Microbes discovered by deepest marine drill analysed


Life uncovered by the deepest-ever marine drilling expedition has been analysed by scientists.

The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) found microbes living 2,400m beneath the seabed off Japan.

The tiny, single-celled organisms survive in this harsh environment on a low-calorie diet of hydrocarbon compounds and have a very slow metabolism.

The findings are being presented at the America Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, from the California Institute of Technology, who is part of the team that carried out the research, said: "We keep looking for life, and we keep finding it, and it keeps surprising us as to what it appears to be capable of."

The IODP Expedition 337 took place in 2012 off the coast of Japan’s Shimokita Peninsula in the northwestern Pacific.

From the Chikyu ship, a monster drill was set down more than 1,000m (3,000ft) beneath the waves, where it penetrated a record-breaking 2,446m (8,024ft) of rock under the seafloor.

Sluggish ways

Samples were taken from the ancient coal bed system that lies at this depth, and were returned to the ship for analysis.

The team found that microbes, despite having no light, no oxygen, barely any water and very limited nutrients, thrived in the cores.

To find out more about how this life from the "deep biosphere" survives, the researchers set up a series of experiments in which they fed the little, spherical organisms different compounds.

Dr Trembath-Reichert said: "We chose these coal beds because we knew there was carbon, and we knew that this carbon was about as tasty to eat, when it comes to coal, as you could get for microbes.

"The thought was that while there are some microbes that can eat compounds in coal directly, there may be smaller organic compounds – methane and other types of hydrocarbons - sourced from the coal that the microbes could eat as well."

The experiments revealed that the microbes were indeed dining on these methyl compounds.

The tests also showed that the organisms lived life in the slow lane, with an extremely sluggish metabolism.

They seem to use as little energy as possible to get by.

Other worlds

The researchers are now trying to work out if there are lots of different kinds of microbes living in the coal beds or whether there is one type that dominates.

They also want to find out how the microbes got there in the first place.

"Were these microbes just in a swamp, and loving life in a swamp, because there is all sorts of carbon available, oxygen, organic matter... and then that gets buried?" pondered Dr Trembath-Reichert.

"It could be that they didn’t get a chance to escape – they couldn’t exactly walk out. So is it that they were there to begin with and then they could maintain life?

"Or were they like microbes that were able to travel down to those depths from the surface?"

The discovery of vast ecosystems of microbes deeper and deeper underground is causing scientists to reassess the role that these organisms play in the carbon cycle.

Because these organisms take in hydrocarbons and expel methane, a greenhouse gas, as a waste product, they may be having a greater impact on the system that governs the Earth’s climate than was previously thought.

The findings also have implications for the hunt for life on other planets.

If life can survive in the most extreme conditions on Earth, perhaps it has found a way to cope with harsh environments elsewhere in the cosmos.

....... but what is the best way to cope with harsh environments on Earth?

G20 summit: Much promised, less delivered


The G20 summit of world leaders has concluded with a communique, a fancy way of describing a joint statement, that has both delivered more, but also somewhat less, than expected.

Where they've delivered more is by putting issues such as climate change in the message from world leaders. Those weren't on the formal agenda as the host, Australian PM Tony Abbott, had nixed climate change, for one.

But, after US President Obama mentioned the urgency of dealing with climate change at a speech in Brisbane before the summit, it's unsurprising that it was discussed after all.

Ebola is also in the final statement.

So, the G20 didn't just focus on the purely economic issues. I wrote before about how most of these issues are linked to the world economy in any case.

But, where they have delivered less is with respect to concrete commitments on those issues.

For instance, the gist of the G20 statement on climate and Ebola is that they are concerned, and support effective action - without committing money or quantitative targets. Maybe that's too much to expect given that these originally weren't on the agenda.

Fighting tax evasion was on the agenda, and the G20 agreed to automatically share tax information, but I've already heard criticism from Transparency International and others that it doesn't go far enough because the information won't be in the public domain.

Going for growth

Of course, economic growth was top of the agenda, and is, as expected, the main focus of the G20 statement.

World leaders reaffirmed their goal of lifting the GDP of G20 economies - which represent 85% of the world's economy - by an additional 2% within four years, by 2018. It's equivalent to adding $2 trillion to global output, and they say that will create millions of jobs.

How they can achieve that, of course, is the big question.

The statement says that they'll deliver jobs through increasing "investment, trade and competition".

Each country will have their own plans, but the mechanisms outlined include getting another 100 million women into the workforce, increasing trade, and setting up a Global Infrastructure Hub.

What is notable is a focus on youth unemployment, with details to come next year. They also emphasised a commitment to poverty eradication and reducing inequality, which are certainly important.

Who's paying is, of course, key.

My understanding is that private businesses are being targeted for investment funds in infrastructure, for instance. We'll see more detail soon enough when individual countries work through their country plans in the coming months.

Jobless recovery

Raising global growth by 2% has been an aim of the G20 all year, and in prior years in various forms, yet the eurozone economy is teetering and emerging markets such as China and Brazil have been slowing. So, another statement may ring a bit hollow.

On the other hand, it's unclear what co-ordinated action could be taken since it's not 2008/09 where governments and central banks were jointly acting to save the global financial system.

I'm told that countries will monitor each other's actions to ensure that there's no negative impact on others. That may be what's realistic, but also it is also unsatisfying to those who have been waiting for their governments to do more jointly to create jobs.

After all, how to address the so-called jobless recovery, where output has recovered but employment has not, is a key issue in a number of major economies. Perhaps when the G20's employment working group reports back in 2015, there will be more detail.

However, if it takes until November in 2015 at the G20 in Turkey to see specific policies to address the jobless recovery that has been with us for more than six years, taxpayers may begin to balk at paying for these big summits that promise much but tend to deliver somewhat less.

Chile court compensates 30 former political prisoners


A Chilean court has ordered the state to pay around $7.5m (£4.8m) to 30 former political prisoners.

They were were held on a remote island in the extreme south of the country during the military rule of Augusto Pinochet.

The prisoners, who include political leaders and government ministers, were held for two years from 1973 on Dawson island in Tierra del Fuego.

The justice ministry said they endured "immeasurable moral injury".

In a statement, the ministry said they were "detained illegally on an island on the edge of the world."

They were "mistreated and lived in a state of anxiety and uncertainty about their own fate."

The prisoners were held in crowded barracks in sub-zero temperatures and underwent forced labour.

Four of the prisoners died as the case went through the courts.

Many of them went to live in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States after they were released.

Dawson island is 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from the Chilean capital, Santiago and lies in the Magellan Strait in Tierra del Fuego - a wind-swept archipelago on the southern tip of South America.

How McDonald's conquered India


A staunch vegetarian, Amit Jatia was 14 when he walked into a McDonald's for the first time.

It was in Japan and all he could have was a milkshake.

He loved it.

He is now the man behind McDonald's in India, responsible for the phenomenal growth the company has had in the country.

Vegetarian family values

When the American fast-food giant first contacted him in 1994 Amit's first challenge was close to home, convincing his vegetarian family to invest in the business.

"From my family's point of view we thought through this carefully," he tells the BBC.

"What convinced us was that McDonald's was willing to localise. They promised that there would be no beef or pork on the menu.

"Nearly half of Indians are vegetarian so choosing a vegetarian to run their outlets here makes sense.

Across the world the Big Mac beefburger is the company's signature product. Amit and his partners had to come up with their own signature product for India, so the Chicken Maharajah Mac was born.

Originally Amit was the local partner in the south and west of India, running the chain as a joint venture with the global McDonald's company.

Later he bought out the McDonald's stake and now solely runs the chain in the south and west of the country.

Culture change

It hasn't been an easy journey.

"From a consumer point of view I had to start with the message that a burger is a meal," he says.

His research shows that in 2003, of 100 meals that people ate in a month, only three were eaten out.

They introduced a 20 rupees (20p) burger called Aloo Tikki Burger, a burger with a cutlet made of mashed potatoes, peas and flavoured with Indian spices.

"It's something you would find on Indian streets, it was essentially the McDonald's version of street food. The price and the taste together, the value we introduced, was a hit. It revolutionised the industry in India," he says.

Now eating out has gone up to 9-10 times out of 100 meals and McDonald's in India has more than 320 million customers a year.

"Whether you love or hate McDonald's, they deliver a formula very well," says Edward Dixon, chief operating officer of Sannam S4, which provides market entry advice and support for multinationals in India, Brazil and China.

"Localised menu, delivered with precision quality at a price that works. One other trick they have used very effectively [is] an entry level ice cream which fuels the ability for consumers who might not ordinarily be able to afford to become a customer."

New markets, new customers

The kind of customers McDonald's attracts in India is very different from other countries.

There are still families with young children who frequent it. But diners also include many young people, aged between 19 and 30, with no kids.

During the week, Amit says, this crowd dominates the restaurants.

I wanted to see how true this was so I decided to have lunch in the McDonald's in Delhi's crowded Lajpat Nagar market area.

Sitting to my right, a young IT worker munches on a McSpicy Paneer while conducting a Skype meeting on his laptop.

On my left, a group of college students share a meal.

But what's most interesting are the two tables behind me.

One table has two elderly couples in serious discussion; the other has a coy-looking woman and man trying to have a conversation amidst the din.

With a bit of eavesdropping I find out that this is traditional matchmaking but in the modern Indian way.

The parents have introduced the potential bride and groom who are having their first official date under the watchful eyes of their mothers and fathers. The parents meanwhile are sorting out the details of the proposed marriage, all over a Maharaja Mac Meal.

So Amit's research seems to be right, unlike McDonald's around the world, there are hardly any parents with young children here.

Fast competition

McDonald's doesn't have the Indian fast-food market to itself:

    • Domino's Pizza has more than 500 restaurants across India
  • KFC has more than 300 restaurants
  • Dunkin Donuts has more than 30 outlets in India
      • Burger King has just opened its first restaurant in Delhi and other outlets are reported to be opening shortly - it too has dropped pork and beef from its menu


Adapting McDonald's for the uniquely Indian market was a big expense when he started but Amit believes it has paid off in the long term.

When they started there was no lettuce supply chain in India. Most people used cabbage on burgers.

So they had to set it up from scratch.

The infrastructure is also now becoming a local venture.

"In 2001 we began to localise all the equipment that goes into the kitchen to build a burger," he says

"For example, we took a burger and took it apart, now piece by piece every component is made locally.

"All the kitchen fabrication is done locally. All the refrigeration, chillers and freezers and furniture are made locally."

In most cases their global suppliers have worked with local businesses to make that happen.

He wants to take it further. His current challenge is to make fryers locally.

While recent weakening of consumer spending has seen a slowdown in sales, overall Amit has managed to grow same-store sales by 200% and he says he's not done yet.

The plans are to open another 1,000 restaurants in the next decade.

"Think about it," he says, "India has 1.2 billion people and we have just 350 McDonalds to service them."

But India is not an easy market to work in especially for multinational companies.

McDonald's in India has another partner in the north with whom they are still in the process of addressing the issue of ownership amid an ongoing legal battle.

So how did Amit Jhatia get around it?

"There are a lot of regulatory approvals needed to get something done," he says.

"But that is known. Once you know it, you factor it into your business plan."

Rich countries to discuss Green Climate Fund in Berlin


Rich countries are meeting in Berlin on Thursday to pledge cash to smooth the way for a global climate change deal.

The Green Climate Fund is designed to help poor nations adapt to climate extremes like droughts and floods and to buy low-carbon energy sources.

Rich nations previously vowed that by 2020, developing countries would get $100bn (£64bn) a year from such a fund.

The Berlin conference aims to create a focus that will embarrass governments to come forward with contributions.

The fund is supposed to hold at least $10bn by the end of 2014.

President Obama has pledged $3bn, Japan has offered $1.5bn, and France and Germany have also offered significant sums.

It is thought that the UK will pledge around $1bn from existing aid budgets.

'Our moral duty'

"The poorest and most vulnerable on the planet are already suffering the effects of climate change and it's our moral duty to act," UK Secretary of State for Climate Change Ed Davey told the BBC.

He said the aid could save lives by protecting low-lying islands and coastal settlements from the impact of rising sea levels and helping farmers hit by the weather effects of climate change.

"I urge other countries to be equally ambitious," he added.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been under pressure from critics who say the UK should spend the money helping combat the effects of extreme weather at home.

Benny Peiser from the fossil fuel lobby group GWPF said international climate finance for low carbon development was "a detrimental use of aid money".

"The international community should be encouraging the development of the cheapest forms of electricity generation that offer populations in the developing world the best chances of escaping poverty," he said.

The fund was agreed because developed nations have caused the majority of global warming so far - and their CO2 emissions stay in the atmosphere for 100 years. Poor countries asked for help to adapt to climate change they have not caused.

As greenhouse gas emissions are a global problem, rich nations acknowledged a degree of self-interest in helping developing countries to invest in clean technology too.

'A drop in the ocean'

Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth said: "Helping poorer nations to develop their economies cleanly and without wrecking our atmosphere is in all of our interests. As one of the nations most responsible for historic carbon dioxide emissions, the UK should be taking a lead in tackling climate change."

But he said the UK's pledge was "a drop in the ocean compared to what is desperately needed".

"Britain's contribution must also be new and additional money - not raided from existing aid pledges. Some of it should come from the hundreds of millions of pounds they hand over every year to dirty energy corporations," he added.

The middle income countries of Korea, Indonesia and Mexico have made voluntary contributions to the pot - Korea has pledged $100m. The climate-sceptic Australian government says it will not commit money.

Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia's environment minister, said he wanted to hear significant pledges come out of Berlin.

"We expect a minimum of $15bn to come out of the pledging conference. We are glad that, with the recent US and Japan pledges, it has reached around $7.5bn," he said.

There has already been acrimony over the tardy contributions from some rich nations - and Mr Jarju warned mistrust would increase if rich countries failed to make proper contributions.

Rich nations and poor alike need each other if the world is to reach a global climate agreement scheduled for Paris next December.

Child labour laws: A step back for advancing Bolivia?


For nine-year-old Samuel Juan Ramos Gomez, brick making is part of everyday life. When he has finished school for the day, he puts down his pencil and picks up a shovel, helping his parents in the small brick factory at the back of his house.

Samuel Juan's family lives in a village called Alpacoma. It is a mountainous area tucked away in a poor corner of La Paz. But it is rich with raw materials.

Trucks constantly rumble through its centre, delivering piles of rubble to the villagers, who are mostly employed in the brick making industry.

Samuel Juan's body is not strong enough yet to be able to pick up bricks but when he turns 12 he can contribute to the wages and boost their current earnings of $72 (£46) a month.

"Here, most children work and help from 10 or 12," says Samuel Juan's mother Francisca Gomez Rodriguez. "Children lend a hand because sometimes we can't make ends meet."

Economic migrants

Samuel Juan's family lives in a small room provided by their employer. He shares a bed with his parents, his younger brother Juan Manuel and his baby sister Naeli.

Most families in the town come from parts of Bolivia such as Potosi and Oruro - mining areas where children have traditionally worked in dangerous jobs from a young age.

Recent figures are hard to come by, but in a report from 2008, it was estimated that about 800,000 children worked in Bolivia. Of that, 491,000 were under the age of 14. That equates to about one in four children.

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. It has made huge economic strides in the past decade as a result of high commodity prices.

With the money that it has earned, socialist President Evo Morales has boosted social spending programmes and his popularity among Bolivians recently gave him a third term as president.

New child labour law

But a law passed in July that lowered the minimum working age was seen by many as a huge step back.

The new bill kept the official minimum working age at 14, in line with international labour conventions in developing countries.

But it introduced two exceptions. For children aged between 10 and 12, work is allowed if they attend school, are self-employed and get parental permission. And from 12, children can do light work for others - mining and brick making are not considered light work.

In all cases, the work needs to be authorised and registered with a child protection officer.

"We know the realities of Bolivia," says Katarina Johansson Mekoulou, the deputy representative of Unicef in Bolivia. "However, these two exemptions to the minimum age are of great concern to us because we see this as a risk - the most vulnerable children will be at risk of abuse."

The International Labour Organization (ILO) argues that child labour should not be justified as a necessary evil, nor as a development strategy, but sponsors of the bill disagree. They say this law addresses Bolivia's needs and is part of a plan to eradicate extreme poverty by 2025.

Losing their innocence

"A step back would be turning a blind eye to the reality for the boys and girls who work," says the politician Javier Zavaleta, who was one of the sponsors of the new bill.

"Any man or woman from a developed country who walks around the poorest neighbourhoods of Bolivia will see things that they'll never understand because poverty is really extreme in some parts in Bolivia.

"But we aren't making laws for developed countries, we're making laws for Bolivians."

Back in Alpacoma, I met Maria Rosminda Quispe, who runs a centre offering families healthcare and educational facilities. Whether it is little boys helping in the brickworks or little girls looking after their younger siblings while their parents work, all forms of child labour are problematic, she says.

"A child begins to lose his innocence and starts to assume an attitude of an adult," she says. "Physically, their growth speeds up, they have wider shoulders, more calluses on their hands and they end up having the profile of an adult.

"And then of course we have the social issues, the relationships. Those children find it hard to be with their peers who don't work. They look for people who are older than them."

Law v reality

For her, the law it is not a way out of poverty.

"Many parents and mothers are going to decide that they can work or the child will feel that the law is supporting him," she says. "But we aren't considering the consequences that it will have on the life of the child. Laws tell you one thing, but reality is another."

Brian, a 14-year-old who comes to the centre to do homework every day, is an example of that reality.

He has been making bricks with his family for as long as he can remember, putting in up to five hours a day. He would prefer to study if he had a choice.

He wants to be an architect and his parents support him. But how to pay for his education? Make more bricks, he says.

It is a vicious circle for many children in Bolivia.

Does free food make for a happier office?


Free meals, coffee, tea, and even alcohol are being offered by some companies in an effort to make their workers happier. But does it work?

One of the biggest cliches in business is that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But this is fast becoming untrue in more and more workplaces.

City firms and large technology companies including Facebook and Google are the most generous providers. Their canteens are filled with hot meals, desserts and drinks at no cost to staff.

Google is rumoured to have a "150-feet" rule, stipulating that no worker should be further than this distance from a food outlet. It is apparently very generous, the kind of thing most workers would love, rather than having to spend hundreds of pounds a year on sandwiches. But what do companies get in return?

They say it improves morale, that being well-fed and watered provokes a sense of wellbeing.

Dan Cobley, Google UK and Ireland's managing director, has said queues for the canteen are purposefully kept above a certain length to encourage "serendipitous interaction" among staff, hopefully leading to creative discussions.

"Google, in particular, provides everything and that's designed to keep you there, not just at your desk, but at work," says Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. "At the extreme it makes you feel you need never go home. It's a perk and people feel they want it. But it's not a good thing if it means you haven't got a life outside."

Still, it's free, even if the company has to recuperate the costs somewhere. "It's the principle of reciprocity," says Mann. "If someone does something for you and you feel obliged to do something back. It's the same principle that marketing people use when they give you free samples."

In 2011 Ben Driscoe, a Google employee, started living in his car at the company's California offices, managing to survive for 60 weeks on the perks offered. He received advice from a Living At Google website set up by another employee: "The only thing they don't give you is shampoo."

The Entrepreneur.com website recommends companies serve staff free continental breakfasts "once or twice a week". "Bagels, muffins, coffee and similar fare make for a nice way to start the day," it says. It's also pretty cheap, with UK supermarkets selling bags of eight croissants for less than £2 - very little compared with a firm's overall costs.

At the east London office of the advertising and creative firm Albion, Friday afternoons are even more popular than usual. Work tends to stop early at the boss's behest. At 4.30pm a mock-up bar opens up, wine, beer and cocktails. The receptionists are described as "good mixologists".

"We've always thought that 'little extra something' gives our people a thank you from the business every day," says chief executive and founder Jason Goodman. "Friday night bar is a ritual at Albion. It's the signal that calls in the weekend and makes sure people stop work at a reasonable time and can wind down with each other before heading off for their weekend. It's our equivalent of family time and enjoyed by all."

