Senegal’s President Sall agrees to step down in April but sets no poll date

People watching President Macky Sall's presidential address
Image caption,People nationwide gathered to watch President Sall being interviewed on Thursday evening

By Mayeni Jones

BBC West Africa correspondent

Senegal’s President Macky Sall has said he will leave office when his term comes to an end on 2 April, but tensions remain over an election date.

His recent decision to delay the vote, originally scheduled for Sunday, to mid-December sparked deadly protests.

In a televised interview, Mr Sall said an election date would now be decided in political talks to start on Monday.

But the opposition has refused to take part in the proposed dialogue dashing hopes of resolving the turmoil.

Sixteen of the 19 presidential hopefuls have said they will not be turning up for what the president has termed a “national dialogue”. A number of civil society organisations have also declined to take part in the exercise.


Mr Sall, who is on his way to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for an extraordinary summit of the regional bloc Ecowas, has been under pressure to announce a new date since Senegal’s highest court declared last week that the postponement of the poll was illegal.

His original decree to delay the vote received strong condemnation from the international community.

Many feared the postponement would lead to President Sall’s remaining leader of the country indefinitely in a region plagued by coups and military governments.

Speaking on national television on Thursday evening, Mr Sall said he felt there was not enough time to vote in a new president by the time he steps down on 2 April. He said that the dialogue forum would decide what should happen if this was the case.

In a show of good faith, the president said he was prepared to release the popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, from prison. His arrest sparked nationwide protests last year.

Dozens of the president’s opponents have already been set free since Senegal’s Constitutional Council ruled that his decision to postpone the election was illegal.

But the fact that the president did not set a new election date has further fuelled suspicions by his critics that this is just another stalling tactic.

President Sall has served two terms as Senegal’s leader and when he was first elected in 2012 he promised he would not overstay.

His televised interview has not yet restored his country’s reputation as a bastion of democracy in an increasingly totalitarian region.

Palestinian gunmen kill Israeli man near West Bank settlement

Israeli security forces inspect a car damaged during an attack by Palestinian gunmen at a checkpoint near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the occupied West Bank (22 February 2024)
Image caption,The attackers got out of a car and fired automatic weapons at other vehicles on a highway near Maale Adumim

By David Gritten

BBC News

An Israeli man has been killed and 13 other people have been wounded in an attack by three Palestinian gunmen near an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, police and medics say.

The attackers fired automatic weapons at vehicles waiting at a checkpoint on a highway outside Maale Adumim.

Security forces and armed civilians killed two of the attackers while the third was detained, police said.

Palestinian armed group Hamas praised the attack but did not claim it.

There has been a surge in violence in the West Bank since the start of the war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by Hamas’s deadly attacks in Israel on 7 October.


At least 394 Palestinians – members of armed groups, attackers and civilians – had been killed in conflict-related incidents in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or in Israel as of Tuesday, according to the UN. During the same period, 12 Israelis, including four security forces personnel, had been killed.

Israel’s police force said Thursday’s attack took place near the al-Zaim checkpoint on Highway 1, which connects Maale Adumim with Jerusalem.

The three Palestinian gunmen arrived at the scene in two separate vehicles, armed with weapons including an M-16 rifle and a Carlo sub-machine gun. After getting out, they opened fire towards vehicles stuck in a traffic jam.

Two of the attackers were shot dead by security forces and armed civilians at the scene. The third gunmen tried to escape but was “neutralised” and taken into custody.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said paramedics found casualties in five vehicles along a 500m-long (1,640ft) stretch of the highway.

A man who was later identified as Matan Elmaliach, a 26-year-old man from Maale Adumim, died of his wounds at the scene, it said.

Thirteen other people were wounded, including a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was shot in the upper body and is in a serious condition.

Eight people were taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and five to Shaare Zedek Hospital.

The attackers were identified as three Palestinian men, including two brothers, from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 10km (6 miles) to the south-west.

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, told journalists at the scene: “The enemies… want to hurt us. They hate us.”

He said authorities needed to “distribute more weapons” to Israeli civilians for protection and install more roadblocks around Palestinian communities in the West Bank, arguing that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of Palestinians.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, another far-right politician, meanwhile called for the immediate approval of plans for thousands more homes in settlements like Maale Adumim.

Israel has built about 160 settlements housing some 700,000 Jews since it occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel and the US dispute this.

Hamas called Thursday’s attack a “natural response” to Israeli “massacres and crimes” in Gaza and the West Bank, and called on Palestinians to take up arms.

