World News

J K Rowling, others scorched for lamenting rising 'intolerance'

Letter signed by more than 150 world-renowned academics, writers and artists suggests free speech is under assault.

More than 150 world-renowned academics, writers and artists – most of them on the centre-left of the political spectrum – signed a letter published on Tuesday expressing support for global anti-racism protests while lamenting that free speech is under assault because an “intolerant climate that has set in on all sides”.

American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, veteran women’s rights campaigner Gloria Steinem, authors J K Rowling and Salman Rushdie, musician Wynton Marsalis, and journalist Fareed Zakaria were among the signatories.

The letter on “justice and open debate” was published by Harper’s Magazine and will appear in many leading global publications.

You may not agree with these voices, but their message should not be dismissed without thought. Social media tends to communicate in all caps and 280 characters, which may have led us to devalue that nasty little feature inherent in every issue: nuance.

It supported continuing demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality that have spread from the United States to across the world, following outrage over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

However, the letter also said the sentiments unleashed have hardened a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments to the detriment of open debate, and allowed ideological conformity to erode tolerance of differences.

As someone with extensive personal experience with the suppression of debate by ideological conformity, I’m happy to see names from all over the political spectrum signing this open letter about its rise in the free world.

“As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second,” the letter said, adding that resistance should not be allowed to “harden” into a brand of “dogma or coercion”.

Free exchange of information and ideas are becoming more constricted on a daily basis, the letter warned.

It said censoriousness was spreading widely across the culture through public shaming, a tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a “blinding moral certainty” and an intolerance of opposing views.

The headline here should actually be “Cultural arbiters bemoan the fact that the public can now hold them to account”. Free speech doesn’t give you the right to be beyond reproach.

“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other,” the letter added.

Reaction to the letter from many in progressive political circles was, however, less than charitable, with LGBTQ activists singling out Rowling’s participation. Rowling has come under fire for speaking out on transgender issues, including raising concerns that transgender rights are eroding women’s rights to single-sex spaces and suggesting young women are being rushed into medical transition.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, @Ayaan. If all the people with public platforms who’re messaging me to say they agree with us but are too scared to stand up found their bravery, we’d have an army.

“We consider it disingenuous for a world-famous author with millions of followers to imply she is being silenced by a group of people who are consistently ignored, misrepresented, ridiculed and humiliated,” said a spokesman for Mermaids, a United Kingdom-based charity that supports transgender children and their families.

Another of the letter’s signatories, transgender author and professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, later indicated that she regretted taking part.

“I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming,” she wrote. “The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”

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BBC Weather: Temperatures skyrocket to 38C as heavy rain threatens to washout Europe

BBC Weather forecaster Darren Bett said southwestern and eastern and south-eastern parts of Europe will see the hottest and driest weather over the next few days. Mr Bett also said a new weather front will bring rain to parts of Scandinavia and northern Europe before moving southwards. Mr Bett said: “For many central and southern parts of Europe it is remaining dry and there is a lot of strong sunshine.

“The hottest temperatures likely to be across the southern parts of Spain.”

Temperatures in Spain over the next few days could reach highs of 38C.

These hot temperatures will continue through the weekend and into the new week for this part of Europe.

The BBC Weather forecaster explained that despite the warm sports of hot weather across the continent, there is a new wet weather front moving in.

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Mr Bett said: “Further north across Europe you can see the weather looks very different.

“We still have this band of cloud strung out across northern parts of Europe, bringing with it outbreaks of rain.

“To the north of this band, the air is cooler but to the south of it you can see the extent of strong sunshine and hot temperatures.

“These temperatures will be around the low 30s, not extreme heat but strong sunshine.”

Mr Betts explained this wet weather front will continue to move southwards to the week and impact parts of central-eastern Europe.

For parts like Poland and Hungary, temperatures will remain in the low to mid-20s and could see outbreaks of rain.

Mr Betts continued: “The weather pattern sees another area of low pressure bringing heavier rain to southern Scandinavia to northern parts of Germany.

“We will see the bands push down clouds and showers into France and the Alps.

UK Weather forecast: Pouring rain and HUGE waves to hit Britain [MAPS]
UK weather: 31C heatwave to SCORCH Britain as charts turn red [CHARTS]
Met Office weather: Torrential downpours to BATTER Britain [FORECAST]

“Through the Mediterranean and the east of Europe, it will remain dry, hot and sunny.”

