British woman found dead in Swiss hotel

A 22-year-old British woman has been found dead in the bathroom of a hotel in southern Switzerland, police say.

Her 29-year-old German boyfriend has been taken into custody and reportedly told police that the death was the result of a “sex game” that went wrong.

The victim has not been officially named. Local media say a post-mortem examination has shown she died of suffocation.

The UK Foreign Office said it was offering assistance to the family.

Swiss media said the woman had been staying at the Hotel La Palma au Lac in Muralto, in the district of Locarno, with her boyfriend, who lives in Zurich. She was found dead on Tuesday morning.

Police say they are still investigating the circumstances of the death. Reports say officials are looking into the possibility of an intentional killing.

Some hotel guests told Swiss news outlets that they had heard arguing coming from the couple’s room the night before she was found dead.

The UK Foreign Office confirmed it was offering consular assistance to the family following the death of a British citizen.

German court defends cows’ clanging bells

Cowbells can continue ringing out on a Bavarian farm despite the neighbours’ long-running complaints, a Munich court has ruled.

It was the latest setback for a couple from Holzkirchen, a peaceful market town, who first sued five years ago. But they plan to appeal again.

They argue that dairy farmer Regina Killer’s cows keep them awake at night.

But a leading Bavarian politician, Ilse Aigner, said “the cow – with its bell – is part of our rural way of life”.

The couple, who have not been named, also object to the bad smells of manure and the accompanying insects.

In court their lawyer had played a recording of the cowbell noise, measuring more than 70 decibels at the couple’s bedroom window. But the court found the evidence unconvincing.

The couple were not satisfied with a settlement reached with Mrs Killer in 2015, which instructed the farmer to keep her cows at least 20m (66ft) away from the neighbours’ property.

Mrs Killer, quoted by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, said “this is a matter of our traditions” and “if it goes on like this, it’ll be the end of Bavaria”.

A sign on the road outside Föching in Germany
Mrs Killer’s farm lies in the hamlet of Föching near Holzkirchen

Cowbells defended

Mrs Killer and her legal team maintain that cowbells are there in case the animals escape as they allow the farmer to hear where they are, even at night.

Holzkirchen’s mayor Olaf von Löwis said “grazing is a common practice in our area and is an important pillar of agriculture”.

For now, there is no cowbell noise: Mrs Killer’s cows spend the winter months in sheds.

A barn is pictured with cows poking their heads out from behind their stalls towards the camera
The Holzkirchen cows: Indoors in winter they make less noise

Sudan protests: Demonstrators wait for army statement

Sudan’s army has told the nation to expect an announcement following growing protests calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.

The army’s message sparked jubilant scenes among Sudanese convinced that a coup was under way, but it remained unclear what was happening.

Thousands marched through Khartoum, some chanting: “It has fallen, we won.”

Protests against Mr Bashir, who has governed Sudan since 1989, have been under way for several months.

They were originally sparked by a rise in the cost of living, but grew into a broader anti-government movement.

What is the latest?

In the early hours of Thursday, several military vehicles were seen entering the large compound in Khartoum that houses the Ministry of Defence, the army headquarters and Mr Bashir’s personal residence, AFP reported.

The compound has been the focus of a sit-in by tens of thousands of protesters who have been urging the military to oust Mr Bashir.

Troops have also raided Mr Bashir’s Islamic movement, linked to the ruling party, and deployed at key locations in the capital.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s state news agency reported that all the political prisoners in the country were being released.

Omar al-Bashir - 5 April
Mr Bashir has been in power since 1989

State TV and radio interrupted their programming, with TV broadcasting a message that the army would be making a statement.

The leading protest group, the Association of Sudanese Professionals, said power had to be handed over to a civilian transitional government made up of people who had no links to the “tyrannical regime”.

It urged demonstrators to remain at the sit-in to ensure there was no “partial or false solution”.

A woman dubbed “Kandaka”, which means Nubian queen, has become a symbol for protesters

Protester Hiba Ali told the BBC that “the suspense is killing” as she and others waited for the military to tell them what was happening.

“It’s not just Bashir stepping down. It’s also about the whole regime going down and everything that came with it and 30 years of oppression,” she said

“So what we want is a transition to a democracy. We want a civilian government and hand over of the authority and power to the people.”

Footage posted on social media showed an exchange of gunfire outside the army headquarters.

Other footage appeared to show people taking down posters of Mr Bashir and protesters entering an intelligence service building in the eastern city of Port Sudan.

How has the government responded?

Attempts by the authorities to quell the protests, which include security forces loyal to Mr Bashir opening fire on protesters, have been unsuccessful.

Earlier this week, the sit-in protesters were attacked on two consecutive nights, but on both occasions the army reportedly stepped in to protect them.

Police have ordered officers not to intervene against the protests. On Tuesday, a police spokesman called for “an agreement which would support the peaceful transition of power”.

Sudan protests: So what’s going on?

The government has been criticised by rights groups for a heavy-handed response to the unrest.

Government officials admit 38 people have died since the unrest began in December, but the rights group Human Rights Watch says the number is higher.

In February, it looked as though the president might step down, but instead Mr Bashir declared a state of national emergency.

