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Assad assistera au sommet de la Ligue arabe en Arabie saoudite

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Le président syrien Bashar al-Assad participera vendredi à un sommet de la Ligue arabe en Arabie saoudite, a déclaré son chef de la diplomatie, une première en plus d’une décennie de guerre et d’isolement régional.

“Il viendra assister à ce sommet”, a déclaré mercredi le ministre syrien des Affaires étrangères Faisal Mekdad à la télévision libanaise Al-Jadeed, interrogé sur la présence d’Assad, s’exprimant en marge d’une réunion des ministres arabes des Affaires étrangères à Djeddah.

Le sommet de cette année marquera la réadmission de la Syrie déchirée par la guerre dans la ligue des 22 membres après une suspension de 12 ans.

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L’adhésion de la Syrie a été gelée à la suite de la répression brutale d’Assad contre les manifestations de masse de 2011 contre son régime. Le pays a rapidement sombré dans une guerre civile qui a tué près d’un demi-million de personnes et déplacé la moitié de la population d’avant-guerre du pays de 23 millions.

Le ministre saoudien des Affaires étrangères, le prince Faisal bin Farhan, a déclaré mercredi que la région était à la croisée des chemins, confrontée à une multitude de défis. Il a appelé à la coopération entre les pays arabes pour parvenir à la sécurité, à la stabilité et à la prospérité économique.

Bin Farhan a également salué le retour de la Syrie, tout comme le secrétaire général de la ligue Ahmed Aboul Gheit et le ministre algérien des Affaires étrangères Ahmed Attaf.

Le ministre syrien des Affaires étrangères Mekdad a tenu cette semaine des réunions bilatérales dans le royaume avec plusieurs de ses homologues alors que Damas continue de lancer un appel pour des investissements indispensables dans le pays déchiré par la guerre – paralysé par le conflit et les sanctions occidentales – et a décidé de rétablir les liens avec l’Arabie saoudite. Arabie, Jordanie, Égypte et Irak.

Après la réunion, Mekdad a déclaré aux journalistes qu’il espérait que les gouvernements arabes aideraient à la reconstruction et au retour des réfugiés syriens.

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Scepticisme

Le retour de la Syrie dans le giron arabe intervient alors que Damas tente également de modifier ses relations avec la Turquie, l’un des principaux soutiens des groupes armés d’opposition syriens dans le nord-ouest du pays.

Mais quelques pays arabes restent sceptiques quant au retour de la Syrie dans le championnat, principalement le Qatar.

Le chef de la diplomatie qatarie, le cheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a déclaré mercredi que son pays s’oppose au retour de la Syrie mais qu’il ne veut pas s’opposer « au consensus arabe ». Chaque pays arabe, cependant, peut unilatéralement normaliser ses relations avec la Syrie, a-t-il déclaré.

Pour que cela se produise du point de vue du Qatar, la Syrie doit passer par « une solution juste et globale » à son conflit, a ajouté Cheikh Mohammed.

Le sommet intervient également alors que les gouvernements arabes se bousculent pour résoudre le conflit au Soudan entre l’armée, dirigée par le général Abdel Fattah Burhan, et les Forces de soutien rapide paramilitaires rivales, commandées par Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Les combats dans ce pays d’Afrique de l’Est, qui ont éclaté à la mi-avril, ont fait plus de 600 morts et déplacé des dizaines de milliers de personnes.

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Lors de la réunion de mercredi, de hauts diplomates d’Arabie saoudite, d’Égypte et d’Algérie ont appelé à un cessez-le-feu au Soudan et à la fin de l’escalade de la violence en Israël et dans les territoires palestiniens.

(FRANCE 24 avec AP, AFP)

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Police arrest more than 60 at farmers’ protest on the Champs-Élysées in Paris

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French police said Friday they had arrested 66 people at a farmers’ protest on the Champs-Elysees in central Paris that blocked traffic during the morning rush hour.

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Using tractors and bales of hay, farmers briefly brought traffic to a halt on the famed avenue near the Arc de Triomphe monument, only a short distance from President Emmanuel Macron’s office, the Elysee.

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The protesters, who held up banners on the avenue, said their action was aimed “at saving French agriculture”.

Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks over what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union and low incomes.

Farmer Axel Masson said about 100 of his peers had gathered at the arterial roundabout from 3:00 am (0200 GMT) “in a peaceful and law-abiding manner”. 

Some of the protesters handed out bags of potatoes to motorists stuck in crawling traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, AFP reporters at the scene said.

Several were seen chatting with police officers before the arrests.

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“The Rural Coordination takes over the Arc de Triomphe symbolically and peacefully,” the farmers’ union said earlier in a statement on social media platform X, adding that it was a cry to “save” agriculture in France.

It said it “wants quick action to save 45 percent of our farms which are in financial distress”.

Masson said the farmers laid a wreath in memory of their colleagues who had been driven to suicide by financial woes, adding: “The state has never heard us”.

