Facebook oversight board upholds Donald Trump’s suspension

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Former US President Donald Trump

Facebook Inc’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s suspension of former US President Donald Trump in a much-awaited verdict that may signal how the company will treat rule-breaking world leaders in the future.
Facebook indefinitely blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the former president.
At the time of the suspension, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post that “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.” The company later referred the case to its recently established board, which includes academics, lawyers and rights activists, to decide whether to uphold the ban or restore Trump.
“Both of those decisions are no-win decisions for Facebook,” said Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University who embedded at Facebook to follow the board’s creation. “So, offloading those to a third party, the Oversight Board, is a win for them no matter what.”
The binding verdict marks a major decision for the board, which rules on a small slice of challenging content decisions and which Facebook created as an independent body as a response to criticism over how it handles problematic material. Facebook has also asked the board to provide recommendations on how it should handle political leaders’ accounts.
Tech platforms have grappled in recent years with how to police world leaders and politicians that violate their guidelines. Facebook has come under fire both from those who think it should abandon its hands-off approach to political speech and those who saw the Trump ban as a worrying act of censorship.
Trump was permanently banned from Twitter Inc, where he has more than 88 million followers.
Trump, who has been sending out short, emailed press releases, continued to promote election misinformation in one on Monday, saying “the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”
On Tuesday, he launched a new web page to share messages that readers can then re-post to their Facebook or Twitter accounts. A senior adviser has said Trump also has plans to launch his own social media platform.
Facebook has said Trump, who has 35 million Facebook followers, would be subject to the same policies as ordinary users after the end of his presidency. This means that if Trump returned to the platform, his posts would now be eligible for fact-checking. Following a widening of the board’s scope in April, Facebook users would also be able to appeal the former president’s posts to the board.
CONTROVERSIAL DECISION
Trump’s suspension was the first time Facebook had blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state. Facebook’s oversight board said it received more than 9,000 comments from the public on the Trump ban, the most it has had for a case so far.
Several academics and civil rights groups have publicly shared their letters urging the board to block Trump permanently, while Republican lawmakers and some free expression advocates have criticized the decision.
Since taking action on Trump, social media companies have faced calls from some rights groups and activists to be more consistent in their approach to other world leaders who have pushed or broken their rules, such as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Leader Ali Khamenei, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and lawmakers linked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I would hope that they’re also thinking about the precedent-setting of this,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director and a fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center. “What does that look like internationally, what does that look like in the long term?” she added.
The Oversight Board, an idea that Zuckerberg first publicly floated in 2018, currently has 20 members, including former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and several law experts and rights advocates. Decisions need only majority approval.
The board, which some have dubbed Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” has been hailed as a novel experiment by some researchers but blasted by other critics who have been skeptical over its independence or view it as a PR stunt to deflect attention from the company’s more systemic problems.
It is funded through a $130 million trust created by Facebook and has so far made rulings on a small number of cases from hate speech to nudity.
Facebook’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg told Reuters in January that he was “very confident” of the company’s case on Trump’s ban and said “any reasonable person” looking at Facebook’s policies and the circumstances would agree.

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Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hail reports of £400m deal for her freedom

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Richard Ratcliffe, pictured with daughter Gabriella, hailed the statement from Iran that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, could be freed as ‘a better sign’

The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hailed Iranian reports that a £400 million deal had been secured for her release as a “good sign”, as Britain insisted talks were ongoing.

Iranian state media claimed on Sunday that Tehran had struck a deal in which London would repay a 1970s arms debt to secure her freedom.

“The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in exchange for the UK’s payment of its £400 million debt to Iran has … been finalised,” an Iranian official said.

Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, told The Telegraph that the family had not yet heard anything from London or Tehran, adding: “It’s probably a good sign that it’s being signalled, just as last week’s sentence was a bad sign. But my instinct is it is still a negotiating tactic.”

He added: “It doesn’t feel like things are resolved yet, even if the parameters are clearer and clearer.”

Referring to the debt, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and will not comment further as discussions are ongoing.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already completed a five-year prison sentence in Iran over dubious spying charges. She was sentenced to an additional year in prison last week on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic, which she strongly denies.

The fresh sentence came after a UK High Court hearing to resolve the £400 million debt payment was postponed without explanation. British sources said on Sunday night that the trial had been delayed at the request of the Iranian Ministry of Defence.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, will meet with Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, tomorrow at the G7 in London, where Iran will be on the agenda.

The United States strongly denied separate Iranian claims on Sunday that a deal involving a US-Iran prisoner swap had been agreed.

Iranian treatment of Nazanin ‘amounts to torture’

It came as Mr Raab said Iran’s treatment of the British-Iranian aid worker amounted to “torture”, the strongest rhetoric from the Government on the case so far.

Dominic Raab told the BBC's Andrew Marr that Iran had an to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'immediately and without condition'

Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that Iran had an to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘immediately and without condition’

“I think it amounts to torture the way she’s being treated,” Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme. He added that there was an “obligation on Iran to release her immediately and without condition”.

