Stratolaunch: ‘World’s largest plane’ lifts off for the first time

The world’s largest aeroplane by wingspan has taken flight for the first time.

Built by Stratolaunch, the company set up by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011, the aircraft is designed to act as a flying launch pad for satellites.

The idea is to fly the plane to 10 km (6.2 miles) before releasing satellites into orbit.

Its 385 ft (117 m) wingspan is the length of an American football field.

If successful, such a project would be a cheaper way to launch objects into space than rockets fired from the ground.

The twin-fuselage six-engine jet flew up to 15,000 ft (4,572m) and reached speeds of about 170 miles per hour (274 km/h) on its maiden flight.

Stratolaunch, the world's largest plane, takes its maiden flight over California, April 2019
Stratolaunch, the world's largest plane, takes its maiden flight over California, April 2019
Stratolaunch, the world's largest plane, takes its maiden flight over California, April 2019

The pilot Evan Thomas told reporters the experience was “fantastic” and that “for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted”.

According to their website, Stratolaunch aims to “make access to orbit as routine as catching a commercial airline flight is today”.

British billionaire Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic has also developed aircraft that launch rockets into orbit from great height.

Stratolaunch describes its vessel as the “world’s largest plane” but there are aircraft which are longer from nose to tail.

Newspaper headlines: Jeremy Corbyn’s prospects on front pages

Observer front page, 14/4/19
The Observer, however, leads on a warning from Labour’s leader in the European Parliament that the party will be “deserted by millions of anti-Brexit voters” if it fails to give clear backing to a further EU referendum.
Sunday Times front page, 14/4/19
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports what it says is a private admission from Mr Corbyn that evidence of anti-Semitism within the Labour party had been “mislaid, ignored or not used”. Labour has previously said it has strengthened disciplinary procedures and made the complaints procedure more robust.
Sunday Express front page, 14/4/19
Talks between Mr Corbyn’s senior colleagues and Conservative ministers continue in a bid to find agreement over a Brexit deal that can secure the backing of a majority of MPs. But the Sunday Express says some senior government figures believe there is “zero chance” of them succeeding and that “Brexit is dead”.
Mail on Sunday front page, 14/4/19
The Mail on Sunday reports that intelligence chiefs have briefed Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Sajid Javid about the “Jihadi bride” Shemima Begum. The teenager, who ran off to join the Islamic State group in 2015, is said to have sewed bombers into suicide vests.
Sunday People front page, 14/4/19
The Sunday People trumpets an exclusive interview with Laleh Shahravesh, who has returned to the UK after being jailed in Dubai for calling her ex-husband’s new wife a “horse”.
Sunday Mirror front page, 14/4/19
Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror says police are investigating the alleged racist abuse of the children of former Liverpool footballer Djibril Cisse.
Daily Star Sunday
Image caption
Finally, the Daily Star Sunday suggests the Duchess of Sussex is planning a water birth. Meghan is planning a “relaxed” delivery of Prince Harry’s baby, the paper quotes a “pal” saying.

Pakistan Hazara minority protests after bombing in Quetta

Dozens of men, women and children from Pakistan’s minority Hazara community have held a protest in the city of Quetta demanding better security.

The sit-in started hours after 24 people were killed and dozens injured in a bomb blast at a vegetable market in the south-western city.

Many victims were from the Hazara community, who are mainly Shia Muslims.

The community has been frequently targeted by extremists from Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority.

BBC map

Both the Pakistani Taliban and the Sunni militant group Islamic State (IS) said they had carried out the attack.

Quetta, a city in Baluchistan province that is home to more than half a million Shia Hazara, has witnessed the majority of IS attacks in Pakistan.

A man disguised as a labourer detonated a bomb inside the Hazar Ganji, a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta, city police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Hazara mourners in Quetta, 13 April
Hazara mourners gathered to protest on Saturday

Baluchistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani condemned the attack, promising the “best possible” medical care for the injured, according to Pakistan news website Dawn.

Those guilty were enemies of humanity, he said.

Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, Omar Waraich, condemned the attack, saying: “This horrific loss of life is a painful reminder of the threats that Quetta’s Hazara community continues to face.

“Targeted for their religion by sectarian armed groups, they have suffered many such tragedies over several years. Each time, there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialise.”

Presentational grey line

Who are the Hazara?