French farmers have continued to block roads, set fire to tyres and lay siege to supermarkets, saying they need more measures, even after the government promised reforms. 

(AFP) 

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House prices rose in February, says Nationwide: Annual growth up for first time in 13 months

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Property prices rose in February due to lower mortgage rates, according to the latest Nationwide house price index.

Britain’s biggest building society recorded a 0.7 per cent increase in the average house price after taking account of seasonal effects.

It means house prices are up 1.2 per cent since this time last year, the first time Nationwide has recorded a positive annual reading since January 2023.

But prices are still around 3 per cent below the all-time highs recorded in the summer of 2022.

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Yearly rise: Nationwide recorded a year-on-year house price rise for the first time in 13 months

Yearly rise: Nationwide recorded a year-on-year house price rise for the first time in 13 months

Yearly rise: Nationwide recorded a year-on-year house price rise for the first time in 13 months

Average house prices hit a high of £273,751 in August 2022, according to Nationwide. They are currently at £260,420 as of February. 

The recent uptick in prices is being put down to lower mortgage rates. Although rates went up last month, this came after five consecutive months in which mortgage rates fell.

The average two-year fix has fallen from a high of 6.86 per cent to 5.75 per cent, according to Moneyfacts, while the average five-year fix has fallen from a high of 6.37 per cent to 5.33 per cent.

For home buyers with the biggest deposits, it is now possible to secure a five year fix at 4.09 per cent and a two-year fix at 4.39 per cent.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist said: ‘The decline in borrowing costs around the turn of the year appears to have prompted an uptick in the housing market. 

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‘Indeed, industry data sources point to a noticeable increase in mortgage applications at the start of the year, while surveyors also reported a rise in new buyer enquiries.’

More affordable? Mortgage rates have fallen from the highs recorded in summer 2023

More affordable? Mortgage rates have fallen from the highs recorded in summer 2023

More affordable? Mortgage rates have fallen from the highs recorded in summer 2023

Yesterday, Zoopla’s house price index reported an uptick in the number of buyers and sellers in the market which resulted in more sales during the start of 2024.

Many across the property sector have welcomed Nationwide’s figures as evidence that the property market is rallying.

Nicky Stevenson, managing director at national estate agent group Fine & Country said: ‘Positive signs for the property market are turning from a trickle to a flood this year, with annual house price change increasing for the first time in 13 months.

‘Demand is building as lower mortgage rates have encouraged buyers to restart their property search, and plunging inflation suggests better news is to come.

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‘We’re heading into one of the prime seasons for home sales, and sellers should look at this as a great time to get their home on the market.’

Warming up? Zoopla reported that buyer demand is 11% higher than a year ago, while the number of agreed sales is up 15% year-on-year

Warming up? Zoopla reported that buyer demand is 11% higher than a year ago, while the number of agreed sales is up 15% year-on-year

Warming up? Zoopla reported that buyer demand is 11% higher than a year ago, while the number of agreed sales is up 15% year-on-year

Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of Garrington Property Finders, added: ‘It’s a bounce back, not a blip. Nationwide’s data shows house prices have risen in four out of the past five months, and the upward momentum is now so strong that prices are up on this time last year.

‘Crucially the market has also become more free-flowing. For sale signs are starting to sprout from homes across the country, and estate agents report a steady uptick in interest from both buyers and sellers.

‘Increasing numbers of buyers who sat on their hands last year are deciding that now is the time to strike, before prices start to accelerate upwards.’

Rising: But Nationwide says house prices remain around 3% below the all time highs recorded in the summer of 2022

Rising: But Nationwide says house prices remain around 3% below the all time highs recorded in the summer of 2022

Rising: But Nationwide says house prices remain around 3% below the all time highs recorded in the summer of 2022

Further rises ‘will depend on mortgage rates’ 

Nationwide’s chief economist had a word of caution over future interest rates.

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‘Near-term prospects remain highly uncertain in part due to ongoing uncertainty about the future path of interest rates. 

‘Borrowing costs remain well below the highs recorded last summer but, if the recent upward trend is sustained, it threatens to restrain the pace of any housing market recovery.’

While house price indexes show the general trend across the country, the picture varies depending on where you live in the UK.  

Nationwide’s house price index relates to its own approved mortgage applications and therefore doesn’t include cash buyers or mortgage data from other lenders. 

Another lender which also tracks house prices based on its own mortgage applications is Halifax. It said that average prices rose by 2.5 per cent in the 12 months to January.

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The house price figures from the ONS are widely viewed as the most comprehensive and accurate index. This is because the report by the UK’s official statisticians uses Land Registry data and is based on average sold prices. 

However, property transactions often take months to complete, meaning the ONS figures don’t necessarily reflect what is happening in the housing market right now. 

Earlier this month, the ONS revealed the average UK house price slipped 1.4 per cent in the year to December 2023.

Another monthly index comes from Rightmove. This tracks newly listed asking prices each month, which can give a more immediate picture of what is happening in the market, but doesn’t measure what houses are ultimately selling for.

