G7 Japan: World leaders visit Shinto religion's holiest shrine

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has taken world leaders to the Shinto religion's holiest site, as the Group of Seven (G7) summit begins in the country.

Mr Abe said the visit was so that they could "understand the spirituality of Japanese people".

The two-day G7 meeting in Ise-Shima brings together industrialised nations.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima - the site of the first atomic bomb - the first sitting US president to do so.

The visit to the shrine is controversial because critics say Mr Abe is catering to his conservative supporters who want to revive traditional values.

Ise shrine

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  • The shrine is 2,000 years old but in line with Shinto practice the buildings are taken down and reconstructed regularly.
  • Followers of Shintoism believe that everything - rocks, fire, trees, the sky - has its own spirit or god.
  • The sanctuary is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami who is prominent in Japanese creation myths.

Top of the agenda for the G7 nations - the US, Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany, France and Japan - will be concerns over the health of the global economy.

Europe's refugee crisis will also feature prominently at the meeting. European Council President Donald Tusk said on Thursday he would ask the G7's support for more global aid for refugees.

"If we (G7) do not take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody would," Mr Tusk said to reporters.

Terrorism, cyber security and maritime security are also on the agenda.

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School children welcomed the leaders to the Shinto shrine

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Mr Obama has previously said there would be no apology for the dropping of the world's first atomic bomb in Hiroshima

On Wednesday, Mr Obama and Mr Abe met for talks where the US president expressed regret over the arrest of a US military base worker in Okinawa in connection with the death of a local woman.

Mr Obama also mentioned his upcoming visit to Hiroshima, saying it would "honour all those who were lost in World War Two and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades".

He has previously said he would not be apologising for the dropping of the bomb by the US.

Source: bbc.com

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French labour dispute: Nuclear power plant workers to join strike

Workers at French nuclear power stations are due to down tools on Thursday amid growing industrial action over controversial labour reforms.

The CGT union said staff at 16 of France's 19 nuclear plants had voted for a one-day strike.

The government said on Wednesday it was dipping into strategic oil reserves as strikers blockaded refineries.

Unions want the government to reverse controversial labour reforms forced through parliament earlier this month.

France's state-run power company, Electricite de France, declined to comment on how Thursday's one-day strike at nuclear plants would affect supply.

Nuclear power provides about 75% of the country's electricity.

Strikes and blockades are already disrupting six of France's eight oil refineries.

Clashes broke out at one refinery on Tuesday when police broke up a blockade at Fos-sur-Mer in Marseille.

Workers at a large oil terminal in the port of Le Havre were due to go on strike on Thursday to block imports.

Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said 40% of petrol stations around Paris were struggling to get fuel.

Motorists have been panic buying to avoid shortages.

President Francois Hollande told ministers on Wednesday that "everything will be done to ensure the French people and the economy is supplied".

Analysts say France has nearly four months of fuel reserves.

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Police are trying to clear the blockades around oil refineries

Industrial action also spread to France's railways on Wednesday, with a strike by train drivers cutting some high-speed TGV services as well as regional and commuter trains. More transport disruption was expected on Thursday.

The CGT has also called for protest rallies in cities across France.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Paris says the escalating action is raising concerns for the Euro 2016 football championships due to begin in France in just over two weeks' time.

The government provoked union outrage when it resorted to a constitutional device to force its watered-down labour reforms through parliament without a vote.

The government says the reforms, which make it easier for companies to hire and fire staff, are needed to bring down unemployment.

French labour reform bill - main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

Source: bbc.com

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EgyptAir: Images released of debris found in plane search

The Egyptian military has released images of items found during the search in the Mediterranean Sea for missing Egypt Air flight MS804.

They include life vests, parts of seats and objects clearly marked EgyptAir.

The Airbus A320 was en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard when it vanished from radar early on Thursday.

Investigators have confirmed smoke was detected in various parts of the cabin three minutes before it disappeared, but say the cause is still not known.

Speaking on Saturday after meeting relatives of victims, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said "all theories are being examined and none is favoured".

Images posted on the Facebook page of the spokesman for the Egyptian Armed Forces showed life vests and other items with the EgyptAir logo.

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Investigators say nothing has yet been ruled out in the search for the cause of the crash

The search has also reportedly found body parts and luggage.

The main body of the plane and the two "black boxes" which show flight data and cockpit transmissions have not yet been located.

While no bodies have been recovered, memorials have been taking place for the victims.

A service was held in a Cairo church on Saturday for air hostess Yara Hani, who was aboard the doomed plane.

Smoke alarms

The Aviation Herald said that smoke detectors had gone off in the toilet and the aircraft's electronics before the signal was lost.

It said it had received flight data filed through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) from three independent channels.

It said the system showed that at 02:26 local time on Thursday (00:26 GMT) smoke was detected in the jet's toilet.

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A minute later - at 00:27 GMT - there was an avionics alert indicating smoke in the bay below the cockpit that contains aircraft electronics and computers.

The last ACARS message was at 00:29 GMT, the air industry website said, and the contact with the plane was lost four minutes later at 02:33 local time.

ACARS is used to routinely download flight data to the airline operating the aircraft.

Confirming the data, France's Bureau of Investigations and Analysis told AFP it was "far too soon to interpret and understand the cause of the accident as long as we have not found the wreckage or the flight data recorders".

Agency spokesman Sebastien Barthe told Associated Press the messages "generally mean the start of a fire" but added: "We are drawing no conclusions from this. Everything else is pure conjecture."

Philip Baum, the editor of Aviation Security International Magazine, told the BBC that technical failure could not be ruled out.

"There was smoke reported in the aircraft lavatory, then smoke in the avionics bay, and over a period of three minutes the aircraft's systems shut down, so you know, that's starting to indicate that it probably wasn't a hijack, it probably wasn't a struggle in the cockpit, it's more likely a fire on board."


Analysis: Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

This data could be the biggest clue yet as to what happened. It suggests there was a fire at the front of the aircraft, on the right-hand side.

The sequence begins with a warning of an overheating window in the cockpit. Smoke is then detected in the lavatory (we assume it's the one behind the cockpit) and in a bay right underneath the cockpit, which is full of electronic equipment.

Finally, another window becomes too hot, before all the systems begin collapsing. All of this takes place over a few minutes, then the aircraft drops off the radar.

Some pilots have suggested that the 90 degree left turn the plane then made is a known manoeuvre to get out of the way in an emergency, when an aircraft needs to drop height suddenly.

The 360 degree turn after that, they say, could be the crew managing a crisis.

So it seems that the aircraft caught fire and that the fire spread very quickly. But whether that fire was deliberate or mechanical, we still can't say.


Security consultant Sally Leivesley said the timing on the data suggested an "extremely rapidly developing flame front from a fire that has overwhelmed the avionics very, very quickly".

She cited the case of "underpants bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to set off an explosive device hidden in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight in 2009.

Although the attempt failed, a fire from the device's chemicals still spread "right up the side of the plane".

Greece says radar shows the Airbus A320 making two sharp turns and dropping more than 25,000ft (7,620m) before plunging into the sea.

The search is now focused on finding the plane's flight recorders, in waters between 2,500 and 3,000 metres deep.

In October, an Airbus A321 operated by Russia's Metrojet blew up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, with all 224 people on board killed.

Sinai Province, a local affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group, said it had smuggled a bomb on board.

Source: bbc.com

 

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MH17 crash: Victims' families sue Putin and Russia

Families of victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are suing Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in the European Court of Human Rights.

The jet was shot down by a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board.

The West and Ukraine say Russian-backed rebels were responsible but Russia accuses Ukrainian forces.

The families' claim is based on the violation of a passenger's right to life, News.com.au reported.

The claim is for 10 million Australian dollars ($7.2m; £4.9m) for each victim, and the lawsuit names both the Russian state and its president as respondents.

Jerry Skinner, a US-based aviation lawyer leading the case, told News.com.au it was difficult for the families to live with, knowing it was "a crime".

"The Russians don't have any facts for blaming Ukraine, We have facts, photographs, memorandums, tonnes of stuff."

Mr Skinner said they were waiting to hear from the ECHR whether the case had been accepted.

The Kremlin said it was unaware of the claim, the Interfax news agency reported, but a senator with Mr Putin's party is quoted in state media as saying it was "legally nonsensical and has no chance".

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There are 33 next-of-kin named in the application, the Sydney Morning Herald reported - eight from Australia, one from New Zealand with the rest from Malaysia.

Sydney-based law firm LHD Lawyers is filing the case on behalf of their families.

Flight MH17 crashed at the height of the conflict between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

A Dutch report last year concluded it was downed by a Russian-made Buk missile, but did not say who fired it.

Most of the victims were Dutch and a separate criminal investigation is still under way.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Top US commander makes secret visit to northern Syria

The top US commander for the Middle East secretly visited Syria on Saturday, officials said.

General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, spent about 11 hours in northern Syria.

He met US military advisers and the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Kurdish and Arab rebel forces.

The US wants local forces to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, which holds territory in the country.

Speaking after the visit, Gen Votel said training local forces to fight IS was the right approach.

"I left with increased confidence in their capabilities and our ability to support them. I think that model is working and working well," he said.

The SDF comprises about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters. The US is hoping to increase the number of Arabs in the force.

Syrian Arab trainees at an undisclosed training range in northern Syria on May 21, 2016

The US is training Syrian Arab fighters to take on IS

Arab commanders who spoke to journalists during the visit said their forces needed more help.

SDF Deputy Commander Qarhaman Hasan said he wanted armoured vehicles, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.

The SDF currently had to rely on smuggling to get weapons, he said.

"You can't run an army on smuggling," he added.

Tribal leaders also called on the US to do more, both militarily and with humanitarian aid.

The US has about 200 military advisers in Syria, where 270,000 people have died in five years of civil war.

Source: bbc.com

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Afghan Taliban leader Mansour 'probably killed' in US air strike

Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has probably been killed in a US air strike, US officials say.

He and another male combatant were targeted as they rode in a vehicle in a remote area of Pakistan close to the Afghan border, the officials said.

The Pentagon has confirmed it targeted Mansour in strikes but said they were still assessing the results.

Mansour assumed the leadership in July 2015, replacing Taliban founder and spiritual head Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The operation took place near the town of Ahmad Wal at around 15:00 (10:00 GMT) on Saturday and was authorised by President Barack Obama.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan were informed about the strike, said a US State Department spokesperson, without clarifying whether the notification was made in advance.

"We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available," said Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook.

An unnamed Taliban commander told the Reuters news agency: "We heard about these baseless reports but this not first time. Just wanted to share with you my own information that Mullah Mansour has not been killed."

False rumours have often surrounded Taliban leaders.

Omar died in 2013 but this was only confirmed by the Taliban two years later, while Mansour was reported to have been killed in a gun battle last year, something dismissed by the Afghan government.

Mansour's appointment as Taliban chief was disputed, with a rival group selecting their own leader.

The Pentagon's statement said Mansour was actively involved with planning attacks "presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners".