  • Of Mongolian and Central Asian descent
  • Legend has it they are descendants of Genghis Khan and his soldiers, who invaded Afghanistan in the 13th Century
  • Mainly practise Shia Islam, in predominantly Sunni Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • At least 600,000 live in Quetta, mostly migrants from Afghanistan
  • Quetta is also on a key Shia pilgrimage route to Iran

EU countries take migrants after Mediterranean stand-off

Four European Union countries have agreed to take in 64 African migrants who were rescued after being stranded at sea for almost two weeks.

The Alan Kurdi ship, operated by the German humanitarian group Sea-Eye, had been refused entry by Italy and Malta.

Both countries had said it was Libya’s responsibility, Sea-Eye had claimed.

But on Saturday the Maltese government announced that the migrants will be redistributed among Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg.

“None of the migrants will remain in Malta. The ship Alan Kurdi will not be allowed to enter Malta,” the government said in a statement.

The agreement had come through the co-ordination of the European Commission, it added.

Two migrants had already been evacuated to Malta after falling ill on the German ship, named after the three-year old boy who drowned as his family fled the conflict in Syria.

“Once again the smallest member of the European Union was put under unnecessary pressure, being asked to resolve a case which was neither its responsibility nor its remit,” the Maltese government said.

“A solution was found in order not to let the situation deteriorate further while making it clear Malta cannot keep shouldering this burden.”

Three teenage migrants were charged in Malta last month,  after “hijacking” an oil tanker that had rescued them.

Police open fire after car ‘driven at officers’ in London

Officers opened fire in west London on Saturday morning while responding to reports of a car collision, the Metropolitan Police has said.

The Ukrainian embassy said its ambassador’s vehicle was “deliberately rammed” as it sat parked outside the building in Holland Park.

When officers arrived on the scene, a car was “driven at them”, the Met said.

Officers used firearms and a Taser before arresting a man in his 40s.

Police said the uninjured man was “taken to a central London hospital as a precaution”.

They added that the situation was neither ongoing nor being treated as terror-related.

‘Opened fire’

The Met said its officers arrived at the scene just before 10:00 BST after “reports of antisocial behaviour involving a car”.

Describing the events of Saturday morning, the Ukrainian embassy said that after seeing the ambassador’s car being targeted, police “blocked up” the other vehicle.

Car crash
Police said the car, which was driven at officers, collided with multiple vehicles

“Nevertheless, despite the police actions, the attacker hit the ambassador’s car again,” the embassy said.

It added police were “forced to open fire on the perpetrator’s vehicle”.

The embassy said none of its staff had been injured and that police were now investigating “the suspect’s identity and motive for the attack”.

Forensic officer at the scene
A silver car was the subject of forensic investigation on Saturday afternoon

Darcy Mercier, who lives across the road from the Ukrainian embassy, told the BBC the man arrived in the street around 07:00 and was “blasting music”.

Mr Mercier said he approached the man and asked him to turn the music off but was ignored.

“He sat in the middle of the street for over two hours. I was out on my terrace when he started ramming the embassy car,” he added.

Footage shot from a nearby building showed armed police removing the car's driver
Footage shot from a nearby building showed armed police removing the car’s driver

Local resident Heather Feiner, originally from the US, added: “From the time I heard the shots until I got to the window, which took about 15 seconds, all these police cars were already there.

“I could see a police officer that fired the shots. I could see them pointing their gun at the car.

“From what I could see [the suspect] didn’t appear to be struggling at that point.”

Road near the Ukrainian embassy
The incident took place near the Ukrainian embassy in west London

Emma Slatter, who witnessed the arrest, believes the man reversed into the diplomat’s car while backing away from an oncoming police car.

“It seems like he was moving erratically or wanting to move away from being boxed in, maybe not realising there were police behind him as well,” she said.

She added: “That was when he collided backwards.”

Sniffer dog searching the car used to ram the ambassador's vehicle
The police brought in sniffer dogs to search the area

Ch Supt Andy Walker, from the Met’s specialist firearms command, said: “As is standard procedure, an investigation is now ongoing into the discharge of a police firearm during this incident.

“While this takes place, I would like to pay tribute to the officers involved this morning who responded swiftly to this incident and put themselves in harm’s way, as they do every day, to keep the people of London safe.”

Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan tweeted that he was “very concerned” to hear about the incident and added that he’d spoken with Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Natalia Galibarenko.

The MP for Rutland and Melton also thanked the police for their “swift response”.

Sudan coup: Military leader vows to ‘uproot regime’

The leader of Sudan’s interim military council has vowed to “uproot the regime” two days after a military coup.

Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman announced the “restructuring of state institutions”, in a televised address.