Towards the end of the week, London will see temperatures begin to rise to start the week in the mid-20s. 

Paris will see a similar trend but by the start of the new week could see temperatures as high as 29 degrees with lots of sunshine. 

Seville will remain one of the hottest places in Europe over the next few days and see consistent temperatures shy of 40C. 

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Vindman retiring from Army, lawyer blames President Trump – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a national security aide who played a central role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment case, announced his retirement from the Army on Wednesday in a scathing statement that accused the president of running a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation.”

The statement from attorney David Pressman said Vindman was leaving the Army after more than 21 years after it had been made clear “that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited.”

“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” read the statement, first obtained by CNN.

Vindman’s name was on a promotion list sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this year, according to one U.S. official familiar with the matter. But that list was delayed for weeks because the White House asked for an investigation of Vindman. The Pentagon did a review and found that any suggestion of misconduct was unfounded.

The official said the list was resent to Esper about a month ago, but again has been delayed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Pressman went on to say that Vindman “did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”

“LTC Vindman’s patriotism,” he said, “has cost him his career. Today our country loses a devoted soldier, but it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure it does not lose the values he represents.”

The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump in February ousted Vindman from his job on the National Security Council, where he served as an expert on Ukraine, just two days after the president’s acquittal by the Senate. Vindman’s lawyer said then that his client had been told to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”

Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, was also asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer. Both men were reassigned to the Army.

Vindman had testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s work for the energy company Burisma in Ukraine. And he told impeachment investigators that he twice raised concerns over the administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens.

In the aftermath, senior Pentagon leaders insisted that Vindman would not see any retaliation as a result of the testimony. Talking to reporters in November, Esper said the department has protections for whistleblowers.

Vindman ”shouldn’t have any fear of retaliation. That’s DOD’s position,” Esper said, adding that he flatly rejected suggestions that the soldier’s career was over. He said he had spoken with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy about the matter.

McCarthy said in February that Vindman was not under investigation, and that he was serving in a Army headquarters job and would go on to senior service college in the summer.

In gripping testimony, Vindman also spoke of his family’s story and his father bringing them to the U.S. from the Soviet Union when he was a young child.

“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he testified. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

The lieutenant colonel, who served in Iraq and later as a diplomat, wore his uniform full of medals, including a Purple Heart.

When a soldier requests retirement, it must be approved by the Army’s Human Resources Command, and normally can take months to process before the person actually leaves the military.

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EU on the brink as ‘inescapable’ crisis threatens divide in Brussels – ‘Macron’s happy’

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Shearman and Sterling partner, Barnabas Reynolds, warned the European Union could be moments from collapsing. While speaking with Brexit Watch on their Youtube channel, Mr Reynolds said the bloc must now deal with an inescapable crisis. Mr Reynolds claimed having one centralised currency will inevitably lead to divides and predicted a potential, west-east split or a north-south divide.

Mr Reynolds said: “There has been talk in the EU about splitting into a southern and northern Eurozone.

“The southern Eurozone lead by France, I think France is quite happy with that idea.

“I think Germany are interested in seeing if they can preserve the eastern Eurozone and some of the Benelux countries around it.”

Mr Reynolds noted why this issue would be so difficult for the EU to overcome and some of the key problems with the Eurozone.

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He said: “It seems to me that the same problem is down the track in one form or another.

“It is inescapable if you want a currency zone with people.

“Ultimately there will be a moment in time when there is an essential decision as to whether or not you share and subsidise or make grants for people in the other group to keep them up with the more successful group.

“If people in the more successful group are not brought into that choice and they are not prepared to make that leap then there is a breakpoint, that is what we are witnessing.”

Mr Reynolds noted that the coronavirus crisis is forcing countries that did not suffer a lot from the disease to consider whether they would pay for those that did.

Mr Reynolds continued: “We are watching this in real-time, will the people in the north relent and decide to make those grants to share to a level to bring everyone up to the same level and effectively create a state.

“It is not at all clear that they are willing to do that, it is not clear the German constitutional court will allow that to happen.”

In addition to this, Mr Reynolds raised the point that member states in eastern Europe will want to continue to spend money like that of their western counterparts.

Mr Reynolds added: “In eastern Europe, the same point will arise at one point.

“They will want to continue spending money in a particular way.