US psychologist Abraham Maslow described a "hierarchy of needs" for human beings. The most basic are physiological - including food and shelter - and a feeling of safety. If these are taken care of, employees can move on to the next stages - feeling socially accepted and gaining a sense of self-esteem. Once freed of such ordinary human concerns, Marlow argued, they can progress to "self-actualisation" - a full-on commitment to their work which leaves them feeling fulfilled.

Meals - and even cocktails - can serve part of this vocational journey. Free beer, hot meals, climbing walls, bus rides, smoothies, and even computer games are also popping up as bosses look for novel ways of keeping morale high. Taxidermy lessons were bought for a member of staff at the7stars media agency, in central London. "Discovery dosh" is given to foster creativity "outside their comfort zone".

A more conventional freebie in many offices is tea or coffee. "Initially it makes people turn up for a meeting and not be late," says Pamela Yeow, senior lecturer in management at the University of Kent. "It works for some time, but actually to motivate people in the longer term they need to feel they actually want to do their job."

She thinks perks are more effective if they don't become routine. "If it's unpredictable and people are told it's because you've had a fantastic month, it's a lot better," Yeow says. "It shows you realise people are working hard and you want to reward them."

Some firms, including Admiral Insurance, ranked second among the UK's best large employers by the Sunday Times, offer pool and table tennis as a means of relaxation.

But, away from this largesse at financial and technology firms, many workers in less rarefied businesses are reporting cuts to traditional perks, such as free Christmas meals or subsidised canteens, according to the Trades Union Congress.

Earlier this year, staff at Asda started a petition in protest at plans to close up to 200 canteens. In 2011, Derbyshire Police did the same at its two main stations, as the force looked to save £170,000.

"Some companies and organisations offer free food to their staff," says TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady. "This is often valued by their employees, as long as they can take a proper break away from their workstations.

More from the Magazine

While the idea of working from home has failed to kill the office, workplaces have started to look much more like homes, writes Lucy Kellaway.

Companies, particularly in the creative or tech industries, are ploughing money and energy into designing offices that look more like adult playgrounds than a place of work. Kate Magee gives a round-up of 10 bizarre objects found in "cool" offices.

"But this is rather the exception at the moment. Pay and benefits have generally been squeezed in recent years in both the public and private sector, and nobody will be impressed by a free lunch or a box of chocolates for Christmas if they have not had a decent pay rise."

Is there a way to make the apparently growing differences between the treatment of staff at different companies and organisations easier to bear?

"Employers sometimes focus on the cost of things too much", says Mann, "when the really important thing is staff feel they are acknowledged and praised when they do good work. There's research to show that even your boss smiling at you can be motivating. Lots of bosses don't, actually."

The battle for control of the cigarette packet


Governments and tobacco companies are engaged in a struggle over territory - a few square inches on the front and back of cigarette packets. But as health warnings grow ever bigger and gorier, the companies have been finding other ways to give their products a distinctive look and feel.

WARNING: some readers may find the images below disturbing.

On Saturday 1 December 2012, Australia introduced the world's toughest restrictions on cigarette packets. On that day, they became drab brown containers, without distinguishing features other than the brand and product name. This was written in a prescribed colour - Pantone Cool Gray - and font - 2C Lucinda Sans regular, size 14 and 10.

Graphic health warnings depicting the consequences of smoking covered 75% of the front of the packs and 90% of the reverse.

But before the month was out, smokers began noticing a small change to some of their cigarettes. Under the new rules, these were meant to be unbranded, but a mysterious three-letter call sign had begun to appear near the filter. For Benson and Hedges, it was LDN. For Holliday, it was ESC. Winfield bore the legend AUS, while Pall Mall got NYC.

"It's the cigarette companies trying to push the boundaries," said Health Minister Tanya Plibersek. The owner of the brands, British American Tobacco Australia, was not fined, but was told to remove the mysterious insignia forthwith.

The episode shows how desperate the tobacco companies are to give their cigarettes a distinctive character - something, however small, that consumers can respond to - and how determined the Australian government is to stop them.

Australia is still dealing with the fallout from the plain packaging law. The companies said it violated their intellectual property rights, sued, and lost. But Philip Morris is still seeking to overturn the law on the grounds that it breaches a bilateral investment agreement with Hong Kong (the company moved part of its business there from Australia soon after plans to introduce the law were announced). Separately five countries - most of which either grow tobacco or manufacture cigarettes - have taken a case to the World Trade Organization, arguing that the law distorts the market.

While the litigation is deterring some countries, such as New Zealand, from following Australia's example, others are giving plain packaging active consideration.

The UK may introduce legislation next year - and if the Westminster parliament decides against it, Scotland has signalled it may press ahead independently. France and Ireland have also expressed a determination to adopt plain packets. Dr Crawford Moodie of the University of Stirling foresees a possible domino effect in Europe, once the first country makes its move.

"It will be interesting to see if the uptake of plain packaging follows a similar pattern to pictorial health warnings," he says. "They were first introduced on packs in Canada in 2000 and five years later were only required in five countries, but by 2016, that will be at least 95 countries."

The size of the images varies, and so do the images themselves. The EU has a library of 42 pictures, which all focus on health risks, but other countries sometimes warn smokers about the impact of the habit on their wallets, or use so-called "gain" messages - positive encouragement to smokers explaining that they can rid themselves of addiction.

A new set of photos, developed for African countries, includes humorous images relating to impotence but there are also graphic pictures, such as a man with a vast tumour swelling from his mouth, and a miscarried baby lying on a towel.

"You're trying to scare smokers, and get them to rethink their addiction," says Rebecca Perl, from the World Lung Foundation, which was commissioned by the World Health Organization to create the image library.

David Hammond of the University of Waterloo in Canada argues that some of the most powerful warnings are not only scary, but also tell a story about real people.

"It's a very effective way of changing the discussion around these topics from 'The government's attacking me, the government's preaching to me', to 'There's a real person and here's what happened to them,'" he says.

A particularly famous face in Canada is Barb Tarbox, a former model who died at the age of 42. In the months leading up to her death from lung and brain cancer in 2003 she gave anti-smoking talks to schoolchildren, and allowed distressing images of herself, taken in hospital, to appear in campaigns. Her image is still used on cigarette packets today.

Among developed countries, the US is an outlier. Despite being the first country to introduce a health warning on cigarette packets back in 1965, it now belongs to a tiny group of countries that have not ratified the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and do not force manufacturers to put prominent warnings on the front or reverse of packets. South Sudan, Haiti and Malawi are in the same position.

A federal act requiring picture warnings became law in 2009, but tobacco companies sued, and a judge threw out the nine images that had been chosen for the packets, ruling that they violated the manufacturers' constitutional right to free speech. For now the US health warning merely consists of text on the side of the packet - the same text that has been there since 1984.

The gruesome images adorning cigarette packets in an ever-growing number of other countries reflect two important realisations - cigarettes kill roughly half of the people who use them regularly, and the packets play a different role from most other packaging.

Most packaging is discarded before the product is used for the first time. But smokers - like gum-chewers and mint-suckers - continue to use their packets until they've stubbed out their last butt.

This isn't just about convenience. In the 1970s researchers found that an individual's experience of smoking can be shaped by the name of the cigarette or the colour of the packet. A 1978 experiment further found that when male and female smokers were given identical cigarettes, with half the packs branded Frontiersman and the other half April, men preferred the taste of the former and women the latter.

As former cigarette packet designer John Digianni once put it, a cigarette packet is "part of a smoker's clothing". When the smoker "saunters into a bar and plunks it down", he said, "he makes a statement about himself".

This was in 1980, decades before public smoking bans made the plunking down of cigarette packets on bar tables a rare sight in many countries. But daily smokers still retrieve their packets from their pockets and handbags some 7,000 times a year - and in countries where bans have been accompanied by the removal of advertising from TV and billboards the packet is often the last remaining vehicle for the brand.

And yet, as the health warnings grow, the cowboys and camels shrink... and could eventually disappear altogether.

"Smoking is dangerous and addictive," Philip Morris told the BBC in a statement. "We support clear and consistent health warnings on our packaging and recognise the important role they play in tobacco control policy. In fact, we are such strong supporters of health warnings that we place them on our products voluntarily in countries where they are not required. However, we oppose excessively large health warnings that infringe on our intellectual property rights and have been proven not to reduce smoking rates."

Do cigarette health warnings work?

  • It's hard to draw a clear line of causation between health warnings and numbers smoking in a country, as they are usually introduced together with other measures such as tax increases and ad campaigns
  • Research from the University of Bristol using eye-tracking equipment shows that smokers avoid looking at health warnings
  • This doesn't necessarily mean smokers aren't reflecting on the messages - they may also avoid the images by foregoing a cigarette
  • Surveys of ex-smokers say health warnings were effective in getting them to quit
  • Research shows smokers are more likely to remember health messages when they are accompanied by images
  • Health warnings in the UK have been more effective at deterring new smokers than at getting existing smokers to quit, Moodie says

The tobacco companies have responded to the spread of in-your-face health warnings with litigation and lobbying - Philip Morris spent 5.25 million euros (£4.2bn) on lobbying the EU in 2013, more than any other company.

But also, as scope for branding by means of graphic design has diminished, they have focused more on the structure of the packet.

"In 2006, a pack was introduced which, rather than opening from the top - the traditional flip-top opening -opened from the side," says Crawford Moodie. "Now, you might not think that's a big deal but that example of structural packaging innovation increased UK sales for that particular brand variant by £75m."

Side-opening packs also have an interesting side-effect - when the packs are open, the health warning occupies a smaller percentage area.

Another example of a structural change is the so-called "book pack" design, which opens in two along a spine. When a pack is left open on a table, no health warnings are visible and the inside of the pack can be branded just like the outsides used to be. "It extends the communication space for tobacco companies, but of course in many respects undermines the on-pack warnings," says Moodie.

A variant of the book pack design was released in Australia before the country introduced plain packaging. It could be torn in two, allowing hard-up smokers to share a packet of cigarettes and split the cost. However, half the pack did not then bear the mandatory warning, so the design was banned. The country's plain-packaging law now outlaws all packets except the standard flip-top design.

Elsewhere, the industry has often continued to target women with slimline packets that look like perfume boxes. These, as Crawford Moodie points out, sometimes make the health warning difficult to read.

Tobacco companies have also chosen colours carefully, for areas of the packet not covered by the health warning.

In more than 40 countries, cigarette companies are now prevented from using terms like "mild", "light" and "low-tar" since these perpetuate a common misunderstanding among smokers that such cigarettes are less harmful. But in most countries there is nothing to stop cigarette companies retaining the colour schemes associated with these cigarettes in the past, or introducing new ones.

"Tobacco companies have engineered packaging over decades so that we associate terms like 'light' and 'low tar' with packs that come in lighter colours, and many consumers mistakenly assume they are safer," says Moodie.

"Pack designers often say that colour is the single most important element of pack design."

Curtailing tobacco companies' freedom to use colours is one of the main reasons some governments are keen to follow the Australian plain packaging model. Studies have shown that plain packs also make health warnings more eye-catching to users, and the whole pack less glamorous and appealing.

Moodie is the last person to underestimate the tobacco companies. Their flair for innovation, and the sheer size of their budgets makes it "very hard for public health to compete," he says.

He adds: "While tobacco companies exploit the entire cigarette pack, including the cigarette, as a sophisticated communications tool, policy makers are less creative."

The same techniques the tobacco companies use to attract consumers should be used by governments to dissuade them from smoking, he argues. Since the companies stamp their brand name on each cigarette, he asks, why not put a health warning there too?

He has even mocked up an example of a cigarette carrying the words "Smoking kills".

Watch that space.

Global business confidence at five-year low


Global business confidence slipped to five-year low in October, according to a survey of 6,100 companies.

The number of firms that expect business activity to be higher in the year ahead exceeded those that expected a decline by about 28%.

But, that net balance was lower than 39% in June and the lowest since the Markit Global Business Outlook Survey began in 2009.

Hiring and investment plans also dipped to post financial crisis lows.

"Clouds are gathering over the global economic outlook, presenting the darkest picture seen since the global financial crisis," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit in a statement.

Long list of worries

The decline in optimism among businesses was due to a growing list of worries, according to the report.

Fears of a renewed downturn in the eurozone, the prospect of higher interest rates in the UK and US next year, along with geo-political risks from crises in Ukraine and the Middle East have all dented business confidence across the globe.

"A key factor that has held back economic growth in recent years has been the disappointing performance of major emerging market economies, and this looks set to continue, and perhaps even intensify, over the coming year," Mr Williamson added, citing that business optimism among the BRIC countries had sunk to its lowest since the financial crisis.

Russia was the biggest concern among the leading countries as "sanctions, a spiralling currency and uncertainty drove business expectations down sharply to a new low".

Most upbeat

On the bright side, UK companies were the most upbeat about the year ahead out of all the major countries surveyed in October.

That comes despite future business activity levels at its lowest since June 2013 for both the manufacturing and services sectors.

UK firms were also the most optimistic about hiring plans among major economies.

"[The optimism] suggests the UK will continue to outperform its peers in 2015, albeit with growth slowing from that seen in 2014," Mr Williamson said.

On the downside was a surprise downturn in the US, where optimism hit a new survey low as the service sector saw a "dramatic" decline.

"US growth therefore looks likely to have peaked over the summer months, with a slowing trend signalled for coming months," he said.

Sumarti Ningsih murder: From Indonesia to Hong Kong


Sumarti Ningsih began her life in a small town deep in the countryside of central Java. At the end of her life she was found murdered and decomposing in a suitcase on a Hong Kong balcony. She was just 23 years old.

She was one of the thousands of Indonesian woman who leave their homes in villages to seek their fortune working as domestic helpers in a big city.

These women go to Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong for the high wages. They become a crucial source of financial support for their families. Eventually they return, laden with US dollars and stories of their lives abroad.

That didn't happen for Sumarti. British banker Rurik Jutting has been charged with her murder and that of another Indonesian woman, Seneng Mujiasih.

Gandrungmangu village, Cilacap, Indonesia

It takes 10 hours to get to Cilacap by road from Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. We fly in to Yogyakarta, the closest big city, hoping the journey will be shorter - but it is still more than half a day away.

It is a journey through winding roads and scenic paddy fields. At times the mountainous terrain is dangerous and there is no telling whether a bus or a motorcycle may be coming round the next corner. This is the way everyone drives here. Anything goes.

Going deeper into the Javanese countryside, names of small towns and villages flash by: Kebumen, Gombong, Purwokerto. Deep in Indonesia's interior, the ubiquitous Indomaret convenience chain outlets are replaced by traditional family shops, a relic of the old ways. It is a world away from big city life.

There is a power blackout in the village of Gandrungmangu, where Sumarti spent her teenage years. But the lights will be back on soon. At Sumarti's home, a crowd has gathered in the darkness for a Muslim ceremony to mourn her memory.

Sumarti's parents - an elderly, sorrowful couple - are there.

In photographs her family show us, large brown eyes peep out from underneath a dark curtain of hair. Laughing and carefree in many of the shots, Sumarti seemed a free-spirited young woman, just beginning to enjoy her life.

But had she stayed here, her life in the village would have been one of daily drudgery. Everyone here wakes at dawn, so that the rituals of the day can begin. Praying, cleaning, cooking, farming - that is what her years would have been filled with.

"She had seen the money her friends made in places like Hong Kong," her mother told me. "She wasn't happy with the life here. She wanted more for us, and for herself."

It was also for her five-year-old son, Mohammad. Brought up by his grandmother, he was yet to learn of his mother's death.

"He didn't know her too well," Suratmi, Sumarti's mother, says quietly.

Sumati's husband was a man from a nearby village who left as soon as their child was born and played no part in his upbringing.

"She left when he was only 40 days old. But she always sent money for him and told us that we must buy him whatever he wanted. She told me that he must never feel like he couldn't have what he wanted."

Not many women of Sumarti's age stay in Gandrungmangu. Locals say 80% of women here go abroad to work. They have little or no education and they have to find work to support their families. There are no jobs here. And so she did the same and became her family's lifeline.

Sumarti was generous. That much is clear from the evidence in the house. Her driving force was to improve life for her family, to make them richer. Life may be peaceful in the village but she would have been all too aware of the possibilities of a life with more material comforts.

"She helped me to build this house," her father Ahmad Kaliman says, also pointing out the washing machine and DVD player she bought for them. "Sometimes she sent us 3m rupiah ($300; £191) sometimes she sent us 6m rupiah, but she always sent us something. She was a very good girl."

Sumarti first left Gandrungmangu for Hong Kong in 2010, aged only 19, her parents told us. She went on a domestic worker's visa and sent money home every month, but returned in 2013. At that time she told her parents she was tired and that she wanted to improve her skills. There was little talk of her life as a helper or a return to domestic employment.

So she joined a DJ school in Yogyakarta. But Hong Kong life beckoned once more and she went back, this time on a tourist visa. Her parents don't appear to know how she was able to work there without the proper documentation - or perhaps they didn't ask. In any case, the money kept coming.

She returned in July for the Muslim Eid holidays. She loved coming home, her mother tells us. She would spend hours in the kitchen, cooking and baking sweet Indonesian snacks for her family. It was her favourite pastime.

But once again, it was time to return to Hong Kong. This time, though, Sumarti told her father she would be back in a few months - early November at the latest, in fact. Her tourist visa ran out on 2 November.

But just days before she was due to return home, her family learned of her death in Rurik Jutting's flat. Now her murder is all anyone in the village can talk about.

"Is it true what they say?" one of her neighbours asks me. "That she was a sex worker in Hong Kong? Is that why she was killed?" Her family is adamant that this isn't true, that Sumarti was in Hong Kong working in a cafe.

Sumarti's 15-year-old brother Mohammad refuses to believe what is being said about her.

He remembers the sister who bought him a guitar and who dressed like any other girl in the village when she was at home. But he told me of her recollections of Hong Kong life.

"She always said that in Hong Kong, people wear more revealing clothes than they do here," he told me.

"She said she felt safe there, and that nothing bad ever happened."

In Hong Kong

At the airport there's a separate line for domestic workers, most of them Indonesian, covered in their headscarves and long dresses. You can tell the new ones from those who have been here a while. The old hands are more trendily dressed with tight jeans and make-up, while the new girls huddle together in packs for comfort and support.

This is where Sumarti would have queued up on her first entrance to the city, barely out of her teens.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for her to come from Gandrungmangu to Hong Kong. It is too loud, too brash, too rushed. Everyone is in a hurry. The only thing that Sumarti would find familiar is how the taxi drivers drive. In that sense, here too anything goes.

One place Sumarti would have found a source of refuge and comfort on her days off while she was working as a domestic helper would have been Victoria Park, in the heart of this city. It transforms into "Kampung Java" or "Java Village" on Sundays.

More than 150,000 Indonesians live and work in Hong Kong as maids and nannies, serving the city's middle classes. On Sundays, their weekly day off, they take over the park, setting up little Indonesian enclaves in tiny corners or under bridges and street-lights.

Turn a corner from one of the main thoroughfares in Hong Kong, and all of a sudden you're surrounded by women wearing headscarves and speaking Javanese. Sumarti wouldn't have felt like an alien here. She could have asked for directions in her own language, shared an Indonesian snack with a friend on a park bench, and sent money home from one of the dozen or so Indonesian bank outlets that have set up here.

But life as a domestic helper in Hong Kong isn't easy. Employers' expectations are high, and they often have little patience for workers who are trying to adjust. Rising early, looking after the children, cooking, cleaning - the daily chores that a domestic worker does to earn just US$500 a month.

That's a fortune back home, but in Hong Kong, it doesn't go very far.

Tracing Sumarti's steps after she came to Hong Kong as a domestic worker is challenging. We know that she eventually gave up that job, but after that how she stayed and where she worked is a mystery.

All that is clear is that she was working in Hong Kong illegally - a huge risk, but one Sumarti took nevertheless.

Lydia (not her real name) has worked illegally in Hong Kong for the last few years. Like Sumarti, she came to Hong Kong on a domestic helper's visa - but quit to find higher-paid work. Every few weeks she has to change addresses and jobs to make sure Hong Kong's police don't find her.

Lydia knew both Sumarti and Seneng. She said they lived in an illegal workers' boarding house - an apartment carved into tiny rooms with a common kitchen and bathroom.

"I would see them in the common areas," she said. "They were very private, and kept to themselves.