The shooting comes six days after a Palestinian man shot and killed two people at a bus stop near the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malakhi.

Japanese mafia boss conspired to traffic nuclear materials, says US

Takeshi Ebisawa
Image caption,US authorities claim that Takeshi Ebisawa is a senior figure in a sprawling Japanese organised crime group.

By Bernd Debusmann Jr

BBC News, Washington

US prosecutors have charged an alleged member of the Japanese mafia with conspiring to traffic nuclear materials.

Takeshi Ebisawa, 60, tried to sell uranium and plutonium that he believed would be transferred to Iran to build a nuclear bomb, it is alleged.

Mr Ebisawa and a Thai co-defendant were previously hit with weapons and drug charges in April 2022.

He faces life imprisonment if convicted of the latest charges.

US authorities say Mr Ebisawa – who is being held in a Brooklyn jail – is a senior figure in the Japanese organised crime syndicate, known as the Yakuza, with operations in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and the US.


The US Department of Justice said Mr Ebisawa and his “confederates showed samples of nuclear materials in Thailand” to an undercover agent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The agent was posing as a drugs and weapons trafficker with links to an Iranian general.

The nuclear samples – which came from Myanmar – were seized by Thai authorities and transferred to US investigators. A US laboratory confirmed the material contained uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

Prosecutors also allege that Mr Ebisawa sought to acquire large quantities of military-grade weapons on behalf of an unspecified rebel group in Myanmar.

The weapons included surface-to-air missiles, assault and sniper rifles, machine guns, rockets of various calibres and a variety of tactical gear.

“It is chilling to imagine the consequences had these efforts succeeded, and the justice department will hold accountable those who traffic in these materials and threaten US national security and international stability,” assistant attorney general Matthew G Olden said in a statement on Wednesday.

In February 2020, Mr Ebisawa allegedly contacted the DEA agent about selling nuclear materials. According to US prosecutors, he explained via encrypted communications that uranium is “not good for your health”.

In September that year, Mr Ebisawa allegedly emailed the undercover DEA agent a letter bearing the name of a mining company. He offered to sell 50 tonnes of uranium and thorium for $6.85m (£5.4m).

Prosecutors also say he sent photographs showing “a dark rocky material” with a Geiger counter, which is used to measure levels of radiation.

Mr Ebisawa faces charges including conspiracy to commit international trafficking of nuclear materials, narcotics importation conspiracy, conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess anti-aircraft missiles and money laundering.

His co-conspirator in the case – 61-year-old Thai national Somphop Singhasiri – is facing drugs and weapons charges.

Both are facing life in prison if convicted.

The pair will be arraigned in a New York federal courtroom on Thursday.

Turner Syndrome: ‘Be joyful’ urges woman with rare condition

Lauren Campbell
Image caption,Lauren Campbell now works at a special needs school in Leeds

By Ross McCrea


A Belfast woman who lives with a condition affecting about one in 2,000 girls has urged others to “let yourself be joyful”.

Lauren Campbell was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome (TS) aged two.

The genetic condition, which can affect height and ovaries, is caused by having one normal X sex chromosome, rather than two.

Lauren said one of her biggest challenges was becoming a teenager.

“You start taking hormone therapy then, to start going through puberty,” she told BBC News NI.


“This was a really hard time in my life.

“All I knew was I had TS, I knew what that meant, but I didn’t quite experience that until I was a teenager, until I actually felt different from my peers,” she added.

The Queen’s University graduate said she has been on a journey with TS as a child, a teenager, and now as a young adult.

Lauren, now 22, explained how doctors initially misdiagnosed her condition as cerebral palsy.

She explained she was “really floppy, but that was actually just because I had a heart condition”.

“Because of that diagnosis, they did lots of blood tests, and it came back that I had Turner Syndrome.”

According to the most recent census data, 183 people had TS in Northern Ireland in 2021, a rise from 88 in 2011.

There are a number of potential symptoms, including being short and having fertility problems.

Data provided by the charity Turner Syndrome Support Society found an average of 75% of cases are undiagnosed.

‘Improving diagnosis’

Its executive officer, Arlene Smyth, said many cases of TS get missed “mainly because most girls living with Turners look completely normal”.

Lauren Campbell
Image caption,Lauren said she has experienced TS as a child, teenager and now a young adult

“My message to any doctor is if a mum comes to you with a short girl, especially with recurrent ear infections, you should absolutely be thinking about Turner Syndrome, rather than wait for years and years.

Ms Smyth said many people with TS “have missed out on a lot of treatment” through delays.