“They will simply get accustomed to a certain standard of living.

“They will want to be able to do things in the rest of the Eurozone in the same way.”

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UK weather latest: ‘Conveyor belt’ of rain to SMASH Britain – 30mm to hit in 24-hour blitz

Heavy rain is expected to smash into the country over the next 24-hours, according to the latest weather charts. But, once the “conveyor belt” of unsettled conditions sweeps across Britain, high pressure is expected to dominate over the weekend. This should see a return to a more settled picture, with temperatures likely to increase.

WxCharts posted a video on Twitter of a band of rain sweeping across Britain before the weekend.

The chart then shows high pressure taking hold, appearing to create more settled conditions for Britons.

It wrote on Twitter: “A conveyor belt of low pressure systems arriving to parts of North West Europe today and tomorrow…before the high stretches in nicely just in time for the weekend!”

Forecasters agreed a band of rain would smash into Britain on Thursday.

A conveyor belt of low pressure systems arriving to parts of North West Europe today and tomorrow


Brian Gaze, of The Weather Outlook, said: “On Thursday, much of the country has showers or longer periods of rain.

“Some brighter intervals are likely, particularly in Northern Ireland. Temperatures will be similar to today’s.”

Craig Snell, from the Met Office, said over the next 24-hours, the “wettest weather will hit Wales, the Midlands and northern England”.

He told “By the time we get to tomorrow lunchtime, a few spots in that zone could see 20-30mm of rain.”

The forecaster added the weather would hit over a long enough period so it shouldn’t cause too many localised problems.

But, he added: “It’s more going into Friday when we might see heavy and thundery showers across the UK. Especially across northern and eastern parts of England, where the UK could see 10mm to 20mm in a couple of hours, which may well lead to water on the roads and create difficult driving conditions, with the risk of lightning too.”

Looking further ahead towards the weekend, Mr Gaze, from The Weather Outlook said that “Saturday is looking bright” but warned, “scattered showers” were possible.

He said: “Friday brings sunny spells but there will be showers. In the north and east, some are expected to be heavy. Temperatures remain disappointing for July.

“Saturday is looking bright and although scattered showers are possible it should be mainly dry. It will feel a little warmer than recently.

“Sunday should be dry and warm in much of the country. Temperatures could reach 27C (81F) in the southeast.

“In the northwest, there is a risk of outbreaks of rain returning later in the day.

“Early next week there should be a lot of dry and quite warm weather in the southern half of the country.

“In the north, it may stay more changeable with an ongoing risk of showers or longer spells of rain.”

UK Weather forecast: Pouring rain and HUGE waves to hit Britain [MAPS]
UK weather: 31C heatwave to SCORCH Britain as charts turn red [CHARTS]
Met Office weather: Torrential downpours to BATTER Britain [FORECAST]

Looking further forward to next week, the Met Office predicts a more settled period.

Their weather outlook from Monday, July 13 to Wednesday, July 22 suggests “it will be mostly dry and settled for many areas, especially in the south of the UK”.

It added: “More unsettled conditions with spells of rain and strong winds may affect the north and northwest at times.

“These unsettled conditions could spread to other parts of the UK later in this period, but widespread unsettled conditions are unlikely.”

The Met Office also said temperatures are likely to be around normal, but “it may become warm for a time in the south and perhaps very warm in the southeast”.

They finished: “Towards the end of the period, conditions may start to trend towards more generally settled weather for most areas, but with the possibility of the occasional bout of wetter weather.”

It comes as leading bookmakers have lengthened odds on this month to go down as the hottest July on record.

Betway’s Chad Yeomans said: “The June heatwave spoiled us all and had Brits dreaming of a sizzling Summer ahead, but after a wet and windy start to July we’ve lengthened the odds on it being the hottest ever from 6/1 to 22/1.

“The seventh month of the year is truly living up to expectations of a miserable British summer and at 11/8 that it’s the wettest month of the season, it looks unlikely we’ll be pulling out the factor 50 anytime soon.”

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Man gets 12 years for murdering ex-president’s son

A German man has been convicted of murdering Dr Fritz von Weizsäcker, the son of Germany’s former president.

A Berlin court handed Gregor S a 12 year sentence and sent him to a psychiatric hospital.

The sentence took into account his “reduced liability” due to a psychological disorder.

Dr Fritz von Weizsäcker had just finished a lecture on liver diseases when he was stabbed to death outside a Berlin hospital in November.

