Science

Google to ‘de-rank’ stories from Russia Today and Sputnik

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Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, Mr Schmidt singled out the two sites saying: “We’re well aware of this one, and we’re working on detecting this kind of scenario you’re describing and deranking those kinds of sites.

“I am strongly not in favour of censorship. I am very strongly in favour of ranking. It’s what we do.

“It’s a very legitimate question as to how we rank, A or B, right? And we do the best we can in millions and millions of rankings every day”.

Mr Schmidt did not reveal when the change to the search engine’s algorithm would be made.

The search engine is constantly alert to threats from organisations seeking to manipulate the news agenda with new tools, he added.

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Bashar al-Assad thanks Putin for ‘saving our country’ as Russian leader prepares for talks on ending Syrian war

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Bashar al-Assad has thanked Vladimir Putin and the Russian military for helping to save his country as the Russian president prepared to host the leaders of Iran and Turkey for high-level talks about ending the Syrian war. 

Mr Assad made a secret visit to Sochi on Monday, only his second trip outside of Syria since 2011, and met with Mr Putin for three hours to discuss a potential political settlement for Syria’s future.  

The Russian and Syrian leaders struck triumphant note as they assessed that the Syrian regime was moving “towards the final and inevitable defeat” of the Islamic State (Isil) and Syrian rebel groups. 

“I have conveyed to [Mr Putin], and on his behalf to the Russian people, our gratitude for Russia’s efforts to save our country,” said Mr Assad as he met with Russian generals,

“In the name of the Syrian people, I greet you and thank you all, every Russian officer, fighter and pilot that took part in this war.”

Mr Putin ordered Russian forces to intervene in Syria on Mr Assad’s behalf in late 2015. Over the course of two years of fighting, Russian forces and their Iranian allies have swung the tide of war decisively in Mr Assad’s favour. 

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Report of ‘extremely high’ radioactive pollution suggests nuclear cloud came from Russia

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Russia’s meteorological service has reported “extremely high pollution” of a radioactive isotope in the Urals near a facility that previously suffered the third worst nuclear catastrophe in history.

The news bolsters international reports that a ruthenium-106 leak originating in the Urals sent a radioactive cloud over Europe.  Greenpeace Russia has said it will ask the prosecutor general to investigate the possible cover-up of a nuclear accident.

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear company, said in a statement to The Telegraph on Tuesday there had been “no unreported accidents” and the ruthenium-106 emission was “not linked to any Rosatom site”. Its Mayak facility, where an explosion in 1957 contaminated a swath of central Russia, told state news agency RIA Novosti that it had not processed nuclear fuel with ruthenium-106 this year. 

The isotope, which doesn’t occur naturally, was detected in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland in late September. France’s nuclear safety institute said the “major” radiation leak likely occurred between the Urals and the Volga river. 

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Decision to scrap wind farm on First World War battlefield welcomed as ‘wonderful news for every Australian’

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Australia has welcomed as “very touching” the scrapping of a planned French wind farm on the site of a World War I battlefield where thousands of the country’s soldiers died alongside their British comrades.

French company Engie Green had planned to erect two turbines on the grounds of the former Bullecourt killing fields in northern France, where some 10,000 Australians were killed or wounded in 1917.

It marks one of the most significant sites in Australian military history.

Nearly 9,000 British troops were also killed, injured or captured. Of the tens of thousands of British, Australian and German soldiers who died there, it is believed the remains of 3,000 to 4,000 were never recovered.

The planned site for the wind farm is a natural burial ground near the Bullecourt memorial that is visited regularly by Australian families.

“This is wonderful news for every Australian and especially those with a family connection to the Battle of Bullecourt,” veterans’ affairs minister Dan Tehan said in a statement.

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Russia denies nuclear accident after radioactive traces found

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Map highlighting Russia and Kazakhstan, with location of the Mayak nuclear facility

Russia says a nuclear accident has not occurred on its territory despite “extremely high” traces of a radioactive isotope being found.

Russia’s weather service acknowledged it had measured pollution of ruthenium-106 at 1,000 times normal levels in the Ural mountains.

It said there was no health risk.

The announcement appeared to confirm a report by France’s nuclear safety institute which detected a cloud of radioactive pollution over Europe.

The Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said on 9 November it had detected ruthenium-106 in France. It added that the source of contamination could have been an accident at a nuclear facility in either Russia or Kazakhstan.

Both countries said nothing untoward had happened at their plants.

The report by the Russian meteorological service, Roshydrome, is the first official data from the country supporting the French report.

Roshydrome said two stations in the southern Ural mountains found “extremely high pollution” of the radioactive isotope between September and October.