“So raising awareness and improving diagnosis is a vital, vital part of the society’s work,” she added.

Looking back, Lauren praised the love and care from relatives: “My family have been a massive support; they educated themselves in how to get me through school, to get me through university. They’re my number one champions.”

Following her diagnosis, she also received support from Ms Smyth’s charity, which she started after her daughter was diagnosed with TS.

“We support anybody with Turner Syndrome, or their parents, or family members,” she explained.

Ms Smyth added she believed information she was given at the time about the condition was “really poor and not accurate”.

‘Be your own advocate’

Lauren noted how the work of the society gave her the opportunity to make friends with other girls, and described it as “a great source of help and support for anyone who has received a diagnosis”.

Following her teenage years, Lauren spoke about how sixth form allowed her to be more open about her condition: “Anything from my heart condition to infertility, that was when the openness really began”.

“As well as through university, where I met my now partner, and having that experience of having to be very open and honest with him about having Turners,” she added.

Lauren currently works at a special needs school in Leeds, and explained how her experience gave her “that empathy and extra understanding of what these students are going through, and how to be a person that is supportive of them and understands them”.

In a final word, Lauren offered advice to other girls who might be struggling with Turner Syndrome: “Get to know and understand yourself, and love yourself, because you are always going to have to be your own advocate”.

“Let yourself have that Turner Syndrome joy. Know yourself, ask for help, let yourself be joyful”.

Munich security talks marked by global ‘lose-lose’ anxiety

UN Secretary General António Guterres and EU top diplomat Josep Borrell sit around a table during a meeting
Image caption,UN Secretary General António Guterres (second left) and EU top diplomat Josep Borrell (first right) had a lot to discuss

By Lyse Doucet

Chief international correspondent in Munich

It’s called the Munich Rule: engage and interact; don’t lecture or ignore one another.

But this year, at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC), two of the most talked-about people weren’t even here.

That included former US President Donald Trump, whose possible return to the White House could throw a spanner in the work of the transatlantic relationship, which lies at the heart of this premier international forum.

And Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who was vehemently blamed by one world leader after another for the death of his most prominent critic Alexei Navalny, not to mention his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which continues to cast a long dark shadow across Europe and far beyond.

The staggering news of Navalny’s death, which broke just hours before the conference kicked off on Friday, underlined again the perilous unpredictability of a world carved up by multiple fault lines and entrenched interests.


“We live in a world where there is more and more confrontation and less co-operation,” regretted the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. “The world has become a much more dangerous place,” he told me as the conference drew to a close on Sunday.

“Lose-Lose?” was the maxim of this year’s gathering, at a time of deepening geopolitical tensions and jarring economic uncertainties.

The MSC’s annual report warned that it could give rise to “lose-lose” dynamics among governments, “a downwards spiral that jeopardises co-operation and undermines the existing international order”.

“I think this has been the conference of a disordered world,” reflected David Miliband, the CEO and president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

“It’s a world dominated by impunity, where the guardrail stabilisers are not working and that’s why there’s so much disorder, not just in Ukraine and in Gaza and Israel, but more widely in places like Sudan, whose humanitarian crisis isn’t even getting on the agenda,” he said. caption,

Watch Yulia Navalnaya speak following report of husband’s death

This issue of impunity, one of the toughest of political challenges, was suddenly transformed into a poignant personal story when Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, unexpectedly appeared on the conference’s main stage in the grand Bayerischer Hof hotel to condemn Russia’s president and urge the assembled presidents, prime ministers, defence chiefs and top diplomats to bring him to justice.

Her remarkable composure and clarity stunned the packed hall, which gave her a sustained standing ovation before and after she spoke with palpable pain.

This year Russia, as well as Iran, weren’t invited to Munich because the organisers assessed they weren’t “interested in meaningful dialogue”.

A protester against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine demonstrates in Munich, Germany. Photo: 17 February 2024
Image caption,Protesters against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine made their voices heard during the Munich conference

In MSC forums gone by, vitriolic speeches by Russia’s veteran Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov angered and electrified the main hall, and Iran’s visible presence highlighted the rivalries and risks in urgent need of resolution.

The imperative of continuing hefty Western military and financial assistance to Ukraine was underscored repeatedly by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who exhorted participants to act, as he rushed from one high-level meeting to the next.

“The year of 2024 demands your response – from everyone in the world,” he beseeched delegates when he spoke from the top podium.

The US’s pivotal support was uppermost in his mind as a vital security package, amounting to $60bn (£48bn), is being held up by a US Congress where Republican lawmakers are increasingly divided over whether to keep backing Kyiv in its fight.

