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Russell Brand breaks silence after being accused of rape and sexual assault and says he has faced an ‘extraordinary and distressing week’

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Russell Brand breaks silence after being accused of rape and sexual assault and says he has faced an ‘extraordinary and distressing week’

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Russell Brand has broken his silence claiming he has faced an ‘extraordinary and distressing week’ after being accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse. 

Over the last week, several women have come forward to make allegations against the comedian, 48, which they claim happened at the height of his fame.

The shocking claims, said to have happened between 2003 and 2013, include the alleged rape of a woman at his home in Los Angeles in 2013 and alleged the sexual assault of a 16-year-old schoolgirl. 

Brand denied the accusations claiming any relationship he had was consensual and has remained silent since The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches first reported the allegations of predatory and abusive behaviour on Saturday.

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Tonight, however, he posted a video to his various social media channels, Brand thanked his followers for their ‘support and for questioning the information that you have been presented with’.

Russell Brand has broken his silence claiming he has faced an 'extraordinary and distressing week' after being accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse

Russell Brand has broken his silence claiming he has faced an 'extraordinary and distressing week' after being accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse

Russell Brand has broken his silence claiming he has faced an ‘extraordinary and distressing week’ after being accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse

In a short video he said: ‘Hello there you awakening wonders, obviously it’s been an extraordinary and distressing week and I thank you very much for your support and for questioning the information that you have been presented with. 

‘By now, you’re probably aware that the British government has asked big tech platforms to censor our online content and that some online platforms have complied with that request.

‘What you may not know is that this happens in the context of the online safety bill which is a piece of UK legislation that grants sweeping surveillance and censorship powers and it’s a law that’s already been passed.

‘I also don’t imagine that you’ve heard of the trusted news initiative and now, as often is the case when a word like trusted is used as part of an acronym to describe an unelected body, trust is the last thing you should be offering.’

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He added: ‘I also don’t imagine that you’ve heard of the trusted news initiative and now, as often is the case when a word like trusted is used as part of an acronym to describe an unelected body, trust is the last thing you should be offering.

‘The trusted news initiative is a collaboration between big tech and legacy media organisations to target, patrol, choke and shut down independent media organisations, like this one.’

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Trent Alexander-Arnold is turning into the heartbeat of the Liverpool side… the sky is the limit for the ‘Scouser in the team’ who is more crucial than ever for club and country

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With new Adidas Predators on his feet, Trent Alexander-Arnold is turning into quite the predator in a goal-scoring sense, too. Since signing a £26million boot deal with the German manufacturers, Liverpool’s vice-captain has put in two mercurial performances and scored two goals.

Alexander-Arnold will argue that he has scored three goals, mind. He was cruelly denied one in Liverpool’s from-behind win against Fulham on Sunday as his near-perfect free-kick bounced in off goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s head.

But there was no need to convene the Dubious Goals Panel for the other two strikes, both clean shots from distance. First, he salvaged a vital away point at champions and league leaders – at the time – Manchester City, then scored a last-gasp winner in a seven-goal thriller.

Those two strikes have earned Liverpool three points, a valuable draw on the road and a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat when Marco Silva’s Fulham threatened to pull off one of the greatest smash-and-grab wins in recent memory. Those points could be pivotal in the title race.

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Fulham would have been the first side since late October 2022 to win at Anfield in the league, after Leeds, but instead the Kop was left toasting to Alexander-Arnold and chanting about ‘the Scouser in the team’, with the local lad lapping up all the praise that came his way.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is turning into one of Liverpool's most fearsome goalscorers

Trent Alexander-Arnold is turning into one of Liverpool's most fearsome goalscorers

Trent Alexander-Arnold is turning into one of Liverpool’s most fearsome goalscorers

Alexander-Arnold's recent goals have helped Liverpool in crucial matches this season

Alexander-Arnold's recent goals have helped Liverpool in crucial matches this season

Alexander-Arnold’s recent goals have helped Liverpool in crucial matches this season

That ‘Scouser in the team’ is now more crucial than ever to success for both Liverpool and England this year, with him maturing into a leader on and off the field after spending time in the off-season plotting how to start a new personal cycle of success for club and country.

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Alexander-Arnold chose to go to an individual training camp in Portland, Oregon in the summer and spent time reflecting on how to improve. His general target for the season was to play a pivotal role in returning Liverpool to glory, and also leading England to Euro 2024 success.

He often has the maturity to proactively reach out to coaches and ask them for advice, with Gareth Southgate and assistant Steve Holland on that list. Klopp and right-hand man Pepijn Lijnders have also been crucial in giving guidance, with Alexander-Arnold a studious player.

Both Klopp and Southgate have told the player that he will be integrated into more of a creative role in the coming year or so, which is reflected in Alexander-Arnold being named as a ‘midfielder’ on official documents when England name their squads for international camps.

It is not just Liverpool and England who see Alexander-Arnold as a global star. Adidas recently signed him up on a multi-year deal to make him one of the faces of their next generation alongside Jude Bellingham and Barcelona’s Pedri. He will get his own signature range of boots.

He knew he could improve leadership attributes, too. During a training session at the Singapore National Stadium in July, Klopp called Alexander-Arnold over for a quick chat. The full-back thought it would be about tactics but, instead, he was told he was to be the new vice-captain.

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From that point on, the boyhood Liverpool fan knew he had to step up. He was already an influential figure in the dressing room but Alexander-Arnold has spent time working on his leadership qualities this season, taking on an unofficial mentoring role for younger stars.

On the pitch, the 25-year-old is growing as a midfield maestro. It would be amiss to ignore that his strolls into central areas sometimes leave Liverpool slightly exposed on their right flank. On Sunday, 44.8 per cent of Fulham’s attacks came down that side, a clear game-plan from Silva.

The Englishman's strike against Fulham snatched victory for Liverpool at Anfield

The Englishman's strike against Fulham snatched victory for Liverpool at Anfield

The Englishman’s strike against Fulham snatched victory for Liverpool at Anfield

Alexander-Arnold has been wearing the new Adidas Predators for Liverpool recently

Alexander-Arnold has been wearing the new Adidas Predators for Liverpool recently

Alexander-Arnold has been wearing the new Adidas Predators for Liverpool recently

But the qualities Alexander-Arnold brings in an attacking and play-making sense almost outweigh the defensive frailties it might cause in Liverpool’s system. He had 102 touches against Fulham and dictated play from the middle.

‘He is the heartbeat of the team, he has a bit of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso about him,’ said Jermaine Jenas on Match of the Day 2, with fellow pundit Leon Osman adding that it could be time for Alexander-Arnold to move to a full-time midfielder.

Playing in midfield is nothing new for the boy who often featured there for Liverpool’s youth teams. But after excelling in an attacking sense from full-back, there is a real feeling he can form a formidable trio with Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham in Germany next summer.

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He has begun starring for the Reds in midfield since being deployed in a more creative role

He has begun starring for the Reds in midfield since being deployed in a more creative role

He has begun starring for the Reds in midfield since being deployed in a more creative role

Many former youth coaches speak of Alexander-Arnold’s ability to absorb information and learn from mistakes. Lijnders and Holland have spent a generous amount of time on training pitches helping him understand the tactical nuances of the game.