The Taliban have made gains since international troops withdrew from an active fighting role in 2014.

Nato forces are increasingly being deployed in battle zones to support Afghan forces fighting the Taliban.


Who is Mullah Mansour?

  • Long seen as acting head of the Taliban, and close to its founder Mullah Omar
  • Born in the 1960s, in Kandahar province, where he later served as shadow governor after the Taliban's fall
  • Was civil aviation minister during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan
  • Had an active role in drug trafficking, according to the UN
  • Has clashed with Abdul Qayum Zakir, a senior military commander, amid a power struggle and differences over negotiations with the Afghan government
  • A man claiming to be Mansour met former Afghan President Hamid Karzai for peace talks in 2010 - but it later emerged he was an imposter

Profile: Mullah Akhtar Mansour

Source: bbc.com

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EgyptAir flight: Search intensifies for missing plane

A massive search is continuing for a second day for an EgyptAir plane that disappeared over the Mediterranean.

Greek, Egyptian, French and UK military units are taking part in the operation near Greece's Karpathos island.

Flight MS804 was en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 passengers and crew when it vanished early on Thursday.

Greece said radar showed the Airbus A320 had made two sharp turns and dropped more than 25,000ft (7,620m) before plunging into the sea.

Egypt says the plane was more likely to have been brought down by a terrorist act than a technical fault.

Most of the people on board Flight MS804 were from Egypt and France. A Briton was also among the passengers.

So far, no wreckage or debris from the aircraft has been found.

Initial reports late on Thursday, based on Egyptian officials' comments that wreckage had been found, later proved unfounded.

Greece's lead air accident investigator Athanasios Binis said items including lifejackets found near Karpathos were not from the Airbus A320.

"An assessment of the finds showed that they do not belong to an aircraft," he said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered the country's civil aviation ministry, army-run search-and-rescue centre, navy and air force to take all necessary measures to locate the wreckage.

The French air accident investigation bureau has despatched three investigators, along with a technical adviser from Airbus, to join the Egyptian inquiry.

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In France, the focus is on whether a possible breach of security happened at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

Security was already tight, and under review, after last November's attacks by jihadist militants in the French capital.

Since then, some airport staff have had security clearance revoked over fears of links to Islamic extremists.

Eric Moucay, a lawyer for some of those employees, told the BBC that there had been attempts by Islamists to recruit airport staff.

"That is clear. There are people who are being radicalised in some of the trade unions etc. The authorities have their work cut out with this problem," he said.

No response

Flight MS804 left Paris at 23:09 local time on Wednesday (21:09 GMT) and was scheduled to arrive in the Egyptian capital soon after 03:15 local time (01:15 GMT) on Thursday.

On the plane were 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security personnel.

Greek aviation officials say air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot when he entered Greek airspace and everything appeared normal.

They tried to contact him again at 02:27 Cairo time, as the plane was set to enter Egyptian airspace, but "despite repeated calls, the aircraft did not respond". Two minutes later it vanished from radar.

Flight MS804's possibly final movements

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters: "The picture we have at the moment on the accident as it emerges from the Greek air force operations centre is that the aircraft was approximately 10-15 miles inside the Egyptian FIR [flight information region] and at an altitude of 37,000 feet.

"It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 37,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet."

Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi said: "Let's not try to jump to the side that is trying to identify this as a technical failure - on the contrary.

"If you analyse the situation properly, the possibility of having a different action, or having a terror attack, is higher than the possibility of having a technical [fault]."

In October an Airbus A321 operated by Russia's Metrojet blew up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, with the deaths of all 224 people on board. Sinai Province, a local affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group, said it had smuggled a bomb on board.

French President Francois Hollande said: "We will draw conclusions when we have the truth about what happened.

"Whether it was an accident, or whether it was - and it's something that is on our minds - terrorism."

Flightradar24 listed details of the plane's journey on Wednesday which showed it had flown from Asmara, in Eritrea, to Cairo, then on to Tunis, in Tunisia, before heading, via Cairo, to Paris.

Aviation analyst Alex Macheras told the BBC that Airbus A320s were regularly used for short-haul budget flights and had "an amazing safety record".

In March, an EgyptAir plane was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. The attacker later surrendered and all hostages were released.

Source: bbc.com

 

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San Francisco police chief quits amid racism row

San Francisco's Police Chief Greg Suhr has stepped down hours after a police officer shot and killed a young black woman driving a suspected stolen car.

The resignation was announced by Mayor Ed Lee, who had asked him to quit.

Mr Suhr and city police had in recent months come under fierce criticism over fatal police shootings of several black suspects.

Reports also recently emerged that a number of officers had exchanged racist text messages.

At a news conference on Thursday, Mayor Lee said he hoped the resignation would help "to heal the city".

The mayor, who until now had supported Mr Suhr, added: "The progress we have made has been meaningful but it hasn't been fast enough, not for me and not for Greg, and that's why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation."

He named Toney Chaplin as acting police chief.

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Earlier, protesters held a rally outside the city hall, demanding the sacking of Greg Suhr

The black woman, 27, was shot and killed earlier on Thursday in the city's Bayview area.

Police said one of their patrols approached her as she sat in a car that had been reported stolen.

The woman allegedly tried to drive off and then crashed into a nearby vehicle.

There was no immediate indication that she had a weapon or had tried to run down a police officer before the shooting, the city authorities said.


Analysis: BBC's David Willis in California

A 34-year veteran of the San Francisco PD, Greg Suhr was once a popular and professional policeman.

"Greg was always respectful, always a servant of the community," recalled London Breed, who first encountered Suhr when the latter was a young narcotics officer working the beat. Both men would go on to greater things: Suhr to police chief, Breed to president of the local Board of Supervisors.

But for Suhr there were missteps along the way - among them a demotion from deputy chief after a female friend told him she had been assaulted by her boyfriend and he failed to file a police report.

Reflecting on Suhr's resignation, London Breed said he hoped the city would now come together so that everyone would feel safe in their communities.

The job of reforming the police department now rests with Greg Suhr's former deputy Toney Chaplin - another insider, with 26 years of service under his belt.


In April, five people went on a hunger strike, demanding Mr Suhr be sacked. They ended their strike last week.

Mr Suhr, a veteran officer, was appointed city police chief in 2011.

There are more than 1,000 fatal shootings by police in the US each year, and those killed are disproportionately African-American.

Source: bbc.com

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Canada fires cost oil sands production $763m

A new report into the financial impact of the McMurray fires says some C$763m (£527m) in oil sands production has been lost.

The analysis says the blaze has meant the loss of 1.2 million barrels of oil a day over two weeks.

The sum is equivalent to 0.33% of the province of Alberta's projected GDP this year, as well as representing 0.06% of the country's projected GDP.

"These are big numbers," Kevin Birn, an analyst at IHS Energy, said.

"The industry was already feeling the impact of a very low price environment in the first quarter of the year, with prices lower than in the rest of the world," he told the BBC's Bill Wilson.

The analysis, by economic research organisation the Conference Board of Canada, projects that national economic impacts will be "minimal".

He said the oil sands firms affected were among the biggest energy companies in the world, and that they would be "pushing to get facilities up and running as soon as possible".

"Some facilities had already started ramping up ready to restart production, but have had to stand down again and evacuate workers. There is rain forecast for this weekend which will hopefully bring an end to this disruption."

Mr Birn added that most of the Canadian sands oil produced was sent to the US mid-west for processing, and that a knock-on effect would be that refineries there would be having to look for alternative sources, "which comes with additional costs for them".

The fire is now 1,366 square miles (3527km) and conditions are getting more dangerous for fire fighters north of Fort McMurray.

It is moving east and encroaching the border with Saskatchewan, officials said on Tuesday, and continuing to "burn out of control".

The Alberta government is taking a "second look" at plans for re-entry into Fort McMurray, said Alberta premier Rachel Notley.

"We're not going to have people going back until we know it's safe," she said.

She said said it is unclear when oil production can resume.

Gas service has returned to 60% of the city and electricity is restored in undamaged areas, she said.

Workers who were sent to Fort McMurray to begin working on the hospital have now been evacuated.

Alberta Highway 63 is likely to be threatened and could be closed for a period of time, she said.

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Canada's oil sands industry

  • Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and a thick, heavy oil called bitumen
  • Bitumen is extracted using surface mining and drilling, and must be treated before it can be turned into petrol and other usable fuels
  • Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia
  • The Alberta oil sands produced about 2.3 million barrels a day in 2014

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC News that the cost of the disaster was still being evaluated.

"We're obviously going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in Fort McMurray and rebuild the city," he said.

Source: bbc.com

 

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West Virginia mom dies while getting 'Brazilian butt lift'

A West Virginia mom who traveled to Florida to undergo cosmetic surgery died Thursday after police say she suffered medical complications during the procedure, WSVN reports.

Heather Meadows, 29, who has a 6-year-old and a newborn, was rushed to a Hialeah ER from Encore Plastic Surgery and pronounced dead after experiencing medical complications.

CBS Miami reports Meadows was having a "Brazilian Butt Lift" done at Encore; the procedure begins with a liposuction, with the removed fat then injected into the buttocks.

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner says death was caused by fat clots in the arteries of her lungs and heart. When the fat was injected, it probably was introduced to her bloodstream via a vein, reports the Miami Herald.

Per the New York Daily News, although there aren't any active complaints against Encore, two doctors listed as working there, Orlando Llorente and James McAdoo, are also tied to a practice called Vanity Cosmetic Surgery, where a 51-year-old woman died in 2013 after a breast augmentation.

A third doctor listed in Yelp reviews for Encore has been deemed "an immediate serious danger" to public health by state health officials and banned from performing lipo and fat transfers to the buttocks after four patients were reportedly badly injured as he performed those procedures.

A woman set to have surgery at Encore and standing outside its Hialeah office tells WSVN, "I'm not having surgery here. Are you kidding me? This is a chop shop." The station says she got her $4,000 back, while NBC Miami notes she said it could have cost up to $12,000 at another practice.

(What happens when people get cheap leg-lengthening.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: WV Mom Dies While Getting 'Brazilian Butt Lift'

Source: foxnews.com

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Transgender toilet use: US schools 'must respect gender identity'

The Obama administration has told schools to let transgender pupils use toilets matching their gender identity.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said schools that don't comply may face lawsuits or lose federal aid if they do not comply.

One senior Republican politician has condemned the move as the "beginning of the end" of the current school system.

In a separate move, the president also strengthened protections for LGBT people receiving health care.

The federal government is fighting the state of North Carolina in court over a law requiring people to use toilets according to their gender at birth.

However the Obama administration education and justice departments say public schools must respect transgender pupils' gender identity even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Ms Lynch said.

Mapping safe toilets for transgender Americans

How one woman's 'bathroom bill' campaign went viral

Why bathrooms matter to trans rights

Campaigners hailed the move.

"This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools," said Chad Griffin from Human Rights Campaign, a gay, lesbian and transgender rights organisation.

