dramatically increases the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October as all 27 EU countries must sign up to any extension.

French President Mr Macron has been by the most hardline among the EU 27 when it comes to agreeing extensions to the Brexit deadline, as he is eager to push on with his reforms to the EU which will see ever closer relations between the countries.

On Sunday, former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd quit her government role and the party after criticising Mr Johnson for doing very little to try and secure a Brexit deal.

amber rudd
Amber Rudd

Her comments were echoed by Mr Le Drian, who said there had been no proposals put forward by Number 10 to solve the UK’s misgivings with the Irish backstop.

“The [British] say that they want to put forward other solutions, alternative arrangements so that they can leave,” Mr Le Drian said.

“But we have not seen them and so it is ‘no’ – let the British authorities tell us the way forward.”

And he added: “Let them take responsibility for their situation, they have to tell us what they want.”

‘No evidence of a deal’

The Prime Minister is due to travel to Dublin on Monday to try to seek alternatives to the Irish backstop.

Read more:

Brexit bill: block on no-deal passes Parliament as House of Lords give their approval

But in a damning assessment of the Government’s efforts to secure a fresh Brexit deal, Ms Rudd said there was “no evidence of a deal”.

Stopping short of accusing Mr Johnson of lying, Ms Rudd to the Andrew Marr Show: “I believe he is trying to get a deal with the EU, I am just saying what I have seen in government is that there is this huge machine preparing for no-deal.

“You might expect in the balance between getting a deal and no-deal 50/50 in terms of work but it’s not that, it’s like 80 per cent to 90 per cent of government time going into preparing for no-deal and the absence of trying to get a deal has driven 21 of my colleagues to rebel, and I need to join them.”

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Congress launches investigation into US spending at struggling airport next to Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf course

A US Congressional committee is investigating President Donald Trump over a potential conflict of interest on military spending at an airport near his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland.

A newly revealed letter from the Committee on Oversight and Reform, published by the Politico website, related to “conflicts of interest stemming from his continued stake in foreign businesses, the accuracy of his federal financial reporting about those businesses, and his potential receipt of emoluments in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

In the years leading up to the 2016 election, it explains, Mr Trump spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase and renovate the Turnberry golf course, which continues to suffer financial losses and has not turned a profit for the President or his companies.

The local airport, Glasgow Prestwick, was viewed as integral to the course’s success and has lost millions of dollars yearly since the Scottish Government purchased it in 2013.

US military spending

A police officer stands guard outside Trump Turnberry (AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer stands guard outside Trump Turnberry (AFP/Getty Images)

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On 13 June the Scottish government announced its intention to sell the loss-making airport. The deadline for a buyer passed earlier in the week and none has yet been announced.

The US military expenditures at the airport have increased drastically since the 2016 election.

Since October 2017, the Defence Logistics Agency entered into 629 separate purchase orders for fuel totalling $11 million, to support various Defence department missions.

The Guardian reported at the time that “Prestwick struck deals with Trump Turnberry to supply cut-price rooms for select passengers and crew” and offered “free rounds of golf at Turnberry to visiting US military and civilian air crews”.

Yet to comply

The letter requests access to all communications between the US Department of Defense and Trump Turnberry and any relevant financial records.

US media reports the department has not yet complied with these demands. The department and the Trump Organisation are yet to comment.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly insisted that Prestwick airport operates on a commercial basis and ministers are not concerned with the day-to-day management of it.

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Hurricane Dorian leaves 43 dead as ‘sharks swim alongside floating corpses’

The death toll for Hurricane Dorian in the northern Bahamas has risen to 43 people, as a Scottish ex-pat reveals that sharks are swimming through residential areas alongside floating corpses.

The Scottish mum is originally from Ayrshire and says she feels lucky to be alive having witnessed Dorian’s destruction. She told Daily Record that the whole nation is in “despair”.

She added: “We live across from the beach in Nassau. The city’s had flooding but on Grand Abaco, 90 miles away, the towns have been wiped out.

“Shark are swimming up and round residential areas and corpses are just floating everywhere. The death toll is far higher than reports have made out so far.”