"Sumarti worked as a maid for a while, but then she saw the difference between what she could make as a maid, and what she could make working illegally."

Lydia says Sumarti and Seneng were friends with another Indonesian illegal worker, who moonlighted as a sex worker in the city.

"Maybe the two girls saw the life that their friends who worked in the bars had, lots of money and fashionable clothes. It was a temptation for them, a life too hard to resist."

Lydia herself works in a bar, washing dishes and clearing tables. Sometimes, she says, men in the bar will offer to pay to have sex with her - but she says she never says yes, despite the amount of money they're willing to pay.

"It's the money that blinds you," Lydia says. "That's what makes the risk of living like this worth it. I can make double, sometimes triple what I used to make as a domestic helper - and I'm not working all the time."

Lydia tells us that some of the Indonesian domestic workers who overstay their visas end up in the seedy bars in Wan-Chai, Hong Kong's entertainment district.

They aren't sex workers in the official sense of the word - instead, she calls them "girls who get paid to have a good time".

She takes us to a few clubs - among them the New Makati. This is the club where Sumarti was last seen alive. In the corner, an elderly Caucasian man is groping two young Asian woman, kissing them both at the same time, and putting wads of cash in their back jeans pockets. They're obviously drunk, and don't appear to be under duress.

Dark and dank, the New Makati is full of Indonesian girls. On the dance floor there are young Indonesian women grinding and being groped by male white expats. It is a study in contrasts - the girls are wearing cheap and tight lycra dresses, while many of the men are in buttoned-up light blue Oxford shirts, looking like they've just stepped out of a Gap store.

Nita (not her real name) is a young Indonesian woman who arrived in Hong Kong recently to work as a domestic helper. On her first Sunday off she came to the New Makati with her friends to hang out. Since then, she's been back every week.

"I like to come here, to talk, to dance, to have fun," she tells us. "You know, it is easy to "mancing" here - you never know who you might find in the New Makati."

Mancing in Indonesian means to go fishing - a euphemism for hooking a big catch - a "bule" (white) boyfriend, a passport out of poverty. Workers tell me this is the goal of some Indonesian women who end up in Wan Chai.

"All they want is a boyfriend who can look after them, someone to make life easy and pay for things. In return they have fun with them. Hong Kong is expensive and it is a hard place to live," Nita says.

We are unceremoniously hurried out of New Makati, after we try to take some photos. The bar owners don't want any of this documented. Neither do the girls. Prostitution isn't illegal in Hong Kong but it's certainly not something the girls want to talk about.

And of course it is only some of the workers who take this route. But they all come to Hong Kong wanting to better their lives.

"These migrant workers from Indonesia come to Hong Kong with a million hopes and dreams," says Sringatin, the deputy head of Indonesia's Migrant Workers' Association in Hong Kong. "They want to provide a better future for their families. These dreams force them to do whatever it takes to show everyone at home they've succeeded. Failure is not an option."

Back in the village

A few days after her death, Sumarti's body was flown back to Jakarta and then driven to her village. She was buried in her village cemetery. The early-morning ceremony was attended by her friends, family and dozens of neighbours.

Her son has now been told about his mother's death, but he doesn't understand what that means - that she's never coming home.

He plays with his friends in the village fields. It is an innocent, idyllic scene. The boys pick fruit from the trees, racing each other to get up the tree trunks first. In a corner the girls are busy giggling and playing the Indonesian version of hopscotch. Sumarti would have played under the shade of these trees too, when she was little.

The girls' faces are fresh and untouched by the indulgences and cynicisms of city life. When you ask some of them what they'd like to be when they're older, the answers are refreshingly optimistic - a teacher, a doctor, a nurse.

No one says their ambition is to become a domestic worker. But the reality is that's what the future likely holds for most of these girls. As long as there are no jobs, young women will leave Indonesia's villages to find work.

Sometimes, though, the price they pay may be too high.

Dawson Island torture victims fight for compensation in Chile


A group of former political prisoners held captive on a Patagonian island are calling for the Chilean government to pay them compensation in a case that could help bring justice to thousands of victims of torture.

In the days after a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet took control of Chile on 11 September 1973, the first prisoners were arriving at Dawson Island.

"We were very afraid, it was dark, it was still snowing, the uncertainty of what was happening to us was complete," said Osvaldo Puccio Huidobro, who was taken to the island with a group of government ministers and close friends of the deposed president Salvador Allende.

Historic decision

Hundreds of prisoners soon joined Mr Puccio on Dawson.

Wooden barracks were set up that were inspired by the concentration camps of World War Two, but even without the barbed wire and watchtowers, there was no way of escaping an island surrounded by the icy waters of the Magellan Strait.

"We were badly fed, malnourished, physically weak. People had come straight from being tortured on the mainland and were forced to do hard labour," said Libio Perez Zuniga, a former political prisoner who is now seeking compensation from the Chilean government.

On Saturday, Mr Perez and 30 other former prisoners released a statement calling for the government to obey a Santiago court ruling and pay them $7.5m (£4.8m) in compensation for what they suffered on Dawson Island.

"It was a historic decision," said Victor Rosas Vergara, the human rights lawyer representing the former prisoners.

"All of the requests that have been made by political prisoners had been rejected by the court until now."

No justice

If the Chilean government accept Wednesday's verdict, it could open the way for 38,000 victims of torture to receive substantial compensation for the first time.

"If the decision to compensate is upheld as it is, I think it would an especially important ruling for a whole series of cases that are beginning to reach the courts," said Claudio Nash Rojas from the Centre of Human Rights at the University of Chile.

But the prisoners waiting for the government's response are worried that instead of upholding the verdict, the government may appeal to Chile's Supreme Court where it could be overturned.

"These demands are invariably rejected because they say the victims should have made them in the first four years of having been made prisoner, right in the middle of the dictatorship," said Mr Rosas.

Getting justice for victims of torture in Chile has always been complicated.

"On the one hand, there is still no definition of the crime of torture in Chile," said Maria Jose Eva Parada, researcher for Amnesty International.

On the other hand, the government's human rights programme can only pursue cases of murder and kidnapping.

"It has no mandate to investigate torture, and this is a shortcoming that restricts access to justice and, in effect, results in perpetual impunity in cases of torture," said Ms Eva.

The supreme court recognised the problem on Wednesday.

As it rejected a case of compensation for 603 former political prisoners it said in its closing statement that a "definite, effective and efficient solution" for victims of torture was needed and that a new law should give victims "appropriate compensation" without having to go through the judicial system.

But this would probably come too late for the former prisoners of Dawson Island.

Four out of the 31 who put their case before the courts have already died in the seven years of legal proceedings.


For those that remain, they believe that proper compensation would help bring an end to the uncertainty that followed them when they were released from Dawson more than 40 years ago.

"When I left Dawson it was with the same feelings I had when I arrived - uncertainty, fear. What you feel when you are without your liberty and are handed over completely to people that you hardly know," said Mr Puccio.

But the former prisoners agree that no amount of compensation can be enough to heal the past.

"Material compensation cannot resolve the underlying problem, of the hurt that was already produced," said Mr Perez.

"I think that if there is a compensation, it is the pride that each of us feel that, in a moment that was painful for Chile, we were on the side of what was right," said Mr Puccio.

Healing the rest, he said, would be impossible.

Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson jury issues no charges


A grand jury has decided not to charge a Missouri policeman over the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Announcing the decision, state prosecutor Robert McCulloch said the jury exhaustively examined evidence.

Mr Brown's family said they were "profoundly disappointed". Shots were fired, and cars and buildings were set on fire after the announcement.

Michael Brown, 18, was killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson on 9 August. His death sparked weeks of demonstrations.

As the decision was announced late on Monday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the police department in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis.

They followed on radios and mobile phones as Mr McCulloch made a statement explaining the decision.

Tear gas

The prosecutor said that the jury's job had been to separate fact from fiction, and that some witness statements had been contradicted by physical evidence.

"These grand jurors poured their hearts and soul into this process," he said.

Outside the police department, Mr Brown's mother burst into tears as the announcement was made. Some in the crowd began throwing objects at a police line.

Shortly afterwards shots were fired, and protesters were seen vandalising police cars, at least one of which was set on fire. Police responded with smoke and tear gas to try to disperse the crowd.

Footage from the scene showed firefighters tackling a large blaze and heavy black smoke at a retail building, with reports of a pharmacy and a pizza shop also on fire.

Several other buildings have been broken into and looted, and a motorway has been blocked by the protests.

Mr Brown's family had joined public officials in calling for calm.

After the announcement, they issued a statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions".

President Barack Obama made a statement urging Americans to accept "that this decision was the grand jury's to make,'' and calling on those who wanted to protest against it to do so peacefully.

The case has stoked racial tensions in the US, with many in the African American community calling for Mr Wilson to be charged with murder.

Protesters have been chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot" - a reference to statements by some witnesses who said Mr Brown had his hands up in apparent surrender to the officer when he was shot.

Thousands of people protested around the country, including in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.

Police have said there was a struggle between the teenager and the officer before the shooting.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had declared a state of emergency in the area and called in 400 National Guard troops in anticipation of protests ahead of Monday's announcement.

The jury was made up of 12 randomly picked citizens - nine white and six black.

At least nine votes were needed in order to issue an indictment.

Mr McCulloch said the biggest challenge for his office was the "24-hour news cycle and an insatiable appetite for something - for anything - to talk about".

Portugal ex-PM Jose Socrates to be held amid corruption probe


Portugal's former centre-left prime minister, Jose Socrates, has been remanded in custody on preliminary charges of corruption and tax fraud.

Mr Socrates, 57, was detained on his return from Paris on Friday and has already spent three nights in jail.

The judge delivered the decision after investigators looked into suspicious money transfers and banking operations.

Mr Socrates, who denies any wrongdoing, is being investigated alongside his driver, a close friend, and a lawyer.

The former prime minister was in office from 2005 to 2011. His lawyer, Joao Araujo, told reporters on Monday that his client would appeal against the decision.

Under the Portuguese system, formal charges only come at the end of an investigation which could last up to eight months, says the BBC's Alison Roberts in Lisbon.

Portuguese politics was already reeling after the resignation of Interior Minister Miguel Macedo in the wake of a separate corruption inquiry linked to the allocation of residence permits.

Portugal in shock - by Alison Roberts, BBC News, Lisbon

Jose Socrates' detention has sent shockwaves through the political system. Reports purporting to provide details of the investigation - which is covered by judicial secrecy - have swirled since Friday night, when the news broke. They focus on Mr Socrates' supposedly lavish lifestyle in Paris, where he moved after stepping down in 2011.

In past interviews, he has denied anything untoward about his finances.

His detention - on arrival at Lisbon airport, rather than at his flat, and with photographers present - prompted some prominent Socialists to argue it was to divert attention from suspicions of corruption in the right-of-centre government's "golden visa" programme, which fast-tracks residence for foreign investors.

The Socialists' newly elected leader, Antonio Costa, a minister under Mr Socrates, was until now expected to sweep to victory in next year's general election following years of austerity. He is conscious of the perils of the situation.

Portugal's ex-PM Jose Socrates

Because the case surrounding Mr Socrates comes under judicial secrecy, few details have been confirmed.

It is unclear whether the inquiry relates to his time in office. However, Portuguese media has reported allegations that his driver Joao Perna made a number of trips transporting cash to Paris, where Mr Socrates has been working in a new role at a pharmaceutical company.

One of Mr Socrates' long-time friends, Carlos Santos Silva, is being questioned along with lawyer Goncalo Trindade Ferreira.

Two of the suspects are also being held on remand, while a fourth has been barred from foreign travel.

Centre-right Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said the case involved law rather than politics, adding that "Portugal has strong institutions that work".

But the investigation has rocked Mr Socrates' Socialists, now led by Lisbon Mayor Antonio Costa who was elected as secretary-general of the party on Saturday.

Mr Socrates resigned in 2011 in the midst of Portugal's mounting debt crisis. The Socialists are currently leading in opinion polls and Mr Costa said on Saturday that "we mustn't let personal feelings of solidarity and friendship impede the political action of the (party)".

Juncker tax scandal fails to gain heat in European Parliament


You might call it Jean Claude Juncker's "put up or shut up" moment. Addressing his critics in the censure debate brought against him in the European Parliament on Monday, the president of the European Commission, threw down his challenge: "If you want me to go, say so and I will leave."

Only it wasn't quite as dramatic as it sounds.

The trouble with this scandal is that it hasn't caught fire. It's not going to force Mr Juncker out of office. And it doesn't look like that's going to change, without some new twist that ties the former Luxembourg prime minister more directly to something illegal or immoral.

The details that have emerged in the so-called Luxleaks documents have put Mr Juncker in an uncomfortable position.

As Steven Woolfe, a European Parliament member from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), put it in the censure debate: "This is an ugly tax scandal that will not go away. Mr Juncker... while you were leader of Luxembourg, you permitted 240 multinationals to enter in aggressive tax avoidance."

The trouble is that's not quite enough to force Mr Juncker out.

'Cynical political game'

Mr Juncker's defence, when he finally made it public two weeks ago, rested on several points.

First, nothing that happened in Luxembourg was illegal; second, the problem arose because other countries had higher tax regimes not simply because Luxembourg had a low-tax one; third that, in his new job, he now wants to make it harder to play the system, he wants European nations to swap more information about what tax companies are paying in different jurisdictions.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National Party (FN), which helped UKIP bring the censure motion, was deeply sceptical.

"Mr Juncker, nobody could really believe you are going to work hard to undo what you've been working on for years," she told the parliament.

"It would be like appointing Al Capone as head of the ethics committee! You are a very good example of the monster the EU has become! You have become the symbol of the Europe of fraud and greed, that ensures the poor suffer to the advantage of the rich," she added.

European debates can be colourful. But the eurosceptics in UKIP's EFDD grouping and the FN who have brought this censure motion are hobbled by the fact they do not have much broader support in the parliament.

Guy Verhofstadt, of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, observed acidly that "this is nothing more than a silly and cynical political game being played by Mrs Le Pen and Mr [Nigel] Farage".

Mr Verhofstadt said the temporary coalition with the FN to bring this censure motion was a sign of UKIP's true nature.

"This is proof of the fact that UKIP is a hideous, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic party. These are not my words, but the words of the founder of UKIP, Mr Alan Sked himself," said Mr Verhofstadt.

"Your group is not at all interested in solving international tax avoidance," he added.

"...Let's go back to work, and let's vote against this stupid motion!"

In fact just 76 MEPs out of 751 supported bringing the motion. When it's finally put to a vote on Thursday, the censure has no chance of succeeding.

Instead what Mr Juncker will rely on is the fact that before then, on Wednesday, he is unveiling his 300bn-euro plan to kick-start investment, growth and jobs in Europe.

The majority of MEPs in the parliament agree with Mr Juncker in seeing this task as the priority.

They believe the sponsors of the censure only want to damage the EU, not tackle tax avoidance. So the majority have no desire to bring down Mr Juncker less than a month after voting him and his team into office.

Art and suffering unite in Geneva


  The Refugee was painted by Felix Nussbaum in 1939, when the artist, who was Jewish, had already been forced to flee Nazi Germany - he later died in Auschwitz along with his whole family

A groundbreaking exhibition is currently under way at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, designed to show the relationship of artists to suffering.

The exhibition, called All Too Human features works which, often graphically, illustrate the suffering humans have inflicted on one another over the last 100 years.

Starting with Otto Dix's harrowing black and white etchings of life in the World War One trenches, to stark photomontages of the 21st Century conflict in Iraq, the exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Red Cross Museum and Geneva's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Mamco.

This exhibition is so positive because it proves that throughout the last 100 years there were great artists who never looked away from the dark heart of the 20th and early 21st Centuries”

For Red Cross Museum Director Roger Mayou the partnership is entirely fitting for Geneva, which is home to all the major United Nations aid agencies, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The city is also the birthplace of the Geneva Conventions.

"Suffering inflicted by human beings intentionally to other human beings is a theme we could share," he explains.

"In dark situations of humanity some people look away, and some people… get involved.

"This is the case for humanitarian workers, they take action, and this is the case for artists… they testify to these difficult situations.

"That's what we wanted to show in this exhibition."

Some of the artists on show used their work to express their outrage at the repression and violence taking place around them.

  Nikolai Getman's series were born of the suffering to which he and others were subjected under Stalin's regime

Pablo Picasso's Weeping Woman testifies to his anger at the horror being inflicted on his fellow countrymen and women during the Spanish Civil War.

Others works are more personal, depicting the artist's own individual experience of suffering.

A series of paintings by the Ukrainian artist Nikolai Getman shows life in Stalin's gulags, where Getman himself was imprisoned for eight years. The works, though painted in the 1950s, were only discovered in 1993, and their inclusion in the All too Human exhibition marks the first time they have been shown in Europe.

Getman has been called the "Solzhenitsyn of art" for his works, which remain among the very few visual depictions of life in Soviet prison camps.

  Darkytown Rebellion by Kara Walker is a projection piece in an exhibition that does not confine itself to one kind of medium

A rarely shown painting by the German artist Felix Nussbaum is also included. Called The Refugee (Vision of Europe) it was painted in 1939, when the artist, who was Jewish, had already been forced to flee Nazi Germany.

After years in exile in France and Belgium, Nussbaum was eventually captured, and he died in Auschwitz in 1944, along with his entire family.

Some of the more modern works are not paintings, but video installations, such as Lida Abdul's White House, a visualisation of the destruction in her native Afghanistan, in which a woman picks through piles of bricks and rubble, painting any remaining intact walls white.

  Pablo Picasso painted several versions of Weeping Woman, modelled on the artist's lover Dora Maar

The exhibition has been attracting large numbers of visitors, but All too Human is not an easy experience. Some of the works on show are so graphic, the temptation is to look away. It is not an exhibition suitable for children, and some of the pieces depict such gross acts of violence that they cannot be shown in the media.

Mr Mayou admits it is difficult viewing. "But we are a museum dealing with difficult situations… and these are great works of art: great in the way they are done, and great in the way they testify to very important events in humanity.

"It is important to remember these events, and to remember them in another way than through documentary photography for example."

Joyful Art?

Mr Mayou's colleague, Christian Barnard, who is director of Geneva's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Mamco, is uncomfortable with the suggestion that art is a medium which must be beautiful, and inspire only positive emotions such as joy.

"If you look at the art of the 20th Century, with Matisse or Mondrian, you might think at first the Nazis, or Soviet totalitarianism, or two world wars - you might think none of that ever happened because none of it appears in their work.

"And in a way I find that rather worrying. That is why I believe this exhibition is so positive, because it proves that throughout the last 100 years there were great artists who never looked away from the dark heart of the 20th and early 21st Centuries, and by that I mean violence."

  Thomas Schutte explores the ambivalence, falsehood and depravity of modern society by portraying men with grotesque and caricatured faces

And both Mr Mayou and Mr Barnard point out that Western, Christian art has been dominated by violence for many hundreds of years. "It's martyrs, and crucifixions," says Mr Barnard. "The idea that art should mirror an easy life, historically that's not accurate."

"Art is not 'le dimanche de la vie [a walk in the park]'," he smiles.

Certainly no one visiting All too Human will leave with that impression. The images are not easy to forget, nevertheless they are testimony to the great strength of human creativity even in the midst of appalling suffering and cruelty.

The exhibition's organisers hope visitors will find that strength uplifting. But they also hope, says Mr Barnard, that they will reflect on why the title All Too Human was chosen.

"With this exhibition we want to confront people with the worst that is within all of us: we should never forget what we are capable of."

All Too Human is on at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva until 4 January 2014.

Unsuspecting Indians lose billions to bogus investments


"When he realised he'd lost all our money, more than $9,000 [£5,661] in savings, he had a massive heart attack," says Gita Mandal tearfully.

She pauses as grief chokes her throat mid-sentence. Gita, 55, is recounting how her husband Sunil died suddenly last year, leaving her penniless with six mouths to feed.

Gita's family is one of 300 in Daspara village, an hour's drive south from Calcutta, which were swindled in a variety of unregulated "investment" schemes that have swept across India - swallowing up the life savings of some of the country's poorest citizens.

Some estimates suggest that such Ponzi or pyramid schemes have already cost unsuspecting Indian investors $160bn.