But the directive, which has been sent to all public schools, was immediately rejected by senior Republican Party politicians meeting at a convention in Texas.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said: "This will be the beginning of the end of the public school system as we know it."

"President Obama, in the dark of the night - without consulting Congress, without consulting educators, without consulting parents - decides to issue an executive order, forcing transgender policies on schools and on parents who clearly don't want it," he told 5NBC television.

A new gender identity comes into force as soon as a parent or guardian notifies the school that their child's identity "differs from previous representations or records" and must be respected even if it makes others uncomfortable, the directive says.

Ms Lynch said North Carolina's new state law had echoes of policies of racial segregation and efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

The federal government and the state are suing each other over the law, which the federal authorities say violates the Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina's Governor Pat McCrory has said the law is a "common sense privacy policy" and that the justice department's position is "baseless and blatant overreach".

However, many businesses and entertainers have criticised the measures as discriminatory.

Musicians have cancelled concerts in the states and several companies have pledged to curtail their business in North Carolina.

Last month a US appeals courts ruled that a Virginia school policy that barred a transgender pupil from using the boys' toilet was discriminatory.

Transgender health care

On Friday afternoon, President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave the LBGT community further protections when receiving health care.

A new rule in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act guarantees equal treatment for transgender people by insurance companies and health care providers.

It states people must be treated in line with their gender identity, including access to facilities such as toilets, and given the same treatments which are available to their chosen gender.

The rule applies to all federal funded health care and insurers.

The Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the measure was a step towards "realizing equity within our health care system and reaffirms this Administration's commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve."

Transgender Americans can make civil rights claims if denied coverage or care based on their sex, which will be assessed by HHS's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

HHS said the new rule was the first federal civil rights law that tackled sex discrimination in government-funded health care.

Source: bbc.com

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Trayvon Martin death: Zimmerman handgun 'auction reaches $65m'

An online auction for the pistol used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has apparently reached $65m (£45m), organisers say.

The sale has been plagued by fake bidders including "Racist McShootface".

George Zimmerman, who shot and killed the teenager, had planned to auction what he called "an American icon" on the website Gun Broker on Thursday.

But the web posting was removed just as the auction was due to begin with a reserve price of $5,000 (£3,450).

United Gun Group is now hosting the auction.

In a statement on Twitter they defended the sale of the gun on their site. They were "truly sorry" for the Martin family's loss but said it was their goal to "defend liberty".

"Unless the law has been violated, it is the intention of the United Gun Group to allow its members to use any of the available features. While not always popular this is where we stand."

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Mr Zimmerman said the gun was recently returned to him

On Friday afternoon, the top bidder was a user named Craig Bryant.

Mr Zimmerman, 32, a neighbourhood watchman, was cleared over the death of the 17-year-old in February 2012 after saying he acted in self-defence.

Does the gun belong in a museum?

In an online posting to announce the auction, Mr Zimmerman said that he would use the profits to "fight" the Black Lives Matter movement and oppose Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

A lawyer for the Martin family told the Washington Post that "it is insulting to this family that he would decide that he would sell the gun that he killed their child with".

"Think about what that means: This is a gun that took a child's life and now he wants to make money off of it."

On the auction site, Mr Zimmerman said it was recently returned to him by the US Department of Justice.

He claimed that the Smithsonian museums had expressed interest in buying the 9 mm handgun, but Smithsonian officials denied that in a statement.

Speaking to a Florida television station, Mr Zimmerman had defended the auction saying "I'm a free American, and I can do what I'd like with my possessions."

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Zimmerman has had several encounters with police since being acquitted

Analysis - Nick Bryant, BBC North America correspondent

Few cases in recent years have been more racially sensitive or led to such an anguished national conversation as the killing of Trayvon Martin. It sparked demonstrations around the country, prompted President Obama to remark that if he had a son, he'd have looked like the black teenager and brought about the first use on social media of the hashtag "Black Lives Matter."

So the decision of the former neighbourhood watchman, George Zimmerman to put the gun he used up for auction not only seems extraordinary but also cruel and callous - especially since he refers to the weapon on the online site as an "American icon."

This is not the first time that Zimmerman has sought to cash in on his notoriety. His first painting of an American flag, emblazoned with the words "God One Nation with Liberty and Justice For All," sold on eBay for the staggering sum of $100,000. But it did not impress critics, who called it "primitive" and "appalling."

Harsher language will no doubt be used to describe the sale of the pistol that killed Trayvon Martin.

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Protests were launched nationwide following Martin's death, which helped to create the Black Lives Matter movement

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said on Thursday that "Trayvon Martin's cold-blooded killer should be in prison. Instead, he is trying to profit from the stunning miscarriage of justice."

Florida police did not arrest Mr Zimmerman for six weeks after the shooting in Sanford, Florida, provoking mass rallies in Florida and throughout the US.

Police justified their decision not to detain him by citing the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, which allows a citizen to use lethal force if he or she feels in imminent danger. Police initially said the law prevented them from bringing charges.

Profiles: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Mr Zimmerman's defence said Trayvon Martin had punched their client, slammed his head into the pavement and reached for Mr Zimmerman's gun. Prosecutors accused Mr Zimmerman of telling a number of lies.

The case led to protests in several cities in the US and to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Zimmerman's name has been in news headlines several times since his closely watched trial.

Twice, assault charges against his girlfriend were dropped.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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US Congressmen: Drop baggage fees to cut airport congestion

Two US senators have urged airlines to temporarily stop charging passengers baggage fees in an effort to speed up security queues.

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey said passengers often bring extra items through the security screening process to save money.

They asked major US airlines to suspend the fees during the busy summer season.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has struggled with long queues at major airports.

"Passengers report waiting for so long in these lines that they miss flights, despite arriving at the airport hours in advance." the senators wrote in a letter to the airlines.

"Travel officials, including TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, have expressed fears of a meltdown this summer as travel increases."

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Senators Blumenthal and Markey said baggage fees encourage passengers to bring more luggage into the cabin

A spokeswoman representing the many of the airlines said the senators plan is a misguided attempt to re-regulate airline and would raise ticket prices.

Jean Medina of Airlines for America said the TSA should hire additional staff at the busiest airports instead.

Federal budget cuts have recently reduced the number of TSA screeners.

American and Delta airlines said they planned to loan employees to the TSA to handle low-level tasks.

The TSA was created in response to the 9/11 attacks, but the agency has been often accused of mismanagement and using inept screening procedures.

American Airlines recently complained to Congress about TSA checkpoints, saying more than 6,000 American passengers missed flights in one week because of security delays.

"The lines at TSA checkpoints nationwide have become unacceptable," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American.

Many airlines introduced baggage fees in 2008 to cope with soaring fuel costs.

Despite historically low oil prices and record airline profits, the fees have not been revoked.

Source: bbc.com

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US naval commander demoted after Iran's capture of sailors

The US Navy has fired the commander of the 10 US sailors who in January entered Iranian territorial waters and were briefly detained.

In a statement, the US Navy said it had lost confidence in Eric Rasch, who was in charge of a riverine squadron at the time of the incident in the Gulf.

A Navy official said Mr Rasch had been re-assigned, the Associated Press says.

The sailors were released after intense diplomacy between US Secretary of State John Kerry and senior Iranian officials.

On Thursday, the US Navy official said that Mr Rasch had failed to provide effective leadership, leading to a lack of oversight, complacency and failure to maintain standards in his unit.

The official - who spoke on condition of anonymity - did not say what the former commander's new role was.

In January, the sailors - nine men and a woman - were detained when one of their two vessels broke down while training in the Gulf.

They were then taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

The incursion was "unintentional", the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were quoted as saying at the time.

The sailors were released after about 15 hours, and after Iran said they apologised.

But Vice-President Joe Biden later said that the boat had had simply a problem and there was "nothing to apologise for".

The US said at the time it was investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

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Sourcee: bbc.com

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London receptionist 'sent home for not wearing heels'

A London receptionist was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels, it has emerged.

Temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney, arrived at finance company PwC to be told she had to wear shoes with a "2in to 4in heel".

When she refused and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had "signed the appearance guidelines" but it would now review them.

More on this story and other news from London

High heels and flip-flops: Work dress code victims

PwC said the dress code was "not a PwC policy".

Ms Thorp said she would have struggled to work a full day in high heels and had asked to wear the smart flat shoes she had worn to the office in Embankment.

But instead she was was told she should go and buy a pair of heels on her first day, back in December.

"I said 'if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough', but they couldn't," Ms Thorp told BBC Radio London.

"I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said 'I just won't be able to do that in heels'."

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The office in Embankment where Nicola Thorp was told to wear high heels for work by Portico

Ms Thorp said she asked if a man would be expected to do the same shift in heels, and was laughed at.

She then spoke to friends about what had happened, and after posting on Facebook realised that other women had found themselves in the same position.

"I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash," she said. "But I realised I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue."

She has since set up a petition calling for the law to be changed so women cannot be forced to wear high heels to work. It has had more than 10,000 signatures, so the government will now have to respond.


Is this legal?

As the law stands, employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to "reasonable" dress code demands, as long as they've been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes.

They can set up different codes for men and women, as long as there's an "equivalent level of smartness".

Read more here.


"I don't hold anything against the company necessarily because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and as it stands, part of that for a woman is to wear high heels," Ms Thorp said.

"I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes.

"Aside from the debilitating factor, it's the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn't be forcing that on their female employees."

Simon Pratt, managing director at Portico, said it was "common practice within the service sector to have appearance guidelines", which Ms Thorp had agreed to.

"These policies ensure customer-facing staff are consistently well presented and positively represent a client's brand and image."

However, he said the firm had "taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines".

A PwC spokesman said the company was in discussions with Portico about its policy.

"PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose," the spokesman said.

"PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees." Ms Thorp said she did not blame the company involved but the law should be changed so women could not be required to wear high heels.

Source: bbc.com

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BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and team expelled from North Korea

BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team are being expelled from North Korea after being detained over their reporting.

Our correspondent, producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were stopped by officials on Friday as they were about to leave North Korea.

He was questioned for eight hours by North Korean officials and made to sign a statement.

All three were held over the weekend but have now been taken to the airport.

The BBC team was in North Korea ahead of the Workers Party Congress, accompanying a delegation of Nobel prize laureates conducting a research trip.

The North Korean leadership was displeased with their reports highlighting aspects of life in the capital.

A BBC spokesman said: "We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed.

"Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting."

Source: bbc.com

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Etihad turbulence: More than 30 passengers injured

More than 30 people were injured when an Etihad Airways flight hit "severe and unexpected turbulence" flying into Indonesia, the airline said.

The flight from Abu Dhabi was about 45 minutes away from Jakarta on Wednesday when the turbulence hit.

The plane, an Airbus A330-200, landed safely after the incident, but 10 people were taken to hospital.

Video footage apparently from the flight showed passengers crying out as the plane shook.

The United Arab Emirates' national airline told AFP news agency the cabin luggage bins were damaged and passengers said oxygen masks were released during the shaking.