Who is Omar al-Bashir?

Formerly an army officer, he seized power in a military coup in 1989.

His rule has been marked by civil war. The civil conflict with the south of the country ended in 2005 and South Sudan became independent in 2011.

protester kisses soldier, 11 april
Protesters have been appealing the army to remove Mr Bashir

Another civil conflict has been taking place in the western region of Darfur. Mr Bashir is accused of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity there by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Despite an international arrest warrant issued by the ICC, he won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. However, his last victory was marred by a boycott from the main opposition parties.

The arrest warrant has led to an international travel ban. However, Mr Bashir has made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. He was forced into a hasty departure from South Africa in June 2015 after a court considered whether to enforce the arrest warrant.

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Julian Assange: Wikileaks co-founder arrested in London

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Mr Assange took refuge in the embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped.

The Met Police said he was arrested for failing to surrender to the court.

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno said it withdrew Mr Assange’s asylum after his repeated violations of international conventions.

But Wikileaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Mr Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK.

Mr Assange, 47, had been in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, after seeking asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation – which he denied and was later dropped.

But he still faces a lesser charge of skipping bail in 2012 and he says this could lead to an extradition to the US for publishing US secrets on the Wikileaks website.

Scotland Yard said it was invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.

Mr Assange would remain in custody at a central London police station, before appearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court “as soon as is possible”, the statement added.

Ecuador ‘reached its limit’

The Ecuadorean president said the country had “reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange” after he intervened in the internal affairs of other states.

Mr Moreno said: “The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents.

“This and other publications have confirmed the world’s suspicion that Mr Assange is still linked to WikiLeaks and therefore involved in interfering in internal affairs of other states.”

It comes a day after Wikileaks said it had uncovered an extensive spying operation against its co-founder at the Ecuadorean embassy.

There has been a long-running dispute between the Ecuadorean authorities and Mr Assange about what he was and was not allowed to do in the embassy.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Don Silas, said that over the years they have removed his access to the internet and accused him of engaging in political activities – which is not allowed when claiming asylum.

He said: “Precisely what has happened in the embassy is not clear – there has been claim and counter claim.”

Mr Assange will initially face UK legal proceedings but could be extradited to the US over the Wikileaks revelations, he added.

UK foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan said the arrest followed “extensive dialogue between our two countries”.


Timeline: Julian Assange saga

  • August 2010 – The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office first issues an arrest warrant for Mr Assange. It says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation. Mr Assange says the claims are “without basis”
  • December 2010 – Mr Assange is arrested in London and bailed at the second attempt
  • May 2012 – The UK’s Supreme Court rules he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations
  • June 2012 – Mr Assange enters the Ecuadorean embassy in London
  • August 2012 – Ecuador grants asylum to Mr Assange, saying there are fears his human rights might be violated if he is extradited
  • August 2015 – Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation into two allegations – one of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion because they have run out of time to question him. But he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
  • October 2015 – Metropolitan Police announces that officers will no longer be stationed outside the Ecuadorean embassy
  • February 2016 – A UN panel rules that Mr Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by UK and Swedish authorities since 2010
  • May 2017 – Sweden’s director of public prosecutions announces that the rape investigation into Mr Assange is being dropped
  • July 2018 – The UK and Ecuador confirm they are holding ongoing talks over the fate of Mr Assange
  • October 2018 – Mr Assange is given a set of house rules at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He then launches legal action against the government of Ecuador
  • December 2018 – Mr Assange’s lawyer rejects an agreement announced by Ecuador’s president to see him leave the Ecuadorean embassy
  • February 2019 – Australia grants Mr Assange a new passport amid fears Ecuador may bring his asylum to an end
  • April 2019 – The Metropolitan Police arrests him for “failing to surrender to the court” over a warrant issued in 2012

#Brexit: How do #European elections work?

The European Union (EU) has agreed a Brexit delay until the end of October and preparations have started to take part in the European elections on 23 May.

Prime Minister Theresa May says if a deal gets through Parliament before that date, the UK will not participate. But it seems likely that the UK will still be in the EU at that point.

What is the European Parliament?

The European Parliament is directly elected by EU voters.

It is responsible, along with the Council of Ministers from member states, for making laws and approving budgets.

It also plays a role in the EU’s relations with other countries, including those wishing to join the bloc.

Its members represent the interests of different countries and different regions within the EU.

How are its members elected?

Every five years, EU countries go to the polls to elect members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Each country is allocated a set number of seats, roughly depending on the size of its population. The smallest, Malta (population: around half a million) has six members sitting in the European Parliament while the largest, Germany (population: 82 million) has 96.

At the moment there are 751 MEPs in total and the UK has 73.

Candidates can stand as individuals or they can stand as representatives of one of the UK’s political parties.

Once elected, they represent different regions of the country, again according to population. The north-east of England and Northern Ireland have three MEPs each while the south-east of England, including London, has 18.

While most UK MEPs are also members of a national party, once in the European Parliament they sit in one of eight political groups which include MEPs from across the EU who share the same political affiliation.

