Libya fighting prompts condemnation by G7 and UN

World powers and the United Nations have condemned fresh fighting in Libya as rebel forces from the east of the country march on the capital.

The G7 group of rich countries urged all parties “to immediately halt all military activity”. The UN Security council issued a similar call.

Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), has ordered the advance on Tripoli.

Reports suggest there is fighting near the international airport to the south.

Tripoli is the home of Libya’s internationally recognised government, which has the backing of the Security Council.

UN troops in the city have been placed on high alert. Violence and division have riven Libya since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

What’s happening on the ground?

The LNA’s leader Haftar ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli on Thursday, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was in the city to discuss the ongoing crisis.

Gen Haftar spoke to Mr Guterres in Benghazi on Friday, and reportedly told him that his operation would not stop until his troops had defeated “terrorism”.

Gen Haftar
Gen Haftar has ordered his forces to march on Tripoli

On Thursday, LNA forces took the town of Gharyan 100km (62 miles) south of Tripoli.

There are now reports troops have taken the capital’s airport, which has been closed since 2014 – although these are disputed.

Residents of Misrata east of Tripoli told Reuters news agency that militias from their city had been sent to defend the capital.

Armed groups allied to the Tripoli government told the news agency on Friday that they had taken a number of LNA fighters prisoner.

LNA troops seized the south of Libya and its oil fields earlier this year.

What’s been the reaction?

In a tweet, Mr Guterres said he left Libya “with a heavy heart and deeply concerned”, saying he still hoped there was a way to avoid a battle around the capital.

The G7 later responded to the fighting with a statement urging an end to military operations.

“We strongly oppose any military action in Libya,” the statement read, reiterating their support for UN-led efforts to bring elections and calling on all countries to support the “sustainable stabilisation of Libya”.

The UN Security Council held a close-door meeting late on Friday. Afterwards the German UN ambassador Christoph Heusgen said members had “called on LNA forces to halt all military movements”.

“There can be no military solution to the conflict,” he said.

A Russian spokesman earlier told reporters the Kremlin does not support Gen Haftar’s advance and said it wants a solution by “peaceful political means”.

A conference was planned in Libya later this month for talks over ending the country’s long-running crisis.

Presentational grey line

Hope dashed for a political resolution?

Khalifa Haftar’s forces have met with mixed fortunes.

To the south, they appear to have got close to the outskirts of the capital, at one point claiming to have taken the airport. But to the west, they appear to have been pushed back.

It’s still unclear how much this is a show of force to bolster Gen Haftar’s position or a genuine effort to seize Tripoli.

He returned during the revolution and he’s subsequently become the most powerful military leader in a country rife with militias, allied to a rival government in the east.

Despite the chorus of international concern over his actions, he has had support from powerful outside players, including the UAE and Egypt.

Efforts towards a political resolution for Libya have foundered time after time. The most recent hopes may once again have been dashed.

Presentational grey line

Who is Khalifa Haftar?

A former army officer, he helped Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US. He returned in 2011 after the uprising against Gaddafi began and became a rebel commander.

In December Haftar met Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj from the UN-backed government at a conference but refused to attend official talks.

He visited Saudi Arabia last week, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks.

Brexit: UK passports issued without ‘European Union’ label

British passports are being issued without the words ‘European Union’ on the cover, despite the delay to Brexit.

The new burgundy passports were introduced from 30 March, the day after the UK was supposed to leave the EU, but some people may still receive the old version until stocks run out.

One recipient said she was “truly appalled” at the change.

Dark blue passports resembling the pre-EU British design are due to be issued from the end of the year.

Susan Hindle Barone, who received her new passport on Friday, told the Press Association she thought the design should not change for as long as the UK remains an EU member.

She said: “I was just surprised – we’re still members of the EU. I was surprised they’ve made the change when we haven’t left, and it’s a tangible mark of something which I believe to be completely futile.

“What do we gain by leaving? There’s certainly a whole lot we lose.”

A change in the design of the UK passport has proved a rallying point for Brexit supporters, with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage describing the 2017 decision to bring back the dark blue design as “Brexmas”.

The decision to remove the ‘European Union’ label was made in the expectation that the UK would be leaving the EU at the end of last month, as scheduled.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that “in order to use leftover stock and achieve best value to the taxpayer”, passports that include the words “European Union” will continue to be issued for “a short period”.

She said: “There will be no difference for British citizens whether they are using a passport that includes the words European Union, or a passport that does not. Both designs will be equally valid for travel.”

Avicii’s first posthumous track to drop next week

A posthumous new track from Avicii called SOS will be released on Wednesday 10 April, his family says.

The Swedish DJ – whose real name was Tim Bergling – was found dead in Oman in April last year, aged 28.

Now a 16-track album of new material entitled Tim, which “he was close to completing”, will follow on 6 June.

Proceeds from the LP will go to Tim Bergling Foundation, set up after his death to help prevent mental illness and suicide.

“When Tim Bergling passed away on April 20, 2018,” a family statement read, “he was close to completing a new album.

“He left behind a collection of nearly finished songs, along with notes, email conversations and text messages about the music.

“The songwriters that Tim was collaborating with on this album have continued the process to get as close to his vision as possible.”

Adding: “Since Tim’s passing, the family decided not to keep the music locked away – instead they wanted to share it with his fans all around the world.”

The statement comes with a moving video, featuring Avicii in the studio and tributes from his family, and you can watch it below.

Warning: Third party content may contain adverts

Controversial Trump pick gets World Bank top job

Donald Trump’s pick for World Bank president, David Malpass, has officially been approved for the role.

Mr Malpass, a Trump loyalist, was a senior economic adviser to the US president during his 2016 election campaign.

His appointment has stirred debate, as some worry that Mr Malpass, a critic of the bank, will seek to reduce its role.

In February White House officials said Mr Malpass, a long-time Republican, would be a “pro-growth reformer”.

Mr Malpass said he was “honoured” by the appointment.

“Our twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and achieving shared prosperity are more relevant than ever,” he said.

The former Bear Sterns economist has criticised the World Bank in the past, along with other multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for being “intrusive” and “entrenched”.

‘Not willing to fight’

To become World Bank president Mr Malpass won unanimous approval from the institution’s executive board, which has 25 members.

The US holds a 16% share of board voting power and has traditionally chosen the World Bank’s leader.

China is the World Bank’s third-largest shareholder after Japan, with about a 4.5% share of voting power.

Professor Christopher Kilby, an expert on the economics of foreign aid at Villanova University near Philadelphia, said it is likely that China and other shareholders did not push back on Mr Malpass’ appointment as they “recognise that they are unlikely to succeed in derailing the US nominee.”

“Since they have seen President Trump punish those who stand up to him, they are not willing to fight the US,” Prof Kilby said.

In the past China has also not sought more power within the World Bank as some of its aims, including promoting the rights of indigenous peoples, do not align with Chinese domestic and foreign policy, Prof Kilby said.


