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  • Pink Star diamond sets new world record in Hong Kong

      A rare diamond known as the Pink Star has been sold in Hong Kong for more than $71m (£57m), setting a new world record for any gemstone at auction.

    The oval-shaped 59.6 carat stone was bought after just five minutes' bidding at Sotheby's, reports said.

    It is the largest polished diamond in its class to go under the hammer.

    It sold for $83m in Geneva in 2013 but the buyer later defaulted. The record until now was held by the Oppenheimer Blue, which sold for $50m last May.

    Bidding for the gem, which was found by De Beers at a mine in Africa in 1999 and cut over a period of two years, began at $56m.

    Sotheby's said the buyer was Hong Kong jewellery retailer Chow Tai Fook Jewellery.

    Alexander Breckner, head of diamonds at jewellers "77 Diamonds", told the BBC that the stone was exceptional.

    "It's the largest pink diamond ever found in the history of humankind. It's an incredible colour to it.

    "And the sheer size of the stone already makes it so rare and so beautiful."

    The Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionThe Oppenheimer Blue, sold in May 2016, went for $50m


    Previous records set in stone

    May 2016: A large diamond known as the Oppenheimer Blue set a new auction record, reaching a price of $50.6m (£34.7m at the exchange rate then current). The 14.62-carat gem was sold after 20 minutes of phone bidding at Christie's auction house in Geneva. The buyer's identity is unknown.

    November 2015: The Blue Moon, a 12.03-carat ring-mounted blue diamond, caught the eye of Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau, who paid a record $48.4m (£31.7m) for the cushion-shaped stone. He bought it for his seven-year-old daughter, renaming it the "Blue Moon of Josephine" after her.

    May 2015: An unnamed buyer made history after purchasing the Sunrise Ruby, a 25.59-carat "pigeon blood" coloured gemstone, for $30m (£19.1m). At that price, it became the world's most expensive precious stone other than a diamond.

    November 2013: The "largest vivid orange diamond in the world", according to Christie's, attracted the highest price paid per carat for any diamond at auction, selling for $35m (£22m), or $2.4m (£1.5m) per carat.

    November 2010: The Graff Pink, a 24.78-carat "fancy intense pink" stone described as "one of the greatest diamonds ever discovered", auctioned for $46.2m (£29m). At the time it was believed to be the most expensive gemstone bought at auction and was sold to the well-known British dealer Laurence Graff.

    Read more »
  • At least 58 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria, a monitoring group says. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that strikes on Khan Sheikhoun by Syrian governmen

    The St Petersburg metro explosion was caused by a bomb possibly detonated by a man whose body parts were found on the train, Russian investigators say.

    The blast between two metro stations on Monday killed 14 people and injured 49.

    Kyrgyzstan's security service named the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, who was born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995 and had obtained Russian citizenship.

    His name was later confirmed by Russian investigators, who said he also planted a second bomb that did not explode.

    In an earlier statement, the Russian state investigative committee said it had concluded the train bomb may have been detonated by a man whose remains were found in the carriage.

    No group has said it was behind the bombing.

    In other developments:

    • More details have emerged about the train driver hailed a hero (see further in this article)
    • Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the death toll had risen from 11 to 14 after three people died in hospital
    • Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart Erlan Abdyldayev, said the attack "once again shows the importance of stepping up joint efforts to combat this evil"
    • Authorities in St Petersburg have declared three days of mourning.

    Who is suspected bomber?

    What we know so far


    A city on edge: By Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, St Petersburg

    A man lays flowers outside Tekhnologicheskiy Institute metro station to pay tribute to the victims of an explosion in the metro stationImage copyrightEPA

    The metro here is open again, but passengers heading into the stations at the heart of the attack pass a huge pile of flowers. People here at Sennaya Ploshchad have been adding to the shrine all morning, leaving notes and stuffed toys and lighting candles.

    This is a city trying to get back to normal, but there is deep shock at what's happened.

    I spoke to women in tears. One told me she felt she had to bring flowers because this attack was so awful, and her mother was horrified at how random the killing was. "Everyone I know is fine," Irina said. "But it could have been any one of us."

    There were bomb scares on the metro system again this morning, and several stations were closed and cordoned off as security teams moved in. It is another sign that this is a city on edge now.


    World leaders have rallied behind Russia in condemning the blast.

    • The White House said President Donald Trump had spoken to Mr Putin by phone and offered "full support" in bringing those responsible to justice
    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the blast as a "barbaric act"
    • UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she had written to President Putin to offer her condolences. "This shows the terrible terrorist threat that we are all facing," she added.