Rightmove reported average asking prices rose by 0.9 per cent in February to £362,839, according to the latest data from the firm, following a 1.3 per cent rise in January.

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In-flight theft: Is it on the rise, how can you avoid having your valuables pilfered mid-flight, and what should you do if you get robbed on a plane?

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Is airline theft on the rise? The simplest answer is we don’t know.

Airlines don’t divulge their statistics on in-flight theft. However, recent events have bought the issue into the headlines.

In December 2023 a man was charged with stealing USD $23,000 (£18,200) cash from three fellow passengers on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore, while in October police arrested a man en route from Taipei to Tokyo suspected of serial in-flight thefts.

Do these high-profile cases correlate to an overall increase in light-fingered passengers in-flight?

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Not necessarily, according to Jonathan Frankham, General Manager UK at World Nomads Travel Insurance. However, they do provide a reminder to be careful with your belongings on a flight.

While there are no concrete statistics for in-flight theft to indicate whether or not they are on the rise, several high-profile cases recently have brought the issue into the headlines

While there are no concrete statistics for in-flight theft to indicate whether or not they are on the rise, several high-profile cases recently have brought the issue into the headlines

While there are no concrete statistics for in-flight theft to indicate whether or not they are on the rise, several high-profile cases recently have brought the issue into the headlines

Jonathan said: ‘While we’ve observed no discernible trend in claims submitted to suggest in-flight luggage theft is historically prevalent or on the rise in recent years, it’s still crucial to be vigilant and take steps to ensure the security of possessions and important documents.’

Most people have multiple high-value items on them when flying. In addition to a wallet and phone, it’s not unusual to be carrying a passport, laptop, cash, and maybe a camera or other valuables. This, Jonathan warns, can provide easy pickings for thieves.

He said: ‘It’s a calculated gamble on the part [of the thieves], exploiting travellers’ sense of security once snugly seated on board. Yet, it’s during these moments – the buzz of mealtimes, the dimming of lights, or those quick dashes to the loo – that thieves might try their luck.’

In the case of the Tokyo arrest, reports said the 51-year-old suspect would pretend to be checking his own luggage in the overhead compartment, but instead stealing US dollars, Euros, and Yen from fellow travellers’ bags. The cash was swapped with lower-value small denomination Cambodian riel or Indonesian rupiah, to maintain the wallets’ weights and sizes.

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It’s not just cash or valuables that can be targeted. Passports continue to fetch a sizeable price on the black market.

So, how do you ensure you don’t become a target for plane-based pilfering?

Pack smartly and keep your valuables on you

Avoid leaving high-value items such as passports, cash, or phones unattended

Avoid leaving high-value items such as passports, cash, or phones unattended

Avoid leaving high-value items such as passports, cash, or phones unattended 

This is your first line of defence. Jonathan said: ‘Packing smartly is crucial. Opt for a sturdy backpack, preferably one that can be securely locked and marked with colourful zip ties for easy identification. [If] the zip tie is missing or tampered with, it’s important to alert a staff member immediately.

‘Store larger bags in overhead lockers to keep them safe. If the space is available, it can be useful to place them across the aisle so you can easily see if anyone is foraging through them who shouldn’t be.’

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For high-value items like passports, cash, and phones, Jonathan advised: ‘The best practice is to use a secure waist pouch or carry them in your pocket. Avoid leaving them unattended altogether and always keep them in sight. This not only minimises the risk of theft but also ensures that insurance claims are not negatively impacted due to negligence.’

What should travellers do if they fall victim to inflight thefts?

Report the incident to the airline as soon as you realise something is missing, in accordance with the Montreal Convention’s guidelines.

Jonathan explained: ‘This international treaty requires airlines to offer compensation for lost or damaged luggage on international flights. Although the treaty’s stance on stolen luggage is less explicit, it’s crucial to notify the airline as soon as possible.

‘Secondly, travellers should obtain all necessary documentation to support their case. This includes requesting a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) from the airline. Additionally, it’s vital to keep all related documents such as tickets, luggage tags, and receipts for any emergency purchases, as these form an essential part of any subsequent insurance claims.

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‘It’s important to also involve the local police. Reporting the theft to the police and securing a police report is a critical step, as it provides official documentation of the theft, which is often necessary for insurance claims.’

What should travellers do if they need to make an insurance claim?

Mealtimes, sleeping, or trips to the toilet offer opportunistic thieves the perfect time to strike

Mealtimes, sleeping, or trips to the toilet offer opportunistic thieves the perfect time to strike

Mealtimes, sleeping, or trips to the toilet offer opportunistic thieves the perfect time to strike 

Once you’ve advised the airline and the police Jonathan says it’s vital to thoroughly review your travel insurance policy. ‘Even though it typically covers such incidents, it’s essential to understand the policy’s limits and exclusions, and additional premiums may be required for high-value items,’ he added. 