Bar chart of number of seats won in European Parliament elections in 2014 - UKIP came out top followed by Labour then Conservatives

Member states can run elections to the European Parliament according to their own national laws and traditions, but they must stick to some common rules. MEPs must be elected using a system of proportional representation – so, for example, a party which gains a third of the votes wins a third of the seats.

Turnout in the UK for European Parliament elections is low both by EU standards and by the standards of other UK elections.

The last time they were held in 2014, 36% of those eligible to vote did so, compared with 43% in the EU as a whole.

That compares with 66% turnout at the following year’s general election.

In 2016, 56% of the electorate voted in the Scottish Parliament elections, 45% in the Welsh Assembly and 54% in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In local elections in England, turnout varies depending largely on what other elections are taking place on the same day, sometimes dipping as low as the European elections turnout and sometimes rising close to the level of general elections.

Elections to European Parliament

Source: European Parliament

How much do elections cost?

The last time European elections were held in 2014, the UK spent £109m on them.

The main costs were running the poll itself (securing polling stations and venues to run counts) and mailing out candidate information and polling cards.

The government has said that if the UK does not end up participating in the 2019 elections, it will reimburse local returning officers – the people responsible for running elections – for any expenses already paid.

What happens if the UK leaves?

The EU is planning to reduce the overall number of seats in the parliament from 751 to 705 when the UK leaves.

There will be a reallocation of 27 of the UK’s seats to 14 other member states that are currently underrepresented. And the rest will be set aside with the possibility of being allocated to any new member states that join in the future.

The EU has already passed legislation to do this, but it does not take effect until the UK leaves.

The number of seats is capped in law at 751.

The European Commission had advised that as long as the UK made a decision to take part in the European elections by mid-April, this reallocation would be reversed.

But what if the UK elects MEPs and then passes a deal to leave the EU?

In that case, the UK MEPs would not take their seats, leaving vacancies.

The House of Commons Library says that extra MEPs could potentially be elected on “stand-by” in some member states but not take up their seats until the UK leaves the EU.

#Brexit Halloween deadline spooks Europe’s newspapers

The flexible Brexit extension until Halloween given to the UK by EU leaders prompts a spirited response from Europe’s papers.

But it’s what the wrangling in Brussels means for EU unity ahead of European Parliament elections next month that preoccupies many in the media.

For France’s Le Monde, it’s a “Halloween Brexit… due on 31 October, the Anglo-Saxon holiday of pumpkins and witches”.

It says President Emmanuel Macron backed Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for a short delay until 30 June but “was forced to compromise”. The leaders finally split the difference with a typically European compromise: “they cut the pumpkin in half“.

France’s Libération believes the extension came at the cost of breaking the united front of EU leaders.

“This increasingly incomprehensible waltz of dates shows that the UK has succeeded in exporting its byzantine internal battles to Brussels. For this summit broke to pieces the nice, united European front which held together, for better or for worse, for three years.”

Libération says the 27 EU leaders have raised the risk of “allowing the British to weigh in on the choice of the future presidents of the EU Commission, Parliament, European Council and the European Central Bank, as well as on discussions regarding the 2020 budget and financial prospects for 2021-2027”.

“Which is to say, they are giving London a capacity for nuisance which it could not have dared dream of.”

Liberation article

Germany’s Die Welt agrees the effect of Brexit is that “the alliance of the 27 member states is crumbling”.

“The diverging ‘Brexit philosophy’ in Paris and Berlin is obvious. With his hard line towards London, Macron wants to scare populists in his own country about similar anti-EU plans. Berlin, on the other hand, sees long-term damage in a lacking willingness to compromise, which could truly bring the populists onto the scene.”

In the Netherlands, Algemeen Dagblad says Europe is in a very difficult position. “Everybody agrees that a no-deal Brexit is undesirable for all parties… The EU, facing the prospect of European parliamentary elections in May, does not want to be perceived as the bad guy dropping the UK into misery.”

Other papers take a very tough tone towards Britain.

Barcelona-based La Vanguardia says: “The extension discussed through an intense debate at an informal summit in Brussels is the second one and should be final. The British decided to leave the EU by their own volition,” in a post-summit editorial headlined “Brexit and the patience of the EU“.

In Italy, there’s recognition of the EU’s tough choices. For Il Sole 24 Ore, “the 27 want to rule out a dramatic, hard Brexit, but they also want to avoid Britain’s permanence in the Union, one foot in and the other out, impacting on European affairs”.

An alternative take that cannot be allowed to slip through the net comes from Patrick Smyth in the Irish Times who warns of the very real threat of a no-eel Brexit.

He’s talking about the transhipment of live species – in this case eels from Lough Erne in Northern Ireland – to the Republic, and the broader point of importing animal-based food products into the EU.

Irish Times article

“It is true that the fate of the eels can be said to be small beer compared with the impact on the Irish economy of a no-deal Brexit. But it is an illustration of the breadth of the potential impact.”

While the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit may have receded, he says, “we may well be back all too shortly facing up for real to a dreadful prospect in which, among other issues of greater import, the fate of eels and ham sandwiches will again be on the order of the day.”