The airline did not provide details on the severity of the injuries but nine passengers and one crew member were taken to hospital. The rest were treated by airport paramedics.

Etihad said it had cancelled the return flight and was booking alternative flights and providing accommodation.

Airport and Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee officials are inspecting the plane, the airport said.

Source: bbc.com

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Italian court rules food theft 'not a crime' if hungry

Stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime, Italy's highest court of appeal has ruled.

Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.

Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food "in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment", the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

A fellow customer informed the store's security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.

In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.

'Right and pertinent' ruling, say papers

For the judges, the "right to survival prevails over property", said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation's judgement "reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve".

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day - it was "unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality".

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The "historic" ruling is "right and pertinent", said Italiaglobale.it - and derives from a concept that "informed the Western world for centuries - it is called humanity".


However, his case was sent to appeal on the grounds that the conviction should be reduced to attempted theft and the sentence cut, as Mr Ostriakov had not left the shop premises when he was caught.

Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which reviews only the application of the law and not the facts of the case, on Monday made a final and definitive ruling overturning the conviction entirely.

Stealing small quantities of food to satisfy a vital need for food did not constitute a crime, the court wrote.

"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity," wrote the court.

Source: bbc.com

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Instagram hacked by 10-year-old boy

A 10-year-old boy Finnish boy named Jani has been given $10,000 (£7,000) after he found a security flaw in image-sharing social network Instagram.

The boy, who technically is not allowed to even join the site for another three years, discovered a bug that allowed him to delete comments made by other users.

The issue was "quickly" fixed after being discovered, said Facebook, which owns Instagram.

Jani was paid soon after - making him the youngest ever recipient of the firm's "bug bounty" prize.

After discovering the flaw in February, he emailed Facebook.

Security engineers at the company set up a test account for Jani to prove his theory - which he did.

The boy, from Helsinki, told Finnish newspaper Iltalehti he planned to use the money to buy a new bike, football equipment and computers for his brothers.

Facebook told the BBC it had paid $4.3m to bug bounty recipients since 2011.

Many companies offer a financial incentive for security professionals - and young children, evidently - to share flaws with the company, rather than selling them on the black market.

Source: bbc.com

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Canada wildfire forces mass evacuation in Fort McMurray

A huge wildfire has forced the evacuation of about 60,000 people from Fort McMurray - the entire population of the Canadian city.

The blaze has destroyed a number of homes, dropping ash on the streets of the city in the province of Alberta.

Fleeing residents have caused gridlock on the main road leading from the city, 380km (235 miles) north of Edmonton.

The evacuation from Fort McMurray - which lies in an oil sands region - is the biggest in Alberta's history.

"If you just walk outside, you feel it (ash) falling on you. You see it floating in the air. I can take a broom and brush it off my deck," resident Mark Durocher was quoted as saying by the Globe and Mail.

Plumes of smoke rise in the air, as people flee the wildfire in their cars in Fort McMurray

Roads were packed as people fled the wildfire in their cars

Homes in at least two neighbourhood have been gutted, and the fire has now spread to Highway 63 - the main road into Fort McMurray from the south.

Firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze, but the local authorities have called for reinforcements, including a water-dumping helicopter.

So far there have been no reports of any injuries.

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Source: bbc.com

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Groups of parents keep children off school in test protest

Groups of parents are keeping their children off school for the day in a protest about primary tests in England.

More than 40,000 parents have signed a petition calling for a boycott of primary school tests, which are due to be taken later this month.

Parents supporting the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign have complained of a damaging culture of over-testing.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says taking pupils out of school "even for a day is harmful to their education".

It remains uncertain how many primary school children are being kept off school, but a social media campaign has been urging parents to take children on educational activities for the day.

The campaign organisers say children are "over-tested, over-worked and in a school system that places more importance on test results and league tables than children's happiness and joy of learning".

They have raised concerns about the impact of primary tests, so-called Sats tests, taken by seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds, which are being made more difficult.

They have challenged what they claim is a "dull, dry curriculum" based around tests.

test paper

Parents have claimed that the tests are causing stress for primary pupils

In an open letter to the education secretary, campaigners have warned of schools becoming "exam factories" and that testing causes stress and can make young children feel like "failures".

Fiona Robertson, a parent and primary teacher who is keeping her children out of school on Tuesday, says that such tests can "turn children off" school.

She says that a narrow emphasis on testing and completing targets was taking away children's creativity.

"They're not producing really imaginative pieces. They're too scared to," she said.

'It's too hard'

Dawn Slater is keeping her six-year-old twins George and Josie away from lessons at Cheam Fields Primary School, Surrey on Tuesday. She said they had been stressed since returning to school this term.

Her son had been having tantrums and her daughter suffered nightmares.

"She's been saying things like 'I can't do it, it's too hard', in her sleep," she said.

"When I do the literacy test, it's hard," said Josie. "When we have the story, when we're we're stuck on a word, we can't read it. So the story won't make sense."

Instead, the family are going to Nonsuch Park to "find birds, trees and insects", Josie added.

'Basket case'

But Education Minister Nick Gibb said tests improved standards.

He said: "Schools should not be putting pressure on young people when taking these assessments. I've been to many schools where the children don't even know they're taking the tests, they don't have an effect on the children themselves because they have no consequences for the children.

"They [the tests] are to hold schools to account, to make sure that every school in the country is equipping children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed."

And parent's and teachers' claims were dismissed by Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education.

He said that any short-term stress was worth it if in the longer term it meant that children finished school with better results.

Mr McGovern said that tests in England's schools needed to be tougher to catch up with international competitors.

"We're three years behind the Chinese at the age of 15. We are a bit of a basket case internationally.

"We've got to do something, we've got to act early, and a health check at seven is a good idea."

Ministers have already had problems with the administration of primary school tests this year.

The baseline tests, which were intended to be a benchmark for measuring progress, were found to have unreliable results and have been postponed.

Tests for seven-year-olds in spelling, punctuation and grammar also had to be called off when it was found that test questions had mistakenly been published on a Department for Education website.

Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said she did not "condone children being taken out of school".

But she accused the government of "creating chaos and confusion in primary assessment".

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think the gap between the profession and the government has never been wider than it is at the moment."

He warned of "an enormous number of mistakes, delays and confusions around testing".

But Ms Morgan has argued that raising standards will improve creativity and not restrict it and keeping children home, "even for a day, is harmful to their education".

Source: bbc.com

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China investigates search engine Baidu after student's death

China has launched an investigation into search giant Baidu after the death of a student who tried an experimental cancer therapy he found online.

Wei Zexi, who died last month from a rare form of cancer, had sought the treatment from a hospital that came top of the list on his Baidu web search.

Baidu has come under fire for allegedly selling listings to bidders without adequately checking their claims.

In a statement Baidu said it was investigating the matter.

The company told the BBC: "We deeply regret the death of Wei Zexi and our condolences go out to his family.

"Baidu strives to provide a safe and trustworthy search experience for our users, and have launched an immediate investigation of the matter."

Baidu owns search engine and social media services, and is often compared to Google. Shares slumped in the US on news of an investigation by China's internet regulator, with Baidu's Nasdaq-listed shares falling 7.92%.

According to state news agency Xinhua, Wei was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma in 2014.

He and his family said he found out about a controversial treatment at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps through an advertisement on Baidu.

But the treatment was unsuccessful and the 21-year-old student died on 12 April.

Before his death, Wei publically accused Baidu of promoting false medical information and the hospital of misleading advertising.

Baidu has said on its Weibo account that it had filed a request for the hospital to be investigated. The hospital has yet to comment and efforts to contact hospital officials have been unsuccessful.

In addition to the Cyberspace Administration of China, several other government agencies including the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission are looking into the matter.

The outcry over the case follows a similar scandal in January involving ethical practices regarding healthcare advertising.

The story has also reignited public concern over Baidu's advertising ethics, following an earlier scandal where it admitted it allowed healthcare companies to moderate online health forums.

On popular microblogging network Sina Weibo, the hashtag #Wei Zexi Baidu Advertising Incident# has been trending for days as netizens have called for a boycott of Baidu.

Source: bbc.com

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Migrant crisis: EU 'to back' visa-free travel for Turkey

The European Commission will give conditional approval for Turks to travel without visas to Europe's passport-free Schengen area, sources have told the BBC.

The move is part of a deal in which Turkey is taking back migrants who have crossed over the Aegean Sea to Greece.

But Turkey must still meet EU criteria, and the deal must be approved by the European Parliament and member states.

The EU fears that without a visa deal, Turkey will not control migration.

What is the Schengen agreement?

Turks look to EU to scrap visas

The large influx of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from Turkey, and from North Africa, has caused a political crisis among EU states.

A formal announcement from the European Commission is due on Wednesday.


Analysis by Katya Adler, BBC Europe Editor

If the European Commission (the EU's executive body) does make the recommendation this Wednesday that Turks be granted visa-free travel in Europe's Schengen area, as whispers from well-placed EU sources suggest, then it will be doing so holding its nose and its breath.

The freedom of speech; the right to a fair trial; and revising terrorism legislation to better protect minority rights - these are just some of the criteria demanded by the EU of countries before it lifts visa requirements, even for short-term travel.

It is hard to see how Turkey could be described as meeting these conditions. The government in Ankara increasingly cracks down on its critics in a manner more autocratic than democratic.

But these are desperate times for the EU. The European Commission and most EU governments are under huge public pressure to ease the migrant crisis.

My sources say the commission will therefore keep to the agreed script. But they insist this is no blank cheque. Turkey will get the green light over visas this week to keep it sweet. But it will also be informed of the outstanding criteria it still needs to meet.

Read more from Katya


Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Under the agreement, Turkey must meet 72 conditions by 4 May to earn access to the EU's Schengen area by the end of June, subject to full EU approval. Diplomats have suggested that fewer than 10 still need to be met.

Human rights groups question the deal's legality and argue that Turkey is not a safe place to return people to.

Last month, however, European Council President Donald Tusk said the deal had begun to produce results.

He praised the Turkish government as "the best example in the world on how to treat refugees", despite criticism by rights groups of the agreement.

At the same time, Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said his country had fulfilled its part of the agreement and that the issue of the visa waiver for the EU's Schengen area was "vital" for Turkey.

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Colombia legalises gay marriage

Colombia's top court has legalised same-sex marriage, making the country the fourth in Latin America to do so.

Gay couples were already allowed to form civil partnerships, but Thursday's ruling extends them the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

Earlier this month the constitutional court dismissed a judge's petition against equal marriage rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have previously legalised same-sex marriage.

Argentina was the first Latin American country to take the step in July 2010.

In Mexico, gay marriage is legal in the capital and in certain states.

Source: bbc.com

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Russia challenges US after Baltic jet face-off

Russia says it was right to confront a US Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea on Friday.

The Pentagon said a Russian jet fighter acted in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner", and performed a barrel roll over its plane.

Russia said that the American jet had turned off its transponder signal, which helps others identify it.

It is the second incident in the Baltic this month in which the US has accused Russian planes of flying aggressively.