West Bengal, where investors like Gita's husband were caught up in the biggest schemes were based, has been dubbed the "Ponzi capital of India".

As she sits surrounded by other victims, including farmers, labourers and milkmen, all of whom lost the modest sums they'd scrimped to save, Gita struggles to articulate how angry she feels.

"That money was everything to us. It came from selling our land and it was supposed to be for our granddaughters' future.

Now it's all gone - the land, the money, my husband, everything," she says.

India's new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been on a charm offensive to attract global business to the country.

His government has also launched major legal, social and economic reforms at home.

Complex frauds

But the scale of India's Ponzi schemes reveals the enormity of the task of protecting the country's vast illiterate, financially vulnerable population, as well as the epic loopholes in enforcement of existing law.

Ponzi schemes work by pooling money from new investors to pay off existing investors. The seemingly good returns fuel new business, but eventually most schemes collapse, leaving ruin in their wake.

Ultimately there are more existing investors to be paid than there are new investors coming in.

India's biggest Ponzi scheme uncovered so far involved more than $3bn in losses when the Saradha Group, a consortium of about 200 companies including factories, newspapers and television channels, was shut down two years ago.

The name Saradha played on messages of religious good fortune and the company used images of popular politicians and movie stars to build trust.

Its company structure was so complex that regulators took years to untangle it. It offered agents, recruited from local communities, up to 40% commissions - making them crucial evangelists for the company.

So far, according to media reports, at least 80 people linked to the scam have committed suicide. Its chief executive and other officials are in prison.

An investigation is probing the company's links with top officials in West Bengal and other states in eastern India.

Regulatory failures

In neighbouring Bangladesh, ministers have raised questions on whether Saradha money was brought into their country by extremist organizations seeking to destabilise the government.

But while Saradha and other major scams have been shut down, few investors have been refunded, and experts say despite new laws, hundreds of other unregulated schemes - involving ones involving emu farms, mango orchards, fake hospitals and resorts - are still operating across India.

"We already have a total of about half a million individuals or entities that have either been indicted or been declared non-compliant by regulatory bodies," says Prithvi Haldea, who runs watchoutinvestors.com, a website dedicated to naming and shaming fraudsters.

He blames the ignorance and greed of investors seeking unrealistic returns, combined with India's regulatory framework, which is too unwieldy for the current mess.

More than 20 bodies oversee financial transactions in India, including the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI.

However in August, SEBI was given permanent powers to search companies, seize records and property, freeze assets and fast track investigations and prosecution.

So far, with its new powers, SEBI has issued orders against some 40 companies, compared to only a handful last year.

Although SEBI did not respond to numerous interview requests, they did give the BBC access to recent public awareness TV ads, which warn investors not to trust word of mouth or fanciful claims when scrutinising companies.

But according to Prithvi Haldea, India's regulatory regime is failing.

"There are too many bodies and too many gaps," he says. "They have not been empowered enough, or they're not manned well. Their investigative or surveillance mechanisms are poor, so they are not able to deliver."

Lack of bank accounts

In central Calcutta, more than 200 people who lost their money in a variety of companies, block traffic as they protest at both the state and central government's response to their plight.

Despite arrests, continuing investigations and a state commission formed to probe the situation, few victims have seen their money returned.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been cheated. It has totally been endorsed by this state government," says Sujan Chakraborty of the Chit-Fund Sufferers Unity Forum, which represents the victims.

"It's a very precarious situation. There are still lots of scams. How many? Nobody knows. Nothing has changed."

When it comes to the proliferation of scams, there is another elephant in the room.

Currently, more than half of India's population has no access to banks. Prime Minister Modi's Jan Dhan Yojana scheme, or Bank Accounts for All, aims to rectify that, by streamlining procedures and reducing the onerous paperwork needed to access accounts.

According to the government, 64 million people have opened new accounts so far, a tenth of those who lack accounts overall.

For victims like Sanjib Naskar, 27, who works in a guesthouse in Kolkata, it is too little too late.

He lost more than $3,000 - saved over seven years - to a bogus investment scheme precisely because he lacked the ability to open a bank account. Ponzi schemes offered him a convenient alternative.

"The agent would come from my village all the way to Calcutta to collect my savings because he knew I had nowhere to keep it safe," he says.

Despite the prime minister's drive to make accounts easier to open, Sanjib says rural banking remains problematic.

"Banks in villages are no good, there are so few to begin with. Villagers are illiterate and depend on bank clerks to help them.

"But the clerks deliberately take their time and make people wait all day, or tell them to come back later," he says.

Tougher deterrents needed

Prithvi Haldea, who tracks investment fraud, also blames the lack of political will to prosecute fraudsters, as well as a worship of entrepreneurs.

"Because we were a capital starved country, we put people who set up companies on a pedestal. They are our gods.

"They are the providers of employment, capital and entrepreneurship and therefore there has been a hesitancy to take action against them," he says.

"My view is that unless we come down very heavily on these offenders, including life imprisonment, disgorgement of all the gains they have made, giving it back to small investors - unless we create that kind of a deterrent, the human ingenuity to create new scams will continue because the greed for money is there."

The mysterious disappearance of a celebrity preacher


Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the most glamorous women in the US in the 1920s. The evangelical preacher put on theatrical church services and used ground-breaking radio broadcasts to teach the gospel - but one mysterious episode in her life has never been fully explained.

On 18 May 1926, Aimee Semple McPherson went to Venice Beach, Los Angeles, to take a swim and write a sermon.

The female assistant who'd gone with her had to leave to make a short phone call from a nearby hotel. When she returned she couldn't see the evangelist anywhere.

As evening fell, McPherson was still missing and her followers rushed to the beach to join the search. One young man drowned as he swam out towards two dead seals which he'd mistaken for her body.

"A local newspaper even speculated that there had been a sea monster sighted off Venice Beach," says McPherson's biographer, Matthew Sutton. "They thought maybe this sea monster had swallowed McPherson whole."

Others thought that the evangelist would be miraculously resurrected. For five weeks, national newspapers carried rival theories about what had happened to McPherson.

Had she drowned? Had she staged the ultimate theatrical stunt? Had the weight of her own fame just become too much? Then one day in June she re-emerged in the small town of Agua Prieta on the Mexico-Arizona border.

McPherson claimed she'd been kidnapped - but had she?

Her story to that date had already been extraordinary. She was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on a farm in Ontario, Canada, in 1890. As a teenager, she'd gone to hear an Irish Pentecostal preacher, Robert Semple, speak in her local town.

Before long she'd married him and joined his life on the road. But a trip they took to Hong Kong as missionaries ended in disaster. Both she and her husband fell ill with malaria. He died but she survived, pregnant with her first child.

When McPherson returned to America she felt the call to travel and preach. "She was a spellbinding speaker," says Sutton.

"She knew how to use dramatic tricks to draw audiences, and so she turned out to be enormously popular. What made her most popular was her seeming ability to lay hands on the sick and to heal them."

Soon McPherson, known as Sister Aimee to her followers, had become a preaching sensation touring across the US during the early 1920s.

It was an unusual choice of career for a single mother - and before long she was also a divorcee. Her second marriage to Harold McPherson, with whom she had another child, ended partly because he found it so difficult to walk in her shadow as her fame grew.

In 1923, she built a permanent base for her religious movement - a white-domed church called Angelus Temple in the Echo Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles. She put on elaborate services for the public and bought a radio station to broadcast to listeners at home.

These were no ordinary sermons - they were more like music hall performances. "She had the best actors, the best set designers, the best costumes, the best make-up artists and professional lighting," says Sutton. "She would create these stories, these dramas in which biblical stories would come to life."

The crowds were so large, people had to queue around the block to get a seat. At Angelus Temple today you can still see the theatre-like layout - complete with a stage at the centre.

"It was quite simply the best show in town" says the temple's archivist Steve Zeleny. "She would call the construction crew and say 'I need you to build me a 20ft Trojan horse that's hollow on the inside' or 'I need you to build me a huge ship, the bow needs to stick out 20ft. It needs to have guns on it with smoke coming out.'"

Often her crew would only have a week to finish these lavish sets. Charlie Chaplin used to advise McPherson on which of her productions worked best. In fact, over the years the Hollywood actor struck up an unlikely friendship with this conservative Pentecostal preacher.

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel
    • Founded by Aimee Semple McPherson who opened its first church, Angelus Temple, on 1 January 1923
    • Today there are 1,719 Foursquare churches in the US
    • More than 66,000 meeting places around the world in 140 countries and territories including the Philippines, Kenya and the Dominican Republic
    • The term Foursquare Gospel comes from the book of Ezekiel, who saw God revealed with four different faces: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle - McPherson equated these with four aspects of Jesus

Source: The Foursquare Church

As a retreat from her superstar lifestyle, McPherson built a house, perched on a rock above Lake Elsinore, a 90-minute car ride from Los Angeles. It is a castle influenced by her travels in the Middle East - it looks a bit out of place in the Californian landscape with a white exterior, crenellated roof and mosaic-encrusted dome.

"She was constantly being followed," explains my guide Erin Funk, a preacher in the Pentecostal church founded by McPherson.

"To give people an understanding about how popular she was and how much people followed her, it would be the equivalent of Princess Diana," she says as she shows me around the exquisite Art Deco rooms with beautiful murals and tiled walls. There's even a subterranean passage from the garage into the house so that McPherson could avoid reporters.

But McPherson's mysterious disappearance in 1926 and her reappearance in Agua Prieta gave reporters exactly what they wanted.

When she turned up in the dusty border town "she came to a family's home and she knocked on the door," says 1920s enthusiast Kim Cooper.

"She tells them that she's been walking for hours and hours having escaped from a weird little hut where she was held captive by three people."

McPherson claimed she'd been persuaded by the three strangers to leave the beach on that fateful afternoon back in May to pray for a sick child lying in the back of a car. "As she bent into this car, she was shoved inside and chloroformed and the next thing she knew she was imprisoned," says Cooper.

Not everyone, though, subscribes to this theory. Biographer Matthew Sutton believes she had run away with her sound engineer - a married man called Kenneth Ormiston, who also disappeared at the same time. "I'm 99% confident that she had an affair," he says.

"I suspect she ran away with Ormiston then ultimately after a month reading the newspapers and seeing what was happening she decided to make this dramatic return. The kidnapping story was the best means she came up with for doing it."

To this day, there is a great deal of debate about what exactly happened. When McPherson returned to Los Angeles she faced a Grand Jury investigation into her kidnapping story - but it ended up more preoccupied with her private life.

That's why McPherson's story attracts such attention and why she's been parodied in various plays and books. Cole Porter, for example, turned her into the "sensuous sermonizer" Reno Sweeney in the musical Anything Goes.

Today, her followers say the scandalous accounts of her life overlook all the good work she did on the streets of Los Angeles, especially during the Depression. When government agencies failed to clothe and feed the poor, Angelus Temple stepped in helping 1.5 million people get back on their feet.

But according to Jane Shaw, professor of religious studies at Stanford University, McPherson's biggest legacy is the way she combined "a conservative form of religion with the media of modernity". In many ways her radio station laid the way for America's modern televangelists.

On 27 September 1944 Aimee Semple McPherson was found dead in a hotel room in Oakland, California. A lifelong insomniac, the 53-year-old had taken too many sedatives - but her followers insist it wasn't suicide.

Her body was flown back to Los Angeles where she lay in state for three days and three nights at the temple she had built for her ground-breaking movement.

Her Foursquare Church still exists to this day and claims a membership of 8 million worldwide. You can still visit Angelus Temple on a Sunday for a service but it's a very different congregation to the one that listened to McPherson. Nowadays the worshippers are mainly Hispanic - a sign of the changing demographics of both Los Angeles and modern-day Pentecostalism in America.

The women finding freedom in South Caucasus nightclubs


For women in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, going on a 'night out' is not just a chance to spend time with friends, but also an opportunity to highlight the social freedoms that they now have.

The three countries in the South Caucasus were once part of the Soviet Union, but after its break-up in 1991, they gained independence. Although people there now enjoy greater social freedoms than ever before, there is a divide between how men and women are treated. Many women, despite being old enough to vote, feel society will look down on them if they go out late in the evenings.

As a woman from Azerbaijan, I grew up seeing the women around me choosing to stay in during the evenings. But people who range from their 20s all the way to their 60s have a new approach to this now. I know many women who defy the stereotypes and will go out at night, not only to dance at night clubs, but also to for a walk, or enjoy the beauty of the lights of night-time Baku.

Of course, Western influences through education or increased tourism have begun to permeate these countries with music venues, bars and nightclubs becoming more prolific. And as the number of women working in the region increases, so does their spending power - and their desire for somewhere to spend it. The proportion of women employed in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia increased slightly between 2006 and 2011, according to the World Bank.

But for others, embracing this new lifestyle means getting a reputation as a "good-time girl and being ostracised by neighbours and families. They will share their pictures on social media, but take steps to ensure they remain anonymous. Others, however, want the whole world to know just what a a good time they are having.

Adrineh Gregorian, 36, documentary filmmaker, Yerevan, Armenia

"I do go out at night. When everyone else in the city falls asleep, a new crowd takes over Yerevan and the nightlife begins. So far I haven't faced any criticism; in fact I feel like part of a community.

"Every year I notice an increase in the number of women going out. I think one reason is because young women are becoming financially independent and more and more women are making their own choices regardless of public opinion. Also, there is a new generation of young women who don't concede to the archaic concept of reputation; to be a so-called "good-time girl".

"Women who fear the opinions of others or their neighbours keep their personal lives a secret."

Astghik Papikyan, 24, environmentalist, Yerevan, Armenia

"I may go to a club or go for a walk with the people I know and trust, but I worry this might be misunderstood. There are some people who say 'if it is late, then this is bad', without checking where and who you are out with. Every Armenian girl who wants to live in an unassuming way should consider public opinion of course. But now these kind of stereotypes are disappearing - you can stay out until 23:00 local time.

"I try to be at home at 22:30. If I come home late, my parents don't like it, and I know the neighbours will grumble. This could then affect my future life and reputation. I know I am not doing anything wrong, but I need to adapt to the circumstances.

"Sometimes I go to karaoke clubs with my friends. There are many discos in Armenia, though these have not been easily accepted by society. People say a 'normal' girl would not go to these clubs. The situation is worse outside Yerevan. For example, in the second biggest city, Gyumri, there are no entertainment centres open at night because no-one goes.

"But karaoke is seen to be something a bit more acceptable; you can dance, sing and have fun, and people won't call you names.

"The situation may change, but it won't be easy - it might take 50 years at least."

Khayala Khalilli, 26, doctor, Ganja, Azerbaijan

"I have a master's degree in education and I work for a hospital in the capital city Baku.

"I don't think men or women should have a night life. It's not a healthy form of entertainment, and sleeping at night is very important. Also they drink alcohol in night clubs. I think people who drink alcohol are not thinking straight.

"For me, women's freedom is not about going on a night out. A woman should only think about getting educated, to be independent financially and to be confident enough to speak her own mind. I don't go on nights out and I have never been. Nobody in my close family goes clubbing.

"I have never been subject to any restrictions imposed by my family; I have had no interest in going to clubs. If I wanted to, I could go. I do sport after work, or I meet my friends, or I visit my relatives. When I go out with my friends, first we go to a cafe to have lunch, then we go for a walk in the city.

"I spend my holidays in foreign countries like Russia, Turkey and Iran. I also don't go clubbing in countries I visit. I'm interested in the culture and history of foreign countries, so I visit museums and libraries there."

Gulara Azimzadeh, 27, advertising specialist, Baku, Azerbaijan

"I go on nights out as well as evening concerts and night clubs.

"I think a woman should have time to go out and have fun in order to help her to get rid of the stress of her workload, the negative feelings and the aggression of the week, and also to get know new people. Otherwise this anger affects other people.

"Everyone should go to popular concerts at least five times a year.

"Let's consider that a woman stays at home, but a man goes to tea houses, clubs and so on. Does it mean that only men have the right to have fun? If so, let them change the name of Azerbaijan to 'the Male Republic of Azerbaijan'.

"The people who think that a woman should stay at home have been conditioned by their families. But some of the women cannot go out, because of lack of money, or safety or they want to be a 'good girl' so they can get married.

"My family used to think like this, but I have changed them. If you have a love of life, you try to resist these restrictions.

"I'm not 18 anymore."

Nutsi Odisharia, 37, programme manager, Tbilisi, Georgia

"I meet family members and friends on Fridays after work and on Saturdays as well. We go out to restaurants first, then go clubbing. We don't go out every week, but it is mostly how we spend our weekends.

"I'm the mother of a young daughter, so she stays with her grandmother when I go out to get a bit of time for myself.

"I don't hear any kind of criticism from the older generation or religious people. But it hasn't always been like this. In the 1990s there were no night clubs: we had war and poverty. But at the end of the 1990s jazz clubs were established where we had discos and house parties. Generally, Georgian people like to eat, dance and have fun."

Natia Topchidze, 29, PR manager, Batumi, Georgia

"I spend my spare time with my friends, I don't like to stay at home. We go to the cinema, or if we know there is any kind of an event on, we go there. The only restriction I have from my parents is to be at home by midnight. Also they want to know who I'm going out with, and where. I think this comes from outside opinion as I'm divorced and have a baby.

"I don't want to have any conflict with my family as I have to live with them. But I think everyone should go out and have fun. My mother is very modern, for example, I have a tattoo and she likes it very much. But her character is different, she doesn't like to have fun, she prefers to stay at home.

"I often go on nights out. I have many friends, and I go out for a birthday parties often. We go to clubs if there is any interesting event on. If it is birthday party we do everything in moderation, like drinking, dancing and having fun. Sometimes very interesting events start very late. Some of events start at 23:00, but I cannot stay and I'm forced to go home. Of course, if I could, I'd stay more two hours."

How Korea helped prostitutes work at US bases


More than 120 former prostitutes who worked near a US military base in South Korea are going to court to seek compensation from the Korean government. They say the authorities actively facilitated their work - and that the system has left them in poverty now that they are old.

For as long as armies have gathered in garrisons, ramshackle "camp-towns" have grown up around them. In South Korea, they reach right up to the walls of US bases - by night, they throb with music and neon, by day, they seem to recover from the night before.

They are now the scene of an intriguing legal dispute. More than 120 former prostitutes, who are ageing and poor, are suing not the American authorities but their own government, demanding compensation of $10,000 each. Their argument is that the South Korean government facilitated their work in order to keep American forces happy.

In a community centre next to the US base at Uijeongbu City in South Korea, a group of them gather to explain their case. "We worked all night long. What I want is for the Korean government to recognise that this is a system that it created... and also compensation."

Their argument is not that South Korea compelled them to work as prostitutes - this is not a case of sexual slavery - but that by instituting a system of official and compulsory check-ups on their sexual health, it was complicit, and facilitated a system which now leaves them in poverty. It also, they say, gave them English lessons and courses in "Western etiquette".

The women invariably say that they were driven to prostitution because they were poor, living in a very poor country. They applied for unspecified jobs and then found themselves in bars and brothels having to borrow from the owner, and thus became locked into the system.

"In 1972, I went to an employment placement centre and the counsellor asked me to stand up and sit down. He took a look at me and then promised me a job that would give me a place to stay and food to eat, so I would just be working and my room and board would be taken care of by my boss," says one woman.

They also argue that there was tacit approval because the country needed foreign currency. The prostitutes were reviled as people but the dollars they earned were welcomed.

"There was this talk going round about earning dollars by working in the clubs, and that that would would make you a patriot - somebody who was a hard-working Korean. We did earn a lot of dollars in the camp town," one of the women tells me.

Their voices rise in anger and fall in sorrow as they relate their sad tales.

Koreans could once be sure that their children would look after them in their old age, but no longer - many of those who worked hard to transform the country's economy find the next generation has other spending priorities. As a result, some elderly women are turning to prostitution, writes Lucy Williamson.

"I accepted a job and went to an establishment. As soon as I arrived I ran away. I ended up getting caught by the club owner and my club owner sold me off to another establishment and it was there that I took my first customer," says one.