Survivors have also spoken about sharks in the water.

A total disaster

A representative for Prime Minister Hubert Minnis confirmed the death toll for Hurricane Dorian is expected to rise even further, as survivors are now desperate to evacuate the islands.

So far approximately 35 people died in the storm on the Abacos Islands, and eight in Grand Bahama.

Search and rescue operations are continuing, whilst the hurricane has moved northwards towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina on the US eastern coastline. States of Emergencies are in place across multiple regions, and authorities are urging residents to evacuate and stock up on adequate supplies.

Ray Cooper, North Carolina’s governor, told reporters that Dorian has cut off power and submerged many homes and buildings.

Bottles of water at an evacuation operation after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas (Photo: Marco Bello/Reuters)

Floodwaters reached the kitchen counters, battered fences and boardwalks.

Mr Cooper said: “We estimate about 800 people remained on the island during the storm and have heard reports from residents who say the flooding there was catastrophic.

“We’re thankful not to have reports of serious injury or death since the storm arrived.”

The most damaging storm to hit the island

According to the National Hurricane Centre, the storm is weakening, with maximum sustained winds now at 90mph, compared to 225 mph when the storm first hit on Sunday.

However, Hurricane Dorian has left 13,000 – or 45 per cent of – homes destroyed or damaged. According to the UN, 70,000 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands are in “immediate need of lifesaving help”.

On Thursday, Health Minister Duane Sands told local radio: “The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering.”

Dr Ian Norton, who manages the World Health Organisation’s emergency medical teams, told reporters that he was “really worried” about the potential death toll.

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Scary monsters: how the myths of outlandish beasts like Nessie still captivate us

Fantastical sea serpents, mysterious three-headed beasts and giant fire-breathing dragons are some of the outlandish creatures that have intrigued and entertained us for generations.

Many, if not all, are rooted in folklore, and researchers have so far failed to prove their existence. But that hasn’t spoilt our obsession with these dark-yet-magical creatures.

Earlier this week, scientists said the large creature previously reported as the fabled Loch Ness Monster could possibly be a giant eel.

It follows DNA analysis of living species in the freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands. Stories of Nessie date back 1,500 years, but sightings of her were scant until two in 1933 sparked a frenzy of interest. Some theorists believe she is a prehistoric marine reptile called a plesiosaur, while others think she could be a large catfish, a sturgeon, a seal or a Greenland shark that has strayed into Scottish waters.

Scientists from New Zealand said they found no evidence for any of them, but what they did discover was DNA from European eels among the creatures in the water.

Steve Feltham holds the record for the longest continuous vigil hunt for the Loch Ness Monster – a patrol that currently stands at 28 years and two months (Photo: Steve Feltham)

‘Monster hunter’

“People love a mystery; we’ve used science to add another chapter to Loch Ness’s mystique,” says Professor Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago, adding: “Our data doesn’t reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can’t discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness.”

It is a claim that has been dismissed by Steve Feltham, a self-styled “full-time monster hunter” who has pursued the Loch Ness Monster since 1991. Speaking to i from his home, a former mobile library on the beach in the village of Dores, by the loch, the 56-year-old says the new research is an “anti-discovery”.

“To say there are eels in Loch Ness is like saying, ‘We spent two years researching and found there are fish in the water.’ Anyone who passes a fishing line into [the loch] will tell you, ‘Crikey there’s eels in there,'” says Mr Feltham, who was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous vigil hunt for the Loch Ness Monster – a patrol that currently stands at 28 years and two months.

As he closes in on three decades tracking the elusive creature through his binoculars and telescope, Mr Feltham insists he won’t leave before seeing the creature. “It’s my ambition. I’ve got the length of Loch Ness in front of me and I’m content to sit and watch this view fill up with more memories surrounding the pursuit of whatever is in this body of water.”

Mythology

Nessie is among a coterie of “cryptids” – animals presumed by the followers of cryptozoology, a pseudoscientific subculture – to exist on the basis of anecdotes or dubious information which pales against scientific evidence.