"All flights of Russian planes are conducted in accordance with international regulations on the use of airspace," a statement by the Russian defence ministry said. "The US Air Force has two solutions: either not to fly near our borders or to turn the transponder on for identification."

US jets "regularly" try to approach Russia's borders with transponders switched off, the statement said. Over the past 18 months, Russia has been repeatedly accused of the same practice over the Baltic and near UK waters.

It is not clear how close to Russia's waters Friday's incident occurred.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Daniel Hernandez said there had been "repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns".

"The US aircraft was operating in international airspace and at no time crossed into Russian territory," he said.

"This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all air crews involved."

Such actions could "unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries," he said.

Mr Hernandez said the Su-27's "erratic and aggressive manoeuvres" also threatened the safety of the US aircrew, coming within 7.6m (25ft) of the fuselage of the American plane before conducting its barrel roll.

Military encounters between Russia and the US and its allies have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the breakdown of relations between East and West.

Two Russian planes flew close to a US guided missile destroyer almost a dozen times in the Baltic on 13 April.

The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Washington reported after the destroyer incident that Russia's actions were regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle, a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.

Source: bbc.com

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Zika virus: Risk higher than first thought, say doctors

The mosquito-borne Zika virus may be even more dangerous than previously thought, scientists in Brazil say.

They told the BBC that Zika could be behind more damaging neurological conditions, affecting the babies of up to a fifth of infected pregnant women.

Rates of increase in Zika infection in some parts of Brazil have slowed, thanks to better information about preventing the disease.

But the search for a vaccine is still in the early stages.

And Zika continues to spread across the region.

What you need to know: How dangerous is Zika?

2.2 billion in 'at risk' Zika areas

Travel advice: Countries affected and what you should do

Most doctors and medical researchers now agree that there is a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads because of restricted brain development.

While it is estimated that 1% of women who have had Zika during pregnancy will have a child with microcephaly, leading doctors in Brazil have told the BBC that as many as 20% of Zika-affected pregnancies will result in a range of other forms of brain damage to the baby in the womb.

A separate study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that "29% of scans showed abnormalities in babies in the womb, including growth restrictions, in women infected with Zika".

Graphic showing babies' head size

Zika: What are the symptoms?

Deaths are rare and only one in five people infected is thought to develop symptoms.

These include:

  • mild fever
  • conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes)
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • a rash

A rare nervous system disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome, that can cause temporary paralysis has been linked to the infection.

There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

But the biggest concern is the impact it could have on babies developing in the womb.

Source: bbc.com

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Hitomi: Japan to abandon costly satellite sent to study black holes

Japan's space agency had said it will abandon efforts to restore or retrieve the ASTRO-H satellite.

Also called Hitomi, the satellite was launched in 17 February to observe X-rays coming from black holes.

Contact was lost with $273m satellite on 26 March sparking a scramble by Japanese scientists to find out what had happened.

The next time a similar satellite will be launched is in 2028 by the European Space Agency.

Hitomi was a joint effort between Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and other groups.

A H-IIA rocket, carrying X-ray astronomy satellite

The rocket carrying the ASTRO-H satellite lifted off from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan

"We concluded that the satellite is in a state in which its functions are not expected to recover," Saku Tsuneta, director general of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, told a press conference on Thursday.

"JAXA will cease the efforts to restore ASTRO-H and will focus on the investigation of anomaly causes," the space agency said in a statement.

It added that it was likely two solar arrays had broken off their bases.

Until now, there was hope that the satellite could be recovered after JAXA said it had received three signals from Hitomi. It said on Thursday that it now thinks those signals were not sent by the spacecraft.

Source: bbc.com

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African leaders meet for Giants Club elephant summit

African leaders are to meet in Kenya to discuss how to save the continent's elephants from extinction.

The inaugural summit of the so-called Giants Club will be led by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As well as heads of state, the conservation group will bring together business leaders and scientists.

Experts say Africa's elephant population has fallen by 90% over the past century and warn that the animal could be extinct within decades.

Among those expected to attend the summit are Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and President Ali Bongo from the west African nation of Gabon.

After the summit, Kenya will set fire to nearly its entire confiscated stock of ivory, 105 tonnes, equivalent to the tusks of more than 6,700 elephants.

The ivory has been piled into a dozen giant pyres, which will be lit by dignitaries at the summit.

The mass burning on Saturday will be seven times the size of any stockpile destruction so far, and represents about 5% of global ivory stores.

Some 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn will also be burned.

The street value of the ivory destroyed is estimated at more than $100 million (£70m), and the rhino horn at $80 million (£55m).

"We don't believe there is any intrinsic value in ivory, and therefore we're going to burn all our stockpiles and demonstrate to the world that ivory is only valuable on elephants," said Kitili Mbathi, director general of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Africa is home to between 450,000 to 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year for their tusks.

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, file picture

There are up to 500,000 elephants in Africa....

A wildlife ranger strokes a northern white rhino near Nanyuki, Laikipia County, Kenya 28 April 2016

... but there are only three northern white rhino left in the world

Source: bbc.com

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US man Kim Dong-chul jailed for spying in North Korea

North Korea has sentenced a US man to 10 years of hard labour for spying.

Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalised US citizen born in South Korea, was arrested last October.

Kim had made an apparent confession in Pyongyang last month in front of reporters, saying he was paid by South Korean intelligence officers.

The US has previously accused North Korea of using its citizens as pawns in a diplomatic game. Pyongyang denies the accusations.

In March, US student Otto Frederick Warmbier was jailed for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign and "crimes against the state".

North Korea has previously said Kim had a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets on him when he was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason.

Kim, who used to live in Virginia, had said he was introduced to South Korean spies by US intelligence officers.

Forced public confessions by foreign prisoners are common in North Korea.

Kim's imprisonment comes amid a period of high tensions. North Korea has recently conducted a series of missile tests following its fourth nuclear test in January, both of which break UN sanctions.

Pyongyang attempted to launch two mid-range ballistic missiles on Thursday which crashed shortly after their launches, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

It is believed it will attempt a fifth nuclear test soon.

The recent burst in activity is thought to be a ramp-up to a rare party congress due to be held on 6 May, where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to consolidate power.


Foreigners detained in North Korea

Other recent cases include:

  • Otto Frederick Warmbier, a US student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel and "crimes against the state".
  • Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian Christian pastor of South Korean origin, was sentenced to a life term of hard labour in December, also for "crimes against the state".
  • Sandra Suh, an American aid worker, was arrested then expelled in April 2015, accused of gathering and producing anti-North propaganda.
  • Matthew Todd Miller was sentenced to six years' hard labour in September 2014 for what North Korean state media described as "hostile acts", but was released in November the same year.
  • Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012 and accused of using his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government. Sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in May 2013 but was released along with Mr Miller.
  • Jeffrey Fowle, held for five months and charged with "anti-state" crimes, was released in October 2014.
  • Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, held in October 2013 on charges of "hostile acts", was released in December the same year.

Source: bbc.com

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Dennis Hastert, ex-US House speaker, sentenced to 15 months in jail

A federal judge has sentenced Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, calling the former House Speaker "a serial child molester" who tried to cover up his abuse with hush money.

Using a wheelchair, Hastert, 74, told the court he was "deeply ashamed" that he "mistreated" students while he worked as a school coach in the 1970s.

One of the victims said the abuse left him "devastated" and "betrayed".

Hastert served as an Illinois congressman from 1987 to 2007.

He was the longest serving Republican House Speaker in US history. As House Speaker, Hastert was second in the line of succession to the presidency.

Many of his former Republican colleagues had appealed to the judge for leniency.

President George Bush pauses as he is welcomed to the House Chamber to deliver his annual State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress

Hastert (top right) was second in the line of succession to the presidency

In October, he pleaded guilty to violating banking reporting laws after he tried to pay someone $3.5 million to keep quiet about his past sexual abuse.

Prosecutors allege Hastert abused five boys while he was working in Yorkville, a suburb of Chicago, between 1965 and 1981.

However, Hastert could not be charged with the sexual abuse of his victims because of the amount of time that has passed since the crimes.

His defence lawyers had sought to avoid a prison sentence, saying Hastert is in poor health and had already paid a high price in disgrace.

After his guilty plea, Hastert's portrait was removed from the House of Representatives in the US Congress.

Judge Thomas Durkin said on Wednesday that Hastert must also undergo sex offender treatment, serve two years of probation after his release and pay $250,000 to a fund for victims.

Source: bbc.com

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Bursa: 'Suicide bomber' hits western Turkey

A suicide bomber has struck in the western Turkish city of Bursa, injuring at least seven people, officials say.

The attack took place near the city's 14th Century Grand Mosque, a symbol of the city, reports said.

The governor of Bursa said the attacker was a suspected female suicide bomber.

Turkey has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings blamed on both Islamist and Kurdish militants. Earlier reports said one person had been killed in the blast.

However, Reuters news agency later quoted Turkey's health minister as saying 13 people had been wounded, none seriously, while the Bursa governor's office said seven people had been hurt.

On Tuesday the US warned of "credible indications" of terrorist threats at tourist areas in the country.

map

Recent attacks in Turkey

  • 31 March: attack on a bus stop in mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir killed seven
  • 19 March: a suicide bomber killed three Israelis and one Iranian in a shopping area in Istanbul
  • 13 March: 35 people killed by Kurdish militants in Ankara
  • February: 28 killed in military convoy in Ankara
  • January: 12 German tourists died in a suspected IS suicide bombing in Istanbul; seven killed in a suicide attack on a police HQ in Diyarbakir
  • October 2015: More than 100 people are killed in a double suicide bombing at a Kurdish peace rally in Ankara

Source: bbc.com

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US mother accidently shot dead by two-year-old son

A two-year-old boy has accidentally shot and killed his mother in the US city of Milwaukee after finding a gun in the back of their car.

The woman, Patrice Price, had been driving a car owned by her security guard boyfriend who had left his gun in the car, her father Andre said.

Milwaukee police said she was shot once in the back while driving on a local highway on Tuesday morning.

Also in the car were Price's mother and her other son aged one.

Mr Price said she also had an older daughter, and described Patrice as "hardworking".

"Now I don't have her no more. My chest has been hurting," Mr Price told Milwaukee station WISN.

"I have a knot in my chest. They won't even let me see my daughter. I wanted to hold my daughter for one last time."

Last month, a four-year-old boy in Florida shot his mother, Jamie Gilt, in similar circumstances.

A gun had slid from underneath the front seat of the car to the back and he unbuckled himself to get it. Ms Gilt survived the shooting.

Source: bbc.com

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Eleven bodies found at Cape Verde barracks

Police in the Cape Verde islands off northwest Africa say they have found the bodies of 11 people, including eight soldiers, at a military barracks.

The authorities say they believe a disgruntled missing soldier was behind the killings.

A government statement said the deaths were not an attempted coup or connected to the drugs trade.

The victims included eight soldiers and three civilians, two of them Spanish nationals.