But their case is complex. It is true that the South Korean government set up clinics, but these replaced an unofficial network of doctors, some of them poorly qualified, who certified women as free of sexually transmitted diseases. The government is not commenting on the case but it might argue, when the case comes to court, that setting up clinics wasn't facilitating prostitution but trying to protect the women involved.

There were certainly fears in the 1970s that Washington would pull troops out of South Korea.

"I think where the South Korean government has some culpability is that in the 1970s some Korean officials from the central government did go to these camp-towns and try to persuade these women who were working as sex workers to co-operate with the US military command," says Dr Kathy Moon of the Brookings Institution, who wrote Sex Among Allies, the definitive study of prostitution and the US military in South Korea.

"The priority was to keep the US military command happy so they would stay in Korea because there was a threat of pull-outs of US troops."

The priority in the clinics, Moon says, was "maintaining the health and well being of the US troops not the Korean women". The staff were only interested in the women's sexual health, and did not provide treatment for other illnesses.

Moon is at pains to point out that, unlike South Korea's World War Two "comfort women" - who were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese military - many of these women took a decision to work as prostitutes, however reluctantly. They then become trapped, however.

"Once these women were there, they couldn't get out easily. They were raped continuously - raped by the manager," she says.

Japan's 'comfort women'
  • 200,000 women in territories occupied by Japan during WWII estimated to have been forced into becoming sex slaves for troops
  • In 1993 Japan acknowledged use of wartime brothels
  • In 2007 Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was forced to apologise after casting doubt on the existence of comfort women
  • In 2014 Abe's government petitioned the UN to ask that a 1996 UN-sponsored report on comfort women be revised, but the request was rejected

"Anything the bar owner deemed necessary for a woman to attract GIs to sell sex - make-up, clothing, some decoration in their hut rooms - was rented out to the women. If the women were ill or if they needed assistance to pay for a funeral for a family member, they would borrow from the bar owner. All of these expenses became part of their debt and unless you paid off this debt you couldn't leave".

Over the years, the attitude of the US military has changed. There is now what US Forces Korea calls "zero tolerance" of servicemen using prostitutes. Military police patrol red light areas, going into bars to seek transgressors. Prostitution has also been illegal in South Korea since 2004 - though nobody doubts that it continues.

The nature of the trade has changed too. When South Korea was a poor country, South Korean women were the sellers of sex around the bases. But today, now that South Korea is an increasingly affluent society, it's largely women from Russia and the Philippines who make up the workforce.

That doesn't diminish the pain and anxiety of the elderly women who now face a comfortless old age. Jang Young-mi, in her late 60s, lives in a grim single bedroom with her three dogs. She worked in a camp-town for two decades and now has only poverty to show for it. "Maybe because I lived for so long with American soldiers, I can't fit in with Koreans," she says. "Why did my life have to turn out this way?"

The new African: Male beauty industry hits South Africa



The male grooming and beauty industry is booming in South Africa, with products now targeting a new audience - black men, as the BBC's Milton Nkosi finds out.

I have never had a facial before. For me, it sounds like something a woman might do.

It had never even occurred to me that a man, a black African man, might one day go for a facial. Mere talk of pre-wash facial scrubs makes my hair stand on end.

Well, a lot has changed. Because this boy from Soweto has just dived head-first into male grooming.

I felt like a goat going for a traditional slaughter when I walked into Sorbet Men's Grooming salon in the upmarket Sandton district of Johannesburg - nervous, disoriented, even hopeful of a reprieve.

The salon's staff are dressed in trendy black uniforms. R&B music booms from speakers in the ceiling.

"Hi Milton, welcome to your 1.30pm appointment," says the glamorous young receptionist.

I try to put on a confident smile and she ushers me to Lelanie deJager, my groomer.

A blonde, charming lady, she directs me to a swivelling leather chair in front of a spotless mirror.

Lelanie has 18 years' experience in men's grooming, having begun her training in Ireland.

'Duck to water'

As she prepares me for the initial scrub, she tells me that she loves male grooming and could never work with women.

I smile, still not sure about this. I ask her whether African men are taking to grooming.

"Like a duck to water," she says.

According to Siphiwe Mpye, a trends consultant based in Braamfontein, a hipster enclave of Johannesburg, the culture of skin-care has been growing rapidly across Africa, with South Africa leading the way.

As a former editor of South Africa's GQ men's magazine, he knows what he is talking about.

Looking the part himself, he tells me that growth in the beauty and grooming industry is being driven by black African men buying products.

But what is driving that, I ask. It is partly because of global trends, he says, but also because sustained economic growth in Africa has been giving men greater disposable income.

Well-polished partners

So what happened to the traditional Zulu man with a six-pack who prepared to go out by taking a cold shower?

Well, that Zulu man is today's customer for grooming products, says Mr Mpye.

"The continent has changed, the continent continues to change as the world changes, and as the world changes, Africa is being touted as the future," he says.

"I suppose in a lot of ways we are embracing the future right now."

Gone are the days when it was only women who spent time in front of the mirror.

Today, women are looking for partners who are also well-polished and manicured. And the men have got that message.

Business woman Tsakani Mashaba, founder of Michael Makiala for Men, says there was a gap in the market for products that catered to the specific needs of black male skin.

Research suggests that blacks men are more prone to razor bumps because their curly beards are more susceptible to in-grown hairs, she says.

She explains that her products soften the hair so that it continues to grow away from the face.

The marketing graduate researched and worked with a biochemist to manufacture the country's first locally produced skin-care range for black men.

"African men suffered a lot from razor bumps, oily skin and pigmentation. There wasn't a brand out there in the market that catered for that.

"So I went on a journey to formulate a product for you guys and here we are," she tells me, beaming.

Township face

When I grew up, it was much simpler. The local barber would splash on methylated spirit to control razor bumps after a man had had his head shaved clean.

Back in the present, Lelanie has wrapped me in a hot towel for a light steam treatment to open my pores.

After that, she applies a lotion to soften this old township face.

Then comes the razor - a brand new cut-throat blade, like the one used in that memorable scene from the James Bond film, Skyfall.

It is my first time with such a thing. Very gently, Lelanie starts shaving me.

When she has finished, it is time for another hot towel and then moisturiser.

I feel almost as if my skin is breathing. I feel new. I feel like a million dollars!

But that township-man feeling has never left me. I still feel like an African man.

Geo-engineering: Climate fixes 'could harm billions'



Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say.

That is the conclusion of a new set of studies into what's become known as geo-engineering.

This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures.

These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide.

Ideas include aircraft spraying out sulphur particles at high altitude to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial "trees" to absorb CO2.

Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed.

Now three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications in more detail.

The central conclusion, according to Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University, is that the issues surrounding geo-engineering - how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides - are "really really complicated".

Sun block

"We don't like the idea but we're more convinced than ever that we have to research it," he said.

"Personally I find this stuff terrifying but we have to compare it to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise."

The studies used computer models to simulate the possible implications of different technologies - with a major focus on ideas for making the deserts, seas and clouds more reflective so that incoming solar radiation does not reach the surface.

One simulation imagined sea-going vessels spraying dense plumes of particles into the air to try to alter the clouds. But the model found that this would be far less effective than once thought.

Another explored the option of injecting sulphate aerosols into the air above the Arctic in an effort to reverse the decline of sea-ice.

A key finding was that none of the simulations managed to keep the world's temperature at the level experienced between 1986-2005 - suggesting that any effort would have to be maintained for years.

More alarming for the researchers were the potential implications for rainfall patterns.

Although all the simulations showed that blocking the Sun's rays - or solar radiation management, as it is called - did reduce the global temperature, the models revealed profound changes to precipitation including disrupting the Indian Monsoon.

Prof Piers Forster of Leeds University said: "We have found that between 1.2 and 4.1 billion people could be adversely affected by changes in rainfall patterns.

"The most striking example of a downside would be the complete drying-out of the Sahel region of Africa - that would be very difficult to adapt to for those substantial populations - and that happens across all the scenarios."

Despite the risk of catastrophic side-effects from geo-engineering, the study authors believe that research should continue just in case runaway warming leaves no other options.

Prof Forster said: "If we were in a really desperate situation, trying to cool the temps for a 10-20 year time period, there could be some merit in those circumstances in introducing solar radiation management to give you a 10-20 year time period."

Lack of knowledge

According to Prof Steve Rayner of Oxford University, it is easier to devise the technology than to understand its effects or how its use should be governed.

"If you were just thinking of the capability of putting sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere, that you could do in less than two decades - whether you would know it was smart to do it in less than two decades is another question.

"We don't know enough - we have a few islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance and it's absolutely worth knowing more. There is the potential that some of these technologies may be part of a broader tool kit of ways in which we can better manage climate change.

"People decry solar radiation management as a band-aid but band-aids can be useful for healing."

Geo-engineering has long been one of the most controversial aspects of the debate about solutions to climate change and few experiments have been conducted in the field.

One of the largest, known as Lohafex, was an Indian-German experiment in 2009 which involved dumping six tonnes of an iron solution into the South Atlantic to encourage plankton to bloom - trapping carbon which would then be sent to the seabed when the organisms died. Results showed limited success.

Another proposal for the trial flight of a balloon in Britain, as part of geo-engineering research for the SPICE project, attracted stiff opposition from environmental groups and was cancelled.

It would have been the precursor to a test of a technique for pumping sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere in an effort to bounce solar radiation back into space and cool the planet.

Juncker reveals giant EU investment plan


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has given details of a €315bn (£250bn; $393bn) investment plan to kick-start Europe's economy.

At the heart of his five-year agenda is a new €21bn fund, which would be used as "seed money", to entice private backers to "pitch in" most of the rest.

Only €8bn of the original money would come from the EU budget itself.

The project would take the burden off national governments, already facing big debts after the financial crisis.

"Europe needs a kick-start and today the Commission is providing the jump leads," he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Critics have already suggested that the scheme is too small, and needs far more hard cash if it is to make a major difference, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Brussels reports.

There was immediate scepticism from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) whose General Secretary, Bernadette Segol, suggested the Commission was "relying on a financial miracle like the loaves and fishes".

She said she did not believe that €315bn could be raised from €21bn, a leverage factor of 15 which the ETUC argued was "almost certainly unrealistic".

However, Mr Juncker said Europe had to face "the challenge of a generation" head-on, without a money-printing machine, describing his plan as the greatest effort in recent EU history to trigger additional investment without changing the rules.

The Commission believes it could create up to 1.3 million jobs with investment in broadband, energy networks and transport infrastructure, as well as education and research.

Illustrating the type of projects he has in mind, Mr Juncker said he had a vision of:

  • Schoolchildren walking into a brand new classroom equipped with computers in the Greek city of Thessaloniki
  • European hospitals saving lives with state of the art medical equipment
  • French commuters charging electric cars on motorways in the same way as petrol stations are used now
  • Households and companies becoming more energy efficient

The Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create the fund's €21bn reserve, according to Mr Juncker, which would then enable the EIB to fund loans worth €63bn. Private investors would be expected to put forward the lion's share of the money, some €252bn.

Mr Juncker's speech came a day after Pope Francis addressed the same parliament, criticising an "elderly and haggard" Europe that had become less and less of a protagonist.

Initial reaction to Mr Juncker's plan came from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told the German parliament that her government supported the package in principle, but it had to be clear to everyone where the projects were in the future.

The Commission president, who came to office at the start of November, said he could not promise how much investment would go to each country, but he argued that investment in one country could only be good for growth in another.

Structural reforms were necessary to modernise Europe's economy and fiscal responsibility was needed to restore confidence in public finance, but now investment had to be boosted as well, he said.

The start of the former Luxembourg prime minister's term as president has been overshadowed by his country's role in a tax break row.

Hundreds of multi-national firms were reportedly attracted to Luxembourg in legal tax avoidance schemes. Mr Juncker was prime minister at the time but denies wrongdoing.

Although a vote against him is due to take place at the European Parliament on Thursday, it is unlikely to attract widespread support.

The rubbish collector left on the scrap heap as his city goes green


India's prime minister has ordered a drive to rid the streets of garbage, but his Clean India campaign could spell the end for Delhi's army of informal rubbish collectors. I went to speak to them, with my sketchpad.

"Junk, bring out your junk," Lakhan Singh calls out, as he makes his daily bike round of one of Delhi's plushest neighbourhoods.

But no-one responds from behind the dense shrubs and high walls.

These leafy avenues of colonial-era bungalows were once his best source of saleable rubbish. But his bike rack, strapped with collection sacks, is empty.

Lakhan Singh, known as Lucky, is one of Delhi's army of informal waste collectors or kabadi wallahs - long a fixture of the city's street life and essential to the battle with rubbish in the absence of a comprehensive city-wide collection regime.

But increasingly they are being squeezed out - as being clean and green becomes trendier, and even profitable.

A high-profile drive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to get Indians to be tidier may even be accentuating the demise of the kabadi wallahs.

Simply put, their problem is competition, particularly from green groups promoting recycling and - most serious of all - the internet.

Rather than hand over old televisions, furniture and even lower value household junk, people can sell them online on classified sales sites like OLX and eBay's growing Indian operation.

But green groups - often staffed by volunteers from the same middle class households the kabadi wallahs see as most lucrative - are now doing the same rounds, often paying better prices to take things away for recycling.

When Lucky first heard of Modi's clean-up drive he was enthusiastic, hoping it would give his work a boost.

"We are the original Clean India Campaign," he says.

Instead, all the publicity around the campaign seems only to be making things harder, as people realise they can make money from their junk.

"Mostly we just get paper, cardboard and bottles now," shrugs Lucky.

He's been working the same areas for nearly 10 years, earning enough to support his family who live in a Rajasthan village, and put his eldest daughter in school. But with inflation high, his 7,000-rupee ($114, £72) average monthly income buys less and less each month.

These changes are a sign of progress too. Few would choose Lucky's job. But if they are squeezed out, Delhi's rubbish collectors see little alternative employment.

Almost all are from the lowest Dalit social caste - formerly known as "untouchables" - or are Muslims, at the bottom of the Indian social hierarchy.

Now they fear they are being excluded again just as rubbish collecting becomes socially respectable.

Things look up a bit for Lucky in Delhi's posh Khan Market shopping area - though not in the expensive boutiques at its heart, but in the service shops at the side.

The owner of an auto-parts store hears Lucky's call and comes out with a rusted car exhaust.

In a nearby warren of alleys and rundown apartment blocks - home to many of the neighbourhood's legions of servants - a woman hands over a bag of beer bottles. Then he gets a roll of heavy electrical cable.

But it's slim pickings for a couple of hours' work.

"We want Mr Modi's campaign to work," says Lucky as he unloads his bike at a garbage dealer's lock-up garage. "Of course, we want India to be cleaner."

"But where are the 'Good Days'?" chimes in a man sorting through a large heap of bottles, satirising Modi's signature election campaign promise.

Heads turn as they hear raised voices from the lock-up garage. The dealer Bashir Khan has bought some pipes after weighing them on his scales, but the seller isn't happy with the money.

Business is hard, says Khan, but he is tight-lipped about how much he makes.

"They swear at me twice and I swear at them twice," he says.

Lucky and his fellow kabadi wallahs turn back to the rubbish they are sorting.

"This could be the end of our business," he says.

#BBCtrending: "I refuse to be my daughter's diary"



One mother's decision to leave a parents' chat app group becomes a big hit online. Why?

At first, Noelia Lopez-Cheda thought it would be a great idea to join a group of local parents on Whatsapp.

"I thought it was a good idea to be in contact with other parents from my daughter's class and to be updated about activities, news and important events," she told BBC Trending from her home in Spain. "It was a way to save time for some very busy parents who don't go to the school centre."

It soon became a "a sort of monster", though, generating a "a whirlwind of messages" about schoolbooks and homework - even individual test results - which interrupted her evenings and clogged up the memory of her mobile phone.

And then one day, Noelia "saw the light". Her blog about this epiphany has had more than a million views.

Noelia had just got home one evening when her daughter Emma, aged nine at the time, announced she'd forgotten her maths homework and asked her mother to message the Whatsapp group for the exercises.

Noelia immediately dropped her keys, her shopping bags and started rummaging for her phone. And then, she stopped.

"I stared at my mobile and it was then that I thought 'What am I doing? This is over,'" she writes.

Her daughter would, despite her protests, simply have to go to school the next day, empty-handed, and face the consequences of forgetting her homework.

We have become full-time personal assistants for our children, she writes, and that's wrong.

"I refuse to be my daughter's school diary through a Whatsapp group, I refuse to be the one doing the homework, I refuse to go back to school and I refuse to be over-protective to the point of taking over her responsibilities," she wrote on Facebook first of all, attracting lots of comments from friends, one of whom encouraged to write a blog about it.

"I wrote [the blog] because I was deeply worried about my daughters not being proactive. It is an issue I see every day with talks I give to companies, where people would rather wait for instructions than use their initiative,"Noelia told BBC Trending.

She called the post "I refuse to be my daughter's diary" and is amazed at how popular her blog post has become.

"In two hours I got between 10,000 and 11,000 views; the second day over 100,000 people had read it and by the end of the weekend it had half a million views," she said.

The post has now been shared more than 35,000 times on Facebook and has gone viral on Whatsapp, as other parents far and wide passed her story to one another.

"I hope this article will make a lot of those parents who do 'everything' for their kids think," one user, 'Tatinati', comments on the blog. "We seem to care much more about academic records," a user named 'MBilbao' says, commenting that they have also deleted their parents group from Whatsapp and that children should learn from their mistakes. And although some people have criticised Noelia for her views, even calling her a "bad mother", she says the reception has been mostly positive:

"It must be a common picture in every house where there are children of school age, and a lot of mothers have identified with me, with what I say. They know over-protection can be an issue I think it has solved some doubts and that's where the success is coming from."

There is a great interest among parents in using social media to benefit a child's education, according to Francesc Núñez, a professor at the Open University of Catalonia in Spain. "Every parent has a Whatsapp group regarding parenting, education or school," he says. "And every parent has a perception of how their kids must be brought up." But he notes that parents should use social media how and as they want to.

Meanwhile, another school in Spain has reportedly banned teachers from communicating directly with parents via the mobile messaging app.

Reporting by Gabriela Torres and Ruth Alexander

How buckwheat sheds light on Russia's soul


As the rouble loses value against the US dollar and inflation increases, what do buckwheat sales say about the Russian state of mind?

Legend has it that, 1,000 years ago, when Greek monks spread Christianity to Russia, they brought with them more than just the Bible. They brought a grain, a seed, so magical, nutritious and delicious that it struck an instant chord with the Slavic soul - and the Russian stomach.

That grain was buckwheat.

And because the first people to cultivate it here were Greeks, the Russians called it grechka.

Ever since, Russians have been boiling it and baking it, making porridge and pancakes with it, loaves of bread too - and cutlets.

On dinner plates across 11 time zones in this, the biggest country in the world, you'll find buckwheat in kindergartens and field kitchens, plush restaurants and factory canteens.

Forget vodka and beetroot soup. It's buckwheat that's really part of the Russian identity.

Those fluffy brown grains deserve a place of honour on the Russian flag. The nation's symbol, the double-headed eagle should, I think, be depicted tucking into two bowls of porridge.

And what about adding a line to the national anthem? "Oh glorious grainy Russia, land of my buckwheat."

I love grechka. (You've probably gathered that by now.) So imagine my distress this week when I walked into my local supermarket and couldn't find any. There are normally five shelves there full of the stuff - but panic buying had left them empty.

Why the panic? Well, in recent weeks buckwheat prices across Russia have shot up. In some areas by more than 50%. Rumours are swirling about bad harvests and grechka shortages.

The Russian authorities say there's nothing to worry about. They've accused "speculators" of trying to make a quick buck - from buckwheat - by creating an artificial crisis.

Some of which may be true. But the interesting thing about buckwheat is that this is more than just a packet on a supermarket shelf. It's a barometer of the social-economic state of Russia.

It's like when people feel they're coming down with a cold, they stock up on tissues. Well, when Russians sense an economic crisis brewing, the first thing they'll do is stock up on buckwheat.

And, right now, the Russian economy is exhibiting more than just a sniffle. Inflation is increasing, so is capital flight, while this year the rouble has lost a third of its value against the dollar.

The falling price of oil is a huge problem for the country, because the Russian economy is so dependent on energy exports. Western sanctions are playing a part, too, in all of this - they make it much harder for Russian banks to raise money on international financial markets.