‘When he has the ball at his feet and he is free he can put the ball wherever he wants,’ said captain Virgil van Dijk on Alexander-Arnold. ‘That is a big quality, we all know that and opponents know it as well.’

Alexander-Arnold knows that, at 25, he is still young and has plenty of areas to improve on. But as the Match of the Day 2 pundits agreed, he is turning into the heartbeat of Liverpool’s team, and he can follow suit for England, too. For both club and country, the sky is the limit.

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Paris knife attacker shows ‘failure’ of psychiatric care, France interior minister says

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There was a clear failure in the psychiatric care of the radicalised Islamist suffering from mental troubles who stabbed a German tourist to death in central Paris at the weekend before being arrested, France’s interior minister said Monday.

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The attack close to the Eiffel Tower has increased concerns in France over the risk of Islamist attacks, particularly with the French capital now barely half a year away from hosting the 2024 summer Olympic Games.

The attacker was a Frenchman in his mid-20s born to a non-religious Iranian family but who had already done prison time for planning an attack and was known to the authorities as an Islamist radical with mental troubles.

“There was clearly a failure, not from the point of view of his monitoring by the intelligence services, but a psychiatric failure,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told BFM TV, adding that the attacker had an “acute mental illness”.

“Doctors said on several occasions that he was doing better, was more normal and could be free,” he said.

‘Exploiting weaknesses’

Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab, a French national born in 1997, killed a 23-year-old German-Filipino man with two blows from a hammer and four stab wounds from a knife on Saturday evening close to the Eiffel Tower.

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Questioned in custody, he “fully accepts and takes responsibility for his actions” and “everything suggests that he acted alone”, a source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

He claimed to have acted in “response to the persecution of Muslims around the world” while appearing “very cold and clinical”, the source added.

The investigation is being handled by French anti-terror prosecutors who have opened a probe into a suspected “terrorist” plot.


France’s top anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said Sunday that the man’s mother had reported concerns about him as recently as October, but that there was insufficient proof at the time to take legal action.

He had already been arrested in 2016 for planning an attack, eventually serving four years in prison, and had been under close watch following his release.

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Darmanin said the attacker’s mother had warned police that her son was no longer taking his medication and that intelligence services had suggested he should be hospitalised. But she did not want that and then reported he was doing better.

He said regional authorities currently did not have the power to issue an administrative order for such an individual to undergo psychiatric treatment, and “this has to change”.

Rajabpour-Miyandoab had been radicalised through contacts on the Internet rather than meeting people at a mosque, Darmanin said, adding that the attacker had also been in touch with perpetrators of similar past attacks.

These contacts included a radicalised Islamist from Russia’s northern Caucasus region and future killer of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded outside his school near Paris in 2020.

“Terrorism is changing and exploiting the weaknesses of our system,” Darmanin said.

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Four people — the attacker and three other people from his family and close circle — were still in custody on Monday morning, a source close to anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.

‘No plan B’

The attack late Saturday came as France is at its highest alert level against the background of the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and following the killing of a teacher in a school by a radicalised Islamist in October.

Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”), Rajabpour-Miyandoab fled over the Bir Hakeim bridge across the river Seine after a taxi driver intervened.

Meeting a police patrol on the other side, he claimed to be wearing an explosive belt before running again, striking two passers-by — a 66-year-old British citizen and a 60-year-old French person — with a hammer.

He was finally stopped with two shots from a stun gun and taken into custody.

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Ricard said Rajabpour-Miyandoab had posted a video on social media where he swore allegiance to the Islamic State group and expressed his support for jihadists.

The attack has amplified security concerns over the Olympics, due to begin with an unprecedented opening ceremony on the Seine, which experts see as a potential vulnerable target for an attack.

But Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said there was no plan to scrap the idea, while indicating that the river ceremony could be adapted.

“There is no plan B, we have a plan A within which we have several alternatives,” she told France Inter radio.

(AFP)

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Erling Haaland is our new poster boy for tantrums by entitled multi-millionaires. Why should we indulge this institutionalised thuggery a moment longer?

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I travelled a few stops on the London Underground yesterday. Somewhere on the Bakerloo line between Marylebone and Paddington, I found myself staring at a poster above the row of seats opposite.

It showed a series of hands raised in the air and a message had been spelled out across them by Transport for London. ‘We won’t stand for abuse of TfL staff,’ it read, alongside a message warning of action being taken against those who transgressed

Absolutely right, too. Because, apart from in football, where we are in thrall to the increasingly aggressive and unboundaried tantrums of a few over-entitled multi-millionaires, in what other walk of life would we look at the way Erling Haaland behaved towards referee Simon Hooper at The Etihad on Sunday and think it was in any way acceptable?

Where else other than football would we look at what Haaland did and then look the other way? Not in any other sport, that’s for sure. Not in rugby union or rugby league. Not in cricket. Not in hockey or tennis. Not anywhere. Why should football be an outlier any more? Why should we indulge this institutionalised thuggery a moment longer?

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Hooper made a mistake when he reversed his earlier decision to play an advantage and blew for a foul on Haaland when the Norway striker had put Jack Grealish clean through on goal in the dying minutes of the 3-3 draw between Manchester City and Spurs on Sunday evening.

Erling Haaland fumed at referee Simon Hooper as Man City were held by Tottenham

Erling Haaland fumed at referee Simon Hooper as Man City were held by Tottenham

Erling Haaland fumed at referee Simon Hooper as Man City were held by Tottenham

Haaland and his Manchester City team-mates circled the referee on Sunday after he blew for a free-kick when City were wanting the advantage to be played after Jack Grealish was through

Haaland and his Manchester City team-mates circled the referee on Sunday after he blew for a free-kick when City were wanting the advantage to be played after Jack Grealish was through

Haaland and his Manchester City team-mates circled the referee on Sunday after he blew for a free-kick when City were wanting the advantage to be played after Jack Grealish was through

Maybe Hooper panicked under pressure. Maybe he thought he saw a linesman’s flag. It would be helpful if there was a line of communication so we got an explanation. It was a mistake and it was a big mistake. That is obvious. It may have changed the outcome of the game. It may not. None of it excuses Haaland’s behaviour.

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Sure, City have been charged by the FA with failing to control their players after the melee that followed but they will not care about that. A fine is nothing to them. It is an irrelevance. Where is the individual accountability? Where is the threat of a punishment that actually hurts them and acts as a deterrent to Haaland and others? There is none.

Another reason City drew the game on Sunday is that Haaland made mistakes, too. He is a phenomenon as a player but there was a moment in the first half where Bernardo Silva played a square ball to him and, to general astonishment, Haaland put his shot wide from six yards out with the goal gaping.

It turns out that mistake cost City the victory. You could argue that, anyway. But I didn’t see anyone rushing towards Haaland and screaming in his face, gesticulating at him, crowding him, yelling so close that he’d be able to feel their hot breath on his cheeks on a bitter night in Manchester. Haaland is allowed to make a mistake but a referee is not?