His announcement came as protests against the authorities continued, despite the ousting of long-time leader, Omar al-Bashir.

Protesters have demanded an immediate move to civilian rule and vowed to stay in the streets.

In his address, Gen Burhan announced the end of a curfew, confirmed the release of jailed protesters and dissolved all provincial governments.

The army would maintain “peace, order and security” across Sudan during an already announced transition period.

It would last at most two years, he said, until elections could be held and civilian rule introduced.

He also called on the opposition to “help us restore normal life”, and promised to try those who killed demonstrators.

The speech came after the resignation of feared security chief Gen Salah Gosh hours after the coup leader himself, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, stepped aside.

No official reason has been given for either departure.

What has the opposition said?

Privately-owned Sudan News 365 reports that opposition leaders are meeting with the military on Saturday to discuss “transitional arrangements”.

The Sudan Professionals Association (SPA), which has been spearheading the demonstrations, has called on the armed forces to “ensure the immediate transfer of power to a transitional civilian government.”

Sudanese demonstrators in Khartoum celebrating
Sudanese people have been demonstrating for weeks

Omar el-Digeir, leader of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party, said the military should not be “the sole custodians of power”.

A growing economic crisis has gripped the country since the oil-rich southern part split away in 2011, and Thursday’s coup followed months of unrest over rising prices.

How did we get here?

When Mr Bashir was removed, he was replaced by a military council led by Mr Ibn Auf.

But demonstrators camping out outside army headquarters in Khartoum refused to disperse, rejecting Mr Ibn Auf as an ally of Mr Bashir.

On Friday the new leader announced he was resigning and being replaced by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who is seen as a less controversial figure.

But the move failed to satisfy protesters who have kept up their sit-in in the capital.

Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan talks to demonstrators in Khartoum, 12 April
The new military leader, Lt-Gen Burhan, could be seen talking to demonstrators on Friday

They called for the abolition of “arbitrary decisions by leaders that do not represent the people” and the detention of “all symbols of the former regime who were involved in crimes against the people”.

“Until these demands are fully met, we must continue with our sit-in at the General Command of the Armed Forces,” the SPA said.

On Saturday, Sudanese TV reported the resignation of Gen Gosh, head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) which has powerful forces within the capital.

Gen Salah Gosh in Khartoum, 2010
Gen Salah Gosh seen here in 2010

The general has been a key ally of Mr Bashir since the early 1990s and is among 17 Sudanese officials indicted for genocide, human right abuses and war crimes in the Darfur region by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009.

The NISS has extensive powers and influence, supervising the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

At least 16 people have been killed by stray bullets at the protests since Thursday, police say.

The momentum is clearly with the protesters.

They have forced out two powerful generals in just a matter of days. NISS, which Gen Gosh headed, exemplified the ruthlessness of security forces under Bashir’s regime.

There is however anger that Gen Gosh is not being arrested for alleged human rights abuses. The SPA had called for the disbandment of NISS.

And interestingly soon after Gen Gosh’s resignation was announced the SPA released the names of its negotiating team. In the past they said they would not publish any names for fear they would be targeted.

The fact that they can do so now suggests there could be room for talks with the military council.

But in his first address Gen Burhan insisted the council would govern for two years. This idea has been rejected by opposition groups who demand a civilian transitional government. They have asked for demonstrations to continue until this happens.

Presentational grey line
Map locator

What will happen to Bashir?

He has also been indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

But the military council has said it will not extradite Mr Bashir, who denies the charges, although he may be put on trial in Sudan.

Mr Ibn Auf was head of military intelligence during the Darfur conflict and the US imposed sanctions on him in 2007.

Boy found dead in Ystrad Mynach named as Carson Price

A 13-year-old boy has died after being found unconscious in a south Wales park.

Police were called to Ystrad Mynach Park, Caerphilly, at about 19:20 BST on Friday 12 April.

The teen was taken to University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff where he was pronounced dead.

Gwent Police are treating the boy’s death as unexplained and specialists are working to determine the exact cause of death.

His family have been informed and are being supported by specialist officers.

Det Chief Insp Sam Payne said: “At this time enquiries are ongoing and the investigation into this young boy’s death are still in the early stages.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

“I’d like to appeal to anyone who can assist with our investigation.”

Ystrad Mynach Park
The park is poplar with local families

The boy was found close to trees beside the rugby pitch.

Gwent Police are treating the boy’s death as unexplained and specialists are working to determine the exact cause of death.