But how is this affecting ordinary Russians? Well, at the Moscow motor show last month one visitor told me that, for the first time in a long time, he couldn't afford a new car - credit had become too expensive. He was only there, he said, to window shop.

This week a teacher told me she'll be spending her winter break in Russia. Because of the plummeting rouble, she can't afford to do what she normally does at new year - and that's take a holiday in Europe.

And that brings me to what is known here as the Eternal Russian Question - "Who is to blame?" Who does the Russian public hold responsible for disappearing buckwheat, for rising prices and an ailing national currency?

To find out, I grab my microphone and take to the streets of Moscow.

Pensioner Alla Giorgievna tells me that because money's tight she's stopped buying new clothes and cosmetics.

"All this is America's fault," she says. "The United States organised that revolution in Ukraine. And now the US is punishing Russia."

I talk to Vera. "The international community has it in for us," Vera tells me. "We'll have to duck and dive to get through this."

And then I speak to Alexander. He's a builder. He complains that his salary is being eaten away by rising prices. But he doesn't know who to blame. He says he doesn't really think about it.

"All I want," Alexander says, "is to have a regular job with regular pay. I just want stability."

Stability is what Vladimir Putin promised the Russian people 15 years ago, when he came to power after an era of economic chaos.

For now, Russians are not blaming their president for their current problems. President Putin's approval rating remains sky high.

But Russian history teaches us this, that just as supermarket shelves can be full of buckwheat one day, and empty the next, so, too, can a Russian leader lose the support of his people, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.

If the economy crashes.

If that stability disappears.

Slavery levels in UK 'higher than thought'


There could be 10-13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, far more than previous estimates, analysis for the Home Office suggests.

Modern slavery victims are said to include women forced into prostitution, "imprisoned" domestic staff and workers in fields, factories and fishing boats.

The figure for 2013 is the first time the government has made an official estimate of the scale of the problem.

The Home Office has launched a strategy to help tackle slavery.

It says the victims include people trafficked from more than 100 countries - the most prevalent being Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania - as well as British-born adults and children.

Data from the National Crime Agency's Human Trafficking Centre last year put the number of slavery victims in the UK at 2,744.

The assessment was collated from sources including police, the UK Border Force, charities and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

The Home Office says it used established statistical methodology and models from other public policy contexts to estimate a "dark figure" that may not have come to the NCA attention. The Home Office said the "tentative conclusions" of its analysis is that the number of victims is higher than thought.

Concerted action

The Modern Slavery Bill going through Parliament aims provide courts in England and Wales with new powers to protect people who are trafficked into the countries and held against their will. Scotland and Northern Ireland are planning similar measures.

But outlining the strategy for government departments, its agencies and partners, Home Secretary Theresa May said legislation is "only part of the answer".

The "grim reality" is that slavery still exists in towns, cities and the countryside across the world, including the UK, she said.

"The time has come for concerted, co-ordinated action. Working with a wide-range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world."

The Home Office says the UK Border Force will roll out specialist trafficking teams at major ports and airports to spot potential victims, and the legal framework will be strengthened for confiscating the proceeds of crime.

The modern slavery strategy will also see:

    • The government identify "priority countries" to work with, as well as other organisations including churches
    • British embassies and high commissions and NCA liaison officers develop local initiatives abroad
    • Work to strengthen the response by local authorities to child abuse, including trafficking
    • Work to raise awareness among homeless shelter staff of the signs of modern slavery

Islamic State: Diary of life in Mosul


The northern Iraqi city of Mosul fell to Islamic State (IS) in June, bringing the population under the harsh rule of the jihadists. The militants swiftly introduced a regime in accordance with their radical version of Islam, including brutal punishments, strict rules for women and intolerance of any dissent.

In an exclusive series of diary instalments, residents describe what life is like in Mosul since IS took over. The diarists' names have been changed to protect their identities.

28 November 2014

From Faisal

I washed and got ready to go to Friday prayers, and to hear the imam address the congregation.

In his Friday sermon, the imam spoke about the value of the gold dinar in the ancient eras of Islam and about how trade and economy flourished at the time.

He said that a group of pious and highly religious men from IS had decided to mint a new gold coin and new coins made of silver and copper in addition to new paper notes which will be used in the markets in the near future.

He also said that another group of pious IS youth organised an advertising campaign to announce the use of the new currency.

The aim was to make the new Islamic dinar a force to be reckoned with against the US dollar used by the infidels, as the imam said, in what turned out to be the same sermon forced by IS on all the mosques.


I went home feeling worried and confused. I have business and bank accounts and bank dealings with other countries. How can I use this new currency which is only recognised in IS territory?!

The IS dinar was going to replace the official Iraqi currency and use of the dollar was going to be banned. I didn't know what to do, and I sat with a group of friends to discuss what would happen to our money and to our business.

Everybody agreed they would exchange the existing Iraqi currency for US dollars or for gold jewellery.

We all agreed that the IS plan was not religious or ideological as they said, but merely a scheme to rob us of our money and savings.

The next morning a state of chaos gripped the market as everybody was trying to get rid of the Iraqi dinar and to buy dollars or gold.

21 November 2014

From Faisal

Once upon a time in our land, which is rich with water and oil, we used to have a big supply of water and electricity. However, now in the time of the IS caliphate, we lead the most difficult life imaginable.

We don't have water because the supply station does not work most of the time due to a power shortage.

We collect rainwater in the garden, and my mum tries to save the rain falling on the roof through the gutter in order to use it for the laundry and cleaning.

Winter came early, and the cold is really harsh. Hot water is one of the most basic requirements of winter in Iraq, but how can we have hot water? We haven't had any electricity supply from our national provider for a month or more!

We totally rely on private generators. Life would have been impossible in my beloved city without them.

My neighbours tried to find a solution to the water shortage, so we dug a well to find enough water for our needs during the continuous shortage of water supply.

Digging water wells became very prevalent in Mosul, and everybody is digging for water in my country that boasts two major rivers.

We now try to save kerosene for heating, although it's very scarce and expensive. The price of a barrel is about $250, although its price on the international markets is no more than $100.

But this is not surprising because we live in Iraq, the land of miracles.

14 November 2014

From Mays

School began in Nineveh [Mosul's province], but this year is not like any other year.

IS has issued very strict instructions to the students and the school administrations.

Dulqarnain is a name new to the people of my city. It's the name of the IS person in charge of education in Nineveh. His name, as the highest authority for education, is signed on our books.

He is Egyptian, and his main focus was separating girls from boys in primary schools. According to his instructions, girls go to one building and boys to another. He gave his instructions that girls who look a bit mature for their age should wear loose-fitting garments and a face veil.

Male teachers are not allowed to teach girls and women teachers are not allowed to teach boys. This decision is very difficult to be implemented by public schools and more so for the private ones.

Public schools are funded by the education authority and the ministry of education, and they have a large supply of teachers - male and female - and a lot of buildings.

Private schools, on the other hand, are educational and commercial projects owned by private individuals who do not have the resources to supply the teachers and the buildings.

This means that the demand for private schools will decrease in a time when job opportunities are very scarce and money is hard to come by.

'They cancelled art'

School syllabuses have been changes by IS. There are no physical education classes anymore. Instead there is "jihadi education", which is a subject in which students are taught to love jihad [an Islamic concept meaning "struggle"] and how to do so.

IS cancelled both geography and history lessons, but then they changed their mind. They cancelled art classes, and instead teach Arabic calligraphy. They completely banned the use of colours and coloured pens in schools.

All these matter make the running of schools very difficult, even impossible, especially banning students from activities, such as sports and painting, that mean the world to them.

5 November 2014

From Nizar

[Editor's note: Before Islamic State overran Mosul, the city was home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Most fled with the arrival of IS, who ordered the city's remaining Christians to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face being killed.]

Not one house owned by a Christian in Mosul was not taken over and looted by IS members, and all their belongings stolen, down to the last broomstick.

Some IS fighters have even moved into the Christians' homes themselves, using everything in those houses as if they were their own.

They've inhabited all the areas and consider them as spoils of war, as if the Christians and the Yazidis [minority religious group] were the enemy, and by doing so, the IS has become a burden on our areas.

We feel ashamed to call our Christian and Yazidi friends, and I feel I cannot even phone them any more, as if it was me or one of my family or friends that committed those heinous crimes against them.

I decided not to talk or salute any IS member who occupies a Christian house near me, and I cannot bear to look at their evil faces.

Fleeing air strikes

I've taken notice of their behaviour during coalition air strikes. They immediately switch off the lights in the homes they occupy, and some drive off in their stolen cars in some unknown direction.

Then they return as soon as the air strikes cease. A friend of mine had the nerve to ask one of them: "Why do you run away during the air strikes?"

The IS member answered that they fear the strikes will target the houses of Christians that they've occupied because the Christians would have told the coalition their location.

Another friend of mine tried to get close to a house occupied by an IS member and his family to see what was happening there, but he was unable to as they never leave the door open, and don't even talk in the garden.

My friends and I vowed that once this is over, and our city is cleared of the dirt and nastiness, that we would rehabilitate a Christian house to show the world, or at least our Christian friends, that those who did this to them abide by no religion at all.

24 October 2014

From Faisal

Four months have passed since Islamic State took over, and a friend of mine is still in hiding here.

He worked as a bodyguard for some judges in Mosul, but after the city fell all the judges left and my friend went into hiding. He moved home so no-one would know where to find him.

My friend doesn't move around in the streets much, because IS fighters are almost everywhere in the city.

Sometimes they set up impromptu checkpoints and go through people's IDs, looking for people wanted by IS: former security personnel or judiciary, or anyone suspected of arresting IS members before IS captured the city, or anyone who worked for the governorate or in politics.

Most of them have left, fearing execution by IS. These kinds of actions have pushed people away from supporting IS. Their criminal acts have terrorised peaceful citizens.

IS members can be seen executing activists in front of everyone in the streets. They wear black fighter outfits, have let their hair and beards grow - some look as if they haven't seen a shower in ages!

Every day they increase in number, hold new positions and consolidate their presence, undeterred by the air strikes from coalition forces which do nothing to change things on the ground. It it is actually our reality which has changed and become even more horrific.

From Mays

I teach at a school in my beloved city, Mosul. Like other Iraqi mothers I work to provide some sort of financial assistance to my husband, albeit negligible, to help fend off the hardships of life through such hard times and in such an expensive country.

This year, when the summer holidays began, I decided to go to Baghdad to visit some family and relatives there and attend a family ceremony.

After the party, when we were all still full of excitement and surrounded by our loved ones, I received news of a curfew back home, and the start of the fighting between government forces and Islamic State rebels.

From that moment I spoke to my husband in Mosul every day to find out the latest news.

'Horror and panic'

I spent the worst days of my life in Baghdad, the city of my childhood innocence, and where I lived my dreams as a woman in my 20s. I had always been thrilled to live in Baghdad until I got married and moved to Mosul.

And yet, for five days of fighting which followed in Mosul, I lived in horror, fear and pure panic, worrying about my husband. I was constantly wondering what was happening and whether I would ever be with him again.

After the arrival of the Sunni rebels and IS fighters in Mosul, my husband and I started plotting my return to the city, but all roads were still blocked because of the fighting taking place between Baghdad and Mosul.

Cities were falling in hours - not even days - after governmental forces fled or retreated, which left everybody puzzled.

After several attempts by my husband and thanks to some of his connections, we managed to book flights from Baghdad to the north.

But then another obstacle faced us - I had not brought my children's documentation as I was travelling by land. Yet as we were now flying, it was a must, or we wouldn't be able to leave.

Armed groups

Thanks to good thinking and God's will we received the documents via a friend who was leaving Mosul by car and who later flew to Baghdad and brought us the papers.

I finally got home to my family in Mosul, shortly after midnight on 20 June. I was shocked and frightened by what I saw in the streets, where armed groups were roaming around. I prayed and fasted for three days.

I stayed at home for a while, until I got used to the situation we are now living under, but those were moments I will never forget.

Mosul profile
  • Iraq's second biggest city
  • Overrun by Islamic State in June 2014
  • Home to about 1.8 million people before IS takeover, when some 500,000 fled
  • Majority Sunni Arab population, with Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian minorities

Has the imagination disappeared from Lego?


The Brick 2014 show for Lego enthusiasts is about to take place in London, but critics say the toy has become less creative, with too many specialised pieces and instruction manuals. Is this true?

Lego was simple once, the critics complain. Using just a few blocks, usually square or rectangular, you could make anything. Lack of imagination was the only restraint on creativity.

But these days around 3,000 different pieces exist across the company's range. These include a wizard's hat, a vampire's cape, a croissant, even a pterodactyl's wing. Instruction leaflets added to sets take users through a step-by-step building process.

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sir Harry Kroto argues that British-designed Meccano, which involves putting nuts and bolts together, is of greater educational value because it mimics real-life engineering. "There is no comparison," he says. "Children should start with Lego, which is basically a toy, and its basic units are bricks. We do not build cars and other machines out of bricks." He adds that children should "graduate" to Meccano.

Millions of Lego-lovers disagree with Kroto's analysis. But occasionally single items of Lego cause resentment - such as a windscreen/roof block made for the cab of a pick-up truck released in 2003. The orange piece, which appeared in just one set, was just one example of Lego becoming over-simplified, while the truck was "an abomination", Big Sal's Brick Blog says.

Traditionalists favour conventional blocks, like the standard "2x4" rectangle, issued with almost 2,000 sets, according to the Bricklink cataloguing site. The Brick 2014 show, taking place at east London's ExCel centre from Thursday until Sunday, demonstrates the extreme creations possible using simple pieces. A model of St Pancras Station and a giant mosaic built by exhibition visitors are among them.

Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek says it "isn't true" that the toy has become less creative. "Children still get bricks and they can combine them," he adds. "The bricks will probably end up in big boxes in homes and that acts like a pool of creativity."

The brick count on the larger sets has risen in recent years. Top of Bricklink's list is the model of the Taj Mahal, released in 2008, with 5,922 parts. This took over from a limited-edition Star Wars/M&Ms mosaic, sold in 2005, which had 5,462. The Star Wars Millennium Falcon of 2007 required the assembly of 5,174 pieces.

The idea of Lego selling kits with a specific purpose is not new. Since 1964 Lego has sold model sets with instruction booklets, while continuing to offer boxes and tubs of basic bricks.

The blogger Chris Swan argues that instructions marked the start of a decline. "Lego taught me the art of creative destruction - the need to break something in order to make something better," he writes. "Single-outcome sets encourage preservation rather than destruction, and sadly that makes them less useful, less educational (and, in my opinion, less fun)."

Lego's business model, offering both mixed bricks and sets with specific instructions, persisted for decades, with new lines added gradually. The company developed age-specific sets such as Duplo for toddlers and Technic for older users. Commercial spin-offs involving Star Wars and the Harry Potter films did well. These still relied on the basic idea of assembling bricks.

How Lego was built
  • Danish company which originally made wooden toys, founded in 1916
  • It adopted its name, a shortened version of the Danish phrase "leg godt", meaning "play well", in 1934 - later it was realised the word conveniently also meant "I put together" in Latin
  • The company patented a locking system for plastic bricks in 1958 and expanded its operation overseas

But in the early 2000s Lego moved away from its core audience in an attempt to appeal to children more interested in computer games and action figures. It devised lines based on its own characters - action adventurer Jack Stone, sold from 2001, and Galidor, featuring the adventures of teenager-turned-galactic warrior Nick Bluetooth, released in 2002.

Neither involved much building. The Jack Stone Super Glider only had seven pieces. Of the four types of part making up the Galidor TDN Module, three were unique to the set.

"It was based on a market research study that I've never managed to find, saying that most kids don't like construction," says David Robertson, author of Brick by Brick, which explains the firm's success in recent years. "So Lego made a construction kit that didn't have any construction at all. These sets were made up of about a dozen pieces.

"It was a financial disaster. The company came to see in retrospect that, if you don't like construction, you won't buy any Lego toys. Conversely, if you buy Lego, you won't be happy with a toy that's got no real construction involved in it."

The cost of creating a new Lego brick, mainly setting up moulds and production processes, is usually about $50,000 (£32,000), says Robertson. Galidor and Jack Stone sets, involving more bespoke components than usual, were expensive to manufacture. Another problem was that, particularly in the case of Galidor, it didn't look or feel much like Lego anymore.

By 2003 the company had suffered financially. Around this time it decided that any developments now had to be in keeping with its established ethos of creativity through construction. It dropped Galidor and Jack Stone but continued and developed licensed link-ups with Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel Comics, among others. These contained many basic bricks.

"It's nonsense to say that Lego sets are now made up of specialised pieces," says David Gauntlett, professor of media, art and design at the University of Westminster. "It is commercial madness to make specific parts that can't be used for other things. As a business Lego has no desire to be doing that at all. I know people like to say that it's not what it was, but it's false nostalgia. I find it really irritating.

"It was sort of true about 12 years ago, when the company almost went bankrupt and the products were less popular. Since then the company has had a major turnaround based on embracing the core of the Lego concept and not doing stupid things like that."

Lego's operating profit in the first half of this year, helped by the huge success of The Lego Movie, was 3.63bn Danish Krone (£386m). It now vies with Mattel to be the biggest toy company in the world.

"What we do today is all about building," says Trangbaek. Lego no longer offers "instant gratification" sets, he adds. "We actually know what children around the world want."

There will not be a return to the instruction-less days of the late 1950s. But Lego Fusion, launched earlier this year, allows users to photograph their own productions via an app and upload them to a virtual space, where they remain once the toy itself is broken up.

This means they are preserved digitally and can be combined online to create towns, holiday resorts, car races or castles. Lego says children will move between computers and playing with actual bricks to prevent "zombie gaze", or an excess of screen-watching.

The company adds that, unlike its earlier attempt to capitalise on the burgeoning computer games market, this will enhance the use of bricks, encouraging children's imaginative role-playing games and freestyle building.

Lego leaves it to other companies to make the computer games and the films. "It's important that we focus on the physical bricks," says Trangbaek.

More from the Magazine

Lego's range - Research Institute - contained three new female figures: a palaeontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. But why does the toymaker's portrayal of women provoke such controversy, asks Tom de Castella.

A container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall in 1997. But instead of remaining at the bottom of the ocean, they are still washing up on Cornish beaches today - offering an insight into the mysterious world of oceans and tides, says Mario Cacciottolo.

Here is a selection of your comments on Facebook.

Too simple?! It took my husband 2 hours to build a batman plane (6-12) for my son! My son was delighted by it, then took it all apart to build a space ship. . .

Charlotte Hunter

The introduction of too many specialist pieces/sets to create one thing look realistic could be an issue.

There was nothing wrong with making a blocky super car, space ship or boat, it doesn't need to be exact. Imagination played it's part, maybe that's why it's less 'creative' now.

Matt Ley

My 3 are hoping for (& getting) a box of "normal" bricks from Santa, to compliment the massive box that their grandad had kept.

They're aged 5, 4 & 3 so not able to follow instructions & love building, destroying & building again .... Just like we did.

Vickie de Vries

My son loves to follow the instructions, great for spatial learning. Once he's played with it enough he dismantles and creates his own stuff.

Sarah Smith

Just a little sign of how dumbing down works, were now even Lego now cannot let you think you must build what they say. In my day I had a bucket full and built my own x wing, shuttle, castle or anything I wanted. Now you build what's on the box and don't you dare think for yourself and get creative you might grow up to be a thinker, to many of those and we may have to answer some serious questions.

Graeme Gofton

What has disappeared from Lego is affordability.

Sami Bouhafes

Most Lego play sets are pretty much already built. There's nothing wrong with sets with instructions, like I used to have a huge ship play set I had to build. But in most of these newer, smaller sets there's not much building to be done.

Laura Williams

Some of the sets are a pain to build. Beyond my son doing unaided.

Joanne Chaplin

My kids have been bought many lego sets, which I would dearly love them to keep in one piece. Thus does not happen, it lasts days before its destroyed to create a spaceship or a car.

They have also been bought massive amounts of second hand Lego in huge tubs.

Eventually everything ends up in there, as single bricks all mixed up.

Lego is the same now as it's always been. With the addition of cool sets for grownups.