Analysis: York business correspondent Emmanuel

David Malpass will need to establish his credibility quickly as the new president of the World Bank.

The legitimacy of the selection process came under renewed scrutiny after Donald Trump’s pick emerged as the only candidate to succeed Jim Kim.

And he’s been an outspoken critic of the institution he’s about to lead.

In the past, he’s described the World Bank as too big. He’s said he’d like to lend less to middle income countries like China, which he argues are financially strong enough. And he has challenged the global order.

Speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations back in 2017 he said:

“Multilateralism has gone substantially too far – to the point where it is hurting US and global growth”.

But while past statements offer a glimpse of some of his thinking, they don’t tell the full story.

When his predecessor Jim Kim asked shareholders for more money, it was David Malpass who – in exchange for reforms at the bank – helped make it happen.

And since being nominated for the position, his tone has softened.

Will he be able to articulate a vision for the bank to win over doubters?

Lending shift

The World Bank critic could narrow the focus of its lending to the world’s poorest countries, among other changes.

He has pushed for the World Bank to halt lending to China, which he says is too wealthy to deserve such aid.

And last year, he was part of negotiations over a package of World Bank lending reforms.

The US agreed to back a plan for shareholders to inject $13bn (£10bn) into the World Bank and its private lending arm, with conditions that aimed to limit the bank’s lending, and focus resources more on poorer countries.

The reforms are aimed at pushing more middle-income countries towards private sector lending, and limiting World Bank staff salary growth.

Controversial US picks

Traditionally, the US picks the World Bank president, Europeans choose the IMF managing director, and the Japanese do the same for the Asian Development Bank.

Prof Kilby said a more controversial US pick for the World Bank president role was neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz, and yet he still landed the role.

Mr Wolfowitz, who had the job between 1 June 2005 and 30 June 2007, was seen as a driving force behind pursuing the US-led conflict in Iraq.

“For this and other reasons, Mr Wolfowitz was unacceptable to the Europeans and there was push back, including other nominees, for a while,” Prof Kilby said.

“But as the election date drew near, the fear that this would threaten the European traditional right to pick the head of the IMF led the European countries to back down and accept the US pick,” he added.

#Brexit : Government offers ‘no change’ to deal, says Labour

The government has not proposed any changes to the PM’s Brexit deal during cross-party talks, says shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

Meetings have been taking place between Tory and Labour politicians to find a proposal to put to the Commons before an emergency EU summit next week.

But Sir Keir said the government was not “countenancing any change” on the wording of the existing plan.

He said it was “disappointing”, adding: “Compromise requires change.”

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs.

Theresa May has written to European Council President Donald Tusk to request an extension to 30 June.

But she says if the Commons agrees a deal in time, the UK should be able to leave before European parliamentary elections on 23 May.

Sir Keir said: “We want the talks to continue and we’ve written in those terms to the government, but we do need change if we’re going to compromise.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that there were “tensions” but there was “quite a lot of life” left in the talks with Labour.

He said: “In truth the positions of the two parties are very, very close and where there’s goodwill it should be possible to get this done and get it done relatively quickly.”

He insisted that “of course we are prepared to compromise” on the political declaration.

BBC political editor Emmanuel, said: “The sense is that the government has only offered clarifications on what might be possible from the existing documents, rather than adjusting any of their actual proposals in the two documents.”

She added that both sides agree the talks are not yet over, but there are no firm commitments for when further discussions might take place.

It comes as the prime minister is seeking a further extension to the Brexit deadline from the EU, delaying the UK’s leaving date until 30 June.

She said the UK would prepare to field candidates in European Parliamentary elections on 23 May in case no agreement is reached by then.

The BBC’s Europe editor Mr Ben Rory has been told by a senior EU source that European Council President Donald Tusk will propose a 12-month “flexible” extension to Brexit, with the option of cutting it short if the UK Parliament ratifies a deal.

But French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Friday that it was “premature” to consider another delay.

Family cliff plunge case in California ruled murder-suicide

A family of eight who died after their car plunged off a California cliff were killed in a “murder-suicide”, the state’s coroner’s office has ruled.

The Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner made the statement after a two-day inquest into the tragic 2018 deaths.

The parents had researched suicide online before the crash, officials say.

The crash, which killed six adopted children ages 12 to 19, came days after an inquiry was opened into allegations of child abuse against the parents.

Sheriff-Coroner Thomas Allman explained that a 14-panel jury had ruled unanimously that the two women – Sarah and Jennifer Hart – deliberately drove off a 100ft (30m) cliff with their children in tow.

Investigators say the couple, who had been living in Washington state, had researched methods of suicide on the internet for hours as they drove the family south along the northern California coast.

Car crash in Pacific Ocean
The car carrying the family landed in the Pacific Ocean

Sarah Hart, and several of the children, were found to have Benadryl – an allergy drug that causes drowsiness – in their bodies at the time of the crash.

The driver, Jennifer Hart, was over the legal limit for alcohol at the time, California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates said, according to the Associated Press.

“They both decided that this was going to be the end,” he said at a coroner’s inquest. “That if they can’t have their kids that nobody was going to have those kids.”

A witness who was camping nearby at the time told the jury that he heard a car engine revving up and screeching out around 03:00 local time (10:00 GMT) on 26 March.

Investigators had suspected the act had been deliberate, based on the car’s computer and the lack of braking skidmarks in the road, which would have indicated an accident.

The bodies of five of the children – Markis, 19; Hannah, 16; Jeremiah, 14; Abigail, 14; and Ciera, 12 – were found within or nearby to the vehicle, which landed upside down on a Pacific Ocean beach.

Devonte, 15, is still considered missing but is presumed dead.

Investigators found the that the couple had been accused of child abuse several times, and that days before the crash officials in Washington state had opened an investigation after Devonte rang a neighbours’ doorbell and said his parents were withholding food.

In 2010, Sarah Hart admitted to harming her daughter Abigail and was convicted of misdemeanour domestic assault.

Donald Trump urges US Fed to cut interest rates

Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks on the US Federal Reserve by calling for the central bank to cut interest rates.

The US President claimed that the Fed has “really slowed us down” in terms of economic growth, adding that “there’s no inflation”.

Mr Trump made the comments as data showed a sharp rebound in new jobs growth during March.

US firms added 196,000 jobs last month, compared to 33,000 in February.

Mr Trump said: “I think they should drop rates and get rid of quantitative tightening. You would see a rocket ship.”

The Fed has raised interest rates four times since Jerome Powell took over as chairman in February last year.

Mr Powell was appointed by Mr Trump but the president has frequently criticised the Fed chairman for increasing rates.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Mr Trump told Mr Powell in a recent phone call: “I guess I’m stuck with you.”

Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve
US President Donald Trump appointed Jerome Powell as chairman of the Federal Reserve

The Fed had been forecast to raise interest rates a further two times this year. However, it has since said it is now taking a “patient approach” to interest rates.

Last month, it indicated that it did not expect to raise interest rates for the rest of 2019.

amid slower economic growth.