#Brexit: What will six-month extension mean? Short and long story

It is a longer delay than UK Prime Minister Theresa May asked for, but shorter than most EU leaders wanted.

By extending the Brexit deadline to 31 October, they have prompted headlines of “Halloween Brexit” and fuelled controversy over UK participation in next month’s European elections.

So what will happen next? I’ve boiled it down to a short summary – and a longer analysis.

The story in 100 words

With the clock ticking again, Theresa May wants Parliament to finally agree on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU preferably before 23 May, to avoid the UK taking part in elections to the European Parliament.

Her plan is first to try to get a cross-party agreement with the opposition Labour Party.

If that fails, there could be a series of votes in Parliament on alternatives to her deal, such as holding a second referendum. But agreement has so far proved elusive, so it’s entirely possible the UK will be back where it started at the end of extra time.

The story in 500 words

The granting of six more months looks like an extension of the UK’s Brexit crisis, rather than an imminent end to the uncertainty.

The two big questions now are:

  • Can UK politicians reach a consensus on how to leave the EU, after more than two years of failing to do so?
  • Can Mrs May survive as prime minister and leader of the governing Conservative Party, after yet another delay to Britain’s departure?

On the first question there has to be little reason for optimism.

Britain’s politicians are now broadly divided into three camps:

  • Those enthusiastic “Brexiteers” on the right of the Conservative Party who want to leave the EU sooner rather than later, even if that means doing so without any kind of deal
  • Those who see Brexit as a question of damage limitation and who would prefer the UK to stay close to the EU after departure
  • Those who now see Brexit as such a disaster they want it reversed altogether, either by another referendum, or if necessary by Parliament simply calling a halt to the whole process itself.

As time has gone on and tempers have frayed, MPs have, if anything, hardened in their positions rather than become more willing to compromise. So finding agreement won’t be easy in the months ahead.

Adam Fleming explains how the EU agreed a Brexit delay.

Complicating what is undoubtedly the UK’s most profound political crisis since World War Two, Brexit is also an issue that provokes powerful divisions not just between the two main parties, Conservative and Labour, but within them too.

As to Mrs May’s survival, it’s hard to say. There is now turmoil in the Conservative Party.

Its pro-Brexit wing is furious with Mrs May for the delays to the UK’s departure and her attempts to reach out to Labour and the possibility, therefore, of a Brexit that would leave the UK too closely tied to the EU for their tastes.

But moderate Conservatives are in turn furious with the Brexiteers for what they see as their utter unreasonableness. I can assure you the language they actually use about their colleagues is far stronger, but unfit for this website.

So even if Mrs May were to go, her replacement would face the same problem: how to meet the massive geopolitical challenge of charting Britain’s future relationship with the EU, and therefore its place in the world, while faced with a bitterly divided party and Parliament.

Labour MPs going into Brexit talks with government, 9 Apr 19
Many Conservatives dislike Mrs May’s Brexit talks with Labour MPs (pictured)

So what happens next?

Anyone hoping this extension will be boring, and that UK politics will return to some kind of normality, is likely to be disappointed.

Rather, what follows is likely to be more of the same: an angry stalemate fought against the backdrop of a profoundly divided country more sceptical than ever about the very fitness of the political system.

There is an increasing sense inside Parliament and beyond that things cannot go on as they are.

Here, in no particular order, are the options over the next six months:

Mrs May’s deal, a different deal, no deal, a government collapse followed by a general election or a second referendum and further delay.

But ask any British politician how all this ends and they will tell you they simply don’t know. It’s perfectly possible that by 31 October they still won’t have an answer.

Brexit: Home Office sorry for EU citizen data breach

The Home Office has apologised to hundreds of EU citizens seeking settled status in the UK after accidentally sharing their details.

It blamed an “administrative error” for sending an email that revealed 240 personal email addresses – a likely breach of the Data Protection Act.

The department may now have to make an apology in Parliament.

In a statement to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, it said it had since improved its systems and procedures.

One recipient of the email told Today that she was outraged and was considering returning to Germany.

The Home Office sent the email on Sunday 7 April asking applicants, who had already struggled with technical problems, to resubmit their information.

But it failed to use the “blind CC” box on the email, revealing the details of other applicants.

In another message apologising to those who had been affected, the Home Office wrote: “The deletion of the email you received from us on 7 April 2019 would be greatly appreciated.”

The government has already made an unreserved apology after making a similar error with emails sent to 500 members of the Windrush generation, The department notified the Information Commissioner’s Office and made a statement in Parliament.

EU citizens in the UK before Brexit can apply for settled status, which allows them to continue to live and work there afterwards. Applicants and campaigning groups have criticised the system, saying it has proved slow and bureaucratic for some.

Nicolas Hatton, from the 3 Million group that campaigns for EU citizens’ rights, said the incident showed the settled status process was not sufficiently robust. “It feels like it adds insult to injury,” he said.

A Home Office spokesman said: “In communicating with a small group of applicants, an administrative error was made which meant other applicants’ email addresses could be seen.

“As soon as the error was identified, we apologised personally to the 240 applicants affected and have improved our systems and procedures to stop this occurring again.”

Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole image

A 29-year-old computer scientist has earned plaudits worldwide for helping develop the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole.

Katie Bouman, 29, led development of a computer programme that made the breakthrough image possible.

The remarkable photo, showing a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion km from Earth, was released on Wednesday,

For Ms Bouman, its creation was the realisation of an endeavour previously thought impossible.

Excitedly bracing herself for the groundbreaking moment, Ms Bouman was pictured loading the image on her laptop.

“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” she wrote in the caption to the Facebook post.

She started making the algorithm three years ago while she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

There, she led the project, assisted by a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory.

The black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight linked telescopes – was rendered by Ms Bouman’s algorithm.

In the hours after the photo’s momentous release, Ms Bouman became an international sensation, with her name trending on Twitter.

First black hole image
The first ever photo of a black hole, taken using a global network of telescopes

In a tweet, New York Democratic Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote that Ms Bouman should take her “rightful seat in history”.

“Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind,” she tweeted. “Here’s to #WomenInSTEM!,” which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Ms Bouman was also hailed by MIT and the Smithsonian on social media.

“3 years ago MIT grad student Katie Bouman led the creation of a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole,” MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab wrote. “Today, that image was released.”

But Ms Bouman, now an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, insisted the team that helped her deserves equal credit.

The effort to capture the image, using telescopes in locations ranging from Antarctica to Chile, involved a team of more than 200 scientists.

“No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she told CNN. “It came together because of lots of different people from many different backgrounds.”

#European Union leaders have granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after five hours of talks in Brussels.

Brexit: UK and EU agree delay to 31 October

The new deadline – 31 October – averts the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal on Friday, as MPs are still deadlocked over a deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”.

Theresa May, who had wanted a shorter delay, said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible.

The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal.

Prime Minister Mrs May had earlier told leaders she wanted to move the UK’s exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of leaving earlier if her withdrawal agreement was ratified by Parliament.

Mr Tusk emerged from the talks – and a subsequent meeting with Mrs May – to address reporters at a news conference at 02:15 local time (01:15 BST).

He said: “The course of action will be entirely in the UK’s hands: They can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated.”

Tusk on Brexit extension: “Please do not waste this time”

Mr Tusk said the UK could also rethink its strategy or choose to “cancel Brexit altogether”.

He added: “Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution.

“Please do not waste this time.”

Presentational grey line

What was agreed?

  • A Brexit extension “only as long as necessary” and “no longer than 31 October” to allow for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement
  • The UK “must hold the elections to the European Parliament” and if it fails to do this, the UK will leave on 1 June
  • The European Council reiterates there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement negotiations

Read the EU’s conclusions here.

Presentational grey line

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “There will probably be a European election in the UK – that might seem a bit odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law and then we will see what happens.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivering a press conference at 02:00
Mr Juncker – who is due to leave his job on 1 November – joked that if there is a late-night meeting on the 31 October he “may have to leave at midnight”

Mrs May then spoke to reporters at 02:45 local time (01:45 BST). She said that although the delay extends until 31 October, the UK can leave before then if MPs pass her withdrawal deal.

“I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension,” she said.

“The UK should have left the EU by now and I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament to approve a deal.”

She added: “I do not pretend the next few weeks will be easy, or there is a simple way to break the deadlock in Parliament. But we have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward.

“Nothing is more pressing or more vital.”

The PM said that the UK “will continue to hold full membership rights and obligations [of the EU]” during the delay.

Presentational grey line

Trick or treat? Halloween deadline is both

You couldn’t quite make it up. The new Brexit deadline is, you guessed it, Halloween.

So to get all the terrible metaphors about horror shows, ghosts and ghouls out of the way right now, let’s consider straight away some of the reasons why this decision is a treat in one sense, but could be a trick too.

A treat? First and most importantly, the EU has agreed to put the brakes on. We will not leave tomorrow without a deal.

The prime minister’s acceptance that leaving the EU without a formal arrangement in place could be a disaster won out.

And there are quite a few potential tricks. This new October deadline might not solve very much at all.

This could, although I hate to say it, just make way for months of extra gridlock before the UK and the EU find themselves back here in a similar situation in the autumn.

The EU had been split over the length of delay to offer the UK and by law they had to reach a unanimous decision. Although other EU countries backed a longer delay, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed for a shorter extension.

The BBC’s Mr Ben Rory, said that the date of 31 October was an indication that Mr Macron had “won the day”. as his was the most hard-line voice in the room.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Macron said: “For me, this is a good solution.”

He said EU leaders had partly decided to back a delay because Mrs May had explained she had started talks with the opposition party – “a first in decades in the British political system”.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel looks back at French President Emmanuel Macron as they speak to the media
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had argued for a longer delay

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said the extension gave the UK time “to come to a cross-party agreement”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted her “relief” that the UK wouldn’t be “crashing out” on Friday, adding that “allowing people to decide if they still want to leave is now imperative”.

Presentational grey line

Risk of no-deal postponed

Fudge and can-kicking are the EU-familiar words that spring to mind at the end of this Brexit summit.