The murder of the 59-year-old father-of-four shocked Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel described it as a “terrible blow” to their family.

Dr von Weizsäcker was the son of Richard von Weizsäcker, the president of West Germany from 1984 to 1990. He oversaw the reunification of his country and served as the first president of the newly united Germany until 1994.

Documents submitted in court said Gregor S stabbed the doctor in the neck, causing a fatal wound reportedly 14cm (5.5in) long. “Fritz von Weizsäcker didn’t even have time to raise his arms,” ​​prosecutor Silke van Sweringen told the court.

Gregor S was also found guilty on Wednesday of attempted murder. A 34-year-old off-duty police officer who witnessed the killing overpowered the assailant, but was himself stabbed several times.

On Friday, a psychiatric report delivered to the court said Gregor S suffered from a combined personality disorder and OCD, which partially limited his control at the time of the murder.

Experts concluded that the 57-year-old could still be dangerous, and noted that he refuses to be treated.

Life sentences are mandatory for murder in Germany, but his diminished responsibility led to the reduced imprisonment.

In May, Gregor S told the court he had “never regretted my deed”, reportedly stating that he hated President Weizsäcker because he had sat on the board of a company which supplied chemicals in Agent Orange, used by US forces as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.

“I committed the crime out of political conviction, not delusion,” he said

But the prosecutors dismissed this, arguing this was instead a senseless act by a mentally disturbed man. “It is undoubtedly not a political murder,” Silke van Sweringen said.

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Merkel wants swift EU deal on COVID economic recovery to grow unity

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called for a swift agreement on the European Union’s mass economic stimulus to advance unity that would strengthen the bloc as it recovers from the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking to European lawmakers in Brussels as Germany assumed the EU presidency until the end of the year, Merkel called the pandemic the biggest challenge ever for the EU, where the euro zone economy is set to shed a record 8.7% this year.

“We all know that my visit today is taking place against the background of the biggest trial the European Union has faced in its history,” she said on her first foreign trip since coronavirus struck in Europe.

“Europe will emerge from the crisis stronger than ever if we strengthen cohesion and solidarity,” she added as parliamentarians – all wearing face masks – sat separated by empty seats.

Merkel underlined the need for solidarity across the 27-nation EU, which has been tested in recent months as governments acted alone to secure medical kit or tighten their borders.

She said the depth of economic crisis caused by the pandemic meant that member states would need to compromise to sign off on a joint recovery fund.

“We want to reach an agreement swiftly, we have seen a great economic upheaval and we cannot waste any time,” she said. “I hope we will reach an agreement before the summer recess.”

Fiscally conservative and wealthy northern countries have so far failed to agree with the high-debt southern states hardest hit by the pandemic over the proposed 750-billion-euro ($847 billion) fund that would be tied to the next joint budget worth another 1.1 trillion euros in 2021-27.

EU leaders will try to narrow their differences at face-to-face talks in Brussels on July 17-18 but their chairman, Charles Michel, said separately on Wednesday there was still “a lot of work to do” to get a deal.

Merkel said her priorities also included shoring up fundamental rights that the health emergency has threatened.

“We have seen lies and disinformation, and that is no way to fight a pandemic. Democracies need truth and transparency,” she said, stressing the need for Europe “to rely more on itself”.

Lawmakers set expectations high for Merkel, the leader of the EU’s largest economy, to deal with other challenges from climate change to its troubled ties with China to Brexit.

“I will continue to push for a good solution, but we should also prepare for a possibility of a no-deal scenario,” she said of the EU’s tortuous divorce with Britain. ($1 = 0.88 euros)

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Canada handled the coronavirus outbreak better than United States, PM Trudeau says

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada handled the novel coronavirus outbreak better than many of its allies, including the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, in a rare public comment on the faltering U.S. effort.

Canada – with a population one-tenth the size of the United States – has so far recorded 8,711 deaths and 106,167 cases and Trudeau said the situation was stabilizing, although some hot spots remained.

In contrast, the United States has recorded more than 3 million cases and 131,336 deaths. Authorities have reported alarming upswings of daily case loads in roughly two dozen states over the past two weeks.

“We were able to control the virus better than many of our allies, particularly including our neighbor,” Trudeau told a briefing, saying Canada’s success would help efforts to restart the economy.