Det Ch Insp Sam Payne said: “At this time enquiries are ongoing and the investigation into this young boy’s death are still in the early stages.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

“I’d like to appeal to anyone who can assist with our investigation.”

Wood Green stabbing: Man critically ill after attack

A man is fighting for his life in hospital after being stabbed in London on Friday night.

Emergency services were called to Bounds Green Road in Wood Green, north London, at about 21:30 BST.

They found a man, believed to be 19 years old, with a stab wound, near the road’s junction with Nightingale Road.

The man was treated at the scene and taken to a central London hospital where his condition was described as life-threatening.

No arrests have been made.

Inquiries continue and a crime scene remains in place.

Sudan coup: Protesters demand immediate move to civilian rule

Leaders of the protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum have called on supporters to stay in the streets two days after the military coup.

They are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule after the army ousted long-time leader Omar al-Bashir, putting him in custody.

The military wants to hold power for two years, followed by elections.

It replaced its own leader in an apparent concession to the protesters but the change did not sway them.

“We call on the armed forces to ensure the immediate transfer of power to a transitional civilian government,” the Sudan Professionals Association (SPA), which has been spearheading the demonstrations, said on Facebook.

A growing economic crisis has gripped the country since the oil-rich southern part split away in 2011, and Thursday’s coup followed months of unrest over the cost of living.

How did the latest drama unfold?

When Mr Bashir was removed, he was replaced by a military council led by Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf.

But demonstrators camping out outside army headquarters in Khartoum refused to disperse, rejecting Mr Ibn Auf as an ally of Mr Bashir.

On Friday, the new leader announced he was resigning and being replaced by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who is seen as a less controversial figure.

But the move failed to satisfy protesters who have kept up their sit-in in the capital.

Protesters in Khartoum, 12 April
Protesters celebrated after Mr Ibn Auf stepped down

They called for the abolition of “arbitrary decisions by leaders that do not represent the people” and the detention of “all symbols of the former regime who were involved in crimes against the people”.

“Until these demands are fully met, we must continue with our sit-in at the General Command of the Armed Forces,” the SPA said.

At least 16 people have been killed by stray bullets at the protests since Thursday, police say.

Map locator

What will happen to Bashir?

He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region earlier this century.

However, the military council has said it will not extradite Mr Bashir, who denies the charges, although he may be put on trial in Sudan.

Mr Ibn Auf was head of military intelligence during the Darfur conflict and the US imposed sanctions on him in 2007.

How big are these events?

This is an exciting moment, writes the BBC’s Africa editor, Fergal Keane. It is happening in Sudan but the significance of these forces working peacefully for change is universal.

It may be very precarious but it is also full of possibility, he says.

One of the defining images of the peaceful protests in Khartoum is that of demonstrator Alaa Salah leading a crowd in anti-government chants.

Alaa Salah in Khartoum, 8 April

The image has been taken up by artists in turn, as French broadcaster Franceinfo reports

Have you been taking part in protests? You can share your experiences by emailing,

Scotland’s papers: Police car ‘bangers’ and forced eviction fears

The Herald
The Herald says there are fears over a “fresh wave of asylum seeker evictions” in Glasgow. It comes after two women lost their fight with the Home Office for refugee status and were told their locks would be changed.
Daily Record
The Daily Record focuses on the dog attack on a six-week-old baby in boy in Hawick. The paper says the boy, is in a critical condition in hospital, was at his aunt’s house when he was “savaged by one of her partner’s terriers”.
Daily Express
The Daily Express’s front-page highlights another story of an ex-military death as part of its ongoing “Betrayal of our veterans” crusade. It says a coroner has urged Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to give members of Britain’s armed forces better help to cope with the trauma of active service, following the inquest of a former special forces member who killed himself.
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail says a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has criticised Labour MP Diane Abbott for “downplaying” the allegations against him. Ms Abbott said in a TV interview that Mr Assange had been dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy over cyber crime.
The Sun
The Scottish Sun goes with a more light-hearted front page, as it tells of a falcon breeder who lets male falcons “romp” with a special hat while it is perched on its head. Howard Waller, from Dallas in Moray, uses the technique as part of a breeding process funded by his Dubai sheikh boss.
The Times
The Times says fresh doubt has been cast over the authenticity of the world’s most expensive painting, the $450m Salvator Mundi. The paper reports claims the National Gallery included it in an exhibition in 2011 but failed to publicise art historians’ doubts that the painting was the sole work of Leonardo da Vinci. However, the gallery is quoted saying the exhibition offered an opportunity to “test a new attribution by direct comparison with works universally accepted as Leonardo’s”.
The National
The National reports on the concept of a new payment system designed for a “cashless society”. it says Scotland could “lead the way” with the plastic payment plan and “boost Scotland’s economy by £40m a year”.
Press and Journal
The Press and Journal’s Highlands edition previews today’s first Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden, where Inverness Caledonian Thistle take on Hearts. But it leads with two men facing jail after they used a vacuum cleaner to try and kill a former friend in an attack in Inverness.
Daily Star
The big news for the Daily Star is that EastEnders actor Jake Wood and his family were “almost eaten alive” by alligators while on holiday in Florida… five years ago. The 46-year-old, who plays Max Branning, tells the paper that his wife was swimming in 2014 when he saw the “maneater” approach.
Scotland's papers: Police car 'bangers' and forced eviction fears
The Courier’s Dundee edition leads with Scottish Secretary Jeane Freeeman being urged to take action over a treatment “crisis” at NHS Tayside. It follows the revelation that a health watchdog had criticised NHS Tayside after breast cancer patients were given lower doses of chemotherapy than patients elsewhere in Scotland.