Back home in Ukraine, soldiers are even running out of bullets on front lines.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh debates at Munich's conference
Image caption,Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh argued that a “serious ceasefire” was urgently needed in Gaza

US delegates in Munich, including Vice-President Kamala Harris, were at pains to insist that she and President Joe Biden would not abandon Ukraine, nor America’s leadership in global affairs.

But with US elections just nine months away, Mr Trump is already shaping the polarised political debate in Washington and reviving anxiety that he could pull the US out of the Nato military alliance and other international commitments.

“They know what they need to do but they can’t get it done, and that’s the gap that has to be filled,” was how Mr Miliband assessed pledges voiced by the US and European allies in Munich.

Others were even more stinging in their criticism.

“Lots of words. No concrete commitments,” posted Nathalie Tocci, Director of the Institute of International Affairs, on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It’s a sad MSC2024.”

The gaps were even more glaring when it came to the devastating Israel-Gaza war, which erupted after Hamas’s murderous assault on southern Israel on 7 October.

Israel’s military operations are causing a staggering number of civilian casualties and have ravaged much of this coastal strip.

“We have seen a really great interest from the international community and the world leaders who have gathered here in Munich that they would like to see a serious ceasefire and a substantial amount of international aid into Gaza,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh remarked in an interview.

But Israeli delegates, including former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, doubled down on the need to keep pressing forward.

“I’m a political opponent of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but I support the war in Gaza,” she emphasised in a session, which also included Mr Shtayyeh and the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

“I support the strategic need to eliminate Hamas as a terrorist organisation and as a regime,” Ms Livni said.

This year’s MSC marked a record attendance: more than 900 participants including some 50 heads of state and government from around the world, more than 100 ministers, as well as representatives of think-tanks, non-governmental organisations and leading businesses.

Top spooks, feminist foreign ministers, climate warriors, Iranian activists, weapons experts, technology wizards and more – all gathered for their own get-togethers on public stages and in private rendezvous and hushed huddles.

It all underlined how the world’s understanding of “global security” keeps shifting shape.

Over the decades, this forum – born in 1963 in a Cold War quest for peace and prosperity – has often been a venue for real-time diplomacy, too.

But in a year marked by worry over “lose-lose dynamics” Munich was a place for a lot of talking and taking stock as the world nervously wonders where the next blows will fall.

Are US nuclear weapons set to return to RAF Lakenheath?

Fighter jet landing
Image caption,An F-35A Lightning II, which can carry nuclear weapons, landing at RAF Lakenheath

By Matt Precey

BBC News, Suffolk

Nuclear weapons could be making a return to a United States Air Force base in Suffolk 15 years after it reportedly removed its last ones.

Documents indicate RAF Lakenheath is preparing facilities to house and guard bombs with an explosive power many times greater than the one dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War Two.

What do we know about the plans?

Aerial view of a US airbase in England
Image caption,US government documents indicate that RAF Lakenheath, which is used solely by the United States Air Force, is being prepared to store nuclear weapons again

RAF Lakenheath is currently home to the 48th Fighter Wing, also known as the Liberty Wing, with the latest generation F-35A Lightning II aircraft stationed there.

According to the USAF these fighter jets have successfully been flight tested to carry the short-range B61-12 thermonuclear bomb, a tactical weapon designed for the battlefield.

Documents detailing a contract awarded to build defensive shelters for RAF Lakenheath’s “upcoming nuclear mission” were published, and then withdrawn, by the US Department of Defense.


These mobile units would protect the troops assigned to defend the base, the 48th Security Forces Squadron.

In addition, millions of dollars have been earmarked to build a facility known as a “surety dormitory” at the base, which is understood to be storage facilities for nuclear weapons, according to a US Department of Defense .

The RAF base opened in Lakenheath in 1941 and was operational during World War Two.

As the Cold War between Nato and the Soviet bloc intensified, the USAF assumed administrative control of the base in 1951.

There are 4,000 US military personnel and a further 1,500 British and US civilian staff at the site.

Will the weapons arrive in Suffolk?

Man looking at the camera
Image caption,Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman said reports that nuclear weapons were coming to Suffolk should be treated with caution

Sir Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, said there were “some suggestions” the plans were precautionary.

The shelters could just be extra capacity in the event other weapons had to be removed from storage sites in Europe, he added.

“It is one thing to build storage facility, it’s another thing to hide the fact that American weapons are going to be based in Britain, so it may have quite a relatively mundane explanation rather than be some sort of dramatic escalation in the arms race,” he said.