The Spaniards were working on repairs at a hilltop communications hub protected by soldiers at the barracks.

A police officer found the bodies at about midday local time (01:00 GMT) at the Monte Tchota barracks north of the capital Praia on the biggest island, Santiago, Cape Verde Television said.

It said police later found an abandoned car containing eight Kalashnikovs and ammunition.

Map

The former Portuguese colony, an archipelago about 600km (370 miles) of the coast of Senegal with a population of 500,000 people, has been praised by international organisations for its commitment to democracy and development.

However, it has also been targeted by international drug rings as a destination for smuggling cocaine.

Last week police seized 280kg of cocaine from a yacht and officials have linked two recent attacks on public figures to the drugs trade.

A new government took office last Friday following an election in March and has promised a zero tolerance approach to crime. Cape Verde has been targeted by international drug smuggling rings.

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Islamic State: Up to $800m of funds 'destroyed by strikes

Up to $800m (£550m) in cash held by so-called Islamic State (IS) has been destroyed in air strikes, a US military official says.

Maj Gen Peter Gersten, who is based in Baghdad, said the US had repeatedly targeted stores of the group's funds.

The blow to the group's financing has contributed to a 90% jump in defections and a drop in new arrivals, he said.

In 2014, the US Treasury called IS "the best-funded terrorist organisation" it had encountered.

How is Islamic State funded?

Islamic State's struggle to stay rich

In a briefing to reporters, Maj Gen Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the US-led operation against IS, said under 20 air strikes targeting the group's stores of money had been conducted.

He did not specify how the US knew how much money had been destroyed.

In one case, he said, an estimated $150m was destroyed at a house in Mosul, Iraq.

Forces fighting IS received intelligence indicating in which room of the house money was stored. The room was then bombed from the air, Maj Gen Gersten said.

While it was difficult to know precisely how much money had been destroyed in total, estimates put the figure at between $500m and $800m, he said.

Islamic State's exact wealth is not known, but, after seizing oil fields and setting taxes, it approved a budget of $2bn and predicted a $250m surplus last year.

Since then, however, the group has lost territory, and its oilfields have been targeted in air strikes by the US-led coalition.

'Posing as women'

US intelligence indicated the group's cash troubles had led it to start selling vehicles to make money, Gen Gersten said. In January, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS announced it was to cut fighters' salaries in half "because of the exceptional circumstances that the Islamic State is passing through".

"We're seeing a fracture in their morale, we're seeing their inability to pay, we're seeing the inability to fight, we're watching them try to leave Daesh in every single way," Gen Gersten added, using an Arabic term for IS.

Some defectors had been captured posing as women or as refugees in Iraq, he said.

The number of those arriving to fight for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had fallen to about 200 a month, Gen Gersten said, down from a peak of between 1,500 and 2,000 per month a year ago.

Syria map[ of control

In February, the White House said it believed there were some 25,000 people fighting for IS, down from close to 31,500 last year.

Turkey has come under repeated pressure by the United States to tighten its border with Syria and prevent people crossing into IS-held territory.

On Tuesday, the US confirmed it would place rocket launchers in Turkey close to the border of territory held by the group.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Haberturk newspaper the system would be deployed near the Syrian town of Manbij, through where IS brings in new supplies and fighters.

Source: bbc.com

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Bangladesh LGBT editor hacked to death

Bangladesh police say a top gay rights activist and editor at the country's only LGBT magazine is one of two people who have been hacked to death.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy.

Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat.

Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups.

The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants.

So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility - but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

Lurching from secularism to sectarian terror?

Who is behind the Bangladesh killings?

"I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi," said US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat.

"We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders," she added.

BBC Bengali Service editor Sabir Mustafa said staff at Roopbaan, a magazine and activist group for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community that had not been condemned by the government and received some support from foreign embassies, had been careful to protect their identities but had not believed their lives were at risk.

Suspected extremists in Bangladesh are gaining a sense of security that they can carry out killings with impunity, he says.

A British photographer who knew Mr Mannan and the other victim, known as "Tonoy" and named in Bangladeshi media as Tanay Mojumdar, said they and other friends had set up Roopbaan with the aim of spreading tolerance.

Homosexuality is technically illegal in Bangladesh and remains a highly sensitive issue in society.

Both men were openly gay and believed that if more gay Bangladeshis came out then the country would have to accept them, the photographer said.

They were also were behind the annual "Rainbow Rally", held on Bengali New Year, 14 April, since 2014. This year's rally was banned by police as part of widespread security measures.

"Both were extremely gentle, non-violent and aware that being openly gay and active in their work was a personal danger," the photographer said.

Their killings were likely to spread fear among Bangladesh's gay community, he said.

"Until a year ago the only threat to coming out was shame of the family and having to start a new life elsewhere in Bangladesh. Now it's one of danger," he said.

Long line of killings

Meanwhile Bangladesh's best known blogger said he had received a death threat on Sunday.

Imran Sarker, who led major protests by secular activists in 2013 against Islamist leaders, said he had received a phone call warning that he would be killed "very soon".

Earlier this month, a Bangladeshi law student who had expressed secular views online died when he was hacked with machetes and then shot in Dhaka.

Last year, four prominent secular bloggers were also killed with machetes.

The four bloggers had all appeared on a list of 84 "atheist bloggers" drawn up by Islamic groups in 2013 and widely circulated.

There have also been attacks on members of religious minorities including Shia, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

Two foreigners - an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer - have also been killed.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh is officially secular but critics say the government has failed to properly address the attacks.

Source: bbc.com

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John Ridsdel: Hostage from Canada killed in Philippines

A Canadian man held captive by Islamist militants for months in the Philippines has been killed.

John Ridsdel, 68, was taken from a tourist resort along with three others by the Abu Sayyaf group in September last year.

Confirming the death, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "an act of coldblooded murder".

On Monday a severed head was found on a remote Philippine island, hours after an Abu Sayyaf ransom deadline expired.

The Philippine army has not confirmed if it belonged to one of the captives.

Mr Ridsdel was kidnapped from a marina near the city of Davao along with another Canadian, Robert Hall; a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad; and a Philippine woman, Mr Hall's girlfriend, Marites Flor.

They were taken 500km (300 miles) to the island of Jolo. Abu Sayyaf released a video of the group in November, demanding $80m (£55m) for their release.

Map showing Jolo and Davao

Mr Ridsdel later warned that he was due to be killed if no ransom was paid.

Several hours after the deadline, a severed head was found in a street on Jolo. The Philippine authorities said it belonged to a foreign man but it has not yet been formally identified.

Former mining executive

"It's hard," a friend of Mr Ridsdel, Bob Rae, told CBC News. "It's just very hard. I've been involved behind the scenes for the last six months trying to find a solution and it's been very painful."

A former mining executive, Mr Ridsdel is described by Canadian media as semi-retired.

He also worked as a journalist.

Offering his condolences, Mr Trudeau gave few details, saying he would not compromise the safety of the other captives.

Abu Sayyaf was set up in the 1990s with funding from al-Qaeda, and is fighting for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

One of its commanders recently pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State. The group is also holding several other foreigners.

Eighteen Philippine soldiers were killed in clashes with the militants on Basilan island near Jolo island earlier this month.

Source: bbc.com

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Army rape accused 'thought threesome idea was joke'

A former Army corporal accused of raping a colleague with another soldier said he thought it was a joke when his co-accused and the alleged victim suggested a threesome.

Jeremy Jones and Thomas Fulton, both 28, deny raping Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, from Bournemouth, in 2009.

The men say the sex with Ms Ellement, who died in 2011, was consensual.

Mr Jones said the three were "giggling and laughing" during the encounter in the early hours of 20 November 2009.

Ms Ellement was later found outside her accommodation at the barracks in Sennelager, Germany, wearing only a cardigan, crying and with muddy feet.

Thomas Fulton (left) and Jeremy Jones

Thomas Fulton (left) and Jeremy Jones both deny rape

Mr Jones told the court he could not remember whether it was fellow corporals Mr Fulton or Ms Ellement who first discussed having a threesome.

"I thought they were joking but they made it quite clear it was not a joke," Mr Jones said.

"She was fully aware of what was going on and she made the decision, and the three of us were all excited to go back to the room."

After the encounter, Mr Jones said he asked Ms Ellement to return his blue hooded jumper, which she was wearing, and she put on her brown cardigan.

He suggested to Mr Fulton that they go into Sennelager, which appeared to upset Ms Ellement, who left.

Anne-Marie Ellement

Anne-Marie Ellement joined the Army at the age of 25 and had insisted she would not have consented to sex with either of the men

Previously, Mr Fulton told the court that Ms Ellement had left the room wearing his trousers and, when he tracked her down to a nearby car park to get them back, an argument ensued before she pulled them off and threw them at him.

The men were initially arrested on suspicion of rape but the case was dismissed. They were later charged with rape in 2015.

A panel of civil servants and senior military officers at the hearing in Wiltshire was not initially told the circumstances of Ms Ellement's death in 2011. They later heard in evidence that she had taken her own life.

Mr Jones, formerly of Close Protection Unit Royal Military Police Operations Wing, and Mr Fulton, formerly of 174 Provost Company 3 Royal Military Police, each deny two charges of rape.

The trial continues.

Source: bbc.com

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US suicide rate surges, particularly among white people

The suicide rate in the US has surged to its highest level in almost three decades, according to a new report.

The increase is particularly pronounced among middle-age white people who now account for a third of all US suicides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report did not offer an explanation for the steep rise.

However, other experts have pointed to increased abuse of prescription opiates and the financial downturn that began in 2008 as likely factors.

The report did not break down the suicides by education level or income, but previous studies found rising suicide rates among white people without university degrees.

"This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health," Robert D Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, told the New York Times.

CDC reported on Friday that suicides have increased in the US to a rate of 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986.

Meanwhile, homicides and deaths from ailments like cancer and heart disease have declined.

In the past, suicides have been most common among white people, but the recent increases have been sharp.

CDC chart on suicides

The overall suicide rate rose by 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to the CDC. However, the rate increased 43% among white men ages 45 to 64 and 63% for women in the same age-range.

In 2014, more than 14,000 middle-aged white people killed themselves.

That figure is double the combined suicides total for all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

The suicide rate only declined for only two groups: black men and all people over 75.

Source: bbc.com

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Eight family members killed in Ohio gun rampage

At least eight people have been killed in "execution-style killings" in four places near each other in rural Ohio.

It is believed the victims - seven adults and one teenager - are from the same family, the state's attorney general said in a statement.

They were all shot to death in the head and any suspects are still at large, police said.

More than a dozen officials from multiple agencies were sent to crime scenes in Piketon, south of Columbus.

A pastor at the scene said the violence may have been the result of a "domestic situation".

All of the victims are members of a family called Rhoden, said Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader.

Three young children survived the shootings. The boy who was killed 16 years old.

"There is a strong possibility that any individual involved in this is armed and incredibly dangerous," Mr Reader said.

Police have not determined a motive or identified the dead, and have not determined whether the killer is among the deceased.