    Events as they happened

    In pictures: St Petersburg explosion

    Map showing St Petersburg bombs - 4 April 2017

    The blast occurred on Monday afternoon after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad station.

    Senior investigator Svetlana Petrenko told Russian media the train driver's decision to continue to the next station, Tekhnologichesky Institut, had almost certainly helped save lives, as it allowed people to be rescued quickly.

    Train driver Alexander Kaverin told reporters: "I just followed the procedure. You will know that this isn't the first terrorist act that we've had, there've been explosions before, so smart people came up with smart procedures.

    "And these procedures say that in this situation I had to take the train to the nearest station. This is what I did. The train kept moving. There was a bang and lots of dust, but the train kept on moving."

    The discovery of an explosive device at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya, on Monday also suggested a co-ordinated attack.

    Both Mr Kaverin and another employee who found the unexploded bomb would be rewarded for their actions, metro officials said.


    Shifting tactics: By Abdujalil Abdurasulov, BBC Russia and Central Asia analyst

    An injured person stands outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station following explosions in St. PetersburgImage copyrightEPA

    Several thousand fighters from Central Asia have joined militants in Syria and Iraq. Some are recruited from among migrant workers in Russia, who may be vulnerable to propaganda because of the injustice and abuse they face.

    As part of shifting tactics, militants reportedly appeal to new recruits to support the "cause" at "home" as an alternative to joining the battlefront in Syria or Iraq.

    The birthplace of the suspected bomber is reported to be Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Although this city is in the Fergana valley, where the role of Islam is particularly strong, it should not be perceived as a source of a growing "Islamic threat".

    Islam in Central Asia is far more secular than in most parts of the Muslim world. Although the influence of the religion is certainly increasing, this is often mistakenly seen as a sign of the growing threat of violent radicalism, which effectively puts an equals sign between Islam and danger.

    The reasons why Central Asians support violent Islamist groups are mainly rooted in social and economic insecurities. Religion may not be necessarily a major one.

    Per capita, more fighters have gone from some European countries, such as Belgium, to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq. And Belgium's Muslim population is far smaller.

    Read more »
  • St Petersburg metro explosion kills several

    About 10 people have been killed in an explosion between two underground stations in St Petersburg.

    The head of Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit the train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

    The committee said an explosive device was later found and made safe at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

    President Vladimir Putin said all causes, including terrorism, were being investigated.

    Initial reports suggested there had been two explosions, one at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

    A spokesman for St Petersburg's governor said at least 10 people had been killed and 50 injured. But minutes later, Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the death toll was nine, with 20 hurt.

    Andrei Przhezdomsky, the head of the committee, said the explosion at 14:40 local time (12:40 BST) was caused by "an unidentified explosive device" but that the exact cause had yet to be determined.

     
     

    Media captionEmergency services tend to the wounded outside a St Petersburg metro stationMap showing location of St Petersburg blast - 3 April 2017

    President Putin was in St Petersburg earlier on Monday but is now outside the city, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

    "I have already spoken to the head of our special services, they are working to ascertain the cause," he said, at a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

    In pictures: St Petersburg metro explosion

    The entire St Petersburg underground network has now been shut down, and Moscow metro officials said they were introducing extra security measures as a result.

    An iniured person walks outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station, following explosions in two train carriages at metro stations in St Petersburg, Russia April 3, 2017Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe entire metro network has now been shut downEmergency vehicles and a helicopter are seen at the entrance to Tekhnologichesky Institut metro station in Saint Petersburg on April 3, 2017Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGESImage captionA helicopter landed on the street to transfer the injured to hospital

    St Petersburg's metro system is the 19th busiest in the world, with more than two million passengers every day. It has not suffered attacks before.

    However, several transport hubs in Russia have been attacked. In 2010 at least 38 people died in a double suicide bombing on the Moscow metro.

    In 2009, a bomb exploded on a high speed train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, killing 27 and injuring another 130.

    Both attacks were claimed by Islamist groups.

    Read more »
  • UK will 'stand up for Gibraltar' in Brexit row with Spain, says Boris Johnson

     

    Spain has contested the UK's rule over the Rock for more than three centuries Getty

    Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the UK will stand up for Gibraltar, in the wake of what the territory called "unacceptable" lobbying from Spain over Gibraltar’s future as part of the Brexit negotiations.