#Emmanuel Macron has united his country – against him

An embattled, incompetent leader distrusted and disliked by a vast majority of voters. A wobbly economy that might be tipped into recession by Brexit. A re-energised opposition. Huge street protests. Squabbling with European partners. The government is paralysed, the opposition is emboldened — and the nation stands humiliated, as the world looks on in horror wondering how a leader who was so popular two years ago could get things so wrong.

Not Theresa May, but Emmanuel Macron, the politician who may be the greatest Brexiteer of them all. As the saga of British withdrawal enters its final chapter, Macron has emerged as the loudest advocate for pushing Britain out the door, deal or no deal, consequences be damned.

Why does he behave in this way? Wouldn’t France suffer even more from a no-deal Brexit? But to understand his rage, you need to understand the depth of the hole in which he now finds himself.

It’s now common for Brits to consider themselves the laughing stock of Europe. To be sure, the Westminster drama is embarrassing — but it could be worse. We could be France. Just two years ago, Macron was seen as the great centrist hope not just of France but of Europe. The country’s youngest ever president was elected aged 39¾ to the near unanimous approval of European bien pensants. He promised to drag France out of political, economic and social sclerosis, to see off the menace of populism, sack half a million supernumerary functionaries and make France great again.

He quickly discovered that reform of a state riddled with clientelism and protectionism is easy to talk about but difficult if not impossible to achieve. His predecessors made the same discovery.

His domestic failure has been spectacular and comprehensive. The suburbs are in turmoil and Macron’s vaunted reform project has ground to a halt. The legions of civil servants remain in place, many recently revealed to work less than 35 hours a week. State spending accounts for a gargantuan 58 per cent of the economy, with the highest taxes in Europe to pay for it all. Enterprise is crushed by further taxes on employment, which can double the cost of hiring a worker. Tax cuts are promised but undelivered and cannot be without inflating the alarming deficit or cutting back the state.

The French have had enough. The opinion polls are striking. Macron is now the most unloved leader in Europe, by a distance, according to the YouGov Eurotrack survey. Among Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Macron has achieved a clean sweep, finishing dead last in every category.

Do you approve of the government’s record to date? Seventy-six per cent of French voters disapprove. Do you think the financial situation of your household will change over the next 12 months? By a four-to-one ratio, they think it will get worse. Has the financial situation of your household changed in the past 12 months? Half say it has got worse, or a lot worse. How do you think the country’s economy has changed in the past 12 months? Fifty-seven per cent say it’s worse or a lot worse. A different poll found 75 per cent of French agree that Macron can be referred to as a ‘president for the rich’.

The trajectory of the Macron project has been a case study in hubris. He has taken green politics and tested them to destruction. His putting up of fuel taxes last year while cutting the wealth tax was a manoeuvre so ill-judged as to beggar belief: it seems to show his contempt for those priced out of the cities, who live in provincial areas where they need cars. His diesel tax and carbon tax was the proximate cause for spawning the gilets jaunes movement, which is still bringing cities to a standstill every Saturday. His explanation that fuel prices had to rise to counter climate change cut little moutarde with voters.

France has now had 21 consecutive weekends of demonstrations and riots in which thousands have been arrested, hundreds injured, many gravely, and ten killed. The frequent brutality of the police, relayed instantly on social networks, has been condemned by Amnesty International and the UN. The physical damage has cost hundreds of millions. The reputational hit has been much worse.