He also said it was “very difficult to argue” against claims that she was being held by Iran as a hostage.

“It is clear that she is subjected to a cat and mouse game that the Iranians, or certainly part of the Iranian system, engage with and they try to use her for leverage on the UK,” he said.

Mr Raab went on to stress that her imprisonment was “not solely” related to the arms debt. “We’ve said that debt is something we want to have resolved,” he added.

Iran is facing elections in June that will choose a successor to President Hassan Rouhani and is engaged in key talks in Vienna on restoring the Obama-era nuclear deal.

The dispute over the arms debt dates back to the 1970s, when the Shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks. The UK then refused to deliver the tanks after the Shah was toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said last September that “the Government acknowledges there is a debt to be paid”.

US denies deal to swap prisoners

The United States poured cold water on Iranian claims that Tehran and Washington had agreed to swap four US prisoners for four Iranian prisoners as well as the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s chief of staff, told CBS’ Face the Nation that “unfortunately, that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Mr Klain said. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time, but so far there’s no agreement.”

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said the US had “not yet reached agreement” with Iran, adding that “there’s still fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps”.

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP who is in close contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family, praised Mr Raab for increasing the pressure on Iran.

“I am aware there are news reports circulating about the debt being paid to #FreeNazanin. I have spoken to her family and they have heard nothing confirming any of these rumours,” she wrote on Twitter.

“It was however welcome to hear Dominic Raab refer to her torture this morning on Marr. I hope the Government is doing all it can to get the hostages home.”

Anxious unionists in little mood to celebrate Northern Ireland centenary | Northern Ireland

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Covered up and boxed in a storage vault in the town of Enniskillen, two historic oil paintings gathered dust. King William III commissioned the portraits of himself and Queen Mary after he routed Catholic forces in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a turning point in Irish history that established Protestant ascendance.

Unionists revere King Billy, also known as William of Orange, as a hero who saved their settler ancestors. The portraits used to gaze down from Enniskillen town hall, a reminder of their link to the crown, until the council voted to remove them in 2002.

For some unionists in this corner of County Fermanagh, it felt like a foreshadowing of their own fate. Next week they were supposed to celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary, the 100th birthday of a state made from six of Ireland’s 32 counties in 1921 with one overriding goal: a permanent Protestant and therefore unionist majority.

But instead of festive, the mood is anxious and focused on loss – loss of power, cohesion, confidence – and with fear of worse to come, of history closing the lid.

“Northern Ireland has been a success story in many ways but people now see their Britishness being eroded. We feel diminished. It’s a lonely position,” said Stuart Brooker, an assistant grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

The portraits’ banishment – at the behest of a nationalist-controlled council – reflected a wider erosion of unionism, he said. “Things like that hurt. They hurt.” Though the paintings emerged from mothballs in 2018 and now hang at the county museum, they will not be returning to the town hall.

Stuart Brooker: ‘People now see their Britishness being eroded.’ Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

The centenary comes at arguably the most fraught moment for unionism in the state’s eventful 100 years. Catholics are on the cusp of outnumbering Protestants for the first time – a demographic shift apparent in Catholic majorities in schools and universities. Opinion polls suggest Sinn Féin could lead the next governments north and south of the border. A referendum on Irish unity seems a matter of when, not if.

Brexit has produced a trade border down the Irish Sea, which in unionist eyes economically decouples the region from the rest of the UK. Unionist parties are in disarray. The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) has just dumped Arlene Foster as its leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister, blaming her for the sea border, but party sources admit there is no masterplan, no new strategy to unpick the Northern Ireland protocol. The Ulster Unionist and Traditional Unionist Voice parties lack heft. In the vacuum hover loyalist youths and shadowy paramilitaries who recently rioted.

Little wonder few have appetite to celebrate the centenary. “I think it’s more something to be recognised,” said Tom Elliott, a former Ulster Unionist leader and MP. “I’m very pleased and proud to be in the UK and feel it’s the best way forward. It would have been better if all of Ireland had stayed in the UK.”

Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew won Elliott’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in 2017 and held it in 2019, in effect ending his political career and consolidating nationalism’s ascendance in the constituency.

Elliott worries about the union with Great Britain – the possibility of Scotland seceding heightens concern – but he thinks that could galvanise unionists to sell the union to voters. “If you have some nerves going into a big game it makes you more diligent.”

Tom Elliott
The former MP Tom Elliott at Enniskillen’s war memorial. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

In Enniskillen for a long time, his side kept winning. A totemic unionist bastion, it was the site of a King Billy victory named in the ballad The Sash. Its castle symbolised loyalist preeminence. Before the Troubles, gerrymandering and discrimination helped unionists dominate the council.

That changed after a hunger strike by IRA prisoners. Bobby Sands won a byelection for the vacant Westminster seat before dying in the Maze prison on 5 May 1981, which gives Northern Ireland another fateful anniversary next week. Sands’ election was a seismic breakthrough for Sinn Féin, which soon started winning council seats around Enniskillen and across Northern Ireland.