I thought, by the way, that in our desperation to rid ourselves of VAR, we had reached a consensus we are prepared to accept good old-fashioned human error from referees. Errr, maybe mention that to Simon Hooper when he’s surrounded by a posse of City players and his reputation is being traduced up and down the land for an error under pressure.

This has been allowed to go on for too long. It is almost 24 years since Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham formed a vigilante flash mob and, veins popping, fingers pointing, eyes staring, mouths agape, pursued referee Andy D’Urso around the Old Trafford pitch because they disagreed with one of his calls.

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It became one of the iconic football images of its time. It was used to illustrate the idea that Manchester United were out of control, drunk on their own power, flushed with their own success, creatures running on the anger and righteous indignation bred in them by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It is dispiriting beyond belief but, fuelled by player-power and the arrogance and entitlement brought by new levels of wealth, the behaviour of top-flight players towards referees has got worse since then and is feeding an epidemic of intimidation and abuse in grassroots football.

It was a mistake and it was a big mistake by Hooper but Haaland's reaction was unacceptable

It was a mistake and it was a big mistake by Hooper but Haaland's reaction was unacceptable

It was a mistake and it was a big mistake by Hooper but Haaland’s reaction was unacceptable

And now we have a new poster to take the place of the United gang surrounding Andy D’Urso. Now we have another image that will be used for years to come to show how the abuse of referees has become normalised and sanctified and defended by too many within the game. 

We have another image that young footballers will already have seen, an image that legitimises the kind of thuggish, petulant, puerile, spoiled behaviour they will emulate up and down the country when they get right in the face of a referee and scream their hate at him.

Let me tell you what the image is not. It is not the artist’s portrayal on the front of the City-Spurs programme on Sunday showing Haaland sitting cross-legged on the pitch at the Etihad in a zen-like pose, his eyes closed, a serene smile on his face, his arms outstretched, his hands arranged so that his thumb is touching his forefinger and forming a circle.

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It is almost 24 years since Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham formed a vigilante flash mob and pursued referee Andy d’Urso around the Old Trafford pitch

It is almost 24 years since Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham formed a vigilante flash mob and pursued referee Andy d’Urso around the Old Trafford pitch

It is almost 24 years since Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham formed a vigilante flash mob and pursued referee Andy d’Urso around the Old Trafford pitch

Mail Sport has launched a campaign to stop the abuse of referees at all levels of the game

Mail Sport has launched a campaign to stop the abuse of referees at all levels of the game

Mail Sport has launched a campaign to stop the abuse of referees at all levels of the game

Haaland missed a huge chance earlier in the match that could have given City the victory

Haaland missed a huge chance earlier in the match that could have given City the victory

Haaland missed a huge chance earlier in the match that could have given City the victory

No, this image is different. The image that will launch a thousand more copycat attacks on referees is of Haaland, his hands clamped to his head, pulling back his hair, a demonic expression of hatred mixed with disbelief on his face as he vents his fury at Mr Hooper in the immediate aftermath of his decision.

Haaland — along with Ruben Dias and Mateo Kovacic — confronts the official immediately, his fury uncontrolled. His face is contorted in an expression of anger, pain, misery and disbelief that makes him look like the figure in The Scream, the painting by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

It is hard to exaggerate the negative power this image will wield. Haaland is the greatest striker in the world. He is a brilliant, goalscoring machine, the figurehead of a City side that is the best club team in the world, a side bidding to become the first in English history to win the Premier League title four times in succession.

And when a decision goes against him, this is how he behaves. Young players — players of all ages — are highly impressionable. This is exactly the kind of image that will encourage them to get in the face of referees on Sunday League pitches. Get in the face of the referee and a lot, lot worse.

Apologists for Haaland’s behaviour — and there will be plenty — will talk about the pressure that young players are under these days and the best response to that remains the remark made by the Australian all-rounder Keith Miller who flew for the Royal Australian Air Force during World War Two.

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When asked by chat show host Michael Parkinson how he coped with pressure in cricket, Miller had a tart response. ‘Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse,’ he said. ‘Playing cricket is not.’

Haaland is a brilliant striker but this is how he behaves when a decision goes against him

Haaland is a brilliant striker but this is how he behaves when a decision goes against him

Haaland is a brilliant striker but this is how he behaves when a decision goes against him

Apologists for Haaland’s behaviour will talk about the pressure young players are under

Apologists for Haaland’s behaviour will talk about the pressure young players are under

Apologists for Haaland’s behaviour will talk about the pressure young players are under 

It is time to stop indulging this petulance we have suffered for too long. It is time to acknowledge that it is starting to endanger the fabric of football. Why would anyone want to be a referee when intimidatory behaviour from players is encouraged by the stars at the top of the game?

‘I will not do a Mikel Arteta,’ City manager Pep Guardiola said after the match, making reference to the hysterical outburst from the Arsenal boss after a decision went against his team during a defeat at Newcastle last month. Guardiola might not have done an Arteta but his players had already done it for him.

Hooper had a fine game but he didn’t just make one mistake. He made two. He booked Haaland for his protests when he should have sent him off.

Forget the collective slap on the wrist City are facing from the FA now. It means less than nothing. To get serious about protecting referees and protecting the game, Haaland should be looking at a three-game ban, the better for him to ponder how he would react if someone ran up to him and screamed abuse in his face the next time he missed an open goal. Not well, is my guess.

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Niger’s repeal of migrant smuggling law worries EU over efforts to curb immigration flows

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Niger’s junta on November 27 revoked a 2015 law aimed at curbing migration through a key route in the West African country. While the European Union warned that the decision could lead to an increase in migratory flows to Europe, the decriminalisation of Niger’s migrant-smuggling trade could benefit the local economy. 

The military junta in Niger, which seized power at the end of July after ousting President Mohamed Bazoum, announced the repeal of the anti-migrant law last Monday.

In a televised statement, the government’s secretariat general said General Abdourahamane Tiani on Saturday signed an order repealing the measure and stipulating that convictions handed down under the 2015 law be revoked.

The EU, meanwhile, said it regretted the decision to scrap the controversial 2015 law, saying that it could lead to an increase in the number of people trying to reach Europe illegally.

“I’m very concerned about the situation now, and there is a huge risk that this will cause new deaths in the [Sahara] desert,” European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said.

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She said it “would also probably mean more people coming to Libya, for example, and then maybe also trying to cross the Mediterranean to the EU”.

The news was however welcomed by Nigeriens, who saw the repealed law as a threat to the local economy.

“It’s a law that contravened the free movement of people and goods, so it’s been very well received,” said Sidi Mamadou, 42, a former smuggler and campaigner for legal migration.

“We’re going to get back to work, and if we see any migrants, we’ll transport them [to migration destinations],” he said.

‘For us, immigration was a trade’

A crossing point between Africa’s Sahel region and the Sahara, Agadez – Niger’s largest city in the north – has long been a transit city for migrants from West and Central Africa.

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Local businesses based on legal migration had flourished in Agadez following the collapse of tourism due to terrorist activity in the region.