After all the drama and speculation leading up to the meeting, effectively all that happened here is that the threat of a no-deal Brexit has been postponed for another six months.

Time enough for the EU to hold European parliamentary elections, choose a new president of the European Commission and pass a new budget – without EU leaders having to keep one eye at least on the day-to-day dramas in the House of Commons.

Despite EU leaders’ rhetoric beforehand, they granted this extension without hearing a convincing plan of Brexit action from Theresa May.

In the summit conclusions there is no evidence of the punitive safeguards mooted to ensure the UK “behaves itself” – refraining from blocking EU decisions – as long as it remains a club member.

Yes, EU leaders worry about who might replace Theresa May as prime minister. Yes, they’re concerned these six months could fly past with the UK as divided as ever but their message to the UK tonight was: “We’ve done our bit. Now you do yours. It’s up to you. Please use the time well.”

Presentational grey line

Mrs May was called back into the summit after EU leaders had talked for five hours to find their compromise solution.

Before that, Mrs May had given a one-hour presentation putting forward her argument for the extension date to be 30 June.

This was the second time Mrs May has gone to the EU to ask for a Brexit extension.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year and the House of Commons has also voted against leaving without a deal.

One of most contentious parts of the plan is the Irish backstop – an insurance policy that aims to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

Presentational grey line

May’s next steps

  • On Thursday, the PM will make a statement in the House of Commons
  • Talks between the government and Labour are also due to continue
  • Also on Thursday, Parliament will break up for its Easter break until 23 April – although further cross-party talks are expected to be held.

Brexit: Trick or treat? 31 October Halloween deadline is both

Trick or treat? You couldn’t quite make it up.

It is approaching 03:00 GMT – it’s weird enough at this time of day to be about to see Theresa May speak.

And the new Brexit deadline, is, you guessed it, Halloween.

So to get all the terrible metaphors about horror shows, ghosts and ghouls out of the way right now, let’s consider straight away some of the reasons why this decision is a treat in one sense, but could be a trick too.

A treat? First and most importantly, the EU has agreed to put the brakes on. We will not leave tomorrow without a deal.

The prime minister’s acceptance that leaving the EU without a formal arrangement in place could be a disaster won out.

She has at least avoided the possible turmoil of leaving with no arrangement, which for so long Theresa May claimed to countenance.

Theresa May leaves the European Council summit after agreeing to extend Brexit until 31 October

The UK now has nearly six more months to work out exactly how it wants to leave the EU.

Of course it gives those trying to block the departure more time to try to make that happen too.

But in its simplest sense, the prime minister asked for a delay so that she didn’t open Pandora’s Box.

The EU eventually said yes, even on a different timetable. Theresa May is of course likely to still try to move as quickly as possible.

And there are quite a few potential tricks.

This new October deadline might not solve very much at all.

A Halloween pumpkin with a scary face in a dark room

It’s longer than those who wanted a short delay hoped. So there won’t be immediate pressure on the prime minister’s current plan (which might be a vain hope) of getting out of this – finding common ground with the Labour party.

Certainly, everyone in politics involved in Brexit could do with a breather, but a pause of such duration might just enable more delay, as the chance to quicken the tempo fades away.

And with only limited expectations for that process anyway, it’s likely sooner or perhaps later that the prime minister will be back in Parliament again asking MPs to coalesce around an option that could command a majority that could last a while.

Again, without time pressure, it’s not clear why Parliament would suddenly be in a rush to agree. That’s why it’s not entirely surprising to hear the EU Council president warn minutes after the agreement that the UK must not waste the extra time it’s been given.

Election or another referendum?

This could, although I hate to say it, just make way for months of extra gridlock before the UK and the EU find themselves back here in a similar situation in the autumn.

That’s why, potentially, an election might become the way out that few want is still possible.

And don’t be in any doubt that those in Parliament and outside pushing for another referendum, or to stop Brexit altogether, will use this opportunity to make their case more and more loudly.

Even Brexiteers in Cabinet, who are completely committed to the cause, acknowledge that the further away from the referendum in 2016, the weaker the mandate for departure becomes.

There is though, still time for a leadership contest in the Tory Party that would leave a new prime minister in charge, to find a new way out.

Even before the official confirmation of the decision came, one minister got in touch to say that now the prime minister can stay on “in name only” with a leadership contest getting going as early as just after Easter and a new leader in place by early summer.

Perhaps, by the time this new deadline approaches, someone else will be trying to untangle the mess.

If that happens, the EU, which deeply fears a more Eurosceptic leader, might just have played a trick on themselves.

Taiwan doctor finds four sweat bees living inside woman’s eye

A Taiwanese woman was found by doctors to have four small sweat bees living inside her eye, the first such incident on the island.

The 28-year-old woman, identified only as Ms He, was pulling out weeds when the insects flew into her eyes.

Dr Hong Chi Ting of the Fooyin University Hospital told the BBC he was “shocked” when he pulled the 4mm insects out by their legs.

Ms He has now been discharged and is expected to make a full recovery.

Sweat bees, also known as Halictidae, are attracted to sweat and sometimes land on people to imbibe perspiration. They also drink tears for their high protein content, according to a study by the Kansas Entomological Society.