For Sinn Féin, the “Armalite and the ballot box” strategy was a legitimate response to an unreformable, sectarian state, which eventually forced the British government to negotiate, culminating in the 1998 Good Friday agreement, a power-sharing executive at Stormont and belated equality and respect for Irish nationalism.

Others say the violence was unjustified and left open wounds. Of 116 people killed during the Troubles in Fermanagh, 101 were killed by the Provisional IRA, including 11 murdered in the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing. Of those cases, 95 remain unresolved, said Kenny Donaldson, 40, the director of services of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, a victims’ rights group.

Colourful quilts cover his office walls. They seem cheerful until closer inspection reveals each square commemorates murder victims. “The pain of injustice is still very profound,” said Donaldson, speaking in a personal capacity.

Kenny Donaldson
Kenny Donaldson, a victims’ rights campaigner, in front of a tapestry remembering murder victims. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

In 1979 the IRA shot and seriously wounded Foster’s father, a farmer and part-time police officer, near his home outside Enniskillen. Foster was eight years old. “My father came in on all fours crawling, with blood coming from his head,” she recalled decades later.

Last week Sinn Féin held a tribute for Séamus McElwaine, the IRA man allegedly behind the attack, who went on to be killed in an SAS ambush. Nationalists suspect that Foster’s loathing for the IRA and its supporters poisoned her ability to set a conciliatory tone and work effectively with Sinn Féin during her six-year tenure. She famously compared the party to a crocodile.

Some unionists, in contrast, think their leaders were too pliable and lacked the steel of James Craig, Northern Ireland’s first prime minister, who boasted of Stormont being a Protestant parliament for a Protestant state.

They view the prosecution of former British army soldiers for Troubles-era killings as driven by Sinn Féin. When the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, recently expressed sorrow for the 1979 assassination of Lord Mountbatten, it cut little ice in Enniskillen, which was home to Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old blown up with Mountbatten and his family.

“When army veterans are being vilified, we see that as an attack on who we were,” said Brooker, who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). He mistrusts Sinn Féin’s push for an Irish language act. “It’s almost being used as a political weapon. Our Britishness is being chipped away.”

Such sentiments simmered for years – and then came Brexit. While many unionists voted remain, others – especially DUP supporters – seized the chance to assert British identity and exceptionalism.

It backfired when Boris Johnson agreed the Northern Ireland protocol, which put trade checks in the Irish Sea. Rather than a manageable technical issue, many unionists and loyalists view it as a constitutional threat. The most radical think now is a time not for centenary candles but petrol bombs.

Denzil McDaniel
Denzil McDaniel, former editor of the Impartial Reporter in Enniskillen. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

Denzil McDaniel, 68, a former editor of the Impartial Reporter, a venerable Enniskillen newspaper, sees a faultline within unionism. Business and civic leaders recognise that change is coming, be it a united Ireland or some other constitutional arrangement within the UK. The question is when and how messy. Unionist politicians refuse to see this, said McDaniel.

“They’re in denial about the breakup of the UK. Scotland may leave, plus there is a government at Westminster that is a basket case and doesn’t give a stuff about Northern Ireland. Unionists still listen to Boris Johnson and he shafts them every time.”

When Johnson visited Enniskillen last month – a tightly controlled foray ostensibly to promote a vaccination centre – Foster greeted him not with a barrage of eggs but smiles and a polite critique of the protocol. The most robust challenge to the prime minister was from a member of the public asking why he no longer appeared on the TV show Have I Got News for You.

With nationalist parties opting to ignore the centenary, the UK government has planned low-key events next week and over the summer – an online concert, tree-planting, academic talks, a commemorative stamp.

Enniskillen will illuminate its castle and an arts centre in purple, the corporate colour of Fermanagh and Omagh district council. This modest plan squeaked through the council on a 19 to 18 vote. “It is the day Northern Ireland was created and no matter what our position, it’s important we reflect on that, whether you come from a persuasion which sees that as devastating to your community or whether it’s something to be celebrated,” Deborah Erskine, a DUP councillor, told her colleagues.

Zara Ferguson
Zara Ferguson, a navy reservist from Enniskillen. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

Amid the mood of political crisis across the region it is easy to overlook the positives. Northern Ireland is at peace. Growing numbers of voters reject tribal labels and identify as neither nationalist or unionist. All sides take pride in the success of homegrown artists and sports stars.

In Enniskillen, personal relations between unionists and nationalists tend to be good. Everyone is happy to claim Adrian Dunbar, the Line of Duty actor, as a local son.

Optimism bubbles from Zara Ferguson, 22, born in 1998, the year of the Good Friday agreement. She never got to meet her uncle, Alan Ferguson, a UDR soldier shot in 1978. The killer was not caught, but Ferguson learned from her mother to not hate. “If she can do it, so can I.”