Mr Trump said earlier this week that he would nominate the former boss of Godfather’s Pizza to the Fed’s board of governors.

Herman Cain, 73, ran to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and is a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Along with Mr Cain, Mr Trump also intends to nominate Stephen Moore, who advised the president during his election campaign, to join the Fed’s board of governors.

The politicisation of the Fed

By New York business correspondent, Michelle Fleury

With his picks of Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, Donald Trump appears to be politicising America’s central bank.

Their candidacy marks a shift from the president’s first few nominees to America’s central bank. They were more traditional candidates and were more or less greeted with bipartisan approval.

By contrast, Cain and Moore appear to have been picked less for their experience and more for their loyalty to the President and have therefore provoked a great deal of political criticism.

Donald Trump has been openly critical of recent Fed policy, heckling Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Twitter.

The President favours lower interest rates and switching from quantitative tightening to quantitative easing.

Economist Stephen Moore has been openly critical of the Fed. While Herman Cain, the former boss of Godfather’s Pizza and who has worked at the Kansas City Federal Reserve has often stated his anachronistic view that the US should return to the gold standard.

If their nominations go through, they would be in a position to promote his view that the economy can grow much faster without overheating.

For investors, it would raise fears about the independence of America’s central bank.

While new jobs figures for March beat forecasts – analysts had been expecting growth of between 170,000 and 180,000 roles – earnings data showed that the annual rate of wage increases slowed to 3.2% in March, down from 3.4% in February.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “Overall, these data won’t change anyone’s mind about whether the Fed ultimately will have to hike this year.

“The payroll gain is welcome but one month does not prove that the trend remains close to 200,000, and doves will point to the modest average hourly earnings gain as evidence that the Fed’s ‘patient’ stance is justified.”

Win Thin, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, said it was a “mixed report” with highlights including an upwards revision to the 20,000 new jobs initially reported in February.

But he said: “The average hourly earnings was a big disappointment.”

Unemployment rate

The unemployment rate remained at 3.8% for a second month.

The healthcare sector saw jobs rise, but the retail and manufacturing sectors both saw declines.

Some 6,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing, the first decline in the sector since July 2017.

Car companies have been cutting thousands of jobs, including General Motors which is cutting about 14,000 workers.

Greek police clash with migrants after ‘fake news’ border movement

Greek police have scuffled with hundreds of migrants who gathered near the northern city of Thessaloniki hoping to enter North Macedonia.

The trouble erupted at Diavata, a migrant camp, after a rumour spread on social media suggesting that a border crossing would be opened for migrants.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini says dozens of migrants are protesting on the tracks at Athens’s Larissa station, forcing a suspension of rail services.

Many are refugees from the Middle East.

Reports say some migrants outside the official Diavata camp hurled sticks and stones at police, who responded with tear gas.

Greek media describe as “fake news” the Facebook story about plans for an organised crossing of the North Macedonia border.

About 600 spent the night camping in a field outside the Diavata camp, and there were more clashes in the morning as police blocked the route to the north.

Migrant camp, Diavata, 5 Apr 19
This makeshift camp arose rapidly on Thursday at Diavata, near Thessaloniki

Speaking to the BBC by phone, a Kurdish migrant from Iraq, 25-year-old Bilal Jaf, said “the situation is tense in Diavata camp now – we’re afraid that the police will try to evacuate our makeshift camp.

“I live in Greece for 11 months, waiting my asylum request to be examined and I don’t know for how long should I wait for that.”

Karzan Abdullah, 24, also an Iraqi Kurd, said: “I live in Greece for 12 months – I have to go on in Europe, because there is no life here anymore.

“We are informed that the Greek-North Macedonian border will open today for us. My friends who also want to join the caravan are blocked by the police in Athens railway station.”

Legacy of 2015 crisis

Tens of thousands of migrants remain in overcrowded camps in Greece, having arrived there in huge numbers in 2015-2016. They include many Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis.

In that crisis Germany took in more than 800,000 asylum seekers – an issue that remains very controversial. International law grants a right of asylum for refugees fleeing war or persecution.

The influx declined rapidly after Turkey reached a deal with the EU to intercept migrant boats and Balkan countries imposed tight border restrictions.

In 2016, a sprawling tent city formed at Idomeni, on the Greece-North Macedonia border. It was later cleared by Greek police and the migrants were redistributed to various official camps.

Hayabusa-2: Japanese probe likely to have ‘bombed’ an asteroid

The Japanese Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is thought to have detonated an explosive charge on the asteroid it is exploring.

The idea was to create an artificial crater on the object known as Ryugu.

If this is successful – and the early indications are positive – the probe will later return to gather samples from the gouged depression.

Scientists believe these samples could help them better understand how Earth and the other planets were formed in the early Solar System.

An apparent spray of debris is captured by the deployed camera

The explosive device, called the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI), was released from Hayabusa-2 on Friday. The SCI, a 14kg conical container, was packed with plastic explosive intended to punch a 10m-wide hole in the asteroid.

Because of the debris that would have been thrown up in this event, Hayabusa-2 manoeuvred itself before the detonation to the far side of 800m-wide Ryugu – out of harm’s way and out of sight.

But the probe left a small camera behind called DCAM3 to observe the explosion. Images returned to Earth later on Friday appeared to show a spray of debris emerging from the limb of the asteroid, indicating the experiment to excavate a crater very probably worked.

Hayabusa-2 will, in a few weeks, return to the crater to try to collect its pristine samples. Because they will come from within the asteroid, they will not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space.

Bombardment with cosmic radiation over the aeons is thought to alter the surfaces of these planetary building blocks. So, scientists want to get at a fresh sample that hasn’t been changed by this process.

Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock known as a C-type asteroid. It’s a relic left over from the early days of our Solar System, and therefore records the conditions and chemistry of that time – some 4.5 billion years ago.

Short presentational grey line

A video of the SCI being tested on Earth can be seen below:

Warning: Third party content may contain adverts

Speaking at last month’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), project scientist Sei-ichiro Watanabe said the experiment would also “provide us with information of the strength of the surface layer of Ryugu”.

This could help shed light on how the asteroid developed its characteristic “spinning top” shape.

Ryugu has a characteristic “spinning top” shape

Scientific results suggest Ryugu was formed from loose debris that was blasted off a bigger asteroid and then came back together to form a secondary object.

At the LPSC meeting, held in The Woodlands in Texas, Yuichi Tsuda, the mission’s project manager, told me how the team decided where on Ryugu to generate the artificial crater.

“There are two things: the first priority is to make a hole where we can easily identify a crater… so, easy observation, not too hard, not too bumpy,” he said.

“Second, somewhere that’s as feasible as possible in terms of landing… if those two don’t meet together, we go with the first priority.”

Scientists may command Hayabusa-2 to descend into the crater at a later date to collect a pristine sample of rock. But they will only do so if there is no risk of the spacecraft colliding with a boulder.