‘Next, gather all necessary evidence, including proof of ownership, age, and value of the stolen items, which are crucial for the claim process.

‘It’s also important for travellers to assess their responsibility in the situation. Ensuring that valuables were secured, and that luggage was not left unattended is key, as negligence can impact the viability of a claim.

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‘If there are any doubts or questions, travellers should not hesitate to contact their insurance provider.’

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Navalny’s family to hold Moscow funeral for the late Russian opposition leader

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Relatives and supporters of Alexei Navalny are bidding farewell to the opposition leader at a funeral Friday in southeastern Moscow, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

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His supporters say several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia.

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The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which agreed to hold the service, did not mention it on its social media page. Police on Thursday were seen putting crowd-control barriers at the church.

Burial was to follow in the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also were seen Thursday.

His mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Authorities originally said they couldn’t turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya, 69, made a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin to release the body so she could bury her son with dignity.

Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, the spokeswoman for Navalny’s team, Kira Yarmysh, said on social media. They also were unable to find a hearse for the funeral.

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“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.

Russian authorities haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, which the Kremlin rejected.

It was not immediately clear who among Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in 2021.

The politician’s team said the funeral would be streamed live on Navalny’s YouTube channel.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.

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“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X. In a speech to European lawmakers Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would “arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband.”

Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, politician Yekaterina Duntsova said Thursday. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.

Yarmysh also urged Navalny’s supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honor Friday.

“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when even when things were scary and difficult.”

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that his funeral had initially been planned for Thursday — the day of Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address — but no venue agreed to hold it then.

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In an interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza, Zhdanov said authorities had pressured Navalny’s relatives to “have a quiet family funeral.”

(AP) 

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Health service initiative offers patients a chance to see a GP on the same day – but they only have a one in 15 chance of actually seeing a doctor

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  • North Londoners will have their access to NHS professionals boosted
  • But they will only be given this if they have a small chance of seeing a doctor
  • The new service will be boosted with AI to prioritise pressing cases 

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A health service initiative promises ‘same-day access’ to GPs – even though patients have only a one in 15 chance of actually seeing a doctor.

Health officials said the plans, which affect around 2.8million residents in north London, will boost access to medical professionals and improve care.

Patients who select ‘same-day’ when phoning their GP practice will be directed to a new ‘hub’, with artificial intelligence helping to prioritise the most pressing cases.

However, documents produced by North West London Integrated Care Board suggest that each hub could be staffed by just one GP, with most of the work done by less qualified members of the team. The briefing pack, seen by Pulse magazine, suggests that of the 146 appointments every day, just ten would be staffed by GPs.

The remainder will be carried out by pharmacists, advanced nurse practitioners – and controversial physician associates who have just two years of medical training.

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Health officials said the plans, which affect around 2.8million residents in north London, will boost access to medical professionals and improve care (Stock Image)

Health officials said the plans, which affect around 2.8million residents in north London, will boost access to medical professionals and improve care (Stock Image)

Health officials said the plans, which affect around 2.8million residents in north London, will boost access to medical professionals and improve care (Stock Image)

Officials said patients seeking same-day care may need to travel further to be seen or accept a remote appointment over the phone or video (Stock Image)

Officials said patients seeking same-day care may need to travel further to be seen or accept a remote appointment over the phone or video (Stock Image)

Officials said patients seeking same-day care may need to travel further to be seen or accept a remote appointment over the phone or video (Stock Image)

Officials said patients seeking same-day care may need to travel further to be seen or accept a remote appointment over the phone or video.

A letter from medical committees across London, which represent the capital’s GPs, raises concerns about patient safety associated with the hub scheme.

It warns that the model will undermine ‘continuity of care’ and suggests that arrangements for one GP to supervise a host of other staff are ‘unsafe’.

Meanwhile, campaign group Save Our NHS Hammersmith And Fulham said the plans ‘would exclude GPs from almost all provision of ‘same day’ GP care for over 2million people’. And Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, said he was concerned that such a step would end up ‘abandoning the GP system altogether’.

Dr Genevieve Small, Harrow GP and medical director for Primary Care NHS North West London, said: ‘Patients consistently tell us that getting a GP appointment can be difficult. We have developed a plan that will increase same-day access to GPs, community pharmacists and other primary care professionals for those patients who need it.

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‘This approach will be introduced gradually across north-west London from April 2024. It will ensure that GPs have more time to pro-actively care for their patients who most need their expertise, including those with long-term conditions.’

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors were open to ways of improving access, which could involve new hubs.

But she added: ‘We do have concerns about how this model could impact continuity of care, which research consistently shows is beneficial for both patients and the NHS.’

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Stakes raised in Vegas for Tim Tszyu who will have to surrender his world title belt if he loses to Keith Thurman – even though it’s a non-title bout

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  • Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu is fighting Keith Thurman in Las Vegas
  • If Tszyu loses, will have to relinquish WBO super welterweight title
  • Tszyu, 29, is targeting bout against welterweight king Terence Crawford

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Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu will be stripped of the WBO super welterweight title if he loses to American star Keith Thurman in Las Vegas this month – even though it isn’t an official title bout.