Ferguson, a navy reservist who studies engineering, is proud of Northern Ireland and its position in the UK. “There are so many benefits. We’re so lucky.” She wishes the union a happy birthday and a long life. “I’d say I’m Northern Irish and British. I’m not Irish. I don’t live in Ireland.”

Russia adds Alexei Navalny's regional campaign offices to 'extremism' list

Russia adds Alexei Navalny’s regional campaign offices to ‘extremism’ list

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Alexei Navalny. AP Photo

MOSCOW: Russia’s financial monitoring agency said on Friday it had added jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny‘s network of regional campaign offices to a list of organisations involved in “terrorism and extremism”.
Allies of Navalny said on Thursday they were disbanding the network as the authorities sought to ban them.
A Moscow court is also considering whether to declare Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) “extremist”, a ruling that would give Russian authorities the power to jail activists and freeze bank accounts.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin‘s fiercest political rival, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations on an earlier embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.
Pressure has also been mounting on organisations associated with Navalny since he was arrested in January and jailed the following month.
Last year, Navalny survived an attack with a nerve agent that he blamed on Putin. Russian authorities denied any involvement and questioned whether he was even poisoned.

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<span>Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</span>

Biden brings US back to world stage in first 100 days

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Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The most striking aspect of Joe Biden’s first 100 days in foreign policy is the change of style. With his emphasis on consultation with allies and partners, he is presenting himself on the world stage as the anti-Trump.

Related: Biden’s world: how key countries have reacted to the president’s first 100 days

This is what the president intends to convey with the catchphrase of his early weeks: “America is back.” With a flurry of early moves, the new administration reversed the “America first” exceptionalism of its predecessor, briskly rejoining the World Health Organization, the Paris climate accord, and the UN human rights council, while renewing the New Start arms control treaty with Russia and restarting talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal with Iran.

Biden has personally moved to repair eastern and western partnerships, hosting the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, as the first foreign leader to visit him in the Oval Office, and making the UK the destination of his first foreign trip, to attend June’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

“No one nation can deal with all the crises of our time alone – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change – and as we’re experiencing now, pandemics,” Biden said in his speech to Congress on Wednesday.

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the president of the Truman National Security Project and a former state department official, said the return of diplomacy to the fore in US foreign policy has also been reflected in appointments of experienced veterans of past multilateral negotiations to high positions in the state department and national security council.

“I think that calms nerves,” Ben-Yehuda said. “I think that ‘America is back’ also means consultation. We no longer have to fear the tweet, and the erraticism under Trump that had been pretty pervasive, has been replaced with consultation.”

Joe Biden and Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, in the Rose Garden of the White House on 16 April.

Joe Biden and Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, in the Rose Garden of the White House on 16 April. Photograph: Getty Images

The emerging Biden foreign policy shows some signs of going beyond a simple Obama restoration – most notably in a clear decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, in marked contrast to Obama’s reluctant and abortive surge.

At the weekend, Biden took another step which Obama had shied away from, with the formal declaration that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman troops constituted an act of genocide.

The fury of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which had inhibited his predecessors, did not stop Biden, who unhesitatingly applied the same label to China’s persecution and mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs.

“No responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are violated,” Biden said on Wednesday evening. “A president has to represent the essence of our country.”

With Turkey and China, as with Russia, the Biden administration has sought to give priority to a clear stance on human rights while compartmentalising that stance from areas of common interest. It is a balancing act that many past administrations have tried with varying degrees of success – and one which the Trump administration barely attempted.

Biden has emphasised his assertive approach to China, on trade and a military presence in the Indo-Pacific, as part of a foreign policy that benefits the American class. But he has pointed to the US and China’s common interest in addressing the climate crisis, and has invited Vladimir Putin to a summit meeting in Europe to talk about strategic stability, while at the same time sanctioning Russia for the SolarWinds cyber-attack and the attempted murder and jailing of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

Supporters of the administration point to this approach as proof the US does not have to sacrifice its values for its national interests in relations with major rivals and adversaries.

But some, including progressive Democrats fear that some compromises have felt too much like business as usual. The administration declassified an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, but did not sanction the Saudi crown prince. Arms sales were partially maintained to Saudi Arabia and fully to the United Arab Emirates, the UAE’s human rights record in Yemen notwithstanding.

The administration also wavered on refugees, initially signalling it would maintain the ceiling of 15,000 admissions imposed by Trump, but then backtracking in the face of widespread outrage at the failure to honour a pledge to admit 62,500.

“I think the zigzagging on immigration and Russia – agreeing that Putin is a ‘killer’, sanctioning senior Russians in retaliation for cyber-attacks, warning the Kremlin because of its trop buildups on the Russian border, but then inviting Putin to the climate conference and inviting him to a summit – has been surprising, given the extremely smooth and professional rollout of other policies,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I suppose that’s what happens when policy gets mugged by reality – but it also suggests that the policy is less than fully fleshed out.”

Related: Biden’s A team: key figures pushing the president’s agenda in his first 100 days

There are also rumblings in the state department that the pledge to return to full-on diplomacy has not been matched with a commitment to career diplomats, who have so far felt shut out from the top ambassadorial positions.

“The career diplomats I’ve spoken to are starting to think there is little substance to the slogan ‘Diplomacy is back’. Unless of course it means professional diplomats will be at the back of the line for top jobs,” said Brett Bruen, director of global engagement in the Obama White House.

“It sure the heck is not what President Biden promised when he came to the state department saying that experience would be empowered and elevated. Instead, it seems as though we are headed back to business as usual, where ambassadorships are doled out as party favors to the well-to-do and well-connected.”

There is no question that the US foreign policy is back on more familiar terrain after the four years of Trump, but following exactly the same pre-Trump is no longer an option. The global landscape has changed, Russia and China are more adversarial, the US weaker by comparison, and the climate crisis has become an emergency. For Biden, it will be an uphill climb.

A John Lewis van passing Downing Street

Digested week: leak mystery solved but I’m lost on Line of Duty | John Crace

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Monday

Typical. We had one job … Our daughter, whom we hadn’t seen for the best part of 18 months, was coming to London and all we had to do was to get to Heathrow in time to meet her as she passed through immigration and customs controls. It didn’t quite work out that way. First, we were halfway to the airport when my wife, Jill, remembered she had forgotten the “We Love You, Anna” placard she had made that morning. Then Jill checked the flight tracker and discovered Anna’s plane had landed 45 minutes early, rather than the 30 minutes early the app had suggested when we last looked. No matter, I said. There are bound to be long queues at arrivals to make sure everyone’s Covid certification is in order. After all, there had been reports of six-hour delays the previous week, which is why we had both bought books with us. Not long afterwards, we got a text from Anna that her vaccinations, pre-booked Covid tests and passenger locator form were all in order and she had cleared immigration. OK, I said. She still needed to collect her suitcase, and that would be at least another half an hour. Ten minutes later, just as we pulled into the short-term car park, we got a further text to say Anna had got her case and was on the way out. We parked the car, raced into the terminal … Only to find Anna already waiting for us. It was a wonderful hug. One that felt both very special yet weirdly normal at the same time. Almost as if 18 months of separation had been condensed into 10 seconds of physical contact. Jill and Anna did almost all the talking on the way home as I was lost for words. Still, I now have two and a half weeks to find them.

Tuesday

Most of the attention about the Downing Street refurbishment is understandably focused on who paid for what and when. But I am also fascinated by some of the details of the decorations themselves. Like, since when did any furniture from John Lewis become downmarket? Much of their clobber would look fairly classy compared with the furniture in our house. But what I really fail to understand is why you would go to the extravagance of wallpaper at £840 per roll, a sofa at £9.6K and a rattan chair at £5.9K when you have a one-year-old toddler, a badly behaved dog, Larry the cat and a man who has form for spilling wine living in the flat. If you want a home that looks like something out of World of Interiors then dispense with all pets, children and messy adults, as otherwise it seems a no-brainer that the place will get trashed with sticky fingerprints, scuff marks and unwanted bits of food in a matter of months. Our house is still to fully recover from the full impact of us having brought up two kids inside it. Not to mention the two cats, one dog and me. Despite at least one paint job and the odd bit of filler when our children moved out, there are still chips to the plasterwork, marks on the walls, and much of the furniture is best described as distressed.

‘We’ve come to empty the skip’: a John Lewis van passing Downing Street. Photograph: Paul Grover/PA

Wednesday

Thanks to the responses of several readers, the riddle of the leaking shower that I wrote about last week may well be solved. And, as so often, the answer doesn’t reflect particularly well on me. For it turns out that the reason why it leaked intermittently when I was using it was because when I stood in a certain area of the shower, the tray was separating from the silicon and grouting to allow the water to escape through the hole and down through the floorboards to the ceiling below. In other words, I was just too heavy for the shower, which is why there were no leaks when my wife used it or when the plumber came. Or to be blunter still, I was just too fat for the shower. Still, at least it’s relatively cheap to fix with some new grout and silicon. Another mystery was also partially solved when Dr Peter McClure, joint editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, emailed to say that, contrary to the family folklore that our surname derived from Jews escaping persecution in Krakow, there were Craces knocking around in the UK before the 18th century. Among many others, there was a Ricardus Cras in Surrey in 1381, a Margarett Crace in Berkshire in 1547 and a Robert Crace in Somerset in 1607. Apparently, the modern surname is most commonly found in the London area, but in earlier times was more commonly a variant of the surname, Grace, which itself was a nickname taken from the old French cras or gras, meaning fat. So given the shower issues, it seems there is something to nominative determinism.