Canada and the United States have blocked nonessential travel between the two nations since March and are discussing whether to extend the ban when it expires on July 21.

Canadian health officials said the death toll could hit 8,900 by July 17.

Deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said the outbreak was largely under control, while stressing measures such as contact tracing and quarantine would still be essential.

“If we relax too much or too soon, the epidemic will most likely rebound, with explosive growth as a distinct possibility,” he told a separate news conference.

Although Trudeau’s relations with U.S. President Donald Trump have been good over the last 18 months, he skipped a Washington meeting on Wednesday to herald the start of a new continental trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.

Trudeau, who would have had to enter a 14-day quarantine period on his return, repeated concerns about the possible imposition of U.S. tariffs on Canadian exports of aluminum.

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Poland summons German charge d'affaires over election media coverage

WARSAW (Reuters) – The Polish foreign ministry summoned Germany’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw on Wednesday to complain of what it said were inaccuracies and bias in German media coverage of Poland’s presidential election.

Poles will vote in a knife-edge run-off vote on Sunday, which pits President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party against liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski of the centrist Civic Platform (PO).

Duda, seeking a second, five-year term, has previously accused international media of misrepresenting his words.

His camp also reacted furiously to coverage in a partly German-owned Polish tabloid of a presidential pardon granted in a paedophilia case, suggesting Germany may be seeking to meddle in the election.

“In connection with a sequence of articles in German media using manipulation and creating a clear impression of favouring one of the candidates… I today summoned the German charge d’affaires to the Foreign Ministry,” Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek wrote on Twitter.

A spokeswoman for the German embassy in Warsaw confirmed that the charge d’affaires had been summoned.

Szynkowski vel Sek did not specify which articles he was referring to. The Polish foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The German government of course does not try to influence the Polish presidential election,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday.

“And of course the German government does not influence the work of correspondents in Germany or abroad,” he added.

PiS has long said it would like less foreign ownership of private media in Poland, accusing such outlets of anti-Polish bias.

It has annoyed Germany – Poland’s biggest trade partner and a NATO ally – with repeated calls for war reparations over the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War Two. Germany says all financial claims linked to the war have been settled.

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Indian border forces killed 25 Bangladeshis this year: Report

Human rights watchdog added that the BSF injured 17 and abducted another three Bangladeshi citizens.

At least 25 Bangladeshi civilians were killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in the first six months of this year, according to a human rights watchdog.

Odhikar, a Bangladesh-based human rights group, released a report on Monday where it also stated that the BSF injured 17 and abducted another three Bangladeshi citizens.

“[A total of] 45 Bangladeshi nationals have been victimized by the neighboring border force between January and June, 2020,” said the report.

Referring to a much-discussed killing of a Bangladeshi teenage student, the report said: “During this period, a BSF member entered Bangladesh and shot dead an SSC (secondary school certificate) examinee engaged in agricultural work.”

Shimon Roy, 16, was shot on April 19 in the northern border district of Thakurgaon, according to local media reports.

Terming the border killing as “very unfortunate” and “unacceptable”, Lieutenant Colonel Fayezur Rahman, director operations of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), told Anadolu Agency, “Our field-level officers and high-level officials at the headquarters have sent several protest letters against those killings.

“Unfortunately, there have been killings at the border, and we cannot assure that it will not repeat in the future,” he added.

The shootings along the 4,096km (2,545 miles) border occurred as Indian border forces exercise its controversial “shoot-on-sight” policy to prevent cattle smuggling and illegal crossing into India from Bangladesh.

Responding to Odhikar’s report, SS Guleria, a high-ranking BSF official at the South Bengal Frontier headquarters in India, told Anadolu Agency at least 10 Bangladeshi nationals died at the southern side of the border.

“Transborder crimes are at an all-time high here. Mostly, they (Bangladeshis) come to procure Phensydl, a cough syrup used as a drug by youngsters. Bangladesh has banned the syrup, and thus this youth tries to procure it from India,” Guleria said.

He further said that at least 6,000 to 8,000 were returned by the forces last year.

“Only criminals and those who attack our men are killed. At least nine BSF personnel have been injured by these notorious illegal infiltrators this year. Last year, we lost three BSF members, while 45 got injured. The criminals died as an act of self-defence by our BSF personnel … to prevent infiltration and smuggling, youth try to cross the border to supply or procure drugs,” added Guleria.

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