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The White House asked if US President Barack Obama really had to travel to Oslo to pick up his surprise Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a book due out in Norway on Thursday reveals.

In his memoir "Secretary of Peace", historian Geir Lundestad recounts some of the backstage goings-on inside the Norwegian Nobel Committee during his time as its influential, but non-voting, secretary from 1990 to 2015.

"No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama," he wrote.

The first black president was honoured with the prestigious award just nine months after taking office -- while the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with general astonishment, and some sarcasm, while Obama himself admitted his own "surprise".

At that point "his cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize," Lundestad said.

"In broad strokes, the answer was no."

Obama ultimately made a lightning visit to the Scandinavian country to collect the prize.

According to Lundestad, then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried the following year to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway's relations with Beijing.



Halfway into a year in space -- the longest ever attempted at the International Space Station -- American astronaut Scott Kelly said Monday he misses fresh air but is adapting well.

Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko agreed to double the length of a typical astronaut's mission at the ISS in order to help the world's space agencies study how long-term space travel affects the human body and mind.

Such research is viewed as invaluable as NASA aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but it is not easy for the two men, who have been circling the Earth since late March.

"I feel pretty good overall," Kelly said in an interview from the ISS, broadcast on NASA television. Kornienko did not participate in the event, which was organized by the National Press Club in the US capital.

"What I am looking most forward to is just getting to the end of it with as much energy and enthusiasm as I had at the beginning," added Kelly, whose participation in the study could be particularly useful since his health can be compared to that of his twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut participating in the study from Earth.

Asked what he missed most about Earth, Kelly said "being with people you care about, family and friends, just going outside."


"This is a very closed environment, you can never leave," he added.

"The lighting is pretty much the same, the smell ... everything is the same. Even most prisoners can get out but we cannot."


- 'Baby feet' -


Kelly and Kornienko's mission is the longest at the ISS, which was first visited by astronauts in the year 2000.

But the record for the longest time spent in space is held by Russia's Valeri Polyakov, who stayed at the Mir Space Station for 14 months in the mid-1990s.

Living in space can have odd effects on the body, said Kelly, who has been to the ISS multiple times and previously spent a six-month stint there, the typical mission length.

"We do not really use the bottom of our feet much," he said.

"After five months you have baby feet."





Boys with a low resting heart rate in their late teens run a higher risk of turning to a life of violent crime when grown, a study suggests.

The findings could lead to improved ways to stop certain people from indulging in crime before it is too late.

Experts say that low resting heart rate (RHR) is either an indicator of a chronically low level of psychological arousal, which may lead some people to seek stimulating experiences, or a marker of weakened responses to aversive and stressful stimuli, which can lead to reckless behavior.

"Our results confirm that, in addition to being associated with aggressive and antisocial outcomes in childhood and adolescence, low RHR increases the risk for violent and nonviolent antisocial behaviors in adulthood," the authors conclude.




Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. And now New Yorkers will get that warning loud and clear when they browse a restaurant menu.

New York on Wednesday became the first city in the United States to demand that chain restaurants put salt warnings on their menus in a measure unanimously approved by the health board.

It is the latest in a long line of public health measures, including a pioneering ban on smoking since adopted across the world designed to encourage healthier behavior.

"High sodium intake is dangerous. It is linked to increased blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke," said the city health department.




Eritrea is a day's trek through dusty hills from the refugee camp in Ethiopia, a way station for tens of thousands of Eritreans who have fled their oppressive homeland.

But while life is tough in the town-like camp of thousands -- living in baking heat in simple canvas tents or brick houses -- no one thinks of going back, or of staying in the camps.

Escape from the hermetic Red Sea state means only one thing -- to travel onwards for a better life.

"We want to go, to go anywhere," 25-year old Abraham told AFP in Hitsats camp in northeastern Ethiopia, just south of the Eritrean border.

For those who have fled the dictatorial regime of President Isaias Afwerki, which has created a repressive system in which people are routinely arrested on a whim, detained, tortured, killed or disappeared, a return home offers only a prison sentence -- or worse -- for treason.



Once they have left, the only possible move is onwards abroad - and for most, that dream is of an eventual life in Europe.

The Horn of Africa nation is no war zone, yet the people of the England-sized arid country of some six million people make up the third-largest number of those risking the dangerous crossing to Europe, after Syrians and Afghans.

New arrivals in the camp dismiss the risks of ruthless people smugglers and treacherous waters to plot travel onwards north to Sudan, and then on to Europe.

But for many their dreams are stalled, waiting for the hard cash needed to pay the traffickers to smuggle them onwards.


- 'We have no choice' -



"Germany, Canada, England, Switzerland," the young people say in turn, all countries with significant Eritrean communities.

Like most refugees here, they worry of reprisals against their family still in Eritrea if they give their full name.

"If it is possible to go illegally to Sudan, we will go. We know it's dangerous," Abraham added. "We know we can lose our lives, but we have no choice."

Officially, Hitsats camp houses nearly 45,000 refugees, although in reality, the number is far lower, according to aid workers.

Ethiopian authorities mark arrivals but not departures of the 112,000 registered Eritrean refugees into the country.

Perhaps less than 40,000 are in the country today: Eritreans use Ethiopia only as a stepping stone to travel onwards.