Scene in Pike County, Ohio

Aerial view of one of the locations being investigated in Pike County, Ohio

Piketon, Ohio

There are 'multiple crime scenes' in Piketon, Ohio

All of the victims were found in homes along Union Hill Road in Pike County. The Pike County Sheriff said there are four active crime scenes spanning about 30 miles (48km).

Sheriff Charles Reader said he would "suspect the family was being targeted".

Ohio Attorney General Mike Mike DeWine said it is possible some of the victims were shot overnight because they were found in their beds.

"One mom was apparently killed in her bed with [the four-day-old child] right there," said Mr DeWine. "It's hard to believe."

Authorities do not believe any of the deaths were suicides and are urging residents of the county to come forward with any information they might have.

Local schools Peebles Elementary and Peebles High School were earlier on "lockout" - no-one went in or out - due to the ongoing situation in Piketon, a spokesperson for Adams County Ohio Valley Schools said.

The FBI in Cincinnati tweeted that they are "closely monitoring the situation".

Ohio Governor John Kasich and Republican presidential candidate tweeted that the situation is "tragic beyond comprehension".

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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Venezuela cuts power to four hours a day to save energy

Venezuela is introducing power cuts of four hours a day from next week to deal with a worsening energy crisis.

The cuts will last for 40 days as the country struggles under a severe drought limiting hydroelectric output.

It is the latest setback to Venezuela's economy which has been hit by a sharp fall in the price of its main export, oil.

The country's main brewer, Polar, also says it will stop production because it has no dollars to buy grain abroad.

The company, which produces 80% of the country's beer, says 10,000 workers will be affected by the stoppage.

Announcing the restrictions on Thursday, Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez said the hours of suspension would be published on a daily basis in newspapers and on ministerial websites. He added that the cuts would not happen between 20:00 and midday.

Venezuela's energy crisis has been deepening all this year, in February, shopping malls were told to reduce their opening hours and generate their own energy.

Partial view of the plant of Cerveceria Polar, maker of Venezuela

Polar is Venezuela's best-known brand of beer.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused the country's business elite of colluding with the US to wreck the economy.

He has accused the President of Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, of being allied to the opposition which now dominates the Venezuelan parliament against him.

Many businessmen and opposition politicians blame the energy crisis and shortages of basic goods on government economic mismanagement.

They say tough currency controls introduced in 2003 by the late president, Hugo Chavez have only made this worse.

Venezuela's economy is in dire straits, suffering from spiralling inflation, shortages of some basic goods and dwindling revenue from oil.

The country's almost exclusive relies on oil, the price of which has fallen sharply.

Source: bbc.com

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Barack Obama arrives in UK for three-day visit

US president Barack Obama has arrived in the UK for a three-day visit.

During his stay the president is expected to give his views on the UK's forthcoming EU referendum, and advise voters to remain in the union.

He and First Lady Michelle Obama are due to have lunch with the Queen at Windsor on Friday, and dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Mr Obama will also speak at a news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron.

His UK stay is part of a tour which also includes a visit to Germany and Saudi Arabia - from where he has just left after having discussions with King Salman on issues including Iran, Syria, Yemen and the fight against so-called Islamic State militants.

'Hypocrisy'

In the UK, debate has circulated over the president's views on the forthcoming EU referendum, due to take place on 23 June.

Mr Obama's national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in the US before the trip: "As the president has said, we support a strong United Kingdom in the European Union."

But last week Boris Johnson accused Mr Obama of "hypocrisy" over his support for such an outcome.

The London mayor said everything about the history of the US suggested they would never share sovereignty.

"I don't know what he is going to say but, if that is the American argument then it is nakedly hypocritical. The Americans would never dream of it," he told the BBC.

During his visit the US leader will also dine with the Queen in Kensington Palace.

Mr Obama arrived at Stansted Airport and was greeted by the the Lord Lieutenant of Essex John Petre and the US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun.

Mr Obama arrived at Stansted Airport and was greeted by the the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, John Petre, and the US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun.

The Obamas previously met the Queen, Prince Philip and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their state visit in 2011.

Source: bbc.com

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Huge US-Mexico drugs tunnel found in San Diego

One of the longest cross-border drugs-smuggling tunnels between Mexico and the US has been found by authorities in San Diego, American officials say.

They say the 800m (874 yards) tunnel was used to transport an "unprecedented cache" of cocaine and marijuana.

It was the 13th sophisticated secret tunnel found along California's border with Mexico since 2006.

But a local official described it as "ingenious" and unlike anything seen before.

Three have been found on the same short street in San Diego that runs parallel to a border fence with Mexico.

In the latest incident about 1,016kg (2,242lb) of cocaine and 6,350kg of marijuana suspected of being transported through the tunnel was seized, officials say.

A border patrol special operations supervisor next to the entrance of a tunnel leading to Mexico from a lot along the border (20 April 2016)

The entrance to the tunnel on the American side was hidden under a big bin

"This is the largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel," Southern California District Attorney Laura Duffy said, and is the second "super tunnel" to be discovered in recent weeks,

In March, authorities uncovered a 380m tunnel that ran from a restaurant in Mexico to a house in California.

The latest tunnel ran at a depth of 14m (46ft) from the bottom of an elevator shaft built into a house in Tijuana to a hole in the ground on the American side enclosed within a fenced-in lot set up as a pallet business.

Map

The hole was hidden under a trailer-sized rubbish bin that smugglers used to move the drugs from the lot, federal officials said.

"They put the drugs in the dumpster and then hauled the dumpster to another location to unload it," Ms Duffy said.

Federal agents followed a truck that took the bin to a central San Diego location about 40km (25 miles) north of the border and witnessed the cargo being loaded onto a box truck, which drove away.

San Diego County sheriff's deputies then stopped the truck and seized the drugs, arresting three men in the process.

Ms Duffy said that federal agents searching the pallet lot and the tunnel recovered additional supplies of marijuana and arrested three more suspects.

The tunnel used in the operation was sophisticated, The Los Angeles Times reported, and had a ventilation system and lighting. On the Tijuana side, the tunnel was connected to an elevator that ascended into the house.

"I think it fair to say that few would suspect that traffickers were moving multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana in this very unassuming way, in full view of the world around them," the paper quoted Ms Duffy as saying.

"It's a rabbit hole,'' she said of the latest tunnel to be found.

"Just the whole way that it comes up right out into the open is a bit ingenious. It's something completely different than what we've seen before."

Source: bbc.com

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Anders Behring Breivik, Norway murderer, wins human rights case

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has won part of a human rights case against the Norwegian state.

The court upheld his claim that some of his treatment amounted to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

After the judgement, Breivik's lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, called for his solitary confinement to be repealed.

Breivik, a right-wing extremist, killed 69 people at a summer camp for young centre-left political activists on the island of Utoeya in July 2011.

Earlier that day, he set off a car bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people.

Kept alone

In her ruling, judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment represented "a fundamental value in a democratic society" and also applied to "terrorists and killers".

Breivik had challenged the government over his solitary confinement, which saw him kept alone in his cell for 22 to 23 hours a day, denied contact with other inmates and only communicating with prison staff through a thick glass barrier.

How bad is solitary confinement?

How cushy are Norway's prisons?

His prison regime deviated so markedly from that enforced upon any other prisoner in Norway, regardless of the severity of their crimes, that it had to be considered an extra punishment, the judge said.

However, article three of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) required that prisoners be detained in conditions that did not exceed the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, given the practical requirements of the particular case, she said.

The prison authorities had also not done enough to counteract the damage he had suffered from being in isolation, she said.

General view of a cell inside Skien prison, south of Oslo, February 12, 2016

A typical cell in Skien prison looks like this

Judge Sekulic also noted that Breivik had been woken up every half hour at night over a long period of time and on some occasions subjected to strip searches with female officers present, which he found particularly difficult.

"Taken together with the other stringent restrictions which he was subject, this was regarded as degrading treatment in the Convention sense," said the judge, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK reported.

'Facilitate a community'

State lawyer Marius Emberland said the government was surprised by the verdict but had not decided whether to appeal.

If neither side appeals within four weeks, the prison is obliged to make Breivik's regime more lenient in line with the judge's remarks, NRK reported.

The prison must work to bring in other prisoners and "facilitate a community", the judge said.

However, the judge ruled that strict controls on Breivik's correspondence were justified and his right to a private and family life under article eight of the ECHR had not been violated.

The court also ordered the Norwegian state to pay Breivik's legal costs of 330,000 kroner ($40,000; £28,000).

Eskil Pedersen, a survivor of the shootings on Utoeya island, said he was "surprised, and then angry and upset" by the ruling.

"It was like being punched in the gut that the perpetrator won such a public victory," he told NRK.

Another survivor, Bjorn Ihler, tweeted that the judgement in Breivik's favour showed Norway had a "working court system, respecting human rights even under extreme conditions".

Lisbeth Kristine Roeyneland, who runs a support group for the victims' families, told NRK she was surprised and "a little disappointed", but also relieved that the ruling prevented him making contact with other extremists.

Breivik makes Nazi salute in court

Breivik gave the Nazi salute when he appeared in court

Source: bbc.com

 

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Canada to push for making sale marijuana legal

The Canadian government will introduce legislation next year that would make the sale of marijuana legal, its health minister has said.

If enacted, the move would make Canada one of the largest Western countries to allow widespread use of the drug.

Health Minister Jane Philpott pledged on Wednesday to keep marijuana "out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals".

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed for legalisation during his campaign.

The announcement coincided with 20 April - an unofficial holiday among cannabis advocates. Hundreds of marijuana users demonstrated outside Parliament in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Medical use of marijuana is already legal in Canada. Some have argued that legal marijuana would reduce stress on Canada's criminal justice system.

"We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures," Ms Philpott said. "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem."

The Canadian Parliament is expected to take up the legislation in the spring of 2017

The Canadian Parliament is expected to take up the legislation in the spring of 2017

However, Gerard Deltell, a legislator from Canada's opposition Conservatives, opposes the change, saying it would harm Canadians' health.

"That's one of the worst things you can do to Canadian youth - to open the door to marijuana," he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Trudeau has named Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as the government's point person on legalisation.

"We control who it's sold to, when it's sold and how it's used," Mr Blair said likening marijuana to how alcohol is regulated. "And organised crime doesn't have the opportunity to profit from it."

He stressed that marijuana would remain illegal in Canada while legislation is being discussed.

Ms Philpott said the exact details of the legislation are still being worked out.

In the US, voters in four states plus the District of Columbia have already legalised the recreational use of the drug in ballot initiatives.

In other parts of the US, however, the drug remains illegal.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Mexico explosion: Three dead in Veracruz oil plant

A large explosion at an oil facility in the south-east Mexican state of Veracruz has killed at least three people and injured 136 more.

The blast hit a facility owned by Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, in the port city of Coatzacoalcos.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated and schools closed. Footage showed a large fire and vast plumes of smoke.

The cause of the blast is unclear. Several explosions have been reported at Pemex facilities in recent years.