Saudi Arabia ‘arrests seven including US citizens’

Saudi Arabia has detained at least seven people, including two dual US-Saudi citizens and a pregnant woman, a London-based rights group says.

Those arrested are not said to be frontline activists, but writers and bloggers who have discussed reform.

They had already been under a travel ban since February, rights group ALQST says.

The latest arrests come amid concern at the fate of activists already in prison after pushing for women’s rights.

Ten women’s rights campaigners were put on trial last month following a crackdown beginning in 2018. Three were released last week on bail.

That case has drawn international criticism, with 36 states demanding their release at the UN Human Rights Council.

Who has been arrested?

Saudi authorities have not commented on the latest arrests.

They include at least six men and one woman, according to ALQST. Some reports speak of eight arrests.

Among them is Khadijah al-Harbi, a pregnant feminist writer, and US-Saudi citizen Salah al-Haidar, whose mother was one of the activists recently freed.

Al-Haidar has a family home in Virginia but lives with his wife and child in Saudi Arabia, the Associated Press reports.

The other US-Saudi national arrested was reportedly Badr al-Ibrahim – a writer and doctor.

Scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has intensified since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

Turkish investigators and others have pointed the finger at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen as the real power behind the throne, alleging he orchestrated the murder.

But the Saudi authorities deny he was involved and blame a “rogue” operation. Eleven people went on trial in January.

The arrests of activists and writers are seen as an attempt to shut down criticism of the crown prince, who has himself enacted some reforms.

Asylum Seeker Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, along with Canadian minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland
The case of teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (centre) also renewed criticism

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have been an enduring focus of international concern, despite some public overtures toward reform from within the kingdom.

The World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia number 141 out of 149 countries around the world for gender equality in 2018.

Saudi women still cannot travel, get married or open a bank account without a male guardian’s permission.

Earlier this year, the case of a Saudi woman fleeing her family abroad gained high-profile attention.

Rahaf al-Qunun, 18, barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room after immigration officials tried to return her.

The teenager eventually received UN help and has since been granted asylum in Canada.

Algeria protesters demand end to regime after Bouteflika’s fall

Thousands have taken to the streets of the Algerian capital demanding a complete overhaul of the country’s political structure.

This is the seventh successive week of Friday protests and Tuesday’s resignation of long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika does not appear to have satisfied the demonstrators.

According to the constitution, parliament’s speaker should take over.

But protesters want all those associated with Mr Bouteflika to go.

The president, who had been in power for 20 years, said this week that he was “proud” of his contributions but realised he had “failed in [his] duty”.

He added that he was “leaving the political stage with neither sadness nor fear” for Algeria’s future.

Presentational grey line

‘We’ve had enough’

Algerians demonstrate

The youth are the main driving force behind these demonstrations, young men and women who have known no president other than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

But they are not satisfied.

“We are tired of this regime, they have robbed us. We’ve had enough of that,” an emotional young woman tells me.

Nearly half of the population is under 30, many of whom are unemployed and having to live in poor conditions.

But I have also seen Algerians from older generations taking part in the protests.

Everybody here wants a change. They are sending a clear message: “a new phase with new faces”.

They tell me they don’t trust anyone associated with the Bouteflika era.

The mood is full of enthusiasm and energy but the people here take pride in the peaceful nature of the protests.

They have been emboldened by their success in unseating the president and now believe the same can happen with his entourage.

Presentational grey line
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in 2017
Mr Bouteflika’s departure has not satisfied the protesters

How did the protests come about?

Pressure had been building since February, when the first demonstrations were sparked by Mr Bouteflika’s announcement that he would be standing for a fifth term.

The octogenarian leader suffered a stroke six years ago and has rarely been in public since.

Tens of thousands protested across the country on 1 March. Mr Bouteflika’s promise not to serve out a fifth term if re-elected, along with a change of prime minister, failed to quell the discontent.

Leaders of the protests also rejected Mr Bouteflika’s offer this week that he would go by the end of his current term – 28 April – as not quick enough.

It seems the powerful military agreed. Its chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, said on Tuesday: “There is no more room to waste time.”

Mr Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday but that was not enough for protesters.

Who is former President Bouteflika?

He is a veteran of Algeria’s war of independence who served as foreign minister for more than a decade before becoming president in 1999.

His primary task was to rebuild the country, and its economy – but first, he needed to end Algeria’s brutal civil war sparked by the military’s refusal to recognise the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in the early 1990s.

Despite guaranteeing stability in the oil-rich nation, his government has been accused of widespread corruption and state repression.

The man who once said he would not accept being “three-quarters a president” spent his last years in a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013, rarely appearing in public, and fuelling fierce debate over who was really in charge, the BBC’s North Africa correspondent, Best, says.

Who is officially running the country now?

A caretaker government is currently in place.

Algerian protestors

The president has resigned. What more do the protesters want?

The demonstrators are pushing for the removal of three people they dub the “3B”. That is Senate Speaker Abdelakder Bensalah, head of the constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

But they want much more than that – they want to dismantle the whole political system.

They say that the country is actually run by a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials who used Mr Bouteflika as a front.

People gesture and carry a mock hangman with the faces of Algerian businessman Ali Haddad, former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, and Said Bouteflika, brother of former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, during a protest to push for the removal of the current political structure, in Algiers, Algeria April 5, 2019.
Protesters call for everyone from the old regime to go – including Mr Bouteflika’s brother, Said (left puppet), former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia (centre) and businessman Ali Haddad

They want to take the power away from this group, known as Le Pouvoir.

Specifically, one of the leading voices of the protest movement, lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi, told AFP news agency that he doesn’t want the “symbols of the regime” to run the next election.

Who else has lost their position of power so far?

Earlier on Friday, the head of intelligence and close ally of Mr Bouteflika, Athmane Tartag, was reportedly sacked. He was a close ally of Mr Bouteflika.

#Brexit : UK asks EU for further extension until 30 June

Theresa May has written to the European Union to request a further delay to Brexit until 30 June.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs.

The prime minister has proposed that if UK MPs approve a deal in time, the UK should be able to leave before European Parliamentary elections on 23 May.

But she said the UK would prepare to field candidates in those elections in case no agreement is reached.

It is up to the EU whether to grant an extension to Article 50, the legal process through which the UK is leaving the EU, after MPs repeatedly rejected the withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the bloc.

The BBC’s Europe editor Mr Ben Rory has been told by a senior EU source that European Council President Donald Tusk will propose a 12-month “flexible” extension to Brexit, with the option of cutting it short, if the UK Parliament ratifies a deal.

But French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Friday that it was “premature” to consider another delay while French diplomatic sources described Mr Tusk’s suggestion as a “clumsy test balloon”.

The prime minister wrote to Mr Tusk to request the extension ahead of an EU summit on 10 April, where EU leaders would have to unanimously agree on any plan to delay the UK’s departure.

Mrs May has already requested an extension to the end of June but this was rejected at a summit last month.