Invest in France? Hopes of attracting many bankers from Brexit island have gone up in flames, along with the Porsches on the Avenue Kléber. Macron’s response has been to denounce protesters as ‘enemies’ of the state, and to impose new laws suppressing ‘fake news’. It’s easy to understand his allergy to reporting outside the usually obedient conventional channels.

Sanctimonious he may be, but Macron’s probity is in as much doubt as his competence. His clumsy efforts to cover up a scandal in his inner circle, involving a handsome young bodyguard of North African origin, now fired, but apparently still in touch with Macron’s circle, have shaken even some of the normally complaisant Paris press corps.

And now there’s his latest project, to launch his ambitious ‘EU Renaissance’, a largely inchoate big idea that has strikingly failed to resonate with French people, who have truly not a clue what he is talking about and whose own deeply eurosceptic views are ignored. Having failed to reform France from Paris, he seems to imagine that his reborn EU might do the job for him, delivering the country from 40 years of stagnation.

With Europe as his standard, Macron’s fightback has been unconvincing. For several weeks, France has been treated to the embarrassing spectacle of his great national debate, launched to distract attention from the insurgency of the gilets jaunes. Hailed as a great exercise in consultative democracy, it’s been more of a monologue. He has toured the country, not debating, not listening, but talking, talking, talking, sometimes for three hours with nary a pause. Not even his handpicked audiences could feign rapt attention.

Tellingly, one subject almost entirely excluded from the agenda of this so-called debate was Europe. Macron has never had any intention of consulting the voters on this subject, and for good reason. The French are among the most eurosceptic voters in Europe. They rejected the European constitution in 2005 by 55-45 per cent. (The constitution was subsequently relabelled a treaty and imposed regardless.)

It is a curiosity that Macron remains deeply admired abroad, notably by the Economist, whose Paris correspondent practically worships him, and the New York Times, which has annointed him the anti-Trump. The Washington Post has even swooned over his marriage — a triumph for feminism, apparently. But in France, even those who intend to vote for his list in the forthcoming European parliamentary election will hold their noses.

As his economic reforms have ground to a standstill, and his attempts to buy off the gilets jaunes have pushed France’s debt to the very edge of 100 per cent of GDP, Macron now faces two further tests. Neither may work out for him. It is ironic that if Brexit is thwarted, only Nigel Farage is likely to be more disappointed than Macron. The second is the May election, in which he risks humiliation.

Faced with opposition from a barmy extreme left and toxic extreme right, Macron’s candidates may yet emerge with the largest number of seats. The received wisdom is that as much as voters do not like Macron, many will not stomach the alternative. (It is a particularly French expression of democracy that a politician can win an election with a 14 per cent approval rating.)

Or maybe not. Voters who would otherwise vote for Macron as the lesser of two evils in a presidential election may be less scrupulous in a contest for the European parliament. The gilets jaunes are more likely to be motivated to vote, and Macron’s base may not be large enough to push him over the line. Whichever camp is able to declare victory, France is inevitably going to return a large number of eurosceptic MEPs, and with allies from across Europe, they are going to make Macron’s renaissance a mission impossible.

Whither the boy wonder? Macron’s obsession with European federalism has not just alienated him from voters, but has irritated his most important ally, German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany wants nothing to do with Macron’s proposed fiscal union. Why should Germans pay France’s debts? And lately, she has been especially alarmed by his inflammatory anti-British rhetoric. Macron might imagine that for the cause of his renaissance it’s essential to push the British out into the cold as soon as possible, deal or no deal. Merkel is listening to German industrialists, especially car makers, who call the UK ‘treasure island’.

The prospect of a messy Brexit scares plenty of people in France, too. Officials in the north, closer to the UK than Paris, are in open rebellion. French farmers and fishermen are spooked by the potential loss of markets and fishing rights. Even my neighbours in the south, a long way from the United Kingdom, fear the impact on wine and tourism, which essentially is all they’ve got.

When Macron was elected, a friend of mine who’d worked with him during his brief stint at Rothschild, and who found him an unlikeable and slippery colleague, nonetheless assured me that he was brilliant. He was always a swot, not just impressing but marrying his teacher. He won all the glittering prizes, admission to the École Nationale d’Administration, advancing thereafter to the status of haut fonctionnaire and economy minister under former president François Hollande.