‘They were all alive’

Ms He was weeding around her relatives’ graves when the insects flew into her left eye.

She was visiting the grave as part of the annual Chinese Qing Ming tomb-sweeping festival, which is traditionally observed by sprucing up loved ones’ graves.

When a gust of wind blew into her eyes she assumed it was dirt that had entered, she told reporters.

Three sweat bees near a woman's eye
The tiny sweat bees were found inside her left eye

But hours later, her eyes were still swollen and in pain, leading her to seek medical help at the hospital in southern Taiwan.

Women's eye swollen
The woman’s eye was badly swollen when she went to seek medical treatment

“She couldn’t completely close her eyes. I looked into the gap with a microscope and saw something black that looked like an insect leg,” Dr Hong, an ophthalmology professor at the hospital told the BBC.

“I grabbed the leg and very slowly took one out, then I saw another one, and another and another. They were still intact and all alive.”

Dr Hong added that the bees could have been blown inside her eye by a gust of wind and found themselves stuck inside.

“These bees don’t usually attack people but they like drinking sweat, hence their name,” he said.

Dr Hong added that Ms He was “lucky” that she did not rub her eyes while the bees were inside.

“She was wearing contact lenses so she didn’t dare to rub her eyes in case she broke the lens. If she did she could have induced the bees to produce venom… she could have gone blind.”

But what’s happened to the bees?

“They are still alive, they’ve been sent as specimens to another organisation and will be studied,” said Dr Hong. “This is the first time in Taiwan we’ve seen something like this.”

#Brexit: #UK and #EU agree Brexit delay to 31 October

The UK and the EU have agreed a “flexible extension” of Brexit until 31 October, European Council president Donald Tusk has said.

Speaking after five hours of talks at an EU summit in Brussels, Mr Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”.

Theresa May said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal.

The PM had earlier told leaders she wanted to move the UK’s exit date from this Friday to 30 June, with the option of moving that date forward again if she can get her withdrawal agreement ratified by Parliament.

Mr Tusk emerged from the talks – and a subsequent meeting with Mrs May – to address reporters at a news conference at 02:15 local time (01:15 BST).

Tusk on Brexit extension: ‘Please do not waste this time’

He said: “The course of action will be entirely in the UK’s hands: they can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension can be terminated.”

He said the UK could also rethink its strategy or choose to revoke Article 50 and “cancel Brexit altogether”.

“Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution.

“Please do not waste this time.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “There will probably be a European election in the UK – that might seem a bit odd, but rules are rules and we must respect European law and then we will see what happens.”

Mrs May then spoke to reporters at 02:45 local time (01:45 BST) and said that, should Parliament ratify the withdrawal agreement in the first three weeks of May, the country would then not have to participate in European elections.

The PM said that, until her deal is approved, the UK “will continue to hold full membership rights and obligations”.

She added: “I know there is huge frustration from many people that I have had to request this extension.

“I sincerely regret the fact that I have not yet been able to persuade Parliament.”

The EU had been split over the length of delay to offer the UK and by law they had to reach a unanimous decision.

Mr Varadkar said the EU “will take stock” of the situation at the regular EU summit in June.

The BBC’s Mr Ben Rory, said that the extension to 31 October was an indication that French President Emmanuel Macron had “won the day” as his was the most hardline voice in the room.

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat said the 31 October deadline was “sensible” as it “gives time to UK to finally choose its way”.

The new deadline is one day before the next European Commission President – the successor to Jean-Claude Juncker – takes office.

Mrs May was called back into the summit after EU leaders had talked for five hours to find their compromise solution.

Before that, Mrs May had given a one-hour presentation putting forward her argument for the extension date to be 30 June.

This was the second time Mrs May has gone to the EU to ask for a Brexit extension.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year and the House of Commons has also voted against leaving without a deal.

#India election 2019: Voting begins in world’s largest election

Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories will cast their votes in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014.

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

The BJP has been campaigning to retain a commanding majority, but faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January,

Modi at a rally in Meerut
Mr Modi has made national security a key election issue

Some observers have billed this vote as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi, who stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image, remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter. But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast – about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, vote turn-out was around 66%.

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Which states are headed to the polls?

On Thursday, the following states will vote, with polling stations opening from 07:00 local time (02:30 BST):

Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep.

Polling in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, will conclude in one day. But other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, will hold polls in several phases.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi wave at the crowd in the road show after Rahul Gandhi filing nominations from Wayanad district on April 4, 2019 in Kalpetta town in Wayanand, India.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi, come from a political dynasty

What are the key issues?

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped poverty since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

Under Mr Modi, the world’s sixth-largest economy appears to have lost some of its momentum. Although annual GDP growth has hovered at around 7%, unemployment is a major concern.

Mr Modi’s government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data. In fact, a leaked government report suggests that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

Farm incomes have also stagnated because of a crop glut and declining commodity prices, which has left farmers saddled with debt.

officials check voting machines
Officials check Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in West Bengal

Unsurprisingly both parties have targeted the rural poor in their campaign manifestos. The BJP has promised a slew of welfare schemes to India’s farmers, while Congress has promised a minimum income scheme for the country’s 50 million poorest families.