Instead, she was offered a short delay to 12 April – the date by which the UK must say whether it intends to take part in the European Parliamentary elections – or until 22 May, if UK MPs had approved the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU. They voted it down for a third time last week.

A Downing Street spokesman said there were “different circumstances now” and the prime minister “has been clear she is seeking a short extension”.

Why 30 June?

The 30 June date is significant.

It’s the day before the new European Parliament will hold its first session. So the logic is, that it would allow the UK a bit longer to seal a deal – but without the need for British MEPs to take their seats in a parliament that the UK electorate had voted to leave as long ago as 2016.

But, this being Theresa May, it’s a plan she has previously proposed – and which has already been rejected.

It’s likely the EU will reject it again and offer a longer extension, with the ability to leave earlier if Parliament agrees a deal.

But by asking for a relatively short extension – even if she is unsuccessful – the prime minister will be hoping to escape the ire of some of her Brexit-supporting backbenchers who are champing at the bit to leave.

And she will try to signal to Leave-supporting voters that her choice is to get out of the EU as soon as is practicable – and that a longer extension will be something that is forced upon her, rather than something which she embraces.

In her letter, the prime minister says she would continue to seek the “rapid approval” of the withdrawal agreement and a “shared vision” for the future relationship between the UK and EU.

She said if cross-party talks with the Labour Party could not establish “a single unified approach” in the UK Parliament – MPs would be asked to vote on a series of Brexit options instead which the government “stands ready to abide by”, if Labour commits to doing the same.

The UK proposes an extension to the process until 30 June, she wrote, and “accepts the European Council’s view that if the United Kingdom were still a member state of the European Union on 23 May 2019, it would be under a legal obligation to hold the elections”.

To this end, she says the UK is “undertaking the lawful and responsible preparations for this contingency”.

But she suggests the UK should be able to leave earlier, if the UK Parliament approves a withdrawal deal before then, and cancel preparations for the European Parliamentary elections.

Read Mr Ben’s blog

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, at a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels, said any extension granted should be the last and final offer, to maintain the EU’s credibility.

Tusk’s ‘flextension’

You could almost hear the sound of collective eye-rolling across 27 European capitals after Theresa May requested a Brexit extension-time that Brussels has already repeatedly rejected.

Most EU leaders are leaning towards a longer Brexit delay, to avoid being constantly approached by the PM for a rolling series of short extensions, with the threat of a no-deal Brexit always just round the corner.

Donald Tusk believes he has hit on a compromise solution: his “flextension” which would last a year, with the UK able to walk away from it, as soon as Parliament ratifies the Brexit deal.

Leo Varadkar and Angela Merkel pose for photos following talks in Dublin
European leaders are awaiting the results of talks between the Conservatives and Labour

But EU leaders are not yet singing from the same hymn sheet on this.

Expect closed-door political fireworks – though it’s unclear whether it’ll be a modest display or an all-out extravaganza – at their emergency Brexit summit next week. Under EU law, they have to hammer out a unanimous position.

Talks between Labour and the Conservatives are continuing on Friday.

Speaking to Labour activists in Newport on Friday, Mr Corbyn said the government “haven’t appeared to have changed their opinions very much as yet”. He said Labour would push to maintain the UK’s “market relationship with Europe”, including defending rights and regulations.

Nick Brown outside the Cabinet Office
Labour chief whip Nick Brown is a member of the party’s negotiating team

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK still hoped to leave “in the next couple of months” but it may have “little choice” but to accept a longer delay if Parliament could not agree a solution.

But Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said the EU “should be careful what it wishes for”.

“If we have EU elections, it is likely UKIP, Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage will do well,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

Another Tory Eurosceptic, Sir Bernard Jenkin, said he would prefer to stay in the EU for another year than for Britain to accept a “humiliating defeat” of a withdrawal agreement.

The Scottish National Party’s Stephen Gethins said that the prime minister’s proposal “demonstrates beyond doubt she is putting the interests of her fractured Tory Party above all else”.

“It is clear that with the UK Parliament unable to reach a consensus – coupled with everything we now know on the damaging impact Brexit will have on the UK economy, jobs and living standards – it must now be the priority that the issue is brought back to the people in a fresh second EU referendum, with the option to remain on the ballot paper.”

Brexit: Germany’s CDU leader hopes for second referendum

“Have you heard about the British party guest? He’s the one who announces he’s leaving, then you find him hours later wandering around the house with no money for a taxi. When he finally goes, he takes two bottles of wine with him.”

European stereotype depictions tend to portray Germans as lacking a sense of humour.

But in political cartoons and on satire shows like Extra 3, Germany is finding plenty to laugh about Brexit.

“Fisch und Tschüss” is a slogan for the satirical news programme, The Heute [today] Show – a play on words for the traditional UK dish, fish and chips. Except Tschüss in German means goodbye.

After initially mourning the UK’s vote to leave, then following every twist and turn of negotiations for a while, many Germans now feel alienated from the process.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and CPU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photo: February 2019
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (right) is very close to Angela Merkel (left) and is widely tipped to be the next German chancellor

They can’t keep up with what’s going on in the House of Commons.

“I no longer care so much how Brexit ends,” you often hear. “As long as it ends.”

“Brexit has been a strain on all of us. In some ways it has paralysed us,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told me in Berlin in a UK exclusive interview.

She’s the leader of Germany’s CDU party, very close to Angela Merkel and widely tipped to be the next German chancellor.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer – also known as AKK – is far from detached when it comes to Brexit.

She and a number of other German politicians penned a letter to the Times newspaper back in January, appealing to the UK to change its mind.

Now, the EU’s determined attempt to show unity at all times over Brexit means it has been frustratingly difficult to get EU leaders to agree to in-depth, on-the-record Brexit interviews .

But AKK is not the German chancellor. She had no qualms about laying bare her Brexit regret.

“Anything that keeps the UK close to the EU and best of all, in the EU, would make me personally very happy” she told me.

“Maybe that could result from the current talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.”

She hopes for a second referendum – but only, she said, if the majority of UK citizens felt it would heal the country rather than exacerbate divisions further.

Anti-Brexit supporters protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: 1 April 2019
Remain supporters have been staging rallies in London

With the deadline for a Brexit decision looming next week on 12 April, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer believes the risk of the UK leaving without a deal have “risen dramatically”. This is something German business find no laughing matter.

A recent poll suggested 100,000 German jobs could be affected by a no-deal Brexit.

The BDI Federation of German Industry warned Germany would lose at least 0.5% of its GDP – and this at a time when the German economy is already heading south.

That, I think, is why there is a sudden, noticeable softening in tone when EU leaders speak about Brexit.

At a press conference in Dublin on Thursday, Chancellor Merkel struck a determinedly encouraging note.

Instead of “no-deal is the most likely scenario” or “if Theresa May requests a longer extension, we’ll attach really tough conditions”, which we’ve got used to hearing by now, Mrs Merkel chose the words: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Peering into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit over the last few days, EU leaders have had a short, sharp reality check.

What impact would that have on them and their countries, they wonder? And what are they be prepared to do to avoid it?