The upside for Tszyu is if he wins, a dream fight against undisputed welterweight king Terence Crawford is likely to follow.

Tszyu (24-0) was awarded the WBO title in 2023 after former champion Jermell Charlo was stripped of the belt – before the Aussie defeated Brian Castano to retain it in October.

Main Event presenter and boxing identity Ben Damon tweeted the development involving Thurman on Friday.

‘The WBO has raised the stakes,’ Damon said. ‘With the decision that Tszyu will be stripped of his world title if he loses the 155 [pound] non-title fight with Thurman.’

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Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu will be stripped of the WBO super welterweight title if he loses to American Keith Thurman in Las Vegas this month - even though it isn't a title bout

Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu will be stripped of the WBO super welterweight title if he loses to American Keith Thurman in Las Vegas this month - even though it isn't a title bout

Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu will be stripped of the WBO super welterweight title if he loses to American Keith Thurman in Las Vegas this month – even though it isn’t a title bout

The upside for Tszyu is he wins against Keith Thurman (pictured left) on March 31, a bout against undisputed welterweight king Terence Crawford is likely to follow

The upside for Tszyu is he wins against Keith Thurman (pictured left) on March 31, a bout against undisputed welterweight king Terence Crawford is likely to follow

The upside for Tszyu is he wins against Keith Thurman (pictured left) on March 31, a bout against undisputed welterweight king Terence Crawford is likely to follow

It is understood WBO president Paco Valcarcel is happy for Tszyu to fight Crawford if he is triumphant on March 31 in Sin City (AEST) – but also knows a potential duel between Thurman and ‘Bud’ Crawford would appeal to many boxing fans.

The bombshell development also makes Tszyu’s Las Vegas debut even bigger as he looks to extend his unbeaten career record that spans over eight years.

In 2023, he won plenty of admirers after getting the better of Tony Harrison, Carlos Ocampo and Mendoza.

Thurman (30-1-1) has fought just once in the past four years – ruling him out of title contention – but his fearsome reputation ensures he still looms as one of the biggest threats to Tszyu’s impressive record. 

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In January, Team Crawford trainer Bernie Davis labelled Tszyu ‘the most attractive’ option for his fighter – an indication the son of Kostya Tszyu is impressing the people that matter in the sport.

Tszyu also recently confirmed talks between his camp and Crawford’s have already commenced.

‘There have been talks between us,’ he told Fox Sports. ‘And I give Crawford all respect. He’ll fight anyone.

‘And that’s why I see him as such a great challenge….but I also see him as being beatable.’

 

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Iran heads to the polls, hardliners poised to tighten grip on power

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Iranians are to vote Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

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Since the last elections, Iran has been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis. It has also been rocked by widespread protests and drawn into escalating regional tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

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More than 61 million people out of Iran’s 85-million population are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, the body in charge of selecting Iran’s supreme leader.

A low turnout is expected, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.

The country’s last parliamentary elections in 2020 had a voter turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appealed for a strong turnout.

“It is important to show the world that the nation is mobilised,” said Khamenei on Wednesday on the last day of campaigning.

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“The enemies of Iran want to see if the people are present,” he said, adding that otherwise “they will threaten your security in one way or another”.

Those watching included the United States “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies”, he said.

Khamenei said the United States and Israel, which “carefully” follow Iran’s issues, “are afraid of the people’s participation in the elections”.

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hossein Salami, said on Thursday that “every vote is like a missile that is fired into the heart of our strongest enemies”.

“If our people want to participate in a powerful political battle like in the past and overcome the enemies, they should come to the stage and vote.”

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The IRGC, the ideological defenders of the Islamic republic, noted that “strong participation” would discourage “foreign interventions”.

Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.

‘Far from free’ 

Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.

They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.

Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified from running, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.

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A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections”.

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections”.

Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.

A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including former moderate president Hassan Rouhani.

Friday’s elections are the first since Iran was rocked by mass protests triggered by the September 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

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Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.

The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply declined against the dollar.

“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”

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(AFP)

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International

California $2.5 million mansion owner says he’s ‘checking every hour’ as his home teeters on the edge of falling off cliff into the ocean after being battered by Pineapple express storm

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The occupant of a cliffside home in California is facing the reality that his backyard might fall off a cliff any day now.

Alan Ashavi, 66, says he grows more nervous by the day about his property, which earlier this month, became a victim to the atmospheric rivers raining down on California.

Last year, some of Ashavi’s San Clemente neighbors saw their backyards collapse into the ocean as the land beneath them eroded.

Ashavi avoided that same fate last rainy season, but this year, he was not so lucky.

