UK News



British Queen celebrates

World News



The choppers swoop in, dumping insecticide over a plague-stricken village in Madagascar's stunning central highlands.

"The goal is to break the invasion," explains Tsitohaina Andriamaroahina, head of a UN mission to end a locust plague threatening the crops of 13 million farmers on this island nation.

In their countless billions, the insatiable hordes cloud the skies as they spread across two thirds of Madagascar, affecting an area roughly the size of Germany or Japan.

Columns of thick black smoke rise from the rolling grasslands surrounding the village of Amparihibe, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the capital Antananarivo, as desperate farmers set fires to disperse the crop-eating swarms.


The airborne locust bombers use the tell-tale smoke signals to help them target the insects on daily patrols using three helicopters and an airplane operating from mobile air bases.

"When we fly on a scouting mission, we look at several things: the wind direction, smoke, the position of the sun. All of that shows us where the swarms are," explained Hasibelo Rakotovao, one of the team members.

The 90 people in the joint operation between the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and Madagascar's anti-locust agency have already sprayed 500,000 litres (132,000 gallons) of pesticide over one million hectares of land.

Once the insects have been spotted, a technical team arrives before sunrise in a truck carrying pesticide containers which will be attached to the helicopter.


The team moves quickly -- they can only spray at dawn, when the locusts are immobile on the ground, their wings weighed down by the morning dew.

The pesticide only affects insects, according to the mission, neutralising their nervous system.

Villagers then collect the grasshoppers and feed them to their pigs.

"We help one another among neighbours but we aren't enough. We are up to our knees in locusts and can't cope anymore," said Marie Louise Rasoamampionona, a 50-year-old small-scale farmer.




Fiddling angrily with the radio in his car, Donetsk resident Oleksandr exclaims: "This is unbelievable! There used to be a Ukrainian radio station on this frequency, now it's Russian!"

In Ukraine's restive eastern region of Donetsk, where separatists are in control of several areas and have declared a "People's Republic", local media are being shut down, taken over and intimidated.

The pattern is always the same, said Sergei Garmash, who runs the local news website Ostrov: "Armed men have gone to the headquarters of media outlets -- including ours -- and demanded that programming be coordinated with them."

And if the outlet refuses? The men threaten to "shut it down", Garmash said.

Here in Donetsk the wider information war between pro-Moscow and pro-Kiev media over coverage of Ukraine's crisis is playing out at the local level.

After taking over local media, the well-armed rebels have dismissed journalists, blocked access to offices and cut signals to Ukrainian stations -- which are quickly replaced by Russian ones.

There have also been reports of abductions, equipment seizures and break-ins as the separatists seek to silence opposition to their efforts to bring eastern Ukraine into Russia.

"Abduction by armed separatists remains a risk for both local and foreign journalists," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement this week.

In Donetsk, the imposing building that once housed Ukrainian public television is now empty of journalists. On the airwaves, the channel has been replaced by Rossiya 24, a state Russian news channel.

Barricades made of car tires, a makeshift "Stop" sign and sandbags piled up at the entrance now make it clear that reporters are no longer welcome. There is even a tank parked behind the fence.

"This is a military building, get away!" yelled a group of aggressive men in camouflage with a red armband that read "Oplot" ("Bulwark" in Russian) -- the name of a pro-Russian militia group.





Foreign direct investment (FDI) into China rose 5.0 percent year-on-year to $40.3 billion in the first four months of 2014, lifted by funds from Asian neighbours, the government said on Friday.

For April alone FDI -- which excludes investment in financial sectors -- was up 3.4 percent at $8.7 billion, the ministry of commerce said in a statement. However, that was down from $12.24 billion seen in March.

"Investment from major countries and regions into China maintained a stable growth momentum," ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said in the statement.

In the January-April period, the top five investors included Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and China's special administrative region of Hong Kong, the ministry said.

But investment from Japan plunged 46.8 percent to $1.6 billion, it said, as a festering political row over disputed islands in the East China Sea has made Japanese companies reluctant to pour funds into its neighbour.