Before the law passed in 2015, cab drivers, restaurants and accommodation for migrants were easy to find, while convoys of exiles that left Agadez every week for Libya or Algeria were escorted by military vehicles to deter possible attacks along the way.

“For us, immigration was a trade, and we made a lot of money from it,” Mamadou said.

“We would note the chassis numbers of the vehicles, the names of the drivers, the number of migrants and draw up a roadmap, even the mayor would take a tax on the convoys,” said Mamadou, who is a member of a transport union.

Under an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) treaty, African Union nationals can travel on the continent provided they have an identification document.

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More than 60,000 migrants passed through Niger en route to Libya and Algeria in the first half of 2023, a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed.

Ineffective retraining programs

The 2015 migration crisis, however, prompted the EU to act as it sought to curb illegal immigration from the African continent.

In exchange for financing of up to €1 billion, Niger’s government signed the 2015 law in an attempt to put a stop to the flow of migrants travelling through Agadez without documents.

Despite protests and rallies by Agadez smugglers, the 2015-36 Law came into force at the end of 2015.

Dozens of smugglers were imprisoned or fined between 3 and 30 million CFA francs (€4,500 to €45,000).

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“One fine morning in 2015, we were told it was illegal and criminal, and the young people were arrested with their belongings,” Agadez Regional Council President Mohamed Anacko said. 

The EU also financed vocational retraining programs in Niger. In 2017, the EU provided the EU Trust Fund for Africa with €3.5 million to “mitigate the consequences of reduced irregular migration flows on the local economy in the Agadez region … with a focus on job creation”. 

Despite the funding, the policy did not produce the desired effect. 

“Everyone was able to choose a professional field for the retraining program, but eight years later, it has only benefited 300 people,” Anacko said.  

The low participation rate was partly due to the fact that smugglers and transporters were excluded from the programme as their previous activities were deemed “criminal” by the EU. 

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First convoys ‘as early as next week’

In the meantime, the business of migration in Niger’s Agadez became a clandestine activity. 

To avoid the authorities, smugglers had started taking routes further away from main roads, which are longer, more isolated and therefore more dangerous.  

“Migration became risky, because it was no longer controlled, and people began to die in the desert without anyone knowing,” Anacko said. 

According to data published by the IOM in August, no fewer than 570 migrants were reported deceased between January and June 2023 along the migratory routes in the Sahara Desert. 

Agadez’s entire migration trade is set to be revived following last week’s announcement.  

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“The first convoys will probably arrive as early as next week. We can expect a massive flow of migrants to Europe over the next few months,” Mamadou said. 

For the EU, which has a policy of outsourcing border controls to Mediterranean and African countries, Niger’s repeal of the anti-migration law represents yet another setback after Tunisia in October rejected funding it had offered the country to help curb illegal immigation. 

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Are Giant Pandas the LAZIEST lovers in the animal kingdom? As the UK’s only pair head back to China after 12 years of failing to mate, experts reveal why the species is so bad at sex

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Twelve years in captivity together seems like more than enough time to fall in love and start a family – but not for the giant panda. 

After arriving in Scotland together in December 2011, the only giant pandas in Britain – called Tian Tian and Yang Guang – have headed home to China. 

It was hoped that female Tian Tian (‘Sweetie’) and male Yang Guang (‘Sunshine’) would produce an adorable cub during their stay at Edinburgh Zoo.

But after repeated attempts at natural breeding and artificial insemination – to the outrage of animal rights groups – the bears never succeeded in conceiving.

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The species is notoriously bad at mating, especially in captivity, and MailOnline has taken a closer look to find out why. 

Yang Guang, one of the giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, eats bamboo stalks in its enclosure, in Edinburgh

Yang Guang, one of the giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, eats bamboo stalks in its enclosure, in Edinburgh

Yang Guang, one of the giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, eats bamboo stalks in its enclosure, in Edinburgh

Tian Tian (pictured) has had cubs in China, but not in the UK. Experts have admitted the species is 'difficult to breed', especially in captivity

Tian Tian (pictured) has had cubs in China, but not in the UK. Experts have admitted the species is 'difficult to breed', especially in captivity

Tian Tian (pictured) has had cubs in China, but not in the UK. Experts have admitted the species is ‘difficult to breed’, especially in captivity 

Professor Simon Girling, head of veterinary services at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), admitted the giant panda is ‘difficult to breed’. 

‘It’s sad that Tian Tian hasn’t bred here, we would obviously really have liked her to have done so, but this is not unusual with giant pandas, they are difficult to breed, there is a reason why they’re endangered,’ he said. 

Combined with their small organs and low metabolic rates, the giant panda diet – which is 99 per cent bamboo – leaves it with very little energy for moving, let along mating.

Its energy-saving traits include an underactive thyroid gland – the gland that produces hormones to help regulate the metabolism (the process that turns food into energy). 

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Even when moving around, a giant panda uses just half the amount of energy as a stationary human. 

‘Unlike most other herbivorous species, their digestive tract has not evolved the long twists and turns that facilitate the slower digestion necessary for cellulose-rich plants,’ said a Chinese team of experts in the journal Science. 

‘The pandas’ thyroid hormone levels are also a fraction of the mammalian norm.’ 

Giant pandas in zoos are even lazier than in the wild, partly because they are given bamboo and don’t have to search for it, but also because the stressors of a wild habitat are absent. 

In captivity, pandas spend 33 per cent of their time being physically active, while in the wild 49 per cent of their time is spent being physically active. 

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As a result of this, it becomes difficult to breed them in captivity, as they lose interest in mating the natural way.

Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian inside metal crates are loaded onto a China Southern cargo plane at Edinburgh Airport on Monday morning

Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian inside metal crates are loaded onto a China Southern cargo plane at Edinburgh Airport on Monday morning

Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian inside metal crates are loaded onto a China Southern cargo plane at Edinburgh Airport on Monday morning 

Giant panda: Quick facts  

– 99 per cent of a giant panda’s diet consists of different types of bamboo 

– They are largely solitary but they do communicate through calls and scent marking and occasionally meet outside of the mating season 

– Female pandas are only able to conceive for two to three days a year

–  An adult panda is roughly 900 times bigger than a new-born cub (which is about the size of a stick of butter) 

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Source: Edinburgh Zoo 

Making it more difficult is the fact that female pandas are only able to conceive for two to three days a year. 

A female panda has a single oestrous cycle in the spring in which she is fertile for only 24 to 36 hours, according to the Pandas International conservation organisation. 

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The male giant panda also takes a good share of the blame. 

According to the legendary wildlife conservationist, Susan Mainka, males are bad at reading when females want to have sex. 

This was illustrated perfectly by hilarious video footage in 2021, showing a frisky female’s advances being missed by a male more interested in his bamboo. 

‘Often, males don’t read the signs right, and if they try at the wrong time, they get bitten,’ Mainka told the Guardian. 

Zookeepers tried everything to get Tian Tian and Yang Guang to mate, from playing romantic music to putting them in a ‘love tunnel’ to get them in the mood for passion.

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Wildlife conservation charity Born Free estimates that Edinburgh Zoo spent £13.7 million on the pair and trying to get a cub from them. 