There is no common EU position on this yet. That’s putting it politely.

Verbal fisticuffs are predicted at next week’s emergency Brexit summit when the 27 EU leaders come face-to-face.

The man who represents all of them here in Brussels, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, thinks he may have found a solution. However, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

He’s proposing what he calls a “flextension”, which could see the UK signing up to a one-year-long Brexit delay with the option to cut it short as soon as parliament ratified the Brexit deal.

Mr Tusk believes the arrangement would suit the EU and the UK – and as one EU official put it to me, it would avoid Brussels potentially being faced with “endless” UK requests for repeated short extensions every few weeks.

EU leaders will discuss Mr Tusk’s proposal at next Wednesday’s summit. By law, their decision must be unanimous.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested something else the EU could do: take another look at the controversial backstop guarantee to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

“If the UK now came to us and said, ‘let’s spend five days negotiating non-stop on how to avoid the backstop’, I can’t imagine anyone in Europe saying ‘No’. If the UK had new watertight proposals for the border, I don’t think anyone in the EU would say, ‘We don’t want to talk about it.'”

Far from official EU Brexit policy, but it gives us a taster of the kind of conversations going on behind closed EU political doors.

Jussie Smollett: City of Chicago to sue actor over alleged attack

Jussie Smollett will be sued by the City of Chicago after “refusing to reimburse” the cost of investigating an alleged assault on him in the city.

Prosecutors say a homophobic and racist attack was staged to boost the actor’s career, but Smollett has always maintained his innocence.

The 36-year-old was given seven days to pay $130,000 (£99,000) to cover the investigation’s cost.

The deadline passed on Thursday and now a civil complaint will be filed.

The City of Chicago’s law department said it will “pursue the full measure of damages allowed”, adding in a statement that the lawsuit will be filed “in the near future”.

After initially being treated as a victim Smollett was accused of staging the attack and became the subject of the police investigation, but the charges against the actor were dropped last week.

Prosecutors say they still believe the Empire star faked the attack.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says: “At the end of the day, it is Mr Smollett who committed this hoax”

The charges were dropped because Smollett forfeited a $10,000 (£7,600) bond payment and carried out community service, according to Illinois prosecutor Joe Magats.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called it a “a whitewash of justice” and claimed Smollett had dragged the city’s reputation “through the mud”.

In the initial letter demanding $130,000, which includes overtime hours police used on the case, the City of Chicago said: “As part of the investigation, Chicago police reviewed video and physical evidence and conducted several interviews, expending resources that could have been used for other investigations.

“Ultimately, the Chicago police investigation revealed that you knowingly filed a false police report and had in fact orchestrated your own attack.”

A new Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, was elected on Wednesday and will be sworn in on 20 May.

She told MSNBC following her victory that there needs to be a “much more fulsome explanation” as to why the charges against Smollett were dropped.

“We cannot create the perception that if you’re rich or famous or both that you get one set of justice, and for everybody else it’s something much harsher,” she said.

“That won’t do and we need to make sure that we have a criminal justice system that has integrity.”

New Chicago mayor’s message on race, love… and height

Newsbeat has contacted representatives for Jussie Smollett for comment.

German far-right MP ‘could be absolutely controlled by Russia’

A German politician could become an “absolutely controlled” MP in the Bundestag, according to Russian documents.

The politician, Markus Frohnmaier, is a member of the German parliament from the far-right AfD party.

The documents date back to April 2017, when Mr Frohnmaier was a candidate for election to the Bundestag. He was subsequently elected in September 2017.

Mr Frohnmaier told the BBC he had no knowledge of the documents.

The AfD (Alternative for Germany) is now the main opposition party in the German Parliament.

Joint investigation

Mr Frohnmaier has frequently spoken out against EU sanctions on Russia, and made trips to Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

The documents were obtained by the Dossier Centre, an organisation that aims to investigate Kremlin attempts to influence politicians abroad.

The Dossier Centre is funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oligarch, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin who spent nearly 10 years in jail in Russia.

The BBC conducted a joint investigation into the documents together with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the German TV channel ZDF and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The documents provide an insight into so-called “active measures” – Russian attempts to influence Western politics.

The main document, written in Russian, appears to be a strategy paper detailing general attempts to influence public opinion and decision-makers across the EU on topics such as Crimea, Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia.

But right at the end, there is something more specific.

Under the heading “elections to the Bundestag”, the document names one candidate: Markus Frohnmaier.

It goes on:

  • “Chances of being elected to the Bundestag: high.”
  • “Required: support in the election campaign.”

There follows an assessment of Mr Frohnmaier’s potential value to Moscow if elected to the German parliament:

  • “Result: We will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.”

The document was attached in an email, also seen by the BBC.

The email was sent by Petr Premyak, a former naval counterintelligence officer and a former member of the upper house of the Russian parliament.

Mr Premyak confirmed to a reporter from ZDF that he wrote the email, but said he was not the author of the attached strategy document.

The recipient was Sergei Sokolov – a senior official in President Putin’s administration.

It is not clear whether the Kremlin acted on the recommendations in the document, and there is no evidence that Russia provided any “material support” to Mr Frohnmaier’s campaign.

Separately, the BBC obtained another document, also from April 2017, that appears to be a request for help written on behalf of Mr Frohnmaier’s campaign.

This document is written in occasionally faulty English, and is entitled: “Frohnmaier election campaign/action plan (draft)”.

“For the election campaign we urgently would need some support,” the letter states.

“Besides material support we would need media support as well […] any type of interviews, reports and opportunities to appear in the Russian media is helpful for us.”

During the campaign, the document promised, Mr Frohnmaier would focus on topics including “Good relations with the Russian Federation: Sanctions, EU interference in Russian domestic politics.”

And if elected, Mr Frohmaier would “immediately start operating in the foreign policy field”.

‘Fake document’

Mr Frohnmaier told the BBC he had no knowledge of the Russian document obtained by the Dossier Centre, nor of document apparently written on behalf of his campaign.

“I think that’s a fake document,” he said.

Asked whether he could explain how the authors of the Russian document came to the conclusion that he would be an “absolutely controlled MP”, Mr Frohnmaier said, in a statement from his lawyers: “Our client emphasises that he was never under the control of any third party.

“Our client has not requested or received financial support […] directly or through third parties.”

Jeff Bezos: World’s richest man agrees $35bn divorce

The world’s richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and his wife MacKenzie have agreed a record-breaking divorce settlement of at least $35bn (£27bn).

Ms Bezos keeps a 4% stake in the online retail giant, worth $35.6bn on its own.

Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in Seattle in 1994, a year after the couple married, and Ms Bezos was one of its first employees.

Both parties tweeted positive comments about the other in the wake of the announced settlement.

The two did not provide any further financial details about the settlement.

The Amazon shares alone will make Ms Bezos the world’s third-richest woman while Jeff will remain the world’s richest person, according to Forbes.

Jeff Bezos, 55, and MacKenzie, 48, a novelist, married in 1993 and have four children.