Thursday

A large number of car owners in France are said to be furious that from now on Renault and Dacia models will be fitted with controls limiting them to a maximum of 180kph. AKA 112mph. No matter that it is illegal to go that fast on all roads – the maximum speed allowed on a French motorway is 130kph – drivers regard the removal of their right to choose not to break the law as yet another example of interference by the nanny state. Despite the fact that no one has yet seen a Clio or a Twingo travelling at 180kph, Pierre Chasseray, the head of 40 Million Drivers, the main motorists’ lobby organisation in France, said: “This ridiculous measure is typical of the politically correct urban chic mentality.” There might have been a time when I was in my late teens when I would have had some sympathy for this – though my problem back then was always about getting my clapped-out car to reach the top legal speed of 70mph on the motorway – but now it just seems absurd to complain about not being able to go 50kph faster than the maximum speed limit. Indeed, the complaint I now get from my family is that ever since we got a Toyota hybrid I have taken to driving too slow. Rather than focusing on the speedometer, I am now glued to the control that tells me how much petrol I am using. Finding out that I have completed a journey getting more than 50 miles to the gallon gives me a far bigger thrill than maxing out at 70mph. I like to think it’s because I’ve become greener, though I suspect it’s as much a reflection of my age.

Matt Hancock and Jonathan Van-Tam
JVT to Matt Hancock: ‘It’s just a little prick.’ Photograph: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/eyevine

Friday

Like many millions of others, I will be watching the final episode of Line of Duty this Sunday. Though even when it’s over I’m not expecting to be too much the wiser, as I’ve completely lost track not only of most of the threads of previous series but quite a few of the current one as well. Every week my wife has come back into the room after making herself a cup of tea and asked me to fill her in on what she’s missed, only for me to have to admit I haven’t got a clue what’s going on. I’m assuming we will at last get to find out the identity of H, but I’m not holding out much hope that anything will become much clearer as a result. I’d quite like the writer Jed Mercurio to have played a long-game double bluff all along and that Ted Hastings is revealed as the top bad cop, but the truth is I don’t have a clue. It could be Vicky McClure all along. Just on the grounds that if you reverse her initials and put an H in front, you get HMV. It makes about as much sense to me as anything else. Quite why I’m struggling so much with the current series, I can’t put my finger on. Whether it’s one season too many syndrome and the writing just isn’t quite so sharp – last week’s extended interview felt somewhat formulaic – or I’m suffering from TV overload, I can’t be sure. I suspect more the latter. Most evenings are spent watching television and I think I’ve reached my saturation point. There’s only so many plotlines I can keep in my head at any one time – not least when I can’t binge-watch and have to wait a week – and with at least five series on the go, I’m in meltdown. Weirdly, the end of lockdown could significantly improve my TV watching.

Digested week, digested: A £56,000 bill, three inquiries and the Tories 11% ahead in the polls. Nihilism rules.

Indonesia Submarine News: Indonesia to salvage submarine after deadly sinking disaster | World News

Indonesia Submarine News: Indonesia to salvage submarine after deadly sinking disaster | World News

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Indonesia said it will salvage a submarine that sank off the coast of Bali. AP Photo

BALI: Indonesia said Friday it will salvage a submarine that sank off the coast of Bali, as grieving relatives paid their respects to the dozens of crew killed in the disaster.
Authorities had yet to confirm if they would try to haul up the KRI Nanggala 402 from the seafloor, after it was spotted cracked in three pieces. The navy on Friday said it was waiting on the arrival of two ships, including a vessel sent by China, that are equipped to handle deep-sea salvage operations.
High-powered magnets and air balloons were among the possible options, but how and when the cracked submarine would be brought to the surface was uncertain, said navy chief Yudo Margono. “It’s hard to talk about specific timing, but I can say that as soon as help arrives, we’ll start,” he told reporters.
The submarine’s 53-strong crew are believed to still be inside the vessel, Margono said.
An underwater rescue vehicle supplied by neighbouring Singapore gave visual confirmation that the German-built sub was lying on the sea floor more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) deep. The eerie images were final confirmation that there was no hope of finding survivors.
On Friday, victims’ families cast flowers from a navy ship into waters where the sub went down as part of a remembrance ceremony.
The submarine — one of five in Indonesia’s fleet — disappeared last week while it was scheduled to take part in live torpedo training exercises. The crew asked for permission to dive. It lost contact shortly after.
Later, search teams spotted an oil spill where the vessel was thought to have submerged, pointing to possible fuel tank damage and a catastrophic accident.
The military has yet to offer an official explanation for the sinking of the decades-old submarine, which was delivered to the Southeast Asian nation in 1981.
It has said, however, that the reconditioned vessel was seaworthy and discounted the possibility of an explosion. The navy has said that the submarine may have suffered a blackout and left the crew unable to perform emergency measures.
Its hull would have been torn apart as it sunk to depths far below what the KRI Nanggala was built to withstand, they said.
The submarine’s former commander, Rear Admiral Muhammad Ali, has told local media that a so-called internal solitary wave could have been to blame. The natural phenomenon occurs when different sea depths come together, creating forces that could have dragged the vessel down, he said.