The charity called the project ‘sordid’ and an ‘unmitigated failure’ in comments to the Guardian, while OneKind said there is ‘no good reason to keep pandas captive in zoos’. 

Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years. Pictured, Yang Guang

Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years. Pictured, Yang Guang

Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years. Pictured, Yang Guang

Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement, which was extended by two years, between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. 

Edinburgh Zoo tried natural breeding and then moved onto attempted artificial insemination until 2018, when Yang Guang had to have his testicles removed after tumours were found. 

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Despite the failure to get a giant panda cub born in Edinburgh, RZSS chief executive said Yang Guang and Tian Tian have had ‘an incredible impact’. 

‘We have made a significant contribution to our understanding around giant panda fertility, husbandry, and veterinary care, which has been of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China,’ he said. 

‘It is encouraging that in recent years the outlook for giant pandas in the wild has improved, which gives real hope for the future.’ 

The China Southern cargo plane carrying Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian takes off from Edinburgh Airport as they begin their journey back to China after spending 12 years at Edinburgh

The China Southern cargo plane carrying Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian takes off from Edinburgh Airport as they begin their journey back to China after spending 12 years at Edinburgh

Pictured, the China Southern cargo plane carrying Giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian takes off from Edinburgh Airport as they begin their journey back to China after spending 12 years in Scotland 

Yang Guang and Tian Tian were transported to the airport in metal crates and loaded into a cargo plane with a pallet of bamboo ahead of their flight back to China, which left Monday morning. 

They had been in quarantine since the start of November and will spend time in quarantine when they arrive in China, where they will live at a sanctuary in Chengdu.

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Attempts to breed giant pandas in captivity first began in China in 1955. 

In 1963, Ming Ming, the first giant panda bred in captivity, was born at the Beijing zoo, but none have ever been born in the UK. 

In Mexico’s Chapultepec Zoo, a female called Tohui (1981-1993) was the was the first panda to be born and survive infancy outside of China. 

Adorable! Twin giant pandas born through artificial insemination at a China breeding centre 

Twin adorable giant pandas were welcomed into the world in August 2022 at a China breeding centre.

The male and female cubs weighed 16.2 and 5.3 ounces at birth and are said to be doing well as they spend time with their mother and get adjusted to their new surroundings. 

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They were born through artificial insemination, a popular method among breeding centres, because pandas are not typically motivated to procreate.

It brings hope that the national’s unofficial mascot may be thriving after suffering population loss to climate change and habitat destruction.

Read more 

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Netanyahu corruption trial resumes in spite of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed on Monday, despite the country’s continuing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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The trial was suspended after the Palestinian militant group’s bloody October 7 attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 more kidnapped according to Israeli officials.

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Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, allegations he denies.

Minister David Amsalem of Likud called the resumption of proceedings during the war “a disgrace”.

“War? Captives? … No, no. The most important thing now is to renew Netanyahu’s trial,” said Amsalem on Sunday on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Netanyahu and his allies have argued the accusations against him are politically motivated and had proposed a judicial overhaul that would have curbed some powers held by the courts.

The high-profile trial is expected to last several more months. An appeal process, if necessary, could take years.

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In one of three cases the trial encompasses, prosecutors allege a plot between Netanyahu and the controlling shareholder of Israel’s Bezeq telecom giant to exchange regulatory favours for positive coverage on a news site owned by the firm.

A second case relates to Netanyahu’s relationship with Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and other wealthy personalities.

According to prosecutors, between 2007 and 2016 Netanyahu allegedly received gifts valued at 700,000 shekels ($195,000), including boxes of cigars, bottles of champagne and jewellery, in exchange for financial or personal favours.

Netanyahu, who is Israel’s first sitting prime minister to stand trial, denies any wrongdoing, saying gifts were only accepted from friends and without him having asked for them.

In October 2019, his lawyers said they had received an expert legal opinion that concluded he had a right to accept gifts from close friends. 

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Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, is suspected of promoting a tax project in return that would have brought Milchan millions of dollars. The finance ministry has since vetoed this proposal.

(AFP)

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Should we get uPVC double glazing or will expensive wooden frames boost our home’s value?

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My wife and I recently moved and are looking to install double glazed windows.

The ones in our house currently are single glazed, and it gets quite cold without the heating on constantly. Our road can also be noisy. 

We considered double-glazed windows with wooden frames, as lots of the houses on our street have these, but were shocked at the cost. 

We were quoted £16,000, whereas it was only £7,000 for standard uPVC. 

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We would rather go with uPVC windows as they are cheaper. But we are slightly worried about how they will look. 

In keeping: Almost all the homes along our reader's road have wooden window frames, but upgrading will set them back £16,000. Meanwhile, uPVC costs £7,000

In keeping: Almost all the homes along our reader's road have wooden window frames, but upgrading will set them back £16,000. Meanwhile, uPVC costs £7,000

In keeping: Almost all the homes along our reader’s road have wooden window frames, but upgrading will set them back £16,000. Meanwhile, uPVC costs £7,000

Our current single-glazed windows are all wood, and some are in quite bad disrepair with signs of rot. We wouldn’t want this to happen to the new ones as well. 

But a friend warned us that any future buyers will probably pay more for the house if we get the wooden windows. 

Are wooden frames a better investment? Could we just do wood on the front bay windows and uPVC on the windows at the back of the house?

Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: Upgrading to double glazing has all sorts of benefits.

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Not only could it help keep you warmer during the winter, it could also cut your energy bills.

Installing a set of A-rated windows on a typical semi-detached house will save £155 per year on energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust. 

And double glazing can also reduce noise levels from outside and lessen condensation inside the windows. 

Before replacing your windows, you need to check with your local planning office if your property is in a conservation area or if the property itself is listed (you’ll probably know this already).

Cost-efficient: If you have a limited budget, uPVC is generally less expensive to install and maintain than other window materials

Cost-efficient: If you have a limited budget, uPVC is generally less expensive to install and maintain than other window materials

Cost-efficient: If you have a limited budget, uPVC is generally less expensive to install and maintain than other window materials

Either of these could mean there are additional restrictions to abide by and further permissions required. 

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If you are all clear on that front, then you will be free to decide whether to go for wooden frames or uPVC. 

As with most home improvements, there will be factors to weigh up, including the upfront cost, how it will look and how practical they are, as well as the potential return on investment.

To help advise, we spoke to Neal Wood, sales director at Hamptons estate agents in Bath, Angela Kerr, co-founder of the property advice website, HomeOwners Alliance, and Andy Simms, a renovation expert with find-a-trader website MyBuilder.com.

Will uPVC impact the value of the property?

Angela Kerr replies: When selling a traditional or period property, the original features are often the most eye-catching to potential buyers.

Well-fitted windows that suit the property will no doubt add value to your home by creating a harmonious exterior.

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But with such an overwhelming range of window styles and materials, do take your time to research and shop around.

It is now possible to buy uPVC windows designed to look like traditional timber frames, to such an extent that it can be difficult to tell them apart. 