Investment from the United States fell 11.4 percent in the first four months to $1.2 billion, but it was still one of the top 10 investors, according to the ministry.





The United States is one of just three countries not to guarantee any paid maternity leave, a policy that costs the country dearly, the UN's labour agency said Tuesday.

Only Papua New Guinea, Oman and the United States -- the world's largest economy -- do not require employers to provide paid leave, according to an International Labour Organization report published Tuesday entitled "The State of Maternity and Paternity at Work".

Under US national law, all new mothers can take up to 12 weeks off after giving birth, but without the guaranteed right to compensation.

"Definitely, the (US) society is losing out," said Laura Addati, a maternity protection and work-family specialist at the ILO.

Elsewhere in the world, the report showed countries were generally raising mandatory cash benefits and extending the amount of time both mothers and fathers can stay home after the birth of a child.

Eastern European and Central Asian countries were the most generous, with public funds providing women in Croatia for instance 100 percent of their salary during a year-long maternity leave.



The Scandinavian countries also performed well, with Norway allowing both parents a combined year and 10 months off -- with four months reserved exclusively for the father -- and receive 80 percent of their salaries while they're away.

Shauna Olney, who heads the ILO's Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch, hailed such initiatives aimed at getting fathers to carry more of the burden at home and thus help iron out gender inequality at work.

"There is a growing recognition of the link with gender equality and also the importance of the role of fathers in child development," she told reporters, stressing the need "to change perceptions of parenting roles and of prevailing stereotypes."

A large majority of women workers in the world, some 830 million of them, meanwhile do not have access to "adequate maternity protection," according to ILO standards.

These require at least 14 weeks paid maternity leave and a guarantee the woman will get her job back when she returns.

Nearly 80 percent of those women live in Africa and Asia, the UN agency said.




A Soviet-era space capsule that carried three cosmonauts into space in the 1970s fetched a million euros at auction.

The capsule went to an unidentified European buyer after bidding by telephone, Christine de Schaetzen, who heads German auction house Lempertz, told AFP after what it said was the first such auction in Europe.

The historic piece dating back to the Soviet-US space race during the Cold War had been estimated at between one and two million dollars (700 to 1.4 million euros).

A British company first bought the 2.2-metre-high (seven feet) capsule, which was also used for a short unmanned mission in 1978 and then for training.

It was extensively restored with all trace removed of the searing burn marks it picked up on re-entry to the earth's atmosphere and re-painted to a pristine white.






Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky broke her silence Tuesday about her illicit 1990s affair with president Bill Clinton, saying she wants to reclaim the narrative of events that brought her global humiliation.

Lewinsky, now 40, was in her early twenties when she became the infamous blue dress and beret-wearing muse who engaged in sexual relations with the president and then endured a colossal backlash that nearly drove her to suicide.

After years of being turned away by potential employers and ridiculed online, she decided to write her version of events in this month's Vanity Fair magazine.

"It's time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress," Lewinsky wrote, in excerpts posted on the magazine's website.

"I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I've decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past."

She said her radio silence was so complete for nearly a decade that rumors swirled that the Clintons must have paid her off to keep her quiet.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," she wrote.

It is time to stop "tiptoeing around my past -- and other people's futures," she said, in a possible reference to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's expected White House run in 2016.

News of the Lewinsky affair broke in 1998 and became an all-consuming scandal that nearly brought down the Clinton presidency. He was impeached by the House of Representatives that December but was acquitted by the Senate.




Billionaire gambling tycoon James Packer and his former best man, the head of Australia's Nine Network, insisted Monday they were still friends despite being involved in an ugly punch-up at Bondi Beach.

The Sydney Morning Herald said more than 50 images show Packer and David Gyngell throwing and receiving punches and wrestling on the ground on Sunday afternoon.

It sparked a bidding war for the photos, which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. appears to have won, publishing the first four pictures online Monday afternoon.

"We have been friends for 35 years and still are," Packer and Gyngell said in a joint statement as News Corp. non-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch arrived at the Packer compound.