The UK and Nato have a long-standing policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location.

Why is this happening now?

Thermonuclear bomb being loaded onto an aircraft
Image caption,A B61-12 thermonuclear bomb being loaded onto an aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri

Sir Lawrence said he did not think the plans were specifically related to the situation in Ukraine.

“It is part of, I think, a general increasing of tension with Russia,” he said.

“It also reflects the high priority given to short-range systems in Russian doctrine.”

Man in bowtie looking directly at camera
Image caption,RAF Lakenheath is already a Russian target according to former senior Nato official William Alberque

But William Alberque, a former senior NATO official now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it was a “response to an increasingly dangerous threat environment across Europe because of Russia’s actions”.

He cited the stationing of Russian nuclear forces in Belarus, the invasion of Ukraine and “wildly increased threats of nuclear weapons use by Vladimir Putin”.

What does this mean for the base?

Man looking at camera
Image caption,Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists has been monitoring the US Department of Defense’s plans for RAF Lakenheath

Hans Kristensen, from the Federation of American Scientists, was among the first people to raise the possibility nuclear weapons could be returning to RAF Lakenheath.

“There is no doubt that if you have nuclear weapons on a base, that base is more likely to be targeted in a nuclear conflict with Russia,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that once you have nuclear weapons in, it’s a different ball game.”

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Mr Alberque said it was “highly likely” the base was already a Russian target.

“If I’m a Russian military planner, I’m already going to hit it. If you watch Russian television, they talk about the UK a lot; they talk about nuking the UK a lot.”

Mr Alberque believes Russian President Vladimir Putin would authorise the use of these weapons.

“To say he is capable of it would be an understatement. If he sees a lack of resolve and a lack of consequences I think he would,” he said.

What happens next?

Woman in front of protestors
Image caption,Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament wants to ensure nuclear weapons are not stationed in Suffolk

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has already protested outside the base.

CND general secretary Kate Hudson said: “If they’re here, we’re going to get rid of them.”

The group has instructed law firm Leigh Day to look into whether building of the surety dormitory is lawful.

Lawyer Ricardo Gama said: “The [UK] Ministry of Defence says that the Lakenheath development won’t lead to significant environmental effects, but in coming to that conclusion our client argues they have ignored the potential environmental effects of stationing nuclear weapons at the airbase, including the potential for nuclear accidents”.

Gaza’s Nasser hospital: Fears for patients as Israeli raid continues

A screengrab from footage taken at Nasser hospital shows people, including in medical scrubs, appearing to run through a corridor
Image caption,Footage verified by the BBC shows chaotic scenes at the hospital

By Rushdi Abu Alouf in Istanbul & Kathryn Armstrong in London

BBC News

The Israeli military says its special forces are still inside the Nasser hospital in Gaza as fears grow for patients at the site.

Israel launched what it described as a “precise and limited mission” there on Thursday. The military says it has caught “dozens of terror suspects”.

Hamas dismissed that claim as “lies”. The Hamas-run health ministry said five people died after generators failed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the facility urgently needed fuel.

It said the fuel was vital to “ensure the continuation of the provision of life-saving services”.


Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, said there were now reports that the orthopaedic unit at the hospital, in the city of Khan Younis, had been damaged.

“That obviously reduces the ability to provide the urgent medical care,” he said, adding there were still “critically injured and sick patients” at the hospital.

“More degradation to the hospital means more lives being lost.”

Nasser is the main hospital in southern Gaza, and is one of the few still functioning. It has been the scene of intense fighting between the IDF and Hamas for days.

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An injured man who had to leave the hospital said the conditions there were dire.

“Since they besieged it, there is no water or food,” Raed Abed told the Associated Press.

“Garbage is widespread, and sewage has flooded the emergency department.”

The hospital’s director, Nahed Abu-Teima, told BBC Arabic the situation inside was “catastrophic and very dangerous”.

The Hamas-run health ministry reported on Friday that the five people who died at the hospital did so after the electricity generators went down and oxygen could not be provided.

The deaths have not been independently verified.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) ordered thousands of displaced people who had been sheltering there to leave.

Images, verified by the BBC, showed medical staff rushing patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust. caption,

Watch: Patients rushed through smoke, bodies moved – what we can see in video from Nasser hospital raid

The IDF believes Hamas has been using hospitals and other civilian bases as shields for military activities.

“We can’t give them [Hamas] a free pass, we have to make sure that they are pursued and hunted down,” IDF spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner told the BBC.