But he is utterly lacking in emotional intelligence. He has failed to temper his narcissism and grandiosity, failed to listen, failed to master the essential art of politics, which is to bring people together, not divide them. His attempted listening tours have ended in disaster. Last summer, he was filmed telling an unemployed gardener how to find work: ‘In hotels, cafés and construction, everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,’ he said. ‘I can find you a job just by crossing the road.’ The video went viral. In his stubbornness and near autistic indifference to others, Macron has united France against him.

It will now be hard, perhaps impossible, for him to recover his popularity or his agenda which may help explain his Brexit obsession. He sees in it the concerns of provincial people who feel ignored by arrogant elites — the sort of people he’d hoped would go away. Brexit reminds him that they are unlikely to do so. As a result, his European renaissance is as undeliverable as the revolution he promised in France.

Could Macron and Brexit make Paris the capital of European tech?

Shortly after his election in May 2017, President Macron said he wanted France itself “to think and move like a start-up” – a vision of the country’s digital future that is gaining traction as Britain wrestles with Brexit.

French President EMMANUEL MACRON’s vow to make France a ‘start-up nation’ amid the uncertainty ‘s over BREXIT,  raising the question of whether could supplant London as the capital of European tech.

Since his election, Macron has wooed tech entrepreneurs with a string of initiatives in the form of lavish tax breaks, subsides, and credits for research. In March 2018, he promised to invest €1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through 2022.

Some of these initiatives, in addition to Macron’s dynamism, have lured British tech companies who are looking to gain a foothold in EUROPE.

“It made sense to have a European base,” said Cedric Jones*, a Briton who recently launched a start-up at Station F, the cavernous old train station that is now home to the world’s largest start-up campus. “If I’m going to make waves in continental Europe… I wanted to get here before Brexit happened.”

Jones is among dozens of foreign entrepreneurs who have recently launched their start-up at Station F, whose 3,000 desk hub has seen spiralling applications from English-speaking nationals in the last two years.

Some cite political woes back home, the burgeoning French tech sector, or are inspired by Macron’s bid to make Paris the innovation heart of Europe.

“There’s an air of optimism and a can-do spirit in France that I feel we’ve lost somewhat in the US,” said Mark Heath, a New Yorker, who stayed on in France to launch a start-up after studying at INSEAD in 2017.

The Macron effect

Much of the investment in French tech predates Macron’s reforms. The state investment bank Bpifrance, launched by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2013, has been widely credited with developing the sector. His successor, former French president François Hollande, set up new foreign visas for start-up entrepreneurs.

But Zahir Bouchaary, a Briton who works out of Station F, credits Macron with injecting dynamism into the sector.

“Macron has installed a [start-up] mentality within the French ecosystem itself,” said Bouchaary, adding that it has become much easier to do business in France in the last few years.

“French customers are a lot more willing to work with start-ups than they were before,” said Bouchaary. “France was a very conservative country and our clients were used to working with big old-fashioned companies that have been around for a while. For the past few years they’ve opened up a lot more to working with younger companies and seem to take more risks than they did before.”

Jones agreed that Macron was “the single variable”. “When he [Macron] goes, the dynamism will go too. I absolutely would not expect that to remain the case if he’s not president.”

However, although Macron has moved to ease labour laws, Jones said that navigating the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy in French remained “very burdensome”, and that it was far easier to build a business in the UK. “Whether it’s from a tax perspective or from a legal perspective it’s just so much more complicated.”

UK tech ‘resilient’

The tech scene in London appears to be just as vibrant as ever, explained Albin Serviant, president of Frenchtech in London, who said many UK-based tech entrepreneurs are adopting a “wait and see” approach to Brexit.

“The UK ecosystem is quite resilient,” said Serviant.

“In the first quarter of 2019, there were about €2 billion invested in tech in London. That’s compared to 1.5 billion last year, which is plus 30 percent. And that’s twice as much as France – which invested 1 billion. France is catching up very fast but the investment money is still flowing in the UK,” he added.

Serviant cited London’s business-friendly ecosystem and international talent pool as reasons for why London remains the capital of the European tech sector.

Nonetheless Serviant cautioned against the effects that a hard Brexit would have on the tech sector in the UK.

“‘If Brexit happens in a bad way and if people like me and other entrepreneurs have to leave, obviously that’s very bad for the UK because what makes it very different is the international DNA of London.”

Hard Brexit would not just damage the UK tech sector but would also pose challenges for British developers, who post-Brexit may need a carte de séjour to work in the country, looking to find work in France.

Sarah Pedroza, co managing director of Hello Tomorrow technologies, a Paris-based startup NGO, said that if she had to choose between hiring a British national and an EU citizen with the same skillset, she would opt for an EU citizen because there would be less paperwork involved.