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San Clemente, California, homeowner Alan Ashavi laments the storms that may ultimately send his cliffside property tumbling into the sea

San Clemente, California, homeowner Alan Ashavi laments the storms that may ultimately send his cliffside property tumbling into the sea

San Clemente, California, homeowner Alan Ashavi laments the storms that may ultimately send his cliffside property tumbling into the sea

Earlier this month, an atmospheric river caused a landslide underneath his million-dollar property that has set his pool teetering on the brink of collapse.

Earlier this month, an atmospheric river caused a landslide underneath his million-dollar property that has set his pool teetering on the brink of collapse.

Earlier this month, an atmospheric river caused a landslide underneath his million-dollar property that has set his pool teetering on the brink of collapse.

An aerial view of a remaining pool at the edge of a hillside landslide brought on by heavy rains, which caused four ocean view apartment buildings to be evacuated and shuttered due to unstable conditions, on March 16, 2023 in San Clemente, California

An aerial view of a remaining pool at the edge of a hillside landslide brought on by heavy rains, which caused four ocean view apartment buildings to be evacuated and shuttered due to unstable conditions, on March 16, 2023 in San Clemente, California

An aerial view of a remaining pool at the edge of a hillside landslide brought on by heavy rains, which caused four ocean view apartment buildings to be evacuated and shuttered due to unstable conditions, on March 16, 2023 in San Clemente, California

Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in Southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes

Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in Southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes

Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in Southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes

Earlier this month, an atmospheric river caused a landslide underneath his million-dollar property that has set his pool teetering on the brink of collapse.

‘You deal with it on a daily basis and you come in here and check every day or every hour sometimes,’ Ashavi told Reuters, calling the ordeal ‘nerve-wracking.’

‘I know this is an El Nino year as far as the rain, so I’ve had it in the back of my mind about being involved with the construction,’ he added.

For the last two months, storms have battered California with heavy rainfall and incredibly strong winds.

The weather system they were a part of was dubbed the Pineapple Express. It ultimately prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in eight counties, impacting more than 20million residents.

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Flash flood warnings were issued at various times for parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties – where mudslides have increasingly become a hazard over the last decade.

Luxury homes have been left on the verge of collapse as cliffside homeowners watch their neighbors lose patios that fall into the sea.

A University of California at Irvine professor says the erosion may soon move inland in a meaningful way.

‘We have these atmospheric rivers coming off the oceans, drops the rain here on these hills and then the hills start eroding as well,’ said climate change professor Kathleen Treseder.

‘And so not only do we have this erosion right here from the waves, but we also have erosion up inland caused by the rainfall.

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‘We have many, many multi-million dollar homes all along this coast that will be falling into the ocean,’ she said. 

A University of California at Irvine professor says the erosion may soon move inland in a meaningful way

A University of California at Irvine professor says the erosion may soon move inland in a meaningful way

A University of California at Irvine professor says the erosion may soon move inland in a meaningful way

San Clemente, California - Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes earlier this month

San Clemente, California - Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes earlier this month

San Clemente, California – Aerial views showing aftermath of cliff collapse after extreme weather in southern California threatening multimillion dollar homes earlier this month

'We have many, many multi-million dollar homes all along this coast that will be falling into the ocean,' said a UCI professor

'We have many, many multi-million dollar homes all along this coast that will be falling into the ocean,' said a UCI professor

‘We have many, many multi-million dollar homes all along this coast that will be falling into the ocean,’ said a UCI professor

Landslides along oceanfront bluffs in San Clemente have recently prompted closures of the city’s beach trails.

Stairs leading down to the coastal path at Dije Court, El Portal and Lasuens Beach were added to the list of closed access points this month, due to continuing instability of the area.

Engineers continue to assess and reassess the structural integrity of the coastal properties after every storm.

In Dana Point, a wealthy enclave of Orange County, about a 10-minute drive north of San Clemente, three stunning mansions teeter precariously on the edge of a cliff following a landslide earlier this month.

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Each of the mansions – one more stunning and expensive than the last – are now at risk of tumbling into the Pacific.

Residents of the affected properties, which are priced at $12.8million, $13million, and $15.9million respectively, have been advised to remain vigilant, and prepare for the looming possibility of relocation. 

Three multimillion-dollar homes in Southern California teeter precariously on the edge of a cliffside following a landslide in February

Three multimillion-dollar homes in Southern California teeter precariously on the edge of a cliffside following a landslide in February

Three multimillion-dollar homes in Southern California teeter precariously on the edge of a cliffside following a landslide in February

The collapse occurred on Scenic Drive in Dana Point, mud and debris slid hundreds of feet down the cliffside

The collapse occurred on Scenic Drive in Dana Point, mud and debris slid hundreds of feet down the cliffside

The collapse occurred on Scenic Drive in Dana Point, mud and debris slid hundreds of feet down the cliffside

The landslide saw a a huge portion of cliff to fall the foot of the priciest home in the area, a $15.9million, four-bedroom mansion registered to a local radiologist, 82-year-old Lewis Bruggeman

The landslide saw a a huge portion of cliff to fall the foot of the priciest home in the area, a $15.9million, four-bedroom mansion registered to a local radiologist, 82-year-old Lewis Bruggeman

The landslide saw a a huge portion of cliff to fall the foot of the priciest home in the area, a $15.9million, four-bedroom mansion registered to a local radiologist, 82-year-old Lewis Bruggeman

The missing cliff face slipped off right next to a $12.8million home (pictured)

The missing cliff face slipped off right next to a $12.8million home (pictured)

The missing cliff face slipped off right next to a $12.8million home (pictured)

The Dana Point and San Clemente collapses – which are still being surveyed by city officials – are merely the latest in a series of incidents that have plagued SoCal residents in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, part of a cul-de-sac on Avenida Columbo dropped five feet following a mudslide that sent mud and debris tumbling 150 feet down a slope.