He said the military had been making “a huge effort to evacuate people from the hospital in order to get http://He said the military had been making “a huge effort to evacuate people from the hospital in order to getthem out of harm’s way”, denying claims that civilians had been targeted.

The IDF said that among those it had captured at the hospital were 20 Hamas members who were part of the 7 October attacks on Israel.

It also said it had found weapons, including grenades, at the facility.

The military is also searching for the bodies of Israeli hostages which it said intelligence suggests might be hidden in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli tanks were targeting the nearby Al-Amal hospital, “resulting in very severe damage in two nursing rooms”.

They wrote on social media that nobody had been hurt.

Intense hostilities have been reported around the hospital recently. The PRCS said it was raided last week after some 8,000 displaced people and patients complied with an order to evacuate.

On Friday, they said that two doctors who were arrested during the raid had been released, while 12 other staff remained in custody.

Israel launched its military offensive after waves of Hamas fighters burst through Israel’s border on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mainly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 28,700 people, mainly women and children – have been killed in Israel’s campaign.

Israel is facing increasing international pressure to show restraint but efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting have not yet yielded any results.

A senior Palestinian official familiar with the ceasefire talks told the BBC that the gap between the negotiating parties was still wide and there were disagreements over many of the proposed provisions.

Senior officials from the US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar have been meeting in Cairo this week to try and hammer out a deal.

The official said that the main issue remains the disagreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over what happens the day after the war is over. The US want to rely on a strengthened Palestinian Authority, while Israel is against having a single administration in charge of the West Bank and Gaza.

Another disagreement is over Israel’s aim of completely destroying Hamas, which the US thinks will be difficult to achieve anytime soon.

The US is said to be trying to pressure the two sides to reach a long period of calm to make it difficult for the two sides to return to fighting again.

Whisky takes a shot at China’s baijiu-dominated market

Young friends toasting at bar - stock photo from Beijing China

By Katie Silver

Business reporter

The Lunar New Year is traditionally a time for gathering with family and friends to eat and drink.

And for hundreds of years the drink of choice in China for these celebrations has been baijiu – a clear spirit made with fermented grains which packs a potent punch.

Baijiu is also often drunk straight and at social events such as weddings and birthdays.

Its Alcohol-By-Volume (ABV) can top 60% – in comparison spirits like scotch whisky and tequila typically have an ABV of around 40%.

“Baijiu certainly still has its place in Chinese liquor consumption, even among young consumers,” says Allison Malmsten, public research director at Daxue Consulting.

It accounts for well over 90% of China’s spirits sales, with annual sales of around $160bn (£127bn).

However, in recent times drinks from abroad have been growing in popularity in what is the world’s biggest spirits market.

Brand new story

In 2022, sales of whisky in China were valued at $2.3bn, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

That figure is expected to almost triple by 2027 as the whisky market there is expected to grow at around five times the rate seen globally.

Those sales are being driven by young, middle class, urban, educated and increasingly female drinkers.

Many of them are shunning baijiu in favour of less alcoholic spirits from outside China, according to Ms Malmsten.

The growth in demand for whisky in particular, has helped encourage international brands to open distilleries across China.

Bottles of whisky at a shop at the Pernod Ricard Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery in Emeishan, Sichuan Province, China.
Image caption,Pernod Ricard launched its Chuan Pure malt whisky in December

Amongst them is French drinks giant Pernod-Ricard, which owns the Jameson Irish whiskey brand as well as Beefeater Gin and Absolut Vodka. It is investing $140m in a production base near Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province, Southwest China.

UK-based rival Diageo also opened a plant in the Yunnan Province in December and is currently trialling production with plans to be fully up and running later this year. The company is also opening an Asia-Pacific Innovation hub in Shanghai.

“We are here for a long-term play,” Managing Director for Diageo in China Atul Chhaparwal told the BBC.

He is bullish about the market, saying the demand is so strong that is space for everyone.

“Given the vibrancy of the overall whiskey category in China, there will be enough space for single malts, for blended whiskies, for local players, for imported whiskey, to grow,” he says.

“Whiskey currently makes up less than 2% of the total spirits consumed in China, which indicates that how much room headroom everyone has to play in here,” he adds.

That includes homegrown distilleries which have sprung up across the country. Pernod estimates there are between 30 and 50, with many still being built.

The whisky market is also expanding in other parts of Asia.

“The growth is immense”, spirits retailer Maison du Whisky’s Jamie Li told the BBC in the French company’s store in Singapore.