"No one wants to stay in the camps where they have nothing else to do," said Dennis Likule, a resettlement expert from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

"If we had opportunities for the refugees to be out of camps and have something meaningful then we would be encouraging a certain percentage to stay around and integrate."





It's been nearly 40 years since Soko Phay fled Cambodia with her parents to France where she was welcomed with "an extraordinary generosity," but now she sees a country that "has changed, and not for the better".

For many years, France topped the list of destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, but by last year, it had dropped to fourth -- behind Germany, Sweden and Italy.

With 64,130 applications in 2014 it even saw a slight drop, despite the huge 44-percent increase in refugee arrivals across the continent.

This year hundreds of thousands more have headed to Europe.

Like many of its neighbours, France lacks the resources to cope with newcomers, with only 30,000 hostel beds for asylum-seekers and ever-longer waiting times for cases to be decided.

Soko Phay contrasts the difficult stories of Syrian exiles with her own arrival in Paris in 1976, aged seven, after her family fled the horrors of the "Killing Fields".

"Maybe I just had a child's point of view, but I have wonderful memories," she said, recalling holidays with French families and caring teachers.



Now she views with sadness "the nationalist turn" in her beloved adopted home.

Part of the reason may be context. France's economy is sluggish, with unemployment over 10 percent and widespread disillusionment with its leaders.

That has been fertile ground for the far-right National Front (FN), which blames much of the country's woes on foreigners and openly opposes all immigration -- "both legal and clandestine," as leader Marine Le Pen reiterated last weekend.

The FN's views are rubbing off on voters -- a 2013 poll found three-quarters of French people thought there were too many foreigners, up from 46 percent in 2009, and the party is soaring in the polls, coming first in European elections last year.

Its political rivals feel the need to match its hardline language. Opposition leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy recently compared the influx of migrants to "a burst water-pipe".


- Historical refuge -


This is not how the French Republic was first conceived. The vow to provide "asylum to foreigners banished from their countries in the cause of liberty" was written into the 1793 constitution.

For a decade up to 1985, France welcomed 110,000 "boat people" escaping communist regimes in Cambodia and Vietnam. It took some 15,000 Chileans after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet.




The International Monetary Fund said Thursday that the Federal Reserve has the room to hold off from raising interest rates for the moment amid a "pretty bumpy" global economic situation.




Most seabirds have already eaten plastic in the oceans, and scientists project that 99 percent will have done so by 2050.

Plastics are pervasive in the world's waters due to pollution, and birds -- including albatrosses, penguins and gulls -- can mistake brightly colored bottle tops or other fragments for food.

Birds can become sick and die if they ingest too much plastic.

Researchers reviewed studies on 135 bird species between 1962 and 2012, then made projections based on the currently known level of plastics in the oceans.

"For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species -- and the results are striking," said Chris Wilcox, senior research scientist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

"We predict, using historical observations, that 90 percent of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution."

Research done in the early 1960s showed that, back then, less than five percent of seabirds had ingested plastic.

But that number has soared in recent decades, reaching 80 percent in 2010, with even more birds likely to be affected in years to come, the study found.

"We predict that plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, that it will reach 99 percent of all species by 2050, and that effective waste management can reduce this threat," said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed US journal.

Ever since commercial plastic production began in the 1950s, production has doubled every 11 years, according to background information in the article.

"Thus, between 2015 and 2026, we will make as much plastic as has been made since production began," said the study.

Scientists have documented concentrations of up to 580,000 plastic pieces per square kilometer in the world's oceans.

But the full extent of plastics' impact on birds is not yet known.



Barack Obama arrives in Alaska on Monday for a trip aimed at highlighting the pace of climate change - but not everyone in this oil-rich state is welcoming the US president with open arms.

Rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, melting permafrost: the effects of climate change are stark in this vast but sparsely populated state.

Obama, who will speak at the closing of an international conference on the Arctic, wants to shore up public support to tackle what he calls "one of the greatest challenges we face this century."

His visit comes just months before a crucial conference in Paris -- known as COP21 -- in December that will aim to cap global temperature increases by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

"What's happening in Alaska is happening to us," Obama said before leaving Washington. "It's our wakeup call. And as long as I'm president, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it's too late."

Obama, who will visit glaciers and also meet fishermen who work the front lines of a changing environment, is clearly looking for strong images to highlight his message.




Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday approved the makeup of the provisional government that will run the country until November 1 elections, including for the first time pro-Kurdish MPs.

"Our president... approved the interim cabinet formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr Davutoglu," the presidency said in a statement after a nearly one-hour meeting between Erdogan and Premier Ahmet Davutoglu.

The two pro-Kurdish lawmakers are from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), marking the first time a Kurdish party has been represented in the government.

The newly appointed cabinet will not have to undergo a vote of confidence in parliament, as required in the constitution. The president's approval is considered enough for interim governments.

Erdogan called new elections after Davutoglu -- whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in parliament in June polls -- failed to form a coalition government with the opposition.

He appointed Davutoglu to form an interim "election government" which according to the constitution must be made up of all parties represented in parliament.

It is the first time in modern Turkish history that post-election talks on forming a coalition government have failed.

The cabinet spots are divided up according to the parties' share of seats in parliament -- with 11 going to AKP, five to the second-placed Republican People's Party (CHP) and three a piece to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).