Among her companions in this battery of fanciful beasts is Cerberus, which, in Greek mythology, was the three-headed dog-like spawn of monsters Echidna and Typhon. Cerberus was described as having a serpent for a tail and snakes projecting from its body. The so-called “hound of Hades” guarded the gates of the Underworld to stop the dead leaving.

In Scandinavian folklore, the kraken is the celebrated cephalopod-like sea monster of giant size. According to Norse sagas, the kraken roamed off the coasts of Norway and Greenland and was known to terrorise sailors.

In the Middle Ages, dragons were depicted as four-legged, serpent-like creatures with elongated necks that were capable of breathing fire. Folklore has it that the term “Here be Dragons” – meaning “dangerous, unexplored territories” – caught on after sea monsters were tagged on unexplored areas of maps to highlight potential hazards which some believed existed.

Circa 1650, a kraken attacking a ship (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Sightings

For almost 150 years, there have been alleged sightings of lake monsters in the US and Canada; Lake Champlain, which straddles the US states of Vermont and New York, is said to be home to serpentine monster Champ, a 30m creature that historians believe is a type of garfish. There have been no fewer than 300 reported sightings since the early 19th century.

Since 1946, there have been numerous reported sightings of Ogopogo – a “king lizard” lurking in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, Canada. Last September there were three sightings – one of which was described as a giant snake estimated to be 15m in length – about three times the size of a giant anaconda. Yet experts say the number of reported observations of cryptids such as the Himalayan Yeti and North America’s Bigfoot – the upright, ape-like creature that leaves massive footprints – have dropped in recent years.

As Dr Darren Naish, an expert in cryptozoology, said in June: “Everybody has good phones. You really would think there would be more and better photos, but the only things that ever have ever appeared are terribly low-resolution little blobs in the distance. I would say that the fact that we haven’t any of the evidence that we should have by now, alarm bells are ringing.”

But while the technological revolution may not have brought us closer to identifying mythical creatures of land and sea, it has galvanised authors and artists to imagine them co-existing with humans in modern society.

‘Saints of imperfection’

There has been a surge in contemporary Gothic fiction in this country thanks to the best-selling success of novels such as Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. And Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro has long been fêted as one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors thanks to the fantastical monsters that have appeared in his films from Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth.

His 2017 dark fantasy The Shape of Water, which depicted a cleaner at a government laboratory falling in love with a humanoid amphibian creature, won the Best Director and Best Picture prizes at last year’s Academy Awards, belated reward for a career spent with the weird and wondrous.

Speaking in 2016 about his lifelong fascination with monsters, he described growing up in a strict Catholic home and finding it impossible to reconcile “existing in a state of grace” with his “much darker view of the world”.

“I couldn’t make sense of impulses like rage or envy,” he continued. “I felt there was a deep cleansing allowing for imperfection through the figure of a monster. Monsters are the patron saints of imperfection.”

Philip Hoare, a professorial fellow in English at the University of Southampton (Photo: Philip Hoare)

‘End of imagination’

Philip Hoare – author of Leviathan, or The Whale, which explores the metaphorical power of outsized creatures such as Moby Dick, and a professorial fellow in English at the University of Southampton – suggests that our enduring fascination with monsters could be linked to how “we’ve separated the way of looking at the world”.

“Since the mid-19th century, there have been two notions of looking at the world – mythically and rationally – and I think we’re still living in fall-out from that,” he says.

“We don’t want to believe we’ve discovered something, because it would be the end of poetry and imagination. I don’t think what any scientist says is going to dissuade the idea of monsters. They are in the corners of our existence and I don’t want to be disabused of those notions.”

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Working at Chernobyl becomes surprisingly normal

Colin Ross never expected to find himself working at the site of a nuclear disaster. But, then, who would? Ross is a quantity surveyor who leads international efforts to contain radioactivity and spent nuclear fuel at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Although anniversaries remind him why he is there, it has become like any other place of work. “To be honest, visits are now very normal.