Person places whisky in tumbler on bar with drinks bottles.
Image caption,In 2022, sales of whisky in China were valued at $2.3bn

Mr Li, who heads sales to South Korea, Japan and China expects to see a boost during the Lunar New Year as Chinese tourists visit Singapore.

“Chinese New Year is kind of like Christmas in Europe – it’s festive, people want to spend money, buy nice gifts and have something memorable. So whisky is part of their memory,” he says.

There is also a growing number of collectors who “buy and hold” bottles of whisky which are expected to rise in value.

But it’s not all smooth sailing for China’s whisky market warns Ms Malmsten.

“The local distilleries are still in the early stages. 80% of the whisky has only been aged for two years or less. There’s a lack of barrels and a lack of professionals to help with production,” she says.

Still, if the success of China’s wine industry is anything to go by, ‘watch this space’ when it comes to whisky.

“What we saw with China’s wine industry is that once it started to mature, the demand for Chinese wines skyrocketed. In our recent survey, we found that after French wines, Chinese wines are the second most preferred,” Ms Malmsten says.

“As China’s whisky production matures, we might see a similar rise in demand for domestically produced whisky as well.”

The KGB spy who rubbed shoulders with French elites for decades

KGB spy Philippe Grumbach in a black-and-white 1985 photo
Image caption,For decades, KGB spy Philippe Grumbach rubbed shoulders with countless political figures and celebrities

By Laura Gozzi

BBC News

Major French magazine L’Express has revealed that its prominent former editor, Philippe Grumbach, was a KGB spy for 35 years.

Grumbach was an exceptionally well plugged-in figure in French society for decades.

He counted presidents, actors and literary giants as close friends. He was a legendary figure in journalism who shaped the editorial direction of one of France’s most successful publications. When he died in 2003, Minister of Culture Jean-Jacques Aillagon said Grumbach had been “one of the most memorable and respected figures in French media”.

But he was also “Brok”, the KGB spy.

Extensive proof of Grumbach’s duplicitous life can be found in the so-called Mitrokhin archives – named after the Soviet major who smuggled thousands of pages of documents out of Soviet archives and handed them to Britain in 1992. They were later compiled into a book by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin himself.

Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Westerners who spied for the Soviet Union.

Several months ago, a friend of Etienne Girard, the social affairs editor at L’Express and the co-author of the Grumbach exposé, informed him that an acquaintance who was researching the Mitrokhin files had come across mentions of L’Express. The documents said that an agent with the code-name of Brok worked for the KGB – and spelled out biographical details that matched Grumbach’s.

Mr Girard’s interest was piqued immediately.

“I started to dig into it and found Grumbach’s name written in Russian, and some photos,” Mr Girard told the BBC. “And then things got much more serious. I got in touch with the French secret service to confirm that Brok was indeed Grumbach – and things snowballed from there.”

Born in Paris in 1924 into a Jewish family, Grumbach fled France with his mother and siblings in 1940 – the year Nazi Germany invaded and Marshal Philippe Pétain took power in Vichy with a collaborationist regime. Grumbach joined the US army almost immediately and fought alongside the resistance in Algeria in 1943. After the war, he joined the AFP news agency – but resigned soon after in protest at the French government’s actions in the war in Indochina.

Philippe Grumbach as a young journalist
Image caption,Philippe Grumbach as a young journalist

In 1954, Grumbach was hired to work at L’Express by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, its founder.

From then onwards, Grumbach began rubbing shoulders with some of France’s most prominent figures of the 20th Century.

He helped rehabilitate the then-senator – and future president – Francois Mitterand’s reputation when he was accused of staging a fake assassination in 1960. He was close to the powerful Servan-Schreiber, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and prominent statesman Pierre Mendès France, among others. Actors Alain Delon and Isabelle Adjani were guests at his 1980 wedding, where writer Francoise Sagan and Pierre Berge, co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent, were the legal witnesses.

And Grumbach was a spy throughout.

Some may view his decision to spy for the Soviet Union as a romantic tale of loyalty to a doomed regime. But Mitrokhin himself speculated that while it was probably ideology that initially attracted Grumbach to the KGB, after only a few years his reasons for staying on as a spy had less to do with wishing to advance the cause of communism in Europe, and more with his desire to make enough money to buy a flat in Paris.

The financial incentives were certainly appealing. According to the Mitrokhin files, between 1976 and 1978 alone Grumbach was awarded the equivalent of today’s €250,000 (£214,000) for his services to the KGB. On three other occasions in the 1970s, he received an extra bonus for being one of the top 13 Soviet spies in France.