Karl Roberts

Imagination went when Lego hooked up with film/TV franchises instead of leaving matters to the individual.This in turn has lead to the product becoming more overly expensive.

Maggy James

Swiss 'Ecopop' referendum calls for big immigration cut


Swiss voters are going to the polls on Sunday to vote for the second time in nine months on proposals to limit immigration.

Last February the Swiss narrowly backed a plan to reintroduce immigration quotas for EU citizens, in effect opting out of the European Union's free movement of people policy.

But because Switzerland, while not an EU member, has a whole series of economically vital trade agreements with Brussels, which depend on maintaining free movement, the Swiss government has not yet found a way to implement February's vote.

Some critics among the Swiss right have accused the government of not taking the wishes of voters seriously, and of being soft on immigration.

The new proposal to be tested in Sunday's referendum goes much further.

Called 'Ecopop', it would reduce immigration to Switzerland to just 0.2% of the overall population, effectively limiting new migrants to about 16,000 a year, a fraction of today's estimated 80,000.

And, in an unusual twist, the proposal also calls for 10% of Switzerland's overseas aid budget to be spent on family-planning projects in developing countries.

'Not sustainable'

The proposal is the brainchild of Benno Buehler, a supporter of Switzerland's 40-year-old "Ecopop" movement, which seeks to link environmental protection with controlling population growth.

"Switzerland grew over the past seven years about 50% faster than the UK for example, and about five times faster than the European community as a whole," says Mr Buehler.

"At this speed we are basically on the level of India. This is not sustainable." Mr Buehler claims the alleged strain on Switzerland's resources is primarily the fault of population growth.

So would a Chinese-style one child per couple policy be appropriate?

Not for Switzerland, Mr Buehler says, because the population increase is due not to Swiss citizens having children, but to immigrants coming in.

He says his plan will not cause labour shortages, but will instead allow Switzerland to pick and choose the best skilled labour from anywhere in the world.

And the parallel proposal to invest in family planning in the developing world is, he insists, a policy the United Nations itself supports.

"The UN stated in its Agenda 21, paragraph 531, that every country has to define a population policy which is in line with its sustainability goals," he explains.

"For Switzerland the key source of the fast growth of population is immigration, hence we have to limit that. If however you look at poor countries the source of the population growth is clearly fertility."


But the suggestion that Ecopop is in some way environmental has caused anger among Switzerland's green movement.

At a demonstration against the proposal, Green Party supporter Niels Kruse suggested Ecopop was an idea that simply tried to scapegoat everybody but the Swiss themselves.

"Switzerland has been growing, there's no denying that," he admitted.

"But the boat is not full yet. The truth is, we and our lifestyles are causing the environmental problems, so we need to solve them within our country, without pointing at certain groups or certain people."

To him, the family-planning idea smacks of "neo-colonialism".

"It is not our role to say you are having too many children, when in fact we are causing 80% of the environmental pollution."

Immigration in Switzerland
  • Switzerland's population is about 8.18 million - of whom 1.96 million are not Swiss nationals, according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO)
  • EU citizens make up the vast majority of immigrants in Switzerland
  • The largest group of foreign nationals living in Switzerland is from Italy. Immigration from Italy started more than a century ago, but difficulties getting Swiss nationality meant many families remained Italian
  • The second largest group comes from Germany, and the third largest comes from the former Yugoslavia
'Strangle' development

For Swiss business leaders, Ecopop appears to be the stuff of their worst nightmares.

Since it joined the EU's free movement of people, Switzerland's economy has thrived; unemployment is low, and many businesses are expanding and recruiting.

That is why the Swiss Business Association, Economiesuisse, is spending a good deal of money campaigning against Ecopop.

Rudolf Minsch, the association's chief economist, has called the proposals "an indigestible concoction" which will help neither Switzerland nor developing countries.

In an editorial for the association's website, Mr Minsch argues that cutting back so much on immigration, will "strangle" Switzerland's economic development, while "handing out condoms" in Africa "but not investing in schools or infrastructure" is unlikely to have any beneficial effect.

Built on migration

In a surprising partnership, Switzerland's trades unions have been campaigning alongside big business to defeat Ecopop.

The unions fear abandoning free movement could bring back the era of seasonal work, when men from all over Europe were recruited on a temporary basis. They lived in barracks, away from the towns, and were not allowed to bring family members with them.

Seasonal workers built some of Switzerland's key infrastructure, from its motorways to its huge alpine tunnels. But, as soon as the work was finished, they were sent back home.

They had none of the rights now enjoyed by foreign workers under free movement, and Swiss trades unionist Corinne Schaerer believes it would be unworthy of 21st Century Switzerland to return to that era.

"Everything was geared up to make it as cheap as possible, and to get labour as cheap as possible," she says.

"That is a state we don't want to go back to. Switzerland wouldn't exist without immigration, our whole economy and country is built in migration."

The latest opinion polls show two things - the Swiss are very worried about immigration, but Ecopop may be a step too far for most voters.

Benno Buehler knows his vision may be defeated at the ballot box this time, but he is still convinced its time will come.

"Every material growth will stop one day. The question is only when will it stop, and how will it stop, and what will be the consequences."

Pakistan sex taboos challenged by TV phone-in show


Sex is a taboo word in Pakistan. It is readily associated with sin, guilt and shame. But a television channel is breaking new ground by airing a weekly call-in show discussing sexual health.

In a country where fear of religious vigilantes dominates public life, it takes a lot of courage for people to open up about their sexual anxieties.

And yet, it's happening on live TV.

The show 'Clinic Online' is aired on HTV (Health TV), a channel focusing on everyday lives of Pakistanis with a mix of health and lifestyle content.

And it's proving popular. Dozens of callers - men as well as women - from across Pakistan ring the show to get on air.

A wide range of issues are brought up, from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infertility to questions about performance, size and satisfaction.

"He doesn't come to bed with me anymore," complains a housewife. "I have tried talking to him but he doesn't want to talk about it. What shall I do?" she asks.

Tongue-tied callers

Another caller, a young man about to get married, is worried about not being able to keep up with his partner's sex drive.

"My married friends tell me that a man's sexual prowess usually goes down after the first few months of marriage. Is that true?" he wants to know.

Callers often sound a bit shy and hesitant. They are usually unsure of culturally acceptable sex terminology in the Urdu language. Many people struggle and use vague expressions to explain their predicament.

"I have developed that habit," says a reluctant female caller. "I think I am gaining weight because of it. How can I stop it?" she asks.

Dr Nadeem Siddiqui, the consultant who hosts the show, usually has to ask callers multiple follow-up questions to pin down the problem.

In this instance, Dr Siddiqui stares blankly at the camera for a while and then asks the caller to explain her question.

"I have developed that sex habit, you know, with a finger. I want to stop. Is there a medicine for it?" she asks in a hushed tone.

Now, most of the time Dr Siddiqui gives sensible suggestions to his callers. But every now and then, he goes off track.

After an uncomfortable pause, and a disapproving sigh, the good doctor has this advice for the female caller: "You should pray five times a day, refrain from watching inappropriate content on internet and read religious literature. You will be alright."

Questionable advice?

After the show, I asked the doctor about his controversial advice.

"I can't be seen to be doing anything against Islam, or it would cause trouble," he said.

And therein lies the problem. While the show is giving people a rare chance to speak up about their repressed health issues, the quality of advice they may be getting remains questionable.

"Most doctors in Pakistan are not competent to tackle sexual health issues," says Dr Javed Usman, a family physician at the Dr Ziauddin Medical Hospital in Karachi.

"Our medical curriculum doesn't really address the subject. So invariably, what you end up with are doctors applying value judgements based on their own cultural and religious beliefs, not medical knowledge."

To be sure, it's a tough call in a country and a society where Islam dominates virtually every aspect of public life.

Take the issue of self-gratification. Many conservative Muslims believe masturbation is forbidden in Islam, as is oral sex. But medical research shows there is nothing inherently wrong or unsafe in these practices.

So, when a Muslim doctor in a conservative society is asked on a live TV show about his opinion, he has two choices: he could give his medical advice and risk upsetting the intolerant religious lobby, or he can brush science aside and invoke religion.

More often than not, he chooses what's convenient, practical and in line with his own belief system.

No wonder sexual health remains a deeply misunderstood subject in this conservative society.

Myths and misconceptions prevail, even among doctors.

But some activists are trying to change that.

Empowering the people

Among them is Dr Sikander Sohani, a GP working for the health and education campaign group, Aahung. For two decades, he has worked with communities to change attitudes.

On a weekend at a school in north Karachi, he engages parents and teachers in a workshop about how to tackle some of these tricky issues.

His target audience comes from an average conservative neighbourhood. Men and women sit separately. Most women are covered in black scarves from head to toe.

In a country where any discussion of sex is frowned upon, Dr Sohani takes a cautious, nuanced approach.

Throughout his presentation, the word 'sex' does not figure. Instead, he talks about life, body and health. When a participant mentions religion, he talks about nature.

"Sexual health is part of an overall wellbeing of an individual," he later tells me. "And what we are emphasising here is a rights-based approach to encourage safe and responsible behaviour," he says.

For him, a rights-based approach is the key to overcoming cultural and religious taboos. It is about giving individuals the skills and the knowledge to enjoy and protect their own bodies, he explains.

"Religious and cultural institutions tend to be interested in power and control over other peoples' bodies. We are trying to empower individuals to take charge and make sensible choices," he says.

As for 'Clinic Online', the chief executive of the HTV channel, Faizan Syed, says the show is going through a period of trial and error.

"Frankly, we are in an unchartered territory. Is there room for improvement? Certainly! But that doesn't take away the fact that we are providing a service that no one else has the courage or willingness to offer."

Pakistan sex taboos challenged by TV phone-in show


Sex is a taboo word in Pakistan. It is readily associated with sin, guilt and shame. But a television channel is breaking new ground by airing a weekly call-in show discussing sexual health.

In a country where fear of religious vigilantes dominates public life, it takes a lot of courage for people to open up about their sexual anxieties.

And yet, it's happening on live TV.

The show 'Clinic Online' is aired on HTV (Health TV), a channel focusing on everyday lives of Pakistanis with a mix of health and lifestyle content.

And it's proving popular. Dozens of callers - men as well as women - from across Pakistan ring the show to get on air.

A wide range of issues are brought up, from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infertility to questions about performance, size and satisfaction.

"He doesn't come to bed with me anymore," complains a housewife. "I have tried talking to him but he doesn't want to talk about it. What shall I do?" she asks.

Tongue-tied callers

Another caller, a young man about to get married, is worried about not being able to keep up with his partner's sex drive.

"My married friends tell me that a man's sexual prowess usually goes down after the first few months of marriage. Is that true?" he wants to know.

Callers often sound a bit shy and hesitant. They are usually unsure of culturally acceptable sex terminology in the Urdu language. Many people struggle and use vague expressions to explain their predicament.

"I have developed that habit," says a reluctant female caller. "I think I am gaining weight because of it. How can I stop it?" she asks.

Dr Nadeem Siddiqui, the consultant who hosts the show, usually has to ask callers multiple follow-up questions to pin down the problem.

In this instance, Dr Siddiqui stares blankly at the camera for a while and then asks the caller to explain her question.

"I have developed that sex habit, you know, with a finger. I want to stop. Is there a medicine for it?" she asks in a hushed tone.

Now, most of the time Dr Siddiqui gives sensible suggestions to his callers. But every now and then, he goes off track.

After an uncomfortable pause, and a disapproving sigh, the good doctor has this advice for the female caller: "You should pray five times a day, refrain from watching inappropriate content on internet and read religious literature. You will be alright."

Questionable advice?

After the show, I asked the doctor about his controversial advice.

"I can't be seen to be doing anything against Islam, or it would cause trouble," he said.

And therein lies the problem. While the show is giving people a rare chance to speak up about their repressed health issues, the quality of advice they may be getting remains questionable.

"Most doctors in Pakistan are not competent to tackle sexual health issues," says Dr Javed Usman, a family physician at the Dr Ziauddin Medical Hospital in Karachi.

"Our medical curriculum doesn't really address the subject. So invariably, what you end up with are doctors applying value judgements based on their own cultural and religious beliefs, not medical knowledge."

To be sure, it's a tough call in a country and a society where Islam dominates virtually every aspect of public life.

Take the issue of self-gratification. Many conservative Muslims believe masturbation is forbidden in Islam, as is oral sex. But medical research shows there is nothing inherently wrong or unsafe in these practices.

So, when a Muslim doctor in a conservative society is asked on a live TV show about his opinion, he has two choices: he could give his medical advice and risk upsetting the intolerant religious lobby, or he can brush science aside and invoke religion.

More often than not, he chooses what's convenient, practical and in line with his own belief system.

No wonder sexual health remains a deeply misunderstood subject in this conservative society.

Myths and misconceptions prevail, even among doctors.

But some activists are trying to change that.

Empowering the people

Among them is Dr Sikander Sohani, a GP working for the health and education campaign group, Aahung. For two decades, he has worked with communities to change attitudes.

On a weekend at a school in north Karachi, he engages parents and teachers in a workshop about how to tackle some of these tricky issues.

His target audience comes from an average conservative neighbourhood. Men and women sit separately. Most women are covered in black scarves from head to toe.

In a country where any discussion of sex is frowned upon, Dr Sohani takes a cautious, nuanced approach.

Throughout his presentation, the word 'sex' does not figure. Instead, he talks about life, body and health. When a participant mentions religion, he talks about nature.

"Sexual health is part of an overall wellbeing of an individual," he later tells me. "And what we are emphasising here is a rights-based approach to encourage safe and responsible behaviour," he says.

For him, a rights-based approach is the key to overcoming cultural and religious taboos. It is about giving individuals the skills and the knowledge to enjoy and protect their own bodies, he explains.

"Religious and cultural institutions tend to be interested in power and control over other peoples' bodies. We are trying to empower individuals to take charge and make sensible choices," he says.

As for 'Clinic Online', the chief executive of the HTV channel, Faizan Syed, says the show is going through a period of trial and error.

"Frankly, we are in an unchartered territory. Is there room for improvement? Certainly! But that doesn't take away the fact that we are providing a service that no one else has the courage or willingness to offer."

What's behind the downfall of Thailand's Princess Srirasmi?


The downfall of Princess Srirasmi, the wife of Thailand's Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, has been both dramatic and unusually public.

Seven of her relatives have been arrested, and accused of misusing their royal status to amass vast wealth and carry out numerous abuses.

The crown prince himself has now made the disgrace official by ordering her family to stop using the name Akrapongpreecha, which he gave them after he married her in 2001. The king and the crown prince both have this privilege, akin to knighthoods in the UK.

So has Princess Srirasmi lost her royal status?

Interestingly, the crown prince has not revoked her royal title, "Mom", which translates roughly as "princess", nor yet her use of the royal family's name, Mahidol na Ayutthaya.

These are officially bestowed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and it would need his approval for them to be revoked. However if, as expected, the crown prince divorces Princess Srirasmi, she will almost certainly lose both titles. The future status of her nine-year-old son by the prince, Dipangkorn, will depend on his father's wishes.

Titles matter a great deal in status-obsessed Thailand, in particular when it comes to those with a claim to the throne.

What does Thai law say about the succession?

The 1924 Palace Succession Law, enshrined in subsequent constitutions, follows the principle of primogeniture, meaning Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is the designated heir to King Bhumibol, and his own sons should inherit the throne after him, ranked by age.

However, the law also gives reigning kings considerable sway in choosing their own successor - and an amendment to the constitution now allows the possibility of a female successor.

Does the crown prince have any other male children?

The crown prince has four sons by his second marriage, whom he disowned in 1997 when he severed all ties with their mother, Yuvadhida Polpraserth.

At the time the crown prince stated that they had renounced all their royal titles. But the palace continues to recognise their right to use the title HSH, or His Serene Highness, even though the boys, now grown up, are banished from Thailand and live in the United States.

That leaves some doubt over where they sit in line to the throne, even though most commentators believe they are no longer considered possible successors.

It is widely believed that the crown prince may have had another baby boy this year with his current mistress, who is likely to become his next wife.

Why does all this matter so much?

The issue is critical in a country where the monarchy is considered pivotal to political stability, and where King Bhumibol, who turns 87 this week, is in such frail health.

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn appears to be sorting out his personal affairs before the succession, so that he can choose who will be his queen, and who will eventually succeed him.


Pablo Escobar: Atoning for the sins of a brother


It's 21 years since Pablo Escobar was killed in a hail of bullets on a rooftop in Medellin, ending his reign as Colombia's most notorious drug trafficker, responsible for thousands of deaths. Can his crimes ever be forgiven? His sister is trying to atone by leaving notes of apology on the graves of his victims.

"Every day I think of all those people who suffered or are suffering because of my brother - because of the war he waged," says Luz Maria Escobar.

In the 1980s, and up to his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel inflicted a bloody catalogue of murder and mayhem on Colombia. In 1991, Medellin's homicide rate was a shocking 381 for every 100,000 inhabitants. Some 7,500 people died in the city that year alone.

Escobar targeted politicians, police officers, the security forces, journalists and members of the judiciary in his battle against the state - a war he declared to prevent a law being passed to allow the extradition of drug traffickers from Colombia to the US.

Car bombs, kidnap, torture and assassination became part of everyday life. In a failed attempt to kill a presidential candidate, Escobar even brought down an airliner in 1989. The man who would become president in 1990, Cesar Gaviria, was not on board. But more than a hundred people lost their lives in the explosion.

At the height of his power, Pablo Escobar was the seventh richest man on the planet and his cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine trade. But in 1980, Luz Maria says she knew nothing about her brother's involvement in drug trafficking - until he told the family he had made a will.

"My mother was very upset. She said to him, 'Why are you doing this - are you terminally ill?' And he said, 'I'm in the mafia. Those in the mafia never die of natural causes or illness. Mafiosi die from bullets.' We didn't even know what 'mafia' meant. That night, my mother and I got out a dictionary - but the word wasn't in there."

It was when the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, was assassinated on Escobar's orders on 30 April 1984 that reality hit home for his sister.

"That day was awful for me. That's when I knew what he was involved in and what my brother was capable of."

So did she try to persuade her brother to change his life?

"We often went looking for him - I always went with my mother. We spoke to him when there was so much bloodshed, all the massacres… But he was able to convince you the other way. And after my father was kidnapped in 1985, Pablo said to me, 'It's either us or them.' He was carrying a gun for self-defence and to defend the family. But I didn't think at that point it would all go so far - that he would leave such a historic, sad, painful mark on the world."

Now Luz Maria Escobar wants to apologise for the sins of her brother. Last year, on the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar's death, she held a Mass at the Catholic church at the Jardines Montesacro cemetery, in Medellin.

Outside the church, around the grave where her brother is buried, she hung notepaper and left pencils. Dozens of Colombians and foreign tourists visit the final resting place of Colombia's most infamous criminal every day, and Luz Maria Escobar asked people to leave her a message of forgiveness.

"Seven or eight people whose families were victims of my brother's violence came," she remembers. "And the nicest thing, something that filled me with happiness, was that people hugged me and told me they weren't full of bitterness towards my brother."

She has also left notes herself at the burial places of Pablo Escobar's victims.

"I just ask for forgiveness," she explains. Once she left a letter on the grave of a mother whose son had been murdered on the orders of her brother.

"I assured her that my heart is here, full of love for all the victims and all the people who were killed."

But what is it exactly that she has on her conscience?

"I don't have anything to repent for in my life like drug trafficking or crime. But your family history is your family history, and it forms part of your heart. And Pablo was my brother…"

A brother's love is what Felipe Mejia misses more than anything. Jaime Hernan Mejia Garcia was 18, just finishing high school, and dreaming of a career in the Colombian Air Force when he was killed in 1989. He has mixed feelings about Luz Maria's notes.

"I think it's a good thing after all the damage her brother caused. But if one of those notes appeared on my brother's grave, I'd probably throw it in the bin, because just an apology isn't enough. It's a question of justice.

"Some of the guys involved in the killing of my brother are still alive. They have fulfilled lives - they've got children and grandchildren… And I don't have my brother."

Jaime was erroneously connected to the Medellin Cartel's biggest cocaine-trafficking rival in Colombia - the Cali Cartel.