“The security checks, military-style checkpoints, the special clothing, the gloves and respirators, the dosimeters to check how much radiation we have been exposed to, the scanners to check for radiation on our clothing and footwear – it was all a little disconcerting at first. But after five years, they stopped phasing me. You become sort of desensitised to it.”

Ross first went to Ukraine in 1997 – 11 years after the disaster – to work on projects for the Dutch embassy, Coca-Cola and the Church of Latter Day Saints.

His company, London-based property and construction consultancy Thomas & Adamson, was appointed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2015 to become a monitoring consultant at Chernobyl.

Daily radiation

In some parts of the site, workers can be present for only 10 minutes a day before reaching their maximum daily radiation dose of radiation.“

Colin Ross first went to Ukraine in 1997

At first, I was concerned about radiation, as were my family” – Ross is married to a Ukrainian, with whom he has two children. “But following safety training, I quickly understood the risks more clearly.

“This doesn’t make me complacent, however, as we are constantly reminded of the danger through signage and the dosimeters we carry around. If we take the necessary precautions, it is highly unlikely we will have an issue, so I make sure I take them.”

Chernobyl disaster: how radiation affected the UK, and which parts of Britain are the most radioactive today

There are two projects he works on at Chernobyl. “The first is to contain the radioactivity with the largest movable steel structure ever designed, big enough to house five Airbus A380s. The second is to build the facilities to extract and safely store spent nuclear fuel from reactors 1, 2 and 3.

“The exclusion zone, which extends about 30km from the Chernobyl reactors, but is much greater in certain areas, is very beautiful. Flora and fauna are beginning to reclaim the land due to the lack of interference by humans. It is a wonderful place to watch the seasons change.

“I have been lucky enough to see eagles, wolves, foxes, deer, elk and Przewalski’s horses. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any wild boar, although we know they are out there.

“There are now many tourists visiting the area – too many, in my opinion. However, while most will visit in the warmer months, I believe that winter is the best time to visit. With the trees having lost their leaves, and snow on the ground, it is much easier to see how extensive the villages and settlements are that were evacuated after the accident.”

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World leaders pay tribute to Robert Mugabe as a ‘liberation hero’ following his death aged 95

World leaders have reacted to the death of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, remembering him as a “liberation hero” while acknowledging his single-minded style of governance.

Mr Mugabe, who was the oldest head of state before he was toppled in 2017, died aged 95 on Friday in a Singapore hospital, his family said.

A cause of death was not disclosed.

His near 40-year leadership of the former British colony was marked with bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and wide-scale vote-rigging.

‘Empowerment’

Many African leaders reflected on his contribution in steering the country – then-known as Rhodesia – from the clutches of colonial rule to independence in April 1980.

A man pushes an empty cart past a mural of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (Photo: AP Photo)

Mr Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa led the condolences, describing him as an “icon of liberation who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.

He added: “[Mr Mugabe’s] contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said: “We will remember former President Mugabe as a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.”

‘A towering leader’

Cyril Ramphosa, the recently-elected president of South Africa, described Mr Mugabe as an “outstanding leader on the African continent”.

He told reporters: “We remember him as a towering leader of a struggle for independence of the people of Zimbabwe.

“He contributed to the freedom of the people of South Africa.

“Once they attained their own independence, they established a free and independent Zimbabwe to be one of the frontline states where we, as the African Nation of Congress (ANC), were able to find refuge and they supported our struggle.

Russian relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Mr Mugabe’s “great personal contribution” to Zimbabwe’s independence.

He also said Mr Mugabe as a proponent of “friendly relations” with the country.

Mr Putin said in a statement: “Many important dates in Zimbabwe’s modern history are tied to the name of Robert Mugabe.

“He made a great personal contribution to the battle for your country’s independence, to the building of Zimbabwean state institutions.”

‘Legacy’

Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said: “Mugabe was an outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe.

“Throughout his life, he has firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation.”

While US President Donald Trump is yet to comment directly on Mr Mugabe’s death, the US Embassy in Harare paid tribute in a statement on social media.

It said: “The United States extends its condolences to the Mugabe family and the people of Zimbabwe.

“We join the world in reflecting on his legacy in securing Zimbabwe’s independence.”

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