National security is also in the spotlight this election after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir in February. India then carried out unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan.

Since then, the BJP has made national security a key plank in its campaign.

Graphic showing scale of 900 million eligible voters; that there are 83 million new voters and that there are 15 million 18-19 year-olds eligible to vote

Australia election announced: 10 things to know about the poll

Australians will vote in a general election on 18 May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

The poll will decide whether the conservative government wins a third term or is replaced by a Labor administration led by Bill Shorten.

All 151 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested, and half of the 76 seats in the Senate.

The election is expected to be hotly contested in several areas including climate change and the economy.

“[The election] will determine the economy that Australians live in, not just for the next three years, but for the next decade,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference on Thursday.

“We live in the best country in the world, but to secure your future, the road ahead depends on a strong economy,” he said. “That is why there is so much at stake.”

Here are some key things to know about the vote.

1. Voting in the election is compulsory

Unlike many other global democracies, Australia has mandatory voting for people aged 18 and over – or they risk a fine.

It ensures a high turnout: 95% of people voted in Australia’s last election. The most recent US and UK elections, by contrast, drew an estimated 55% and 66% respectively.

Advocates say it depolarises the vote and reduces the influence of lobby groups, though critics dispute this.

2. Leadership ‘madness’ may haunt the government

Mr Morrison only became prime minister last August after bitter party infighting ousted his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.

In doing so, Mr Morrison became Australia’s fifth leader since 2013.

Australia’s decade of internal leadership coups

“It was a peculiarly Australian form of madness,” Mr Turnbull told the BBC in March, speaking about a coup culture which began with Labor in 2010.

It’s likely to harm the government’s standing with voters, predicts Prof Sally Young, a politics expert from the University of Melbourne.

“They’re sick of the sniping and undermining,” she says. “Knifing a leader – it never goes down well.”

3. Climate change could sway votes – but to what extent?

Australia has just endured a year of extreme weather events, including destructive floods, bushfires, cyclones and a severe drought. The past summer was the nation’s hottest on record.

It has made climate change a key election issue in some seats, experts say.

Farmer May McKeown feeds her remaining cattle on her drought-affected property located on the outskirts of the town of Walgett
Extreme weather has pushed climate change into voters’ minds, experts say

Last year, the government scrapped plans to set an emissions reduction target in legislation – prompting fierce criticism.

“Australia’s lack of action [on climate change] internationally is becoming more recognised within this country,” says Prof Young.

The University of Sydney’s Prof Marc Stears agrees, but says it’s unclear how it widely it will affect voting decisions.

4. In many ways, the main battle lines are familiar

Prof Stears says the major parties are already talking up their traditional strengths. That’s subjects like jobs and infrastructure for the government, and health and education for Labor.

They will compete fiercely on economic issues, with both parties promising policies aimed at reducing the cost of living,

Bill Shorten grins across the table at Scott Morrison in parliament
Bill Shorten has led the Labor opposition for six years

Although Australia’s economy is the envy of many countries, wages growth is flat, and there is a generational split in attitudes to house prices.

5. There’s much talk about a north-south divide

Mr Morrison is overseeing a minority government, meaning he can ill afford to lose support anywhere in the country.

Political observers say he faces challenges from the left and right – a debate that is often framed in geographical terms.

In the northern state of Queensland, experts say the government fears losing votes to more socially conservative minor parties and independents.

But in Victoria in the south, the electorate is perceived as more progressive. It delivered a resounding victory to Labor in a state election five months ago.

6. Will migration and refugee debates resurface?

During past elections, Australia’s major parties have employed tough rhetoric on immigration issues – particularly regarding asylum seekers.

It has often been used to appear strong on issues such as national security, says Prof Stears.

An Australian Navy vessel pictured beside an asylum seeker boat
Australia holds asylum seekers in offshore detention, under a controversial bipartisan policy

That debate resurfaced in February, however, Prof Stears believes that last month’s New Zealand mosque attacks may see politicians tone down such rhetoric.

7. There are signs of support for minor parties

Prof Young says there is some public cynicism about the major parties, pointing to possible increases in support for other candidates.

High-profile independent candidates have entered key races, and in New South Wales, a recent state election saw rises in minor party support in rural electorates.

8. Is there a risk of foreign interference?

In February, Mr Morrison said a “state actor” had carried out a cyber attack, on the parliament and political parties.

Authorities said there was no evidence of electoral interference, but security experts have urged vigilance.

Concerns about alleged foreign interference prompted Australia to introduce new laws last year.

Is China trying to influence Australian politics?

9. Citizenship checks should be water-tight

In 2017, several MPs were disqualified for unintentionally breaking a rule that lawmakers cannot be dual citizens when elected.

Fifteen parliamentarians were ousted, though six later managed to return after relinquishing their non-Australian citizenships.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was briefly ousted from parliament because of his dual citizenship

The saga sparked comprehensive checks of MPs’ statuses.

10. What do the opinion polls say?

Opinion polls in recent times have consistently put Labor in front on a two-party preferred basis.

However, those measures also say that Mr Morrison leads Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister.