Science

Zimbabwe coup: Robert Mugabe and wife Grace ‘insisting he finishes his term’, as priest steps in to mediate

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and two key figures from her G40 political faction are under house arrest at Mugabe’s “Blue House” compound in Harare and are insisting the 93 year-old finishes his presidential term, a source said.

The G40 figures are cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, who fled to the compound after their homes were attacked by troops in Tuesday night’s coup, the source, who said he had spoken to people inside the compound, told Reuters.

Mr Mugabe is resisting mediation by a Catholic priest to allow the former guerrilla a graceful exit after the military takeover.

The priest, Fidelis Mukonori, is acting as a middle-man between Mr Mugabe and the generals, who seized power in a targeted operation against “criminals” in his entourage, a senior political source told Reuters.

The source could not provide details of the talks, which appear to be aimed at a smooth and bloodless transition after the departure of Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Mr Mugabe, still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.

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Sikh volunteers give aid to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma  

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A team of Sikh volunteers are providing aid to some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence in Burma (Myanmar).

Khalsa Aid, a UK-based international humanitarian relief organisation, have been helping refugees as they cross into neighbouring Bangladesh, where thousands are already living in overcrowded camps.

They were one of the first international organisations to reach the Bangladesh / Myanmar border in September, where refugees from the stateless minority have been waiting in lines stretching for kilometres across muddy rice fields.

The volunteers are returning next week to progress the project and focus on providing food and sanitation.

Volunteer Jeevanjot Singh, from the Indian branch of the organisation, was pictured sharing his last bottle of water with Rohingya refugees, who are described as the “world’s most persecuted minority”.

“We had come prepared for providing relief to some 50,000 people, but there are more than three lakh (300,000) here,” Amarpreet Singh, director of Khalsa Aid India, previously told The Indian Express.

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‘Routine’ detection of space ripples

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Graphic of black holes
Image caption Comparison of black hole mergers seen by the laser interferometers. LVT151012 probably was a real event but it did not have the required confidence to be fully declared a formal detection

Gravitational waves have been picked up from another black hole merger.

It is the fifth time such an event has been validated, and the sixth occasion overall that ripples in space-time have been detected from far-off phenomena.

The LIGO-VIRGO collaboration, whose laser labs sense the waves, issued the news via a simple press release.

Previous events have had the fanfare of major international media briefings, which suggests the detections are almost now being seen as routine.

That in itself should be regarded as remarkable.

For decades, science chased the possibility that these very subtle signals might be observable, with a good many people doubting it would ever be achieved.

So to have arrived at a situation where the astonishing accomplishment is bordering on the ordinary is noteworthy in itself.

“I think we feel now that with the black hole binaries – unless we come across something that is qualitatively different then it really has started to become cataloguing if you like,” commented Prof Ken Strain, a collaboration member from Glasgow University, UK.

The new merger was picked up on 8 June by two of the three laser interferometer labs in the collaboration – the LIGO facilities in the US states of Washington and Louisiana.

The third station, the Italian VIRGO establishment near Pisa, was still being commissioned and therefore gathered no data.

But the LIGO pair were able to sense two objects, with masses about seven and 12 times that of our Sun, colliding at a distance of about a billion light-years from Earth.

The result was a black hole roughly 18 times as massive as our Sun, meaning energy equivalent to one solar mass was radiated across space in the form of gravitational waves.

It is the lightest merger of the five black hole binaries sensed so far and assumes the catalogue number GW170608.

A minimum of two labs must detect an event for it to be validated, and this observation was somewhat fortuitous in that one of the US labs was just returning to observations from a period of maintenance when the trigger occurred.

The absence of VIRGO’s involvement this time meant a tight triangulation of the location on the sky of the collision was not possible.


Gravitational waves – Ripples in the fabric of space-time

Image copyrightSPL
Image caption Artwork: Black hole merger generates gravitational waves
  • Gravitational waves are a prediction of the Theory of General Relativity
  • It took decades to develop the technology to directly detect them
  • They are ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by violent events
  • Accelerating masses will produce waves that propagate at the speed of light
  • Detectable sources ought to include merging black holes and neutron stars
  • LIGO/VIRGO fire precision lasers into long, L-shaped tunnels
  • The beams sense the way the waves stretch and squeeze the tunnels
  • Detecting the ripples opens up the Universe to completely new investigations

The very first gravitational waves detection was made in September 2015. All observations since have also been black hole mergers, apart from the event picked up on 17 August this year.

That was a collision of two neutron stars – the compact, rapidly rotating remnants from exploded stars (supernovas).

All the labs are now offline for improvements. They should come back online next October with the ability to sense twice the distance, with hopefully therefore eight times the detection rate.

“Roughly speaking that means that instead of one event a month, we should see perhaps two a week,” said Prof Strain. “Those would be ‘candidates’ that would have to be followed up and confirmed. That’s the broad expectation but it depends on the upgrades going as planned.”

Interesting targets not yet observed, but which should trigger the laser interferometers, include the supernova explosions themselves and “lopsided” neutron stars.

The latter is a particularly fascinating possibility. Neutron stars are expected to be nearly perfectly spherical, but if they have tiny “mountains” on their surfaces they ought to generate gravitational waves as they spin.

“One day we will find one of these pulsars (a special class of neutron star) where we actually see the gravitational wave signal synchronised to the rotation rate of the pulsar because this mountain, which may be a millimetre or so high, is going around and around,” Prof Strain told BBC News.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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Lord Blunkett ‘heartbroken’ over death of beloved guide dog Cosby

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Lord David Blunkett has spoken of his sorrow over the loss of his guide dog, who was put to sleep on Friday last week after vets found an inoperable tumour on his liver.

Seven-year-old Cosby had been his faithful companion since 2011, and was a regular sight around Westminster.

The former Sheffield MP, who lives in the Derbyshire Peak District, wrote in the Mail that the decision to have him put down was “heartbreaking.”

“Big, lovable and endearing” Cosby was Lord Blunkett’s sixth guide dog, following Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy and Sadie, since he qualified for one in 1969.

Because of the sudden and unexpected death, the Lord may have to wait six months to get a new dog to guide him around.

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Baby boomers are living in a different world when they say UK doesn’t need more homes, says Sajid Javid, as he hints at Budget pledge on housing

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It is “nonsense” for baby boomers to suggest millennials are unable to afford homes because they spend too much on “smashed avocado”, Sajid Javid has said, as he suggested next week’s Budget will pledge new action to tackle the housing crisis. 

The Communities Secretary hit out at home owners who have paid off their own mortgages and suggested that they should not be allowed to get in the way of the construction of homes for a younger generation “crying out for help with housing”.

He said baby boomers “are living in a different world” when they suggest Britain doesn’t need to build more homes.  

Speaking in Bristol he said: “They aren’t facing to the reality of modern day life and they have no understanding of the modern market.” 

Mr Javid also said next week’s Budget will show “just how seriously we are willing to fight to get Britain building”, just 24 hours after Philip Hammond warned there was no “silver bullet” to fix the crisis.

The Secretary of State hit out at baby boomers after an Australian millionaire suggested young people would be able to get a foot on the property ladder if they stopped eating avocado on toast. 

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Gay Times editor sacked after anti-Semitic and sexist tweets discovered 

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Mr Rivers was appointed editor of the magazine last month, and would have been the UK’s first non-white editor of a gay men’s magazine. 

Announcing his appointment at the end of last month the magazine said choosing Mr Rivers, a former marketing manager, was a “strategic move to best serve the magazine’s diverse and culturally inquisitive audience”.

The tweets were discovered by Buzzfeed News, which put them to Mr Rivers in an interview to mark his appointment. 

In response he apologised and said they showed “self-loathing, a complete unawareness of the world around me and a disregard for others that I find deeply upsetting”. 

Mr Rivers later posted a statement on the social network calling the tweets “abhorrent”, “ugly” and “hateful”. 

“I hope we can use this as an opportunity for growth, for healing, for moving forward,” he added. 

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Gal Gadot confirms producer Brett Ratner dropped from Wonder Woman sequel after sexual harassment allegations

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Gal Gadot has confirmed producer Brett Ratner has been dropped from the sequel of Wonder Woman, after she reportedly threatened not to take part.

The producer has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment, so the star of the franchise said she would not be in the next Wonder Woman movie if he was still a part of it.

Gadot said she is opposed to Ratner benefiting from her work because of the sexual misconduct accusations.

On NBC’s Today show, she confirmed he had been dropped.

Asked about the initial claims, Gadot replied: “The truth is, there’s so many people involved in making this movie, it’s not just me, and they all echoed the same sentiments. 

“Everyone knew what was the right thing to do.”

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Rolf Harris has one of 12 indecent assault convictions quashed on appeal

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Rolf Harris, the disgraced entertainer, has had one of 12 indecent assault convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Three judges in London ruled that the conviction was “unsafe”, but rejected applications by the 87-year-old, from Bray, Berkshire, to challenge 11 other indecent assault convictions.

Lord Justice Treacy, Mrs Justice McGowan and the Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, announced their decision on Thursday morning.

The artist and musician was convicted of 12 indecent assaults at London’s Southwark Crown Court in June 2014, one on an eight-year-old autograph hunter, two on girls in their early teens, and a catalogue of abuse against his daughter’s friend over 16 years.

Harris, a family favourite for decades, was jailed for five years and nine months after being convicted of assaults which took place between 1968 and 1986.