Ms Bezos’ tweet is her first and only one since joining the microblogging website this month. In it she stated that she was “grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage to Jeff with support from each other”.

Mr Bezos tweeted: “I’m so grateful to all my friends and family for reaching out with encouragement and love… MacKenzie most of all.”

The tweet concluded with: “She is resourceful and brilliant and loving, and as our futures unroll, I know I’ll always be learning from her.”

Prior to the settlement, Mr Bezos held a 16.3% stake in Amazon. He will retain 75% of that holding but Ms Bezos has transferred all of her voting rights to her former husband.

She will also give up her interests in the Washington Post newspaper and Mr Bezos’ space travel firm Blue Origin.

Amazon is now vast online retail business. Last year, it generated sales of $232.8bn and it has helped Mr Bezos and his family amass a fortune of $131bn, according to Forbes magazine.

Ms Bezos is a successful novelist who has written two books, The Testing of Luther Albright and Traps. She was taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison at Princeton University, who once said of her pupil that she was “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes… really one of the best”.

Mr Bezos is reportedly in a relationship with former Fox TV host Lauren Sánchez.

After Mr Bezos and his wife announced in January that they would part, a US tabloid magazine published details, including private messages, of an extramarital affair with Ms Sánchez.

Mr Bezos has accused the publisher of the magazine, American Media Incorporated, of blackmail. The publisher denies the claim.

The divorce deal dwarfs a previous $3.8bn record set in 1999 by art dealer Alec Wildenstein and his wife Jocelyn, who became well-known for her cosmetic surgery.

South Korea wildfires: Deadly blaze declared a national emergency

South Korea has declared a national emergency in response to one of the largest wildfires on record.

At least one person has died and more than 4,000 people have been evacuated.

Thousands of soldiers have been helping firefighters from across South Korea extinguish the flames in the country’s north-eastern mountainous region, close to the border with North Korea.

Although the main fire has been brought under control, others are still burning, officials say.

Buildings and vehicle damaged during a wildfire are seen in Goseong, South Korea, April 5, 2019
Image captionHundreds of buildings have been destroyed by the fire

It is believed the fire, which broke out late on Thursday, originated from a spark at a transformer near Goseong in Gangwon Province, north-east of Seoul.

Fanned by strong winds, it quickly spread through the mountain region which hosted the Winter Olympics last year, and to the cities of Sokcho and Gangneung, officials say.

More than 800 fire engines were brought in from across South Korea to help tackle the fire.

The blaze has destroyed several hundred buildings in the province.

President Moon Jae-in held an emergency meeting and called for officials to deploy all available resources.

Some 16,500 soldiers, 32 military helicopters and 26 military fire trucks have been deployed, the ministry of defence said.

“Fortunately, the main fire has been brought under control,” provincial governor Choi Moon-soon said in a radio interview with news broadcaster YTN, but added that others were still burning.

The fire in the Sokcho region has been contained, the government said, while about 50% of the fire in the Gangneung region has been contained.

Firefighters try to extinguish a still burning house gutted by a massive forest fire in Sokcho, South Korea, on 5 April 2019
Thousands of firefighters have been deployed to help tackle the wildfires

The last time a disaster of a similar scale hit South Korea was in 2007, when a crude oil carrier leaked thousands of tonnes of oil into the sea off the west coast.

Even one drink a day increases stroke risk, study finds

Even light-to-moderate drinking increases blood pressure and the chances of having a stroke, according to a large genetic study in The Lancet, countering previous claims that one or two drinks a day could be protective.

The UK and Chinese researchers followed 500,000 Chinese people for 10 years.

They say the findings are relevant to all populations and the best evidence yet on the direct effects of alcohol.

Experts said people should limit their alcohol consumption.

It is already known that heavy drinking is harmful to health and increases stroke risk – but some studies have suggested drinking small amounts can be good for the health, while others indicate there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

What did the research find?

The researchers, from the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that:

  • one to two drinks a day increased stroke risk by 10-15%
  • four drinks a day increased the risk of having a stroke by 35%

For the purposes of their study, one drink was defined as either:

  • a small glass of wine
  • a bottle of beer
  • a single measure of spirits

About 16 in 100 men and 20 in 100 women will have a stroke in their lifetime in the UK.

So, if a group of 100 non-drinkers started drinking a glass or two every day, there would be an extra two strokes – a small increase.

According to Prof David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, that’s an increase in total stroke risk of 38% for every half a bottle of wine drunk per day.

He said: “It is very roughly the opposite effect of taking a statin”, which are drugs prescribed by doctors to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The study also found no evidence of light or moderate drinking having a protective effect, in other words, reducing the risk of stroke.

When it came to the effect of alcohol on heart attack risk, the researchers said the effects were not clear cut and more data needed to be collected over the next few years.

“Claims that wine and beer have magical protective effects is not borne out,” said study author Prof Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford.

Why China?

East Asian countries are useful places to study the effects of alcohol.

Many people with Chinese ancestry have a combination of genes that puts them off drinking alcohol. It causes an unpleasant reaction and makes them feel unwell.

As a result, there is a wide variation of alcohol intake in China – one in three men doesn’t drink and very few women do.

But by comparing the health outcomes of drinkers and non-drinkers according to their genetic profile, scientists say they have been able to assess – with much more certainty than before – the direct effects of alcohol on stroke risk, distinct from any other factors.

Western populations don’t possess these genes, so it would be impossible to carry out a similar study here.

Most studies are observational, which makes it’s difficult to judge which factor is causing what effect.

Dr Iona Millwood, study author and senior epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: “Our genetic analyses have helped us understand the cause and effect relationships.”

So what does this mean for me?

The researchers say their key message is that there is now clear evidence of no protective effect of moderate drinking on stroke.

That means drinking even small amounts of alcohol each day can increase the chances of having a stroke.

This is reflected in the current UK guidance – which advises a limit of 14 units of alcohol a week, with several alcohol-free days to keep health risks low.

What do other experts say?

Dr Stephen Burgess, from the University of Cambridge, said there were some limitations to the study – that it only looked at a Chinese population and focused mainly on the drinking of spirits and beer, not wine.

But he said the research reflected the culmination of many years of research into the impact of alcohol consumption.

“It strongly suggests that there is no cardiovascular benefit of light drinking and that risk of stroke increases even with moderate light alcohol consumption,” he said.

“Risk of stroke increases proportionally with the amount of alcohol consumed, so if people do choose to drink, then they should limit their alcohol consumption.”

Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said the study didn’t answer every question.

“It has certainly advanced what we know about the role of alcohol in some diseases but it can’t be the last word,” he said.

“The new study doesn’t tie down exactly how alcohol works to increase stroke risk but doesn’t appear to increase heart attack risk.”

Prof David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk, at the University of Cambridge, said the study was making him waver.

“I have always been reasonably convinced that moderate alcohol consumption was protective for cardiovascular disease, but now I am having my doubts,” he said.