Brexit aside, others suggest that France is snapping at the UK’s technological heels.

“I do think France has the potential under Macron to close the gap with the UK,” said Jones.

“The single biggest factor in what’s going on for France is that France is developing a sense of confidence in itself, in its start-up scene, as a tech hub, that’s being helped by France and that’s also being helped by Brexit.”

North Korea willing to take part in talks if US has ‘right attitude’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he would take part in a third summit with Donald Trump – but only if the US brought the “right attitude”.

North Korean state media reported the comments by Mr Kim on Saturday.

In a speech, he urged Mr Trump to pursue a deal that was “fair” and “mutually acceptable” to both nations.

The two leaders met for the first time in Singapore last year. However, a second summit in Hanoi in February broke down over denuclearisation steps.

Mr Trump claimed North Koreans officials wanted all economic sanctions lifted in their entirety in exchange for disabling a major nuclear site, provoking him to walk away.

However, the North Koreans disputed the US account of how the negotiations broke down.

Last month, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun-hui accused the US of taking a “gangster-like” stance, and said they had thrown away a “golden opportunity” in Hanoi.

In his most recent comments, reported by KCNA, Mr Kim said the summit had created a “strong doubt” in him over whether the US genuinely wanted to improve relations.

North Korea willing to take part in talks if US has 'right attitude
BBC’s Laura Bicker explains why Trump is the ‘biggest loser’ from the summit

But he went on to say: “We are willing to give another try if the US offers to have a third summit with the right attitude and mutually acceptable terms.”

He said the US “mistakenly believe that if they pressure us to the maximum, they can subdue us” and called on them to cease “hostile” negotiating tactics.

He did however, add that personal ties between him and Mr Trump remained “excellent”.

The North Korean leader said he would give the US until the end of the year to make a “courageous decision” over any new summit plans.

Kim Dong-yup, of Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in South Korea, told Reuters Mr Kim’s remarks signalled he would not cling to talks with US forever and could instead look “to diversify its diplomatic relations with other countries”.

The comments comes just one day after Mr Trump, at the start of talks in Washington with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, floated the possibility of further meetings with Mr Kim.

Sudan coup leader Awad Ibn Auf steps down

The head of Sudan’s military council has stood down a day after leading a coup that toppled long-time leader Omar al-Bashir amid a wave of protests.

Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf announced his decision on state TV. He named as his successor Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan.

It comes after protesters refused to leave the streets, saying the coup leaders were too close to Mr Bashir.

The army has said it will stay in power for two years, followed by elections.

Mr Bashir’s downfall followed months of unrest that began in December over rising prices.

Mr Ibn Auf was head of military intelligence during the Darfur conflict in the 2000s. The US imposed sanctions on him in 2007.

Protesters in Khartoum celebrated his departure, with people chanting phrases like “it fell again”.

The Sudan Professionals Association, which has been spearheading the protests, said Mr Ibn Auf’s decision to step down was a “victory” for demonstrators.

They are demanding a transition to civilian rule before they return home.

The new man in charge is also a top military figure, but AP reports that his record is cleaner than other Sudanese generals. He is also said to have met with protesters to hear their views.

Mr Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the Darfur conflict.

What happened on Friday?

Despite the removal of Mr Bashir on Thursday, demonstrators refused to disperse, camping out outside the army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, defying a curfew declared by the military.

On Friday, a spokesman for the military council said the army was not seeking power and Sudan’s future would be decided by the protesters – but said the army would maintain public order and disturbances would not be tolerated.

Sudanese women reject ‘regime coup’

The military council also said it would not extradite Mr Bashir to face the ICC charges – which he denies.

It has imposed a three-month state of emergency, with the constitution suspended.

Police said at least 16 people were killed by stray bullets at protests on Thursday and Friday.

Awad Ibn Ouf has stepped down to be replaced by a general the senior military hope will be more acceptable to the protesters. The momentum is with civil society.

The regime has floundered since this phase of protests began. The old ways of coercion haven’t worked and they face a civil society that is well organised and disciplined. This is a further retreat. It is unlikely to be last.

And there’s the economic crisis brought about by misrule, corruption and loss of oil revenues. Even the regime’s friends in the Middle East and Asia will think twice about rescue packages if it looks like a new version of the old venality and brutality. That’s an important pressure.

This is an exciting moment. Just think about the role of women in all of this, of social media and civil society. It’s happening in Sudan but the significance of these forces working peaceful for change is universal. Yes it’s very precarious, but also full of possibility.

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