The San Clemente area has, in recent years, been affected by unstable soil.

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Residents in both areas have been advised to keep a careful lookout, as they continue to grapple with the consequences of these natural disasters. 

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International

More than one billion people worldwide afflicted by obesity, WHO study finds

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More than one billion people around the world are now suffering from obesity with the number having more than quadrupled since 1990, according to a study released by the Lancet medical journal.

Issued on:

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The “epidemic” is particularly hitting poorer countries and the rate is growing among children and adolescents faster than adults, according to the study carried out with the World Health Organisation.

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The study, released ahead of World Obesity Day on March 4, estimated that there were about 226 million obese adults, adolescents and children in the world in 1990. The figure had risen to 1,038 million in 2022.

Francesco Branca, director of nutrition for health at the WHO, said the rise past one billion people has come “much earlier than we have anticipated”.

While doctors knew obesity numbers were rising fast, the symbolic figure had previously been expected in 2030.

Researchers analysed the weight and height measurements of more than 220 million people in more than 190 countries to reach the estimates, Lancet said.

They estimated that 504 million adult women and 374 million men were obese in 2022. The study said the obesity rate had nearly tripled for men (14 percent) since 1990 and more than doubled for women (18.5 percent).

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Some 159 million children and adolescents were living with obesity in 2022, according to the study, up from about 31 million in 1990.

The chronic and complex illness is accompanied by a greater risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Being overweight increased the risk of death during the coronavirus pandemic.

Countries in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa have suffered more from the rise.

“These countries now have higher obesity rates than many high-income industrialised countries, especially those in Europe,” the study said.

“In the past we have tended to think of obesity as a problem of the rich, now a problem of the world,” said Branca, who highlighted the fast lifestyle changes in low and middle-income countries.

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Eating badly helps obesity 

The “very rapid transformation of the food systems is not for the better”.

Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, the study’s lead author, said there were signs that obesity was levelling out in some southern European countries such as France and Spain, “especially for women”.

But he said that in most countries there are more people suffering from obesity than being under-weight, which the study said had fallen since 1990.

While not eating enough is the main cause of being under-weight, eating badly is a prime factor for obesity.

“This new study highlights the importance of preventing and managing obesity from early life to adulthood, through diet, physical activity, and adequate care, as needed,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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He added that “getting back on track” to meet global targets for cutting obesity rates “requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products”.

The WHO has supported taxes on sugary drinks, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and increasing subsidies for healthy foods.

Experts say that new treatments against diabetes can also help combat obesity.

Branca said the new drugs “are an important tool but not a solution of the problem”.

“Obesity is a long-term issue and it is important to look at the impact of these drugs on long-term effects or side effects,” he added.

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(AFP)

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The UK’s most sustainable restaurants are revealed – and it’s bad news for KFC and Greggs fans

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From cycling instead of driving, to choosing a refillable water bottle over plastic, many of us try to do our bit to help the environment.

But if you’re a regular visitor to Greggs or KFC, you may unknowingly be reversing all your hard work.

Which? has revealed the most sustainable restaurants in the UK, with KFC and Greggs coming at the bottom of the list.

In contrast, Wahaca has been named the most sustainable chain thanks to its impressive green credentials.

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‘Our research shows that some restaurant chains are doing much more than others to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and food waste,’ said Shefalee Loth, Which? Nutritionist.

Which? has revealed the most sustainable restaurants in the UK, with KFC and Greggs coming at the bottom of the list

Which? has revealed the most sustainable restaurants in the UK, with KFC and Greggs coming at the bottom of the list

Which? has revealed the most sustainable restaurants in the UK, with KFC and Greggs coming at the bottom of the list

From cycling instead of driving, to choosing a refillable water bottle over plastic, many of us try to do our bit to help the environment. But if you're a regular visitor to Greggs or KFC (stock image), you may unknowingly be reversing all your hard work

From cycling instead of driving, to choosing a refillable water bottle over plastic, many of us try to do our bit to help the environment. But if you're a regular visitor to Greggs or KFC (stock image), you may unknowingly be reversing all your hard work

From cycling instead of driving, to choosing a refillable water bottle over plastic, many of us try to do our bit to help the environment. But if you’re a regular visitor to Greggs or KFC (stock image), you may unknowingly be reversing all your hard work

In the study, Which? set out to understand the most and least sustainable restaurant chains in Britain.