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On Earth Day 2021, Yadea shared a post on Facebook inviting netizens to make the planet a better future with the company's zero-emission vehicles.

Yadea Helps Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions by 30 Million Tons

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MUNICH, April 30, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Yadea Technology Group Co., Ltd. (“Yadea”, 01585.HK), a leading electric two-wheel vehicle brand, has revealed that the cumulative sales from its electric motorcycles, electric mopeds, electric bikes and electric kick scooters have helped cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32.4 million tons to date. The news comes in the month of Earth Day 2021 and reflects the company’s commitment to do its part in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On Earth Day 2021, Yadea shared a post on Facebook inviting netizens to make the planet a better future with the company’s zero-emission vehicles.

The announcement was made during a presentation at its most recent global press conference, where the company officially launched its international brand. The presentation highlighted Yadea’s achievements since its inception: the company has sold over 50 million products, reduced fuel consumption by 8.52 million tons and helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32.4 million tons — the equivalent of planting 32.4 billion trees.

“Electric two-wheel vehicles provide an eco-friendly, energy-saving and convenient solution for daily commuting, so at Yadea, we believe we are doing a great thing. With more than 20 years of advocating for green energy technology, we are the world’s leading brand in the electric two-wheeler industry. As we celebrate World Earth Day, we look forward to helping more people electrify their lives and reduce their footprint with Yadea,” said Heidi Zang, Vice General Manager of Yadea.

According to the United Nations, electric two- and three-wheeler vehicles can help contribute to clean air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and are the first priority in moving to electric mobility. Calculations show that a shift to 90 percent battery-powered electric motorcycles by 2030 could result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by as much as 11 billion tons between now and 2050.

With lower fuel and maintenance costs, electric two- and three-wheeler vehicles can help to achieve a number of SDGs, including Climate Action; Affordable and Clean Energy; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and Sustainable Cities and Communities.

With the irreplaceable advantages of electric two-wheelers in environmental conservation and industrial development, Yadea has strengthened its commitment to provide leading integrated solutions that promote green travel around the world. An industry pioneer, Yadea plays a pivotal role in leading the electric mobility revolution. As the company launches its global brand, it hopes to inspire other companies to do their part to achieve the SDGs.

Yadea launched its international brand on April 15 with the theme #ElectrifyYourLife. During the press conference, the company unveiled its diversified global product matrix, which includes electric motorcycles, electric mopeds, electric bikes and electric kick scooters — providing a leading integrated solution to meet the different travel needs of users around the world.

At the same time, the company continues to sound the call for more people to help create a greener world: On Earth Day 2021, Yadea shared a post on Facebook inviting netizens to make the planet a better future with the company’s zero-emission vehicles.

About Yadea

Yadea is a global leader in developing and manufacturing electric two-wheel vehicles including electric motorcycles, electric mopeds, electric bicycles and electric kick scooters. Yadea’s mission is to use its market leadership to inspire a movement towards greener travel solutions and its vison is to create world-leading electric vehicle solutions by building innovative technologies that meet and exceed international standards for safety and quality.

For more information, visit our:

Official Website: https://www.yadea.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Yadea.Official
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/YADEA.GLOBAL/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/YadeaGlobal

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Eurozone GDP up to Q4 2020

Eurozone GDP: France beats expectations with 0.4% growth – business live | Business

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Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

Today we discover how Europe’s economy fared in the first quarter of 2021, in the face of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the breaking news is that France’s economy has returned to growth – and faster than expected.

French GDP rose by 0.4% in the January-March quarter, new figures just released by statistics body INSEE show. Economists had only expected modest growth of 0.1%.

That follows a contraction of 1.4% in the final three months of 2020, as new restrictions hit its recovery.

INSEE reports that household spending rose by 0.3% in the quarter (up from a 5.7% slump in Q4), while “gross fixed capital formation” (business investment) was notably strong, growing by 2.2%.

That’s an encouraging start to the year — suggesting that consumers and companies fared better than thought this year.

Trading Economics
(@tEconomics)

France GDP Growth Rate QoQ Prel at 0.4% https://t.co/YZQGQp1rmQ pic.twitter.com/Jcf4I6p2Vi


April 30, 2021

However, the wider eurozone may still have contracted in the last quarter, with ongoing lockdowns and a slow vaccination programme hampering the recovery.

That would put the eurozone into a double-dip recession (as GDP shrank in the last quarter of 2020). We’ll find out at 10am UK time.

Michael Hewson of CMC Markets explains:


Spain’s economy is expected to contract by -0.5%, after stagnating in Q4, with Italy set for a similar -0.5% contraction, coming on top of a -1.9% contraction in Q4. Germany’s economy is also expected to contract by -1.5%.

This set of numbers is expected to equate to a -0.8% contraction in Q1 for EU GDP, following on from a -0.7% contraction in Q4.




Eurozone GDP up to Q4 2020 Photograph: Eurostat

It will be quite a contrast with the US, where GDP grew by 1.6% during the first quarter of the year (we learned yesterday).