In pictures: Mexico explosion

The latest incident occurred at around 15:15 local time (20:15 GMT), Pemex said in a statement. Veracruz state Governor Javier Duarte told a radio station the blast was felt 10km (six miles) away.

The fire was under control by early evening, Pemex said. Residents were told to stay indoors because of the possible toxic nature of the smoke from the blast, but Pemex said the smoke dissipated quickly, lessening any possible toxic effects.

Of the 136 people injured, 88 remain in hospital, 13 of whom are in a serious condition, Pemex said.

Video posted on social media purporting to show a local hospital showed scenes of chaos and patients suffering heavy blood loss.

View of smoke following an explosion at the petrochemistry installation of Mexican Oil Company PEMEX in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, Mexico on April 20, 2016

Image of large plume of smoke in Veracruz, Mexico - 20 April 2016

Map of Veracruz state in Mexico showing town where blast in oil plant occurred - April 2016

Pemex said the part of the factory hit by the explosion was managed by a sister company, Mexichem.

Associated Press reported that the plant produces vinyl chloride, a dangerous chemical used to make PVC pipes and packaging materials.

Export of oil from the plant, one of the largest terminals for oil distribution in Mexico, would not be affected, the company added.

In September 2012, an explosion then a fire at a gas plant in the northern state of Tamaulipas killed 33 people.

Pemex's own headquarters in Mexico City was hit by a large gas blast in January 2013, killing 37 people.

A number of fires also struck the company's rigs in the Gulf of Mexico last year, and a worker was killed in another fire at the Veracruz plant in February this year.

Source: bbc.com

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Zika virus: 2.2 billion people in 'at risk' areas

More than two billion people live in parts of the world where the Zika virus can spread, detailed maps published in the journal eLife show.

The Zika virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, triggered a global health emergency this year.

Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the virus causes severe birth defects.

The latest research showed mapping Zika was more complex than simply defining where the mosquito can survive.

One of the researchers, Dr Oliver Brady from the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "These are the first maps to come out that really use the data we have for Zika - earlier maps were based on Zika being like dengue or chikungunya.

"We are the first to add the very precise geographic and environmental conditions data we have on Zika."

By learning where Zika could thrive the researchers could then predict where else may be affected. The researchers confirmed that large areas of South America, the focus of the current outbreak, are susceptible.

In total, 2.2 billion people live in areas defined as being "at risk".

The infection is suspected of leading to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

South America risk

The at-risk zones in South America include long stretches of coastline as well as cities along the Amazon river and its tributaries snaking through the continent.

And in the US, Florida and Texas could sustain the infection when temperatures rise in summer.

Dr Brady added: "Mosquitoes are just one condition needed for Zika to spread but there's a whole range of other ones.

"It needs to be warm enough for Zika to replicate inside the mosquito and for there to be a large enough [human] population to transmit it."

Both Africa and Asia have large areas that could be susceptible to the virus, the researchers said.

Africa risk

Asia risk

However, the study cannot answer why large numbers of cases have not already been reported.

One possible explanation is that both continents have already had large numbers of cases and the populations there have become largely immune to the virus.

An alternative is that cases could be being misdiagnosed as other infections such as dengue fever or malaria.

Europe seems likely to be unaffected, but that could change as more evidence emerges on which mosquitoes the viruses can spread in.

Source: bbc.com

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Utah declares porn a public health hazard

The US state of Utah has become the first to declare pornography a public health risk in a move its governor says is to "protect our families and our young people".

The bill does not ban pornography in the mainly Mormon state.

However, it calls for greater "efforts to prevent pornography exposure and addiction".

One group representing the adult entertainment industry attacked what it called "an old-fashioned morals bill".

Pornography, the bill says, "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" and "is contributing to the hypersexualisation of teens, and even prepubescent children, in our society".

Further steps must be taken to change "education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level" against what it calls an epidemic, but it does not suggest how changes should be implemented.

The bill was signed by Republican Governor Gary Herbert, who said the volume of pornography in society was "staggering".

One 2009 study by Harvard Business School said that Utah was the state with the highest percentage of online porn subscribers in the US.

Some studies have, however, indicated that porn may not be addictive.

'Avoid stigmatism'

The bill was supported by the anti-porn campaign group Fight the New Drug. Reports have pointed out the group's founders are all members of the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church.

Close to 63% of the state's residents are Mormon, but Fight the New Drug's leaders have denied working on behalf of the Mormon Church.

The Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry association, called for more dialogue.

"We should live in a society where sexuality is spoken about openly, and discussed in nuanced and educated ways, and not stigmatised," said Mike Stabile, a spokesman for the group.

"We all should work together to prevent non-adults from accessing adult material."

Source: bbc.com

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Police helicopter sent for US governor’s lost wallet

A police helicopter was used to retrieve the lost wallet of the Alabama governor, at a reported cost to taxpayers of $4,000 (£2,800).

In late 2014, Robert Bentley left Tuscaloosa for his beach home five hours' drive away, but left his wallet.

He then asked his security to deliver it, a trip completed via state police helicopter, according to flight logs.

Mr Bentley, who is facing calls to resign over a sex scandal, said he never asked for a helicopter.

"I requested they deliver my wallet, I didn't know how they were going to do it," the governor told AL.com. "I did not request that a helicopter was used.

"You have to have your wallet for security reasons. I'm the governor. And I had to have money. I had to buy something to eat. You have to have identification."

AL.com said using the state helicopter to retrieve his wallet cost Alabama taxpayers about $4,000 (£2,800).

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chiefs have differing stories about the helicopter incident.

One said he had permission to use the helicopter from the governor's former bodyguard.

Another said he was never told about the wallet and did not approve use of the helicopter.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers made initial steps to impeach Mr Bentley over an alleged sex scandal with an aide.

State representative Ed Henry told NBC News Mr Bentley "betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama" and that "if he truly loves the people of the state, he will step down".

Source: bbc.com

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Japan earthquake: Powerful new tremor in Kumamoto

A more powerful earthquake has rocked the southern Japanese city of Kumamoto in the middle of the night, a day after an earlier tremor killed nine people.

The magnitude-7.3 quake hit at a depth of 10km (six miles) at 01:25 on Saturday (15:25 GMT on Friday) in Kyushu region. At least three people died and hundreds were injured.

A village has been evacuated after a dam collapsed, it says.

A tsunami warning was issued, and lifted some 50 minutes later.

Japan is regularly hit by earthquakes but stringent building codes mean that they rarely cause significant damage.

This new earthquake in Kyushu was much bigger and hit a wider area than the one that struck Kumamoto on Thursday night, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo.

In one town near the coast, the city hall has been so badly damaged there are fears it could collapse. A hospital has been evacuated because it is no longer safe.

A road newly damaged in Mashiki, Kumamoto.

Roads have buckled and some power supplies are now disrupted

Thousands of people have fled on to the streets and into parks - where they are huddled under blankets looking dazed and afraid, our correspondent says.

But there are numerous reports of people trapped inside buildings, including at least 60 inside an old people's home.

Public broadcaster NHK says the dam collapsed in the Nishihara village.

Television pictures showed thousands of people filling streets and parks, looking dazed across the region.

NHK had warned of sea waves of up to 1m (3ft).

Japan's nuclear authority said the Sendai nuclear plant was not damaged.

The quake was originally assessed as magnitude 7.1 but revised upwards to 7.3 later.

Gavin Hayes, a research geophysicist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Colorado, told the BBC that the latest earthquake would hamper the earlier rescue operation that was already under way.

He said more damage could be expected as the earthquake had been shallower and the fault-line had been much longer.

"The ground surface would have moved in the region of 4-5m (yards). So, you are talking very intense shaking over quite a large area. And that's why we'll probably see a significant impact from this event."

The Associated Press news agency said guests at the Ark Hotel near the Kumamoto Castle, which was damaged, woke up and gathered in the lobby for safety.

The stone wall of Kumamoto Castle is seen damaged by the earthquake

Kumamoto Castle is said to have suffered more damage in the new tremor

Thursday's magnitude-6.2 quake caused shaking at some places as intense as the huge earthquake that hit the country in 2011, Japan's seismology office said.

That quake sparked a huge tsunami and nuclear meltdown at a power plant in Fukushima.

Most of those who died in Thursday's quake were in the town of Mashiki where an apartment building collapsed and many houses were damaged.

More than 1,000 people were injured.

Some 40,000 people had initially fled their homes, with many of those closest to the epicentre spending the night outside, as more than 130 aftershocks had hit the area.


Analysis: Jonathan Amos, BBC science correspondent

Japan is one of the most seismically active areas on Earth, accounting for about 20% of global quakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater. Seismometers are recording some kind of event every five minutes, on average.

It is through bitter experience that Japan has learnt the strategies to mitigate damage, injury and death. Not only does it implement some the best building construction practices but it has also established an early warning network.

This system relies on the lightning analysis of the developing quake, establishing its location and strength. Alerts are then broadcast that can give people more distant from the epicentre vital seconds' notice.

Just 10 seconds is more than sufficient to drop and get under a sturdy table or open the doors of a fire station.

The prospect of buildings already damaged in Thursday's quake toppling over in this latest tremor will be a concern.

Source: bbc.com

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Woman accused of live-streaming rape on Periscope

A woman from Ohio has been charged with streaming the rape of a teenage girl via Twitter's live video app Periscope.

The offence is alleged to have occurred two months ago and was brought to the authorities' attention by someone who said they had seen the broadcast.

The accused's lawyer says that she "categorically" denies the charges.

An expert said the case highlighted the impossibility of controlling content on live-streaming services, which are gaining in popularity.

According to the indictment, the sexual assault took place in the city of Columbus on 27 February.

Marina Lonina is also accused of taking a photo of the 17-year-old in a state of undress the previous night.

Lonina's boyfriend, Raymond Gates, has been accused of carrying out the assault. It is not yet known how he intends to plead.

The two face charges of rape, kidnapping, sexual battery and pandering sexually-oriented matter involving a minor.

Inaccurate systems

Twitter declined to comment. Periscope's guidelines say that graphic content is banned.

But this is not the first time the app has been linked to an alleged offence.

Earlier this month, it was reported that police in London had intervened after a fight between two rival gangs had been arranged via the app.

Other incidents include:

The app has hosted more than 100 million broadcasts since it launched last year, the vast majority of which are innocuous.

But the issue of live-streamed crime could become more common as the activity becomes more mainstream.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced it was adding a tab to its app to help users find live-streamed videos.

The social network had already altered the algorithm of its news feeds to prioritise such feeds.

"The volume of content being created and uploaded every day is far too great to be regulated manually and automatic systems are simply too inaccurate to be practical," commented Dr Joss Wright from the Oxford Internet Institute.

"There is almost no practical way to prevent content like this being uploaded and shared if people want to do it and any system to do so would also have serious implications for freedom of expression and the publication of legitimate but controversial content.

"The internet has undoubtedly made this case worse for the alleged victim. But as with other real-world crimes, prevention is not always possible."

Source: bbc.com

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