"In that time we have had our fair share of ups and downs. We respect each other and neither of us will be commenting further."

Bondi resident Chris Walker, who says he witnessed the incident, tweeted about a "massive street fight" outside Packer's multi-million dollar home.

"Holy crap, big street fight outside my house... Not thugs, James Packer... And some other angry bloke going toe-to-toe - total brawl... Wow," he said.

"Packer packered a punch but copped a couple of hits straight to the jaw... Then they all fell on the concrete fence and I think the other guy broke his face.

"They were looking for teeth after he left... I was so thrilled, with a camera in my hand I didn't take a pic," he added.

One other witness told The Australian newspaper that the fight was "like two mad dogs going at each other's throats", while another said Gyngell was engaged in an abusive phone call -- reportedly to Packer -- immediately before he arrived.

The first pictures showed the pair -- Packer in a baseball cap and sunglasses and Gyngell unshaven and barefoot -- brawling before the Nine executive was restrained on the ground by a security guard.




An Italian cardinal is moving into a 600-square-metre (6,500 square foot) Vatican apartment in apparent contradiction with Pope Francis's call for a "poor Church", Italian daily La Repubblica reported on Sunday.

Tarcisio Bertone is the Vatican's former Secretary of State, a role equivalent to prime minister, and the report said his luxury lodgings were stirring unease as Francis has pushed for clergymen to be more humble.

The flat also has a 100-square-metre roof terrace and is next to St Martha's Residence -- a Vatican hotel where Francis has taken up home, spurning the grander Apostolic Palace where popes usually live.

La Repubblica said that Bertone's flat would be about 10 times bigger than the apartment where Francis is living and that he was planning to move in before the summer after extensive building work.

It said the house combined an apartment of up to 400 square metres formerly inhabited by the head of the gendarmerie under John Paul II and the roughly 200-square metre flat where a Vatican monsignor lived.

Bertone's stint as Secretary of State under Benedict XVI was highly divisive in the Vatican administration and top clerics had asked the then pope to dismiss him.

He was accused by critics of being too authoritarian and too connected with sleazy Italian politics.





South African prosecutor Gerrie Nel indicated on Tuesday that he would wrap up his searing cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius, who has now spent more than a week in the witness box.

Nel has spent five emotion-filled days dragging Pistorius over the coals, accusing him of lying, tailoring evidence and crying to avoid tough questions.

"We will today finalize the cross-examination of the accused," Nel told the court while asking for a two week postponement.

The cross-examination resumed Tuesday with Nel accusing the sprinter of a cover-up, claiming he knowingly killed the 29-year-old model.

Nel picked at inconsistencies between Pistorius's evidence in court and his lengthy bail application about the noises he heard as he shot.

"There's no indication that you thought they (perceived intruders) were opening the door in your bail application," said Nel.

"You are thinking of a version constantly and not dealing with the question," Nel claimed.

"It's getting more and more improbable and you're tailoring more and more as we go on."

Pistorius tearfully denied the allegation several times.





Several hundred protesters blocked work on a controversial monument in Budapest Tuesday which Jewish critics say glosses over Hungary's active role in the Holocaust.

Around 300 people angrily tore down a cordon erected by workers and occupied the site of the planned monument, which the Hungarian government says will mark all the victims of Hungary's occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944.

Critics say the monument -- which will depict Hungary as an angel being attacked by a German eagle -- absolves Hungarians of their active role after the occupation in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths.

One protester, Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy, also an opposition politician, told AFP that volunteers would mount a round-the-clock guard to prevent the restart of building works.

"It is an extremist memorial that covers up the past with a lie, and a gesture (by Prime Minister Viktor Orban) to the far-right," he told AFP.

"We won't let it be built!" he added, as police observed the protesters without intervening.

The monument was originally scheduled for unveiling on March 19 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Jews after the Nazi occupation.

After protests in Hungary and abroad, and a boycott of official anniversary commemorations in 2014 by leading Jewish organisation Mazsihisz, the government postponed the construction until after the general election which took place on Sunday.