"It was an era in Medellin when anyone identified with the Cali Cartel was simply assassinated. And my whole family was mistakenly linked to them," Felipe remembers.

"For months after my brother was killed, we all slept in the same bedroom with the mattresses on the floor, because my parents said, 'If they want to kill us, they can kill us all together.'"

Felipe and his family did not move away - his parents said they had done nothing to be ashamed of. And the people Felipe believes are connected to his brother's murder stayed too. Felipe still sees them.

"I haven't talked to them for more than 20 years, but my parents greet them cordially. I reproach them for that, and then they start crying," he says.

Luz Maria Escobar cries too. She says although her heart is still full of love for her brother, his legacy is painful for her. But she also defends Pablo Escobar: she claims he has been blamed for things he did not do, and says he did excellent work with the poor.

"Pablo is the only Colombian politician who didn't need to run a political campaign", she says, referring to Escobar's short-lived career as a substitute Congressman in the national parliament. "He won the votes with the help he gave everyone, and the fact he kept his word."

Luis Ospina, whose father was another of Escobar's victims, does not buy it.

"Pablo Escobar was a psychopath with too much money," he says.

Luis's father, Alfonso Ospina, was a senator from Medellin, and supported extradition of traffickers to the US. On the morning of 15 November 1988 he was kidnapped by members of the Medellin Cartel. He was killed in captivity.

"We even had to pay ransom for the body - that's how bad things were here in Medellin," Luis says with disbelief. "And the contact to do this was a person who had been a friend of my father's, but who worked for Escobar now. We had to ask this man to give us the body. And he asked for money, and said it was for the kidnappers and for all of the logistics that had to be organised. Escobar just bought so many people off."

Pablo Escobar was killed in a police shoot-out on 2 December 1993.

"There was heavy rain, and the river of Medellin was as high as I've ever seen it in my life - it was about to inundate the whole city", remembers Luis Ospina. And I felt this energy… It was a torrent of badness and it was going, it was moving out of the city. That's something I still connect with that day, and the finishing of Escobar."

Situated halfway between the city of Medellin and Bogota, the Colombian capital, Hacienda Napoles was the vast ranch owned by the drugs baron Pablo Escobar. In the early 1980s, after Escobar had become rich but before he had started the campaign of assassinations and bombings that was to almost tear Colombia apart, he built himself a zoo.

He smuggled in elephants, giraffes and other exotic animals, among them four hippos - three females and one male. And with a typically grand gesture, he allowed the public to wander freely around the zoo. A herd of hippos, descended Escobar's animals, has been taking over the countryside near the ranch.

Islamic State crisis: How Jalawla became a changed town


The so-called Islamic State's gains have been reversed in just a few places in Iraq. One is the town of Jalawla, now held by Kurdish forces. Paul Wood returns to Jalawla after witnessing the fighting there over the summer.

A Kurdish flag fluttered on top of a ruined building in the centre of Jalawla. It had been their military headquarters until demolished by an Islamic State (IS) suicide truck bomb.

"Be careful of booby traps," said our guide from the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, "they left them everywhere, even in the walls."

Jalawla changed hands several times in six months of struggle between the jihadists on the one hand and, on the other, a loose and antagonistic coalition of Kurdish forces, the Iraqi Army and Shia militia.

The Kurds say the last battle, at the end of November, was decisive, pushing IS out of the town and out of the surrounding countryside as well.

"The situation is quiet and safe," said the Peshmerga commander here, Mahmoud Sangawi. "We have cleaned 1,000 sq km [620 sq miles] of IS. There is no terrorist presence in the whole of the province."

We saw some of the fighting, in June. Seventy-five pick-up trucks with foreign jihadists were heading for the outskirts of Jalawla. A Kurdish general told me that as he mustered his men to head them off.

We waited in the centre of town but still found ourselves in the middle of a brief but intense firefight.

We took cover in a basement with a small group of Peshmerga. For a horrible few minutes, it seemed as if they were surrounded. A fighter lay bleeding on the stairs, his face white as blood flowed from a leg wound. His comrades crouched and let loose volleys of bullets.

One thought he spotted IS coming in through the back of the building. "There he is, there he is," he shouted, firing panicky Kalashnikov rounds.

I assumed Islamic State were able to attack in the centre of town because the gunmen were local Sunnis already living in Jalawla.

A large Arab tribe in the area, the Kerwi, had pledged loyalty to IS. The Kurds spent days on the telephone to the local tribal sheikh trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to change sides.

IS in Jalawla and the neighbouring village consisted of 150-200 foreign fighters and 500 local Sunnis, said Kurdish intelligence.

Demographic shift

Jalawla today is eerily quiet. The streets were deserted when we visited - a few cats running in between the burned out cars.

A bridge, built by the British in the 1920s, lay broken in half, blown up by the jihadists. There are no civilians at all in the town, just Kurdish fighters.

When people did eventually come back, I asked the Peshmerga commander, Mahmoud Sangawi, whether Arabs who fought with IS would be allowed to return too.

"We don't have a problem with them if they come back and ask for forgiveness," he said.

But then he made a distinction between Arabs who had lived in Jalawla for generations and those moved there in the 1970s by Saddam Hussein.

The more recent arrivals included most of the Kerwi tribe, whose sheikh had pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, he said.

"We don't have a problem with the [longstanding] Arab population," he said. "We do have a problem with Arabs who were brought here. They supported the former regime. They supported al-Qaeda. Now they are IS."

The "recently" transferred Arabs changed the balance of population in Jalawla and other towns just outside the "green line" marking Kurdish territory.

Preventing their return would restore a Kurdish majority in Jalawla. It, and other disputed towns, might one day be part of the independent state dreamed of by Kurds.

"This land was Kurdish since the Ottoman Empire," said Cdr Sangawi, looking at the town and the desert beyond.

For Kurds, the rise of Islamic State is an opportunity as much as a threat.

On a dirt hillside overlooking Jalawla, the Kurds showed us makeshift graves left behind by the retreating jihadis.

They contained the bodies of Shia men, women and children, they said. An IS prisoner had told them 27 people were buried there.

"IS executed them," said a Kurdish fighter. "This is not the only place they carried out a massacre - there are others."

It was impossible to verify that claim. But the stench of decaying bodies was overpowering. Dogs had tried to dig them up. Clothes and what looked like a human bone lay on the surface. The Kurdish fighters covered their noses and mouths and turned away.

Craving safety

During the brief period of IS rule in the town, a Shia mosque was blown up and the imam shot, we were told. Now that the jihadists have been chased away, Shia militias controlled by Baghdad have moved into the area.

So camps near Jalawla are full of Sunni Arabs. The camps are squalid, with rivers of sewage running between the rows of tents.

But fear of revenge attacks by the Shia militias keeps people there. The militias were looting empty homes, they said - at least Islamic State had not done that, some added, quietly.

Jamila Ahmed, a 61-year-old grandmother, was looking after a sick husband in one of the tents. They had fled their homes at the start of the fighting because of government airstrikes and Kurdish artillery aimed at the jihadists.

"We're afraid of the Islamic State and the Shia militias. We are poor and simple people. We just want to be safe," she said. "We want to go back to our homes. We want the Iraqi army back in charge."

But the Iraqi army - and the Iraqi State - are scarcely to be seen. Kurd and Arab, Sunni and Shia - the violence brought by the jihadists has shattered this country along its many fault lines.

The immigrants left behind by Obama's executive action


When US President Barack Obama announced plans to lift the threat of deportation from millions of people living illegally, all the attention was on those who qualified. What about those who don't?

Once again, Julio Calderon has had to watch others who arrived in the United States illegally like him move forward while he is forced to stay back.

Last month, President Barack Obama's plan to offer protection to nearly five million undocumented immigrants brought them "out of the shadows", as he himself put it.

The plan will provide them a reprieve from deportation and a right to work, but no path to citizenship.

But an estimated six million people have been left behind.

Unable to obtain driving licences, own a house or travel back to their countries for a visit, many undocumented immigrants in the US endure a life marked by hardship and fear of deportation.

Calderon, 25, an immigrant from Honduras, has been twice unlucky. He met all the requirements to qualify for the relief except an age cap, which was also a condition of a similar, smaller-scale plan in 2012.

To be eligible, young immigrants like Calderon had to be younger than 16 when they entered the US. He crossed the US-Mexico border just days after his 16th birthday.

"Everyone starts getting a better job, a driving licence, and you are the only one that stays behind," he says.

Many of the excluded have lived in the US for a good part of their life, paying taxes and abiding by the laws, except for one - the law that requires them to live in the US with documentation.

Obama's executive action was targeted at two specific groups of beneficiaries - parents of US citizens or permanent residents, and people who arrived in the US as children - with the goal of keeping families together.

Single adults without children in the US do not qualify for the plan.

That is the case of Amrry Gonzalez, 54, who arrived illegally in Miami 14 years ago.

A father of four, Gonzalez left Nicaragua after he divorced. He has not seen any of his relatives since he came to the US.

"The first thing I will do if I ever get my papers will be a trip to Nicaragua to see my four kids and my six grandchildren," he says.

In his native Nicaragua, Gonzalez was an agricultural engineer but here he has worked odd jobs.

He sometimes commutes five hours a day by bus. He says that most people who ride the bus in Miami are undocumented immigrants.

"The service is so poor," he says. "Sometimes you wait for hours until a bus shows up."

Unlike other undocumented immigrants who drive vehicles without a licence, he does not want to risk being stopped, jailed and deported.

Florida, like many states, requires foreigners to prove their lawful presence in the country in order to be eligible for a driver's licence.

But activists are pushing the state legislature to join 11 other states that have passed legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a licence.

Activists also vow to intensify their campaign for a comprehensive immigration reform passed by Congress.

"We won't rest until there is no single person in this country walking the streets with fear of being deported," says Ivan Parra, spokesperson of the Florida Immigration Coalition.

Rosana Araujo, 46, and her husband Yamandu Champone, 39, did not qualify for Obama's action either.

Their only child, Damian, 13, was born in Uruguay shortly before they packed up and made the trip to the States, escaping a severe economic crisis. That means Damian is undocumented as well.

If Damian had been born on US soil, he would now be an American citizen and the whole family would have benefited from Mr Obama's plan.

Araujo says she felt frustrated when she heard Obama's prime-time speech in which he announced the categories of immigrants that will receive protection.

"I cried, I was angry," says Araujo, who watched the speech alone in the family house in Hialeah, a Miami suburb.

She says she had hopes that immigrants who had stayed in the country for more than 10 years would also be protected.

Since she arrived in the US, Araujo has worked in shoe factories and a flower warehouse.

She was a kindergarten teacher in Uruguay, but here she cannot apply for a similar job, because schools and other employers in formal sectors will verify that foreign applicants are legal residents.

"I suffered so many abuses working in those factories. That was a life I was not used to. In Uruguay I went to university and gave classes", she says.

Now, she studies immigration policy at Miami Dade College. Her husband works as a kitchen countertop installer.

When she meets other students, Araujo says she sometimes feels as if she had a contagious disease.

"If I say I don't have papers, people start to avoid me because they associate undocumented immigrants with conflict."

Unlike other undocumented immigrants, Calderon, Gonzalez, Araujo and a few others are not afraid to speak to the media.

They are very active with immigration groups and say that if authorities were to deport one of them their associations would campaign to protect them.

In only that sense, these activist immigrants have already left the shadows.

The unlikely love affair between two countries


The chaos and conflict that once consumed the port of Mogadishu are now gone and a few foreign investors are starting to move into Somalia. Turkey is leading the way - but why is there such a strong bond between these two countries?

Where once rival militias battled for control of these docks, giant container ships now line up to discharge their cargoes of cement, vehicles, pasta and rice. Huge cranes swoop up and down. Some operated by Turks, others by Somalis.

As a container swings uncomfortably close above my head, the sprightly Turkish manager of the port tells me that since his company took over in September, it has been bringing in a monthly revenue of $4m, and rising. Fifty-five percent goes straight to the Somali government.

He won't let me take his photograph. "I'm too ugly," he says.

It's not just the port. Turks are everywhere in Mogadishu. And so is their flag. This visit, I think I saw more Turkish flags in the city than Somali ones.

Turks run the airport and are busy building a new terminal. Turkish Airlines now flies to Mogadishu four times a week, the first international airline to do so in more than 20 years.

At a gleaming new hospital, built by the Turks, Turkish doctors wear simple white polo shirts. On one sleeve is an image of the Turkish flag. The Somali flag is on the other.

Outside, Turkish builders in cowboy hats and Somalis in tatty T-shirts are putting the final touches to an Ottoman-style mosque with room for 2,000 worshippers. Craftsmen were flown in from Turkey to hand paint the ceiling in rich blues, reds and gold.

Even the garbage trucks trying to get rid of the 20 years' worth of rubbish and rubble come from Turkey. I saw one such truck hosing down a street after a suicide bombing, to make sure every trace of blood and wreckage was removed.

It all started with the famine of 2011. The then Turkish prime minister, now president Erdogan, flew to Somalia. Unlike other foreigners, who keep at a safe distance from the country, preferring to do Somali-related business from neighbouring Kenya, he walked through the streets of Mogadishu. In a suit. Not body armour.

Somalis still talk to me about how he picked up dirty, starving children. How his wife kissed members of the despised minority clans.

And hence the love affair began. Somalis called their boys Erdogan, their daughters Istanbul.

This affection for a foreign country is highly unusual in Somalia. Somalis generally do not like outsiders, and have all sorts of abusive nicknames for them. But I struggled to find a Somali who would criticise Turkey, apart from the complaint that they hadn't provided adequate drainage for the new roads they're building in Mogadishu, and that they hadn't done enough to help other parts of the country.

In private conversations, Western diplomats have told me Turkey doesn't communicate or co-ordinate with other donors, that it is too unilateralist.

Turkey, like many other countries, is keen to lay its hands on Africa's natural resources and to exploit new markets as the continent develops. But it has chosen an eccentric way in - Somalia is classed by many as one of the world's most dangerous countries.

The Turks in Mogadishu seem to have a different attitude to danger. On the day of a suicide bombing, I was forbidden access to the highly fortified airport, where I was due to meet the British ambassador.

But just nearby was a Turkish school, guarded by a couple of lightly-armed Somalis. Turkish children scampered about, playing hide and seek amongst the papaya trees. They share classes with Somali students, who the teachers say are especially good at computing and languages.

The Turks have paid a price for this more relaxed attitude to security. A few have been killed and injured in attacks by the Islamist group al- Shabab; some have been shot dead in disputes over money and other issues.

The next day, I managed with some difficulty to get into the airport compound, this time to meet the United Nations, based in a sterile, grey complex of containers.

Somewhat to my embarrassment, I didn't have a pen. The UN lady kindly lent me a pencil. I forgot to give it back, and later on I gave it to a Somali friend.

Wielding the pencil, he rushed off to his friends shouting, "Look. This is all the UN has to offer us, after more than 20 years and billions of dollars. In just three years, the Turks have helped transform our man-made earthquake of Mogadishu into a semi-functioning city."

Of course, it's not as simple as that. The UN and others are paying for African Union soldiers who are helping make Somalia a safer place. The Turks have gone for highly visible projects.

But as I sat eating the cube of Turkish delight offered to me by the sleek stewardess on my homeward Turkish Airlines flight, I couldn't help wondering whether the rest of the world could learn something from what the Turks are doing in the broken city of Mogadishu.

The singing sailor of Oman



Teenagers were dreaming of fame and fortune as a musician long before the advent of downloads, CDs or even vinyl. The Singing Sailor of Oman is one young man whose dream came true, writes Matthew Teller, as his fusion of Arabic and Indian musical styles became a hit - on shellac - in the 1930s.

Music has followed trade routes to and fro across the Indian Ocean for centuries, but the birth of the recording industry hugely accelerated the process of cultural exchange. The story of Salim Rashid Suri illustrates how the gramophone helped bring different musical worlds together.

While still in his teens, in the 1920s, this restless soul began to roam, working on trading ships that plied from his home town of Sur, an old Omani slaving port, along the Gulf to Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq - and further afield, to East Africa, Yemen and India.

On board he would have heard unfamiliar accents and stories, and doubtless joined in with the rhythmic sea shanties that helped pass a long voyage.

He quickly found a talent for song, starting with maidan - an Omani form of sung poetry - then picking up more complex sowt (Arabic for "voice") from early gramophone recordings made in Baghdad by popular singer Abdullatif al-Kuwaiti.

But his desire to pursue a musical career, his skill on the oud (lute) and his growing fame as The Singing Sailor enraged Salim Rashid's conservative-minded family. His brother even threatened him with a gun.

So, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, he left Oman to settle in Bombay. There he worked as a trade broker - and deepened his musical reputation.

One of his most famous recordings, Bi Allah faasaalooha, dates from this period. It is notable for mixing the Arabic oud with strong Bombay influence in the clarinet - adopted from British military bands - and tabla drum.

Once established in his new home, Salim Rashid recorded a unique form of Indian-influenced sowt, adding "Suri" to his name, to highlight his Arab origins in Sur.

His discs sold predictably well among Bombay's Arabs, but his canny insertion of lyrics in Urdu also appealed to the much larger Indian market, guaranteeing commercial success.

Suri and his Indian wife left Bombay in the late 1940s for Bahrain, where he set up his own record label and recorded with dozens of musicians, including his teenage inspiration, Abdullatif al-Kuwaiti.

He died in the town of his birth, Sur, in 1979, a cultural ambassador for Oman, enjoying regular TV appearances and a solid-gold reputation as a leading exponent of the Sowt al-Khaleej ("Voice of the Gulf") genre.

Here are five more tracks newly digitised from original shellac discs that exemplify the diversity of Gulf musical styles in the recording industry's earliest days. The restrictions of the 10-inch, 78rpm format - which could only hold around three minutes of music - means that songs often ended abruptly, to continue on the other side of the disc.

Jala Bel Kas, (Abdullatif Al-Kuwaiti)

One of Salim Rashid Suri's musical idols, Abdullatif al-Kuwaiti recorded for the German Odeon label in 1928 and 1929 in Baghdad and Cairo, including this stately example of sowt, which also features the brothers Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti (no relation to Abdullatif) on the oud and mirwas hand-drum respectively.

Al-Jawqa Al-Iraqi Ya Yousef Al-Hasan (Muhammad Al-Qubanchi)

A gloriously poised example of Iraqi maqam - a melodic improvisation on traditional Arabic musical scales - recorded in 1932 and showcasing al-Qubanchi's resonant vibrato croon.

Youahidouni la khanani (Sett Salima Pasha)

Iraq's most famous singer in the mid-20th Century, Salima Murad - who took the honorific prefix Sett ("Lady") and suffix Pasha (a Turkish title of respect) - here performs in the Iraqi pesta style, a short vocal piece sung after a maqam improvisation. She is accompanied by violin, hand-drum and either qanun (plucked zither) or santur (hammered dulcimer).

Ma Ba Shirka Budi (Khamis Makaddeit)

A strikingly evocative example of leywa, an African musical genre heard in towns all round the Indian Ocean, most likely originating from the slave trade. This track, recorded in Bahrain in the 1950s, features ululation and the distinctive whine of the double-reeded surnay, similar to an oboe, over a loping 6/8 drum beat.

Siqani Asal (Sanad bin Ahmad)

This very unusual a cappella maritime work song, recorded in Bahrain, features Sanad bin Ahmad, a nahham or traditional singer employed on a pearl-diving ship. Bin Ahmad's voice rises urgently above a grinding, buzzing drone, produced by a chorus of sailors growling in their throats.

Find out more

  • Ethnomusicologist and British Library curator Rolf Killius contributed original research for this article - click here for his extended essay on Salim Rashid Suri, with links to more songs
  • The Qatar Digital Library's Soundcloud page features an extensive archive of early recordings taken from 78rpm shellac discs
  • The Qatar Digital Library YouTube channel has contemporary performances of traditional music genres, including sowt

Round the Bend is a series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library. You can explore the archive yourself.

Introduction to Cross Media Mapping
Manifesto on Aesthetics

Between Tears and Laughter
Only Yesterday

News Reports
Project Machiavelli

Intelligent Systems
The New Industrial State
The Age of Automation

Trevor Batten

 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2014