Researchers asked the restaurants a series of questions about key sustainability issues, including resources and emissions, sourcing policies, waste and plastics, transparently and customer choice as well as targets.

An analysis of their answers revealed that Mexican chain, Wahaca, came top, with an overall score of 84 per cent.

The most sustainable restaurants in the UK 

  1. Wahaca: 84%
  2. Nando’s: 81%
  3. Frankie and Benny’s: 75%
  4. Young & Co’s pubs: 74%
  5. Pret A Manger: 73%
  6. Wagamama: 72%
  7. Beefeater: 69%
  8. Brewers Fayre: 69%
  9. Burger King: 67%
  10. Leon: 67%
  11. Domino’s: 63% 

The least sustainable restaurants in the UK

  1. KFC: 38%
  2. Greggs: 38%
  3. Bella Italia: 51%
  4. McDonald’s: 53%
  5. Zizzi: 59%
  6. Toby Carvery: 59%
  7. Prezzo: 59%
  8. Harvester: 59%
  9. Ask Italian: 62%
  10. Pizza Hut: 63%
  11. JD Wetherspoon: 63% 

In particular, the chain scored highly for its customer choices, with six in 10 of the dishes on its menu being vegetarian.

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This was followed by Nando’s (81 per cent), Frankie and Benny’s (75 per cent), Young & Co’s pubs (74 per cent), Pret A Manger (73 per cent), and Wagamama (72 per cent).

At the other end of the scale were KFC and Greggs, which both only scored 38 per cent in Which?’s analysis.

Wahaca has been named the most sustainable chain thanks to its impressive green credentials

Wahaca has been named the most sustainable chain thanks to its impressive green credentials

Wahaca has been named the most sustainable chain thanks to its impressive green credentials

Greggs' scores were average across the board, but it did not share information on its water usage, food waste, or non-food waste to landfill figures

Greggs' scores were average across the board, but it did not share information on its water usage, food waste, or non-food waste to landfill figures

Greggs’ scores were average across the board, but it did not share information on its water usage, food waste, or non-food waste to landfill figures

Greggs’ scores were average across the board, but it did not share information on its water usage, food waste, or non-food waste to landfill figures.

‘The Greggs Pledge is our commitment to making the world a better place by 2025 focused around three key areas: building stronger, healthier communities, making the planet safer and becoming a better business,’ a Greggs spokesperson told Which?.

‘We continue to make good progress against our ambitious Pledge targets which has not been reflected in this report as we do not yet publish all the specific data requested.’

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KFC’s low score, meanwhile, was attributed to its decision not to share information on electricity or water consumption, renewable energy, food waste and landfill.

‘KFC has pledged to be a Net Zero business by 2040 or sooner, ten years ahead of government targets,’ a KFC spokesperson said.

‘We are passionate about embedding sustainability across all areas of our business and are working with a range of experts to ensure we get this journey right.

‘We believe this report does not fully reflect our position and our ongoing commitment to operating responsibly.’

Which? hopes the findings will prove useful for customers who are trying to be more eco-friendly.

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‘Many people want to play their part in preventing climate change by making more sustainable choices, and they expect restaurants to support them by being transparent about their emissions and where they source their food from,’ Ms Loth added.

‘By visiting one of the restaurants named a Which? Eco Provider, diners can be confident they are at a chain that has impressive green credentials.’

WHAT IS THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF SANDWICHES?

The overall annual consumption of sandwiches across the UK has the same environmental impact as the use of around eight million cars a year, scientists have claimed.

Researchers arrived at the figure after studying the carbon footprint of different types of sandwiches – both home-made and pre-packaged. 

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The team from the University of Manchester calculated the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) – a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints – for the snacks. 

Their calculation was based on British Sandwich Association (BSA) figures that 11.5 billion sandwiches are eaten each year in the UK.

This shows the total carbon footprint (grams of CO2 per sandwich) of 24 shop-bought sandwiches.

All-day-breakfast 1441.3g

Ham and cheese 1349.5g 

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Prawn and mayo 1254.7g 

Egg and bacon 1182.4g

Ham salad 1119.1g 

Cheese Ploughman’s 1112.1g 

Sausage and brown sauce 1087.2g

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Double cheese and onion 1078.4g 

Cheese & tomato 1067.3g 

Roast chicken and bacon 1030g

Bacon, lettuce and tomato 1007.4g

Ham & mustard 1000.5g

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Roast chicken and stuffing 991g 

Ham and mayo 978.2g

Cheese and mayo 976.2g 

Chicken salad 963g 

Cheese & pickle 956.4g 

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Ham and egg 947.8g 

Tuna and cucumber 942.9g 

Chicken and mayo 887g 

Free range egg and rocket 853.8g

Tuna and sweet corn 851.6g 

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Chicken & sweetcorn 769g 

Egg mayo and cress 739.0g 

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