Neal Wood replies: At the end of the day, it is unlikely a buyer will determine their decision to buy a property based on the choice of material.

It is more about whether the property serves their needs in terms of location, accommodation, and style.

So the choice of windows simply boils down to affordability, and what is appropriate for the house and its heritage.

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Is cost the most important factor here?

Neal Wood replies: Whilst cost is the first point of consideration, one really needs to look at the practical side of things that will be influenced by your own circumstances.

Do you need ease of maintenance? Can you easily access the windows to redecorate? How will the choice impact the aesthetics of the property? How long am I going to be residing at this address?

Well-fitted windows that suit the property will no doubt add value to your home by creating a harmonious exterior, according to Angela Kerr of HomeOwners Alliance

Well-fitted windows that suit the property will no doubt add value to your home by creating a harmonious exterior, according to Angela Kerr of HomeOwners Alliance

Well-fitted windows that suit the property will no doubt add value to your home by creating a harmonious exterior, according to Angela Kerr of HomeOwners Alliance

One needs to understand the construction of the property, as this may require a particular type of ventilation that can only be determined by a suitably qualified expert.

Therefore, taking advice from a supplier who is not committed to a specific material will allow the homeowner to make a well-informed decision.

It is not a simple choice between two materials, as there are so many different options with different costs.

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What else do they need to know? 

Andy Simms replies: When it comes to making a choice between wood frames and uPVC, there are some factors to consider. 

First of all, make sure there aren’t any restrictions on what materials you can use for your windows. 

If you like in a listed house or in a conservation area, then you might not be able to use uPVC.

Another tip for those living close to a busy road is to ask for noise reduction windows, which cost slightly more but use specialist acoustic glass that reduces the amount of noise.

Angela Kerr replies: Have you also considered repairing before replacing? There are specialist companies that refurbish and repair wooden windows, fixing rotten sections and improving the fit to address the draughts.

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Many of these firms will also be able to quote to add double glazing to your windows too. 

This would give you the best of both worlds, allowing you to retain character while improving energy efficiency, and hopefully not at quite the same price point required by a full scale replacement.

I note you say almost all the homes on your road have wooden frames. As part of your research, it might be worth speaking to them and asking which firms they used and whether they would recommend them as a good place to start, especially if they’ll invite you in to look and see the finished product.

When budgeting, there are some potential hidden costs to take account of as well. Often quotes for new wooden windows don’t include the cost of decorating, so do check that. 

Your idea of doing the front windows in wood and the back in uPVC is one money- saving option. 

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If you opted for all-wood windows, though, you could spread the cost by replacing the windows in stages rather than all at once. 

Some people decide to do the upstairs and then the downstairs to spread the cost and disruption, or the front then the back. Others decide to replace one window a year.

Remember, replacement windows will need to be compliant with building regulations. 

In England and Wales it’s a legal requirement for replacement windows and doors to be registered with your local authority or through a ‘competent person’ scheme such as Fensa. 

Failure to do so can cause problems for the future, not least when it comes to selling your home.

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What are the advantages of uPVC windows?

Andy Simms replies: uPVC windows have come a long way in the last few years, but with that comes some large price variations.

When it comes to making a choice between wood frames and uPVC, there are several factors to consider.

Cost is a big consideration. If you have a limited budget, uPVC is generally less expensive to install and maintain than other window materials.

It looks very smart, and there are a variety of colours and appearances available. These upgraded options can be less easy on the wallet, though, so cost can be less of a deciding factor.

High maintenance: Wood can also require filling and checking often for cracks or damage, particularly in cold and wet weather

High maintenance: Wood can also require filling and checking often for cracks or damage, particularly in cold and wet weather

High maintenance: Wood can also require filling and checking often for cracks or damage, particularly in cold and wet weather

In terms of modern trends, many people are opting for black frames instead of white these days. 

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Because uPVC is a non-corrosive material, you don’t have to worry about any rot or rust, plus they’re immune to fading in prolonged sun exposure.

Wood requires much more maintenance – and regularly as well – but if you maintain and repaint wood windows, timber windows can actually last longer than uPVC.

This maintenance involves applying new paint on a regular basis, and treating wood to stop decay. 

Wood can also require filling and checking often for cracks or damage, particularly in cold and wet weather.

How much value could double glazing add to my home?

Ed Magnus replies: While the amount you shave off your energy bill each year is unlikely to ever mean you’ll make a full return on your investment, you may find that when you come to sell your home, buyers are prepared to pay more as a result of the double glazing. 

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Although it’s hard to quantify what percentage uplift a home might get from having double glazing, it is becoming apparent that energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important to buyers.

According to one study by NatWest and S&P Global earlier this year, those looking to buy a home say the Energy Performance Certificate rating – the main measure of a home’s efficiency – is more important than ever.

Double glazing is of course one of a number of energy efficiency measures that could help boost. 

The EPC is a rating scheme which bands properties between A and G, with an A rating being the most energy efficient and G the least efficient. The most common EPC rating for homes in the UK is a D.

According to the study, the energy efficiency of a property is now a higher priority than other factors such as the amount of local green space and access to public transport.

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Analysis on EPC band ratings and house price values by Lloyds Bank in 2021 found that moving up just one EPC rating could make a home worth between 1.8 per cent and 3.8 per cent more.  

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Guinea-Bissau’s president dissolves parliament after ‘attempted coup’

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The president of Guinea-Bissau on Monday dissolved parliament ahead of fresh elections saying an “attempted coup” had plunged the West African nation into a new crisis.

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President Umaro Sissoco Embalo issued a decree closing down the opposition-dominated parliament and announced a date for legislative elections would be “set at the opportune moment, in line with the constitution”.

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Violence had erupted between members of the national guard and special forces of the presidential guard on Thursday night in the capital Bissau, leaving two people dead.

Embalo, who was in Dubai attending the COP28 climate conference, arrived back in Bissau on Saturday and announced that an “attempted coup d’etat” had prevented him from returning earlier.

On Monday, he said there had been “complicity” between the national guard and “certain political interests within the State apparatus”.

That meant “the normal functioning of the institutions of the Republic has become impossible”.

“These facts confirm the existence of a grave political crisis,” he added.

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Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, the country has seen a series of coups and coup attempts.

Elected to a five-year term in December 2019, Embalo survived a bid to overthrow him in February 2022.

Members of the National Guard had Thursday evening stormed a police station to extract Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Treasury Secretary Antonio Monteiro, who were being held for questioning, according to army and intelligence officers. 

The guardsmen then took shelter at a military camp in the capital where they held out until Friday.

Calm had returned by noon Friday following an announcement that the army had captured national guard commander Colonel Victor Tchongo. 

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The skirmishes are considered the latest flare-up in the deep political divide between the opposition-led government and the presidency.

The National Guard is under the control of the interior ministry, which, like most ministries in the country, is dominated by the PAIGC party whose coalition won the June 2023 elections.

The prosecutor’s office, which ordered the questioning of the two government officials, is controlled by the presidency.

Corruption against state

The two officials, who were answering questions about the withdrawal of $10 million from state accounts, were detained again after the army removed them from National Guard protection.