Libya crisis: General Haftar tells forces to take capital

The leader of forces in eastern Libya has ordered them to march on the capital Tripoli, the base of the internationally recognised government.

Khalifa Haftar’s order to the self-styled Libyan National Army came as UN chief Antonio Guterres was in Tripoli.

Armed groups from the western city of Misrata, which back the government, have vowed to stop any advance.

Libya has been riven by violence and division since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

What reaction has there been?

Mr Guterres, the US and European nations have all called for calm.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, Mr Guterres said he was making a “strong appeal to stop… the escalation”.

The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the situation following a request from the UK, reports said.

The US, UK, France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued a joint statement appealing for calm.

“At this sensitive moment in Libya’s transition, military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos,” the statement, issued by the US state department, said.

“We strongly believe that there is no military solution to the Libya conflict,” the governments added.

The UN had been planning to hold a conference in Libya later this month for talks over ending the country’s long-running crisis.

What is happening on the ground?

After Gen Haftar’s announcement, his forces moved towards the capital from several directions, one of his spokesmen said.

There were conflicting reports that Gen Haftar’s forces had entered the town of Gharyan, 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli.

Gen Haftar
Gen Haftar has ordered his forces to march on Tripoli

The Libyan National Army (LNA) says it has secured Gharyan and moved on. However it said two of its soldiers had been wounded in clashes in a nearby area.

A Gharyan official told AFP that there were “ongoing efforts to avoid a confrontation” between rival fighters in the town.

The UN-backed government in Tripoli said it had put its forces on high alert.

Meanwhile residents in Misrata said armed groups from the city had begun moving towards the Libyan capital, Reuters reported.

The offensive comes after Gen Haftar’s forces seized parts of the south of the country earlier in the year.

Who is General Haftar?

A former army officer, he helped Colonel Gaddafi seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US. He returned in 2011 after the uprising against Gaddafi began and became a rebel commander.

In December Gen Haftar met Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj from the UN-backed government at a conference but refused to attend official talks.

Gen Haftar has received backing from Egypt and the UAE, who see him as tough on Islamists.

He visited Saudi Arabia last week, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks.


Brexit: EU’s Donald Tusk ‘suggests 12-month flexible delay’

European Council President Donald Tusk is proposing to offer the UK a 12-month “flexible” extension to its Brexit date, according to a senior EU source.

His plan, which would need to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit next week, would allow the UK to leave sooner if Parliament ratifies a deal.

The UK’s Conservatives and Labour Party are set to continue Brexit talks later.

Theresa May will write to Mr Tusk with the UK’s request for a further delay to Brexit, it is understood.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs.

Downing Street said “technical” talks between Labour and the Conservatives on Thursday had been “productive” and would continue on Friday.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has told the BBC that if they fail, the delay is “likely to be a long one”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said a further postponement to the Brexit date is needed if the UK is to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, a scenario both EU leaders and many British MPs believe would create problems for businesses and cause difficulties at ports.

On Wednesday, MPs voted  – by a majority of one – in favour of a backbench bill which would force Mrs May to ask the EU for a further extension.

However, the PM wants to keep any delay as short as possible.

To do that, she and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would need to agree a proposal for MPs to vote on before 10 April, when EU leaders are expected to consider any extension request at an emergency summit.

Rebecca Long-Bailey and Sir Keir Starmer
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “We will be having further discussions with the government”

If they cannot, Mrs May has said a number of options would be put to MPs “to determine which course to pursue”.

Mr Cox told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast that particular scenario would involve accepting whatever postponement the EU offered, which was likely to be “longer than just a few weeks or months”.

But Conservative Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin said the EU was “toying” with the UK and the PM was under no obligation to accept the terms of any extension, even if mandated to by MPs.

“The government just wants cover,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “They want an excuse to do what they are going to do anyway, which is to take us into some kind of extension. The British people don’t want that.”

But he said an extension of a year or so would be better than leaving on the terms agreed by the PM, accusing her of being “pretty dishonest” about her willingness to countenance a no-deal exit.

Europe’s leaders have been split over whether, and how, to grant any extension.

However, BBC Europe editor Mr Ben Rory has been told by a senior EU official that Mr Tusk “believes he’s come up with an answer”, after several hours of meetings in preparation for the summit.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk thinks he may have found a solution. Though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

He’s proposing what he calls a “flextension” which could see the UK signing up to a one-year-long Brexit delay with the option to cut it short as soon as Parliament ratified the Brexit deal.

Mr Tusk believes the arrangement would suit the EU and the UK – and as one EU official put it to me: it would avoid Brussels potentially being faced with “endless” UK requests for repeated short extensions every few weeks.

EU leaders will discuss Mr Tusk’s proposal at their emergency Brexit summit next Wednesday. By law, their decision must be unanimous.

The leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrat Union party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, suggested something else the EU could do: take another look at the controversial backstop guarantee to keep the border open after Brexit.

Far from official EU Brexit policy, but it gives us a taster of the kind of conversations going on behind closed EU political doors.

The EU has previously said that the UK must decide by 12 April whether it will stand candidates in May’s European Parliamentary elections, or else the option of a long extension to Brexit would become impossible.

Talks between Conservative ministers and Labour lasted nearly five hours on Thursday.

Mr Corbyn has written to his MPs saying discussions included customs arrangements, single market alignment, internal security, the need for legal underpinning to any agreements and a “confirmatory” vote.

The main item of business in the last frantic 24 hours has been the cross-party talks between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.

From both sides, it sounds like they are serious and genuine, and negotiators got into the guts of both their positions and technical details on Thursday.

Remember, behind the scenes there isn’t as much difference between the two sides’ versions of Brexit as the hue and cry of Parliament implies.

But the political, not the policy, distance between the two is plainly enormous.

Shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis told the BBC the party would not be talking to the government if a “confirmatory referendum” was not an option.

But 25 Labour MPs – including a number representing Leave-voting seats – have written to Mr Corbyn, saying another referendum should not be included in any compromise Brexit deal.

Asked whether another referendum on any final deal was a credible option, Mr Cox said: “A good deal of persuasion might be needed to satisfy the government that a second referendum would be appropriate. But of course we will consider any suggestion that’s made.”

‘Accidental no-deal’

If the talks fail, the government faces an additional obstacle in the form of a backbench bill which would force the PM to seek a new delay.

Passed by MPs by one vote on Wednesday, the bill is being scrutinised by the House of Lords, who will next consider the draft legislation on Monday.

Ministers have argued it could increase “the risk of an accidental no-deal” in the event the EU agreed to an extension but argued for a different date than one specified by MPs.

That would mean Mrs May having to bring the issue back to the Commons on 11 April, when European leaders would have returned home, the prime minister’s spokesman said.

After a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country still hoped for an “orderly Brexit”.

Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar
Angela Merkel visited Dublin for the first time in five years

“We will do everything in order to prevent… Britain crashing out of the European Union,” she said.

“But we have to do this together with Britain and with their position that they will present to us.”