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Epic India leopard rescue photo wins award five years later

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A leopard, perched on a bed in a well, looks up at its rescuers in July 2012Image copyrightAnand Bora/Sanctuary Nature Foundation
Image caption Villagers and forest guards rescued the leopard by dropping a bed into the well and then pulling it out

Around 8 am on July 19, 2012, Anand Bora received a phone call saying a leopard was trapped in a well in a nearby tribal village in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

Mr Bora was used to these phone calls – a teacher by profession, he is also a wildlife photographer who has documented several rescue missions carried out by forest officers.

He rushed to the village, Bubali, and photographed the three-and-half-hour long effort to save the tired and terrified animal from drowning.

One of those photos, where the leopard looks up at its rescuers mid-way through the effort, won a prominent wildlife photography award in India last week, prompting questions about the story behind the image.

The five-year-old image stands out now amid rising incidents of animal-human conflict in India.

“When it looked up, it seemed to sense that we wouldn’t hurt it, that we were trying to help,” Mr Bora recalled in an interview with the BBC.

A leopard was tranquilised and then pulled out of a well with a net in Nashik in December 2010Image copyrightAnand Bora
Image caption Leopards are often tranquilised and caught in nets so they can later be released back into the wild

When the forest officers arrived, villagers told them the leopard had been swimming for the last 25 hours to stay afloat.

It was raining and the villagers had been diverting the rainwater to the well, thinking the leopard could swim to the top if the water level rose.

“We told them that the animal would drown in that time,” Suresh Wadekar, a senior forest officer, who supervised the rescue effort, told the BBC.

Instead, Mr Wadekar decided to let the leopard rest because he noticed that it was “breathing heavily”.

So with the villagers’ help, the officers lowered a wooden plank with two large tyres tied to it into the well. Once the leopard stepped on to the plank, some of them held it steady while the others went looking for a “charpoy”, a sturdy woven bed on wooden legs.

The leopard rested about an hour-and-half before they lowered the bed into the well. The leopard immediately jumped off the plank and on to the bed, Mr Bora said.

“When they pulled the bed all the way up, it stayed on the bed as it glanced around at the people who had gathered,” he added. “Then it suddenly leapt over the rim of the well and ran into the forest. It all happened in seconds.”

Hyenas, foxes and leopards often stray into sugarcane fields in the district while chasing prey or searching for water, and fall into wells or are trapped in other ways.

Mr Bora says he has photographed more than 100 rescue operations, including some that involved Eurasian eagle owls. One owl, which lost a wing in a fight with a crow, had to be treated for months before it could be released back into the wild.

A Eurasian owl rescued in August 2012 catches a mouse in it's beakImage copyrightAnand Bora
Image caption An injured Eurasian eagle owl was treated for two months and fed mice

Mr Bora, who has shot several efforts to rescue leopards, says the mission in Bubali was unusual because the villagers didn’t demand that the animal be tranquilised.

He remembered another instance where a leopard was trapped in a well and villagers threatened to hurt forest officers if they did not tranquilise it and take it with them.

“There was no pressure this time,” he said. Although many villagers were present during the effort in Bubali, Mr Bora said they remained calm and stayed away from the well because Mr Wadekar was concerned that the crowd would agitate the leopard.

Mr Wadekar, who has rescued leopards 137 times over 20 years, said he has used a tranquiliser in more than 100 of those operations. He believes that since this was a tribal village, they were more “accepting” of the animal’s presence.

Forest officers rescue a hyena stuck in a well in 2013 in Nashik's Yevala villageImage copyrightAnand Bora
Image caption Mr Bora says he has photographed more than 100 rescue operations

But not all human encounters with leopards end like this. A leopard died when it was set on fire by a mob hours after it had killed a girl in November 2016.

A leopard also injured six people in a school in the Indian city of Bangalore . It was eventually tranquillised and released.

This year alone, Mr Wadekar said, two children were killed by leopards in Nashik. But villagers never caught the animals.

“You have to create awareness,” Mr Wadekar said. “These killings are an accident. They don’t prey on humans.”

But instances of human-animal conflict have been increasing in India, where shrinking animal habitats often drive elephants, tigers and leopards into residential areas.

Conservationists too have warned that such violent confrontations with animals are likely to increase.

Leopards are a protected species in India and all international commercial trade in their body parts is banned.

Wildlife experts say there are no reliable population estimates of these big cats in India, but a recent wildlife census estimated a leopard population of between 12,000 and 14,000.

All photos by Anand Bora

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Mystery of Lebanon’s runaway premier deepens as he accepts invitation from France

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Lebanon’s runaway prime minister will leave Saudi Arabia for France in the coming days, it was reported on Thursday, deepening the mystery of his future after his surprise resignation.

Emmanuel Macron, French President, invited Saad Hariri and his family to France, but said he was not offering political exile.

The premier, who has not returned to Lebanon since announcing his resignation in a televised statement from Riyadh two weeks ago, will reportedly travel to Paris in the next two days before travelling on to the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s President, had said he would refuse to accept the resignation until Mr Hariri tendered it in person, accusing Saudi Arabia of coercing him into the decision and then detaining him against his will. 

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