In Monday’s decree, the president condemned “the passivity of the government”, adding that the national guard had sought to block investigations into the two high officials.

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Embalo said parliament, which had debated the multi-million dollar withdrawal affair, “preferred to defend members of the executive suspected of corruption” against the state, rather than “fight to apply the law rigorously … and to exercise its role as a check on government actions”.

(AFP)

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Six reasons why LEEDS should be your next city-break destination: The birthplace of M&S has transformed into a cultural and foodie hotspot worthy of a UK staycation…

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You might know Leeds as the original ‘motorway city’, or as the birthplace of M&S, or maybe for its football team, but almost certainly not as a city-break destination.

However, as I soon discovered, Leeds is fast becoming a cultural and foodie hotspot with delights around every corner.

It’s small enough to get around on foot but it also boasts gorgeous coffee shops, fancy restaurants, and a plethora of markets and intricate shopping arcades.

As the city gains in popularity, it’s easily holding its own against the more obvious city-break destinations.

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But if you still need convincing here are six brilliant reasons why Leeds should be on your radar…

Originally known as a 'motorway city', Leeds has become a thriving city-break destination

Originally known as a 'motorway city', Leeds has become a thriving city-break destination

Originally known as a ‘motorway city’, Leeds has become a thriving city-break destination

1. There are glorious Victorian and Edwardian Arcades

For shopping, the city’s glorious Victorian and Edwardian arcades off Briggate are sublimely impressive, especially around Queen Victoria Street where the largest expanse of stained glass in the UK sits. This multi-coloured 749-square-metre (8,062 sq ft) canopy was designed by architectural artist Brian Clarke. Now, the covered street links into the Victoria Quarter, home to chic designer store Harvey Nichols and many upscale international boutiques.

While Thornton’s Arcade, the first of Leeds’ historic arcades, is studded with Gothic arches and church-style lancet windows on upper stories. Plus, there are winged lions and painted dragons on the blue and red iron trusses that support the glass roof. And Robin Hood, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Friar Tuck, and Gurth the Swineherd – characters from Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe – strike the quarter hours on the arcade’s period animatronic clock.

Refloored in the 1990s with finely detailed mosaics, the County Arcade is retail therapy on stilts

Refloored in the 1990s with finely detailed mosaics, the County Arcade is retail therapy on stilts

Refloored in the 1990s with finely detailed mosaics, the County Arcade is retail therapy on stilts 

Queen Victoria Street was pedestrianised in 1990 and capped with the largest expanse of stained glass in the UK. This multi-coloured 749-square-metre canopy was designed by architectural artist Brian Clarke

Queen Victoria Street was pedestrianised in 1990 and capped with the largest expanse of stained glass in the UK. This multi-coloured 749-square-metre canopy was designed by architectural artist Brian Clarke

Queen Victoria Street was pedestrianised in 1990 and capped with the largest expanse of stained glass in the UK. This multi-coloured 749-square-metre canopy was designed by architectural artist Brian Clarke 

There’s a similar animatronic clock in the Grand Arcade of 1897, but this arcade’s retailers are all independent, including a comic emporium, a skate shop, a camera store, and a gourmet coffee beans outlet.

County Arcade was erected in the late 1890s by London Palladium designer Frank Matcham, with his Empire Theatre as the anchor destination. The theatre is now the Harvey Nichols store, the first to make the leap from London (now there are ‘Harvey Nicks’ in other cities, too). That leap was in the mid-1990s and inspired other upscale retailers to open in the arcade, transforming it into an enclave of poshness.

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How posh? There are no flashy corporate logos allowed on the shopfront signs. Instead, the carved curved mahogany shopfronts all feature nameboards picked out in the same Art Nouveau font. Threaded with period cast and wrought iron struts and refloored in the 1990s with finely detailed mosaics, the County Arcade is retail therapy on stilts.

When I was recently in County Arcade for an evening reception hosted by Harvey Nicks we were entertained by a singer from Opera North, the only resident opera ensemble outside London.

2. You can visit the birthplace of M&S – Kirkgate Market 

Many cities have covered markets, but Leeds’ Victorian-era Kirkgate market has an extra-special claim to fame. It’s where M&S was born.

The first stall — an outdoor pitch — was opened by Polish Jewish immigrant Michael Marks in 1884. Marks’ small trestle table sold Dewhirst-sourced haberdashery and more with the tagline ‘don’t ask the price – it’s a penny’. Two years later, the penny bazaar moved to an indoor stall inside Kirkgate Market, and Dewhirst cashier Tom Spencer joined the expanding business with a half-share in 1894.

Kirkgate Market is the place where Marks and Spencer was born back in 1884

Kirkgate Market is the place where Marks and Spencer was born back in 1884

Kirkgate Market is the place where Marks and Spencer was born back in 1884

Today the market features a commemorative clock and a heritage M&S bazaar

Today the market features a commemorative clock and a heritage M&S bazaar

Today the market features a commemorative clock and a heritage M&S bazaar

During the M&S centenary year in 1984, a commemorative clock was unveiled in Kirkgate Market’s 1904 extension, 180 metres from the location of the first outdoor stall. 

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Today, adjacent to the clock, there’s a heritage M&S stall selling penny bazaar memorabilia (and Percy Pigs).

M&S’s official archives are stored in the Michael Marks building on the western campus of Leeds University. The Kirkgate Market stall and the university are linked with an M&S heritage walking tour, which explores the history of the company in Leeds.

3. There are independent boutiques and eateries galore at the Corn Exchange

Leeds' Corn Exchange is known for its domed glass-and-wooden roof

Leeds' Corn Exchange is known for its domed glass-and-wooden roof

Leeds’ Corn Exchange is known for its domed glass-and-wooden roof 

Inside Corn Exchange you'll find a range of cafes including Owt. Co-owner Esther Miglio (above) shows off the cafe's French toast

Inside Corn Exchange you'll find a range of cafes including Owt. Co-owner Esther Miglio (above) shows off the cafe's French toast

Inside Corn Exchange you’ll find a range of cafes including Owt. Co-owner Esther Miglio (above) shows off the cafe’s French toast

A short stroll from Kirkgate Market is the Victorian Corn Exchange, a Grade I-listed rotunda filled with independent boutiques and eateries.  

Corn traders required soft natural light rather than direct sunshine — all the better for showcasing grains — which is why the Corn Exchange’s domed glass-and-wooden roof floods the interior with diffuse daylight. 

Opened in 1864, the building was still operating as a hub for corn traders in the 1980s, although by the end of that decade, it had been turned into a shopping centre.

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The tremendous natural light illuminates an eclectic range of retailers and cafes today including Owt, the place to find amazing French toast that, says co-owner Esther Miglio, isn’t French toast at all.

‘It’s our in-house bread and butter pudding, fried, and very decadent,’ she confided.