Rising vaccinations, a massive round of government stimulus and a steady recovery in the jobs market helped reverse some of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the US is expected to see robust growth this year.

Its technology giants are leading the charge, with Amazon reporting blistering figures last night: sales increased 44% to $108.5bn, while it raked in a profit of $8.1bn for the quarter – $2.7bn a month.

We also get new unemployment and inflation data from across Europe, likely to show that joblessness remained elevated in March, while prices rose this month.

Hewson again…


Unemployment levels are expected to remain steady at 8.3% for March, while the latest preliminary April CPI figures are set for another sharp gain, this time to 1.6%, from 1.3% in March.

This will inevitably fuel concerns about inflationary pressures in the euro area given that headline CPI has risen from -0.3% at the end of last year to current levels in less than four months.

With growth data from Mexico and Canada (for February) on the docket, and UK house prices figures, it could be a busy day….

Claus Vistesen
(@ClausVistesen)

Strap in for a very busy morning in the Eurozone economic calendar … French Q1 GDP out in a tick, and then the numbers will come out steadily until 11:00 CET.


April 30, 2021

The agenda

  • 6.30am BST: French GDP for Q1 2021
  • 7am BST: Nationwide survey of UK house prices
  • 8am BST: Austrian GDP for Q1 2021
  • 8am BST: Spanish GDP for Q1 2021
  • 9am BST: German GDP for Q1 2021
  • 9am BST: Italian GDP for Q1 2021
  • 10am BST: Eurozone GDP for Q1 2021
  • 10am BST: Eurozone inflation for April
  • 10am BST: Eurozone unemployment for March
  • Noon BST: Mexican GDP for Q1 2021
  • 1.30pm BST: Canadian GDP for February
  • 1.30pm BST: US PCE inflation report
  • 3pm BST: University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey

Rudy Giuliani defiant, a day after FBI raid of home, office

Rudy Giuliani defiant, a day after FBI raid of home, office

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Giuliani said the 6am search, which he said involved seven FBI agents, was unnecessary. AP Photo

NEW YORK: Rudy Giuliani sought to discredit the federal investigation into his dealings in Ukraine on Thursday, a day after agents raided his home and office.
Giuliani said the 6am search, which he said involved seven FBI agents, was unnecessary because he offered for two years to provide federal prosecutors his electronic devices and to “talk it over with them.”
“They won’t explain to me what they’re looking into for two years,” Giuliani said in an evening appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, has previously said proposed meetings between investigators and Giuliani’s legal team didn’t take place because prosecutors wouldn’t agree to a precondition that they first disclose more about the probe.
It would be rare for prosecutors to give up detailed information to a potential criminal defendant before charges are filed, or to rely on that person to voluntarily produce electronic files thought to contain incriminating evidence.
The federal probe is examining Giuliani’s interactions with Ukrainian figures and whether he violated a federal law that governs lobbying on behalf of foreign countries or entities.
Giuliani, the Republican former mayor of New York City, has insisted that all of his activities in Ukraine were conducted on behalf of former President Donald Trump. At the time, Giuliani was leading a campaign to press Ukraine for an investigation into President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
But some Ukrainians who were in contact with Giuliani have said in interviews that they also hoped he could help them on matters in the US, including arranging meetings with the US attorney general and ousting the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
The search warrants for Giuliani’s electronic devices were approved by a federal judge. The agents who banged on his door this week took “seven or eight electronic items of mine and two of someone else’s,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani said Thursday that federal prosecutors told his attorney they had accessed materials from his iCloud as early as 2019.
“In the middle of the impeachment defense, they invaded, without telling me, my iCloud,” he told Carlson, without providing details.
Earlier in the day, Giuliani made his first public comments since the raid on his daily talk show on WABC Radio. On the air, he referred to prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which he used to run, as unaccomplished “bullies.”
“You’re not going to stop me,” he said on the program. “And you’re not going to convict me of some phony crime.”
He then ticked off a list of his own accomplishments as the US attorney in Manhattan in the 1980s, including prosecutions of mob figures and Wall Street fraudsters, and bashed the current prosecution team as having done nothing comparable.
“What have they done? Nothing, except come after me … at six o’clock in the morning with a piece of nonsense. No wonder they’re jealous,” Giuliani said.
The US attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.
In the decades since Giuliani left, the office has handled some of the nation’s most high-profile prosecutions, convicting global drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, Wall Street scammers and terrorists including the men behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday on CNN that the White House was given no heads’ up on the fact the raid was coming. The Justice Department, she said, “is independent now. They’re gonna make their own decisions, take their own actions. That’s how the president wants it.”
Trump told Fox Business on Thursday that Giuliani was “the greatest mayor in the history of New York” and “a great patriot.”
“It’s very, very unfair,” he said of what happened Wednesday. “Rudy loves this country so much, it is so terrible when you see things that are going on in our country with the corruption and the problems and then they go after Rudy Giuliani.”

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