A station close to the Mayak nuclear facility in Chelyabinsk region indicated levels 986 times those of the previous month, it said, without specifying the origins of the pollution.

Mayak, owned by state nuclear company Rosatom, is a large plant that reprocesses nuclear fuel. It said it was not the source of the increased level of ruthenium-106 while Rosatom said there were no accidents at any of its facilities.

The Mayak plant was the scene of a major nuclear accident in 1957, when a waste storage facility blew up.

Ruthenium-106 is a product of splitting atoms in a reactor and does not occur naturally. It is also used in some medical treatments.

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Michael Gove needs to ‘get his house in order’ as Defra’s plastic waste is revealed

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Michael Gove’s department has pledged to crackdown on waste after it was revealed it gets through 1,400 disposable cups a day.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has purchased 2.5million disposable coffee cups – which contain plastic – over the past five years.

The figures emerged after Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, said he was “haunted” by the programme Blue Planet, which showed footage of the impact of plastic on the oceans.

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National Lottery players could win £10,000 a month for life

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Lottery players could soon win a new prize which provides £10,000 a month for life under plans by the operator of the National Lottery, Camelot, to increase ticket sales.

Instead of winning a lump sum, those taking part in the new game could win a monthly lifetime income payment of as much as £10,000 until they die. 

Camelot said it was testing a number of options for changes next year to its best-selling game to give players “a better winning experience”, all of which could be introduced without needing to change the “price or number matrix”.

It announced the changes alongside a 3.2 per cent drop in overall ticket sales on last year’s first-half performance to £3.2 billion for the six months to September 23.

It follows total ticket sales falling 8.8 per cent to £6.9billion for 2016/17 from a record £7.5 billion the previous year.

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Zimbabwe parliament starts impeachment of Robert Mugabe ‘for falling asleep in meetings’ 

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Zimbabwe’s parliament opened a session to begin impeachment proceedings against President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday as ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who could be the country’s next leader, told him to step down.

Zanu PF, the ruling party, tabled a no-confidence motion urging parliament to remove Mr Mugabe from office for a string of offenses including falling asleep in meetings and allowing his wife to “usurp” presidential powers. 

“We have seen the president sleeping in Cabinet and international meetings to the horror, shame and consternation of Zimbabweans,” reads the motion, which was seconded by the parliamentary leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. 

Mr Mugabe also is accused of allowing Grace Mugabe, the first lade, to threaten to kill Mr Mnangagwa. 

A joint session of both houses of parliament must now appoint a committee to investigate the claims and report back on whether or not a vote of no confidence will follow. 

Further street protests have been called in Harare, raising fears that the political turmoil could spill over into violence.

Mr Mugabe also suffered humiliation on Tuesday when almost no government ministers heeded his call to attend a cabinet meeting at his State House residence, official media reported.

The snub piled pressure on the embattled president after Mr Mnangagwa, the vice president whose removal by Mr Mugabe sparked the military intervention last week, said he would consider returning to Zimbabwe if his safety was guaranteed.

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Britain’s ‘oldest supermarket worker’ dies weeks after finally retiring, aged 94   

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A former Sainsbury’s employee, who was believed to have been the oldest supermarket worker in Britain, has died weeks after finally retiring at the age of 94.

Reg Buttress was a well-known face at the supermarket in Cwmbran, South Wales, where he had worked since 1981, when he was 59 .

He had tried to retire once when turning 65 but had returned to work six weeks later saying that he had felt “lost without a job”.

The former colliery worker held a number of different roles at the supermarket including stacking shelves, pricing items and helping customers.

Mr Buttress finally retired from the supermarket in September and today Sainsbury’s confirmed that he had passed away. 

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Wage theft ‘endemic’ among exploited backpackers in Australia

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Backpackers and international students in Australia are being drastically underpaid and subject to “endemic” exploitation, according to a landmark study which found that about two-thirds of holidaymakers received less than the minimum wage.

The study, based on a survey of 4,322 working visitors to Australia, found that the jobs least likely to be properly paid were waiters, kitchen hands, farm workers, fruit pickers and cleaners. It found 32 per cent of backpackers were paid less than $AU12 (£6.90) an hour, compared with a minimum rate for casuals of about $AU22  (£12.60).

“The study confirms that wage theft is endemic among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants in Australia,” says the study. “For a substantial number of temporary migrants, it is also severe.”

The study, by researchers at the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney,  follows numerous reports of slave-like treatment of temporary workers in Australia, many of whom fear a backlash if they complain. A national inquiry last year found that some backpackers had been sexually harassed or were forced to do difficult physical labour in scorching temperatures without being paid properly, if at all.

The latest study surveyed visitors from 107 countries, with 15 per cent from China, eight per cent from South Korea and six per cent each from Britain and Germany.

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