4. This hidden gems foodie walking tour

Empire Café is one of the stops on the Leeds Hidden Gems Food Tour. Carlton enjoyed a dish of bruschetta with homemade basil pesto, heritage and vine tomatoes (pictured above)

Empire Café is one of the stops on the Leeds Hidden Gems Food Tour. Carlton enjoyed a dish of bruschetta with homemade basil pesto, heritage and vine tomatoes (pictured above)

Empire Café is one of the stops on the Leeds Hidden Gems Food Tour. Carlton enjoyed a dish of bruschetta with homemade basil pesto, heritage and vine tomatoes (pictured above)

Chilli Shop owner Frank Jay shows off his produce as part of the Hidden Gems Food Tour

Chilli Shop owner Frank Jay shows off his produce as part of the Hidden Gems Food Tour

Chilli Shop owner Frank Jay shows off his produce as part of the Hidden Gems Food Tour

How Leeds went from ‘Motorway city’ to pedestrian paradise

Leeds used to prioritise cars over people. Now, with a better understanding of the economic boost from folks on foot, the city has switched tack. Visitors to Leeds are today greeted with official posters proclaiming this is a city ‘where you don’t need a car to get around’. Quite some change from just two generations ago when the council advertised Leeds as the ‘Motorway City of the Seventies,’ even franking this bold slogan on all mail from the city. Since then, Leeds has been slowly reclaiming the streets for pedestrians.

Briggate, the city’s principal retail spine since the Early Medieval period, was not widened for the passage of motor traffic but laid out wide enough for open-air markets in 1207. Blighted by buses and cars since the early 1900s — and before that by horse-pulled trams and other horse traffic — it was fully pedestrianised 30 years ago. Other streets followed, and the transformation continues. The recent pedestrianisation of Greek Street — now packed with outdoor cafes — resulted in full occupancy of bars and restaurants and the creation of over 250 new jobs, puffs the council.

Earlier this year, the six previously traffic-choked roads in front of Leeds rail station were fully pedestrianised. This newly-paved triangle is — geometric accuracy be damned — City Square, and, unlike what it replaced, is now a welcoming gateway to what is Yorkshire’s unofficial capital.

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Foodies will adore the city’s Hidden Gems Food Tour led by company founder Ellen Miller. 

‘The city’s compact size helps because the independent food businesses get to know each other and often collaborate,’ said Ellen. 

She added: ‘Leeds feels like a small town, which is lovely.’

On my private tour with her we headed to the relatively new Empire Café where food has been served from the location since at least 1884. 

Today you can dine on flame-roasted rotisserie chicken and the crispiest roast potatoes. 

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While at Eat Your Greens, we had bruschetta with homemade basil pesto, heritage and vine tomatoes, and the most amazingly yummy cashew cream. 

The tomatoes were from the Isle of Wight, but the rest of the veggies on the menu were grown by Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, just a few miles away. 

Eat Your Greens staffers collect the farm’s produce by bicycle. The cafe-cum-shop has an in-store bike rack for staff and customers.

But one of Ellen’s most popular destinations isn’t a restaurant at all – it’s the Chilli Shop on Merrion Street. 

Owner Frank Jay locked us in for a private tasting. ‘You’re the first people in Britain to try this new dessert chilli sauce,’ he told us as we tucked into tiny samples of sweet chilli sauce over ice cream.

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5. Owl hunting

Manchester’s symbol is a bee, Newcastle has its magpie – the official emblem of Leeds is the owl.

There are three owls on Leeds City Council’s coat of arms, and there are at least 25 locations around the city where you can spot sculptures, paintings, and ornaments depicting these wise-looking birds. 

As the emblem of Leeds, owls are a prominent feature throughout the city. The Leeds Owl Trail will help fist-timers to the city locate them all

As the emblem of Leeds, owls are a prominent feature throughout the city. The Leeds Owl Trail will help fist-timers to the city locate them all

As the emblem of Leeds, owls are a prominent feature throughout the city. The Leeds Owl Trail will help fist-timers to the city locate them all

There’s a brilliant walking trail that links the locations, and once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll spot owls almost everywhere in the city: framed in friezes, perched on railings, and topping buildings. 

It’s a great way to get to know the city too!

6. Dakota Deluxe Hotel

The Dakota Deluxe Hotel, just a short stroll from the railway station, is Leeds' only five-star hotel

The Dakota Deluxe Hotel, just a short stroll from the railway station, is Leeds' only five-star hotel

The Dakota Deluxe Hotel, just a short stroll from the railway station, is Leeds’ only five-star hotel

The hotel exudes sophistication and has 84 plush rooms starting at £120 per night

The hotel exudes sophistication and has 84 plush rooms starting at £120 per night

The hotel exudes sophistication and has 84 plush rooms starting at £120 per night

Rising from the newly pedestrianised Greek Street and just a short stroll from the city’s train station the Dakota Deluxe Hotel is Leeds’ only five-star hotel. 

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It’s a swords-into-ploughshares high-rise built on a former multi-storey car park site in 2017. 

Our corner suite had a delicious view down to a corner office building — it’s great to wallow in luxury on a deep velvet sofa wrapped in a woollen throw while watching folks whiling away at a desk job.

Black-and-white photographs of Hollywood legends adorn the walls of the hotel’s bar and restaurant, again evoking a timeless elegance. A bespoke, small box of hotel-branded chocolates and some bubbly on ice awaited us on arrival.

Carlton can be found tweeting at @carltonreid and his videos can be found at www.youtube.com/@cyclingnews.

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‘No Plan B’ for Paris Olympics Seine River opening, says French sports minister

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The French government on Monday insisted it would keep a plan to hold the 2024 Paris Olympics opening ceremony on the River Seine even after a deadly attack in the French capital at the weekend amplified security concerns.

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Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told French radio that the plan could still be adapted within the idea of the river flotilla, with media reports indicating grave concern within the security forces that the ceremony could be vulnerable to attack.

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A man known to the authorities as a radical Islamist with mental troubles on Saturday stabbed to death a German tourist close to the Eiffel Tower by the River Seine in what prosecutors are investigating as a suspected act of terror.

“There is no plan B, we have a plan A within which we have several alternatives,” the minister told France Inter radio.

She said the “terrorist threat and in particular the Islamist threat exists” but added “it is not new and it is neither specific to France nor specific to the Games”.

Bur she added that there were “a certain number of adjustment variables”, notably the number of spectators who can attend which will be decided in the spring and can be “modulated”.

Also subject to adjustment could be “the number of events which will be authorised around the area and in Paris” on the sidelines of the ceremony and “the management of security perimeters”.

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But asked whether any relocation of the ceremony was being considered, she emphasised: “this is not the hypothesis on which we are working”.

For the first time in Olympics history, the opening ceremony is set to take place outside the main athletics stadium, with competitors and officials set to travel through Paris on a flotilla of more than 100 vessels.

The attacker chose the Eiffel Tower area more for its “symbolic” side than as an “Olympic site”, Emmanuel Gregoire, Paris’s first deputy mayor told France Info radio.

Recalling that the Rugby World Cup had been hosted this autumn in Paris and elsewhere in France without “any incident”, he said that it is not “the Olympics… that must be called into question”, but “the way in which we anticipate the risks in treating these individuals.”

“I am sure that we will be able to prepare for these Olympics in a very satisfactory manner,” he added.

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(AFP)

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