Yet it is unclear what missions he carried out exactly. The Mitrokhin files show that during the 1974 presidential election the KGB gave him fabricated files which were meant to create tensions between right-wing presidential candidates. Although L’Express quotes documents as saying that Grumbach was entrusted with the mission of “settling delicate issues” and “liaising with representatives and leaders of political parties, and groups”, there are few other concrete examples of Grumbach actively helping the USSR.

Maybe that is the reason why, in the early 1980s, the KGB severed ties with him. According to the Mitrokhin files book, KGB agents in Paris deemed Grumbach “insincere” and felt he exaggerated his abilities to gather information and the value of his intelligence. He was let go in 1981.

We will never know whether Grumbach was relieved that his double life was no more, or how he felt about his years of service to the KGB.

Whether because of shame or a lingering sense of loyalty, he rebuffed the only known attempt in 2000 by a journalist, Thierry Wolton, to find out more about his years as a spy. Grumbach initially appeared to obliquely admit to his past, but later rowed back, threatening to sue Wolton if he went ahead with the tell-all book he was planning.

Wolton dropped the project, but it seems the incident sparked in Grumbach a desire to talk about his experience.

His widow Nicole recently told L’Express that, soon after the Wolton visit, her late husband told her the truth. “He explained to me that he had worked for the KGB before we got married,” she told the magazine. She said he mentioned having been “revolted” by the racism he witnessed in Texas while he was in the US army, and implied this led him to seek a collaboration with the USSR instead. “He immediately added that he wanted to stop almost right away, but that he had been threatened,” Nicole told L’Express.

Mr Girard says he had no problem unearthing the truth about its former editor-in-chief.

“I definitely had the sense that I was doing my job. It’s up to us to do the investigation, because it concerns us – even if it means unearthing uncomfortable truths,” he said.

Writing the piece took three months, but it has paid off. Almost every media outlet in France has picked up the story – possibly because many still remember Grumbach as a towering figure who dominated the French media landscape for decades.

Some may be tempted to dust off their old copies of L’Express from the Grumbach years in search of subliminal pro-Soviet messaging. But they’re unlikely to find anything. In the 1950s, under Grumbach’s first stint as an editor-in-chief, L’Express leaned left without ever endorsing communism; in the 1970s, when Grumbach was again at the helm, L’Express moved to a resolutely moderate, liberal, centrist space.

As the report in L’Express points out, Grumbach’s work as a spy was never to spread propaganda.

“He was careful to keep his work as a spy separate from his work as magazine editor,” Mr Girard said. “But this is precisely why it all worked. The KGB wanted him to hold on to his cover of a centrist bourgeois to keep flying under the radar.”

“It was fully in the spirit of the KGB. It was a smart move. And it worked.”

Bali: Foreign tourists to pay $10 entry tax from Valentine’s Day

Millions of tourists are drawn to Bali's beaches and resorts each year
Image caption,Millions of tourists are drawn to Bali’s beaches and resorts each year

By Nicholas Yong

BBC News, Singapore

Foreign tourists must now pay a 150,000 rupiah (£7.60; $9.60) levy to enter Bali, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Indonesian authorities say this is aimed at protecting the island’s environment and culture.

Bali is known for its pristine beaches and surfing waves, as well its beautiful landscapes.

Official data shows that almost 4.8 million tourists visited Bali between January and November last year.

The tourist tax, which was first announced last year, came into effect from Wednesday – Valentine’s Day.

It applies to foreign tourists entering the province from abroad or other parts of the country, with domestic Indonesian tourists exempt. Travellers are urged to pay up before arrival, through the Love Bali website.

Tourism contributed some 60% to Bali’s annual GDP before the pandemic.

According to the province’s statistics bureau, Australia was the largest contributor of foreign tourists to Bali in November 2023 with more than 100,000 arrivals. This was followed by tourists from India, China and Singapore.

But misbehaving tourists in Bali have riled locals in recent years.

Last March, a Russian man was deported from Bali after stripping off on Mount Agung, believed by Hindus to be the home of the gods.

In the same month, authorities said they planned to ban foreign tourists from using motorbikes, after a spate of cases involving people breaking traffic laws.

In 2021, uproar also resulted when a three-minute video circulated of a Russian couple having sex on Mount Batur, another holy site.

Watch: What maps don’t show about this Asian nation

The announcement came on the same day that millions of Indonesians headed to the polls to select a new president and legislature. More than 200 million people over Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and across three time zones are eligible to vote.