    On Friday, documents published by the European Council showed that decisions affecting Gibraltar would be referred to the Spanish government. The small territory in southern Spain voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK in a referendum in 2002. In last year’s EU referendum, 97 per cent of its citizens voted Remain.

    Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo said Spain’s lobbying for its interests over Gibraltar was "unacceptable.”

    Boris Johnson revealed he had held talks with Mr Picardo to make clear the UK would continue to support its wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.

    Mr Johnson said: "As ever, the UK remains implacable and rock-like in our support for Gibraltar."

    Clare Moody, Labour MEP for Gibraltar and South West England, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme it was the Government's job to "represent the people of Gibraltar".

    She said: "I was amazed that they failed to do that in the letter they sent on Wednesday.

    "It worries me that we are about to enter into the most detailed negotiations that we have known for decades.

    "If the Government has overlooked the interests of Gibraltar, which is a crucial part of the kind of constitutional arrangements of our membership of the European Union, then what else are they going to overlook as well?"

    Christian Hernandez, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, said the British Government needed to "stand firm in the face of Spanish bullying".

    "We don't want to be independent from the UK. We've made it very clear in the last 100 years, in the last 20 years, in the last 15 years, we want a constitutional relationship with the UK, where we continue to be part of the UK and independence is not something we aspire to," he added.

    Spain has long contested Britain's 300-year rule of Gibraltar.

    In its draft Brexit negotiating guidelines, the European Council identified future arrangements for Gibraltar as one of its 26 core principles.

    It wrote: "After the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between Spain and the UK."

    But all 27 remaining EU countries are able to veto the UK’s deal, so it is not clear what this means in practical terms

     

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  • A change in diat may have helped our braines get so big

    Many anthropologists think that living in large social groups drove the evolution of bigger brains, but new findings call that into questio.                                                                             

    There are bones hidden away in almost every cupboard in many of the rooms of New York University's primatology department, and James Higham is keen to explain to me what they can tell us about an important part of our evolution: why we have such big, heavy brains.

    He shows me hordes of lemur skulls, as well as casts of our extinct relatives.

    Of particular interest to him are the sizes of their braincases. After studying this feature in primates including monkeys, lemurs and humans, he and his colleagues have presented an intriguing new idea as to why our brains are so large.

     

    Orangutans live in very small groups (Credit: Mervyn Rees/Alamy)

    Orangutans live in very small groups (Credit: Mervyn Rees/Alamy)

     

     

    The reason why some primates have bigger brains than others is often said to be their social behaviour. That is, primates that move around in bigger and more complex social groups require bigger brains in order to efficiently manage all of those social relations.

    The new analysis found that diet – not social group size – was the key factor linked to brain size

    This theory has been around for over two decades, and is called "the social brain hypothesis".

    Following a large-scale analysis of primates, Higham and his colleague Alex DeCasien are confident that the social brain theory does not tell the whole story. 

    Rather, brain size is more accurately predicted by primates' diet, according to their new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

    To come to this conclusion, the team, led by DeCasien, put together a dataset of 140 primate species, including animals like the aye-aye and several species of gibbon. This allowed them to study the relationship between the size of primate brains and several social factors, such as group size and social structure.

     

    Skulls (Credit: Megan Petersdorf)

    Skulls of an adult male lemur, vervet monkey, gibbon, baboon, chimpanzee, and human (Credit: Megan Petersdorf)

     

     

    They tell me that this is the first time such a large dataset has been used to explore the idea. When the social brain hypothesis was formulated, it did not consider primates like orangutans, which have large brains despite often living solitary lives.

    The new analysis found that diet – not social group size – was the key factor linked to brain size.

    That is not to say that social group size plays no role in the evolution of large brains

    It has long been known that fruit-eating primates (frugivores) tend to have bigger brains than leaf-eating primates (folivores), says Higham.

    This might be because there are benefits to eating fruit. It has a higher nutritional value and is far easier to digest than leaves.

    However, it is also a more demanding diet in some ways. For instance, fruit is more patchily distributed in both space and time, which makes the task of finding food more complex, says Higham.

    That is not to say that social group size plays no role in the evolution of large brains, say the authors.

     

    Skulls of an adult male spider monkey and a howler monkey (Credit: Megan Petersdorf)

    Skulls of an adult male spider monkey and a howler monkey (Credit: Megan Petersdorf)

     

    Because fruit can be less abundant than leaves, frugivores often travel across larger ranges. They tend to form larger social groups for those long journeys. 

    All of these things are co-evolving

    "If there's another group in that fruit tree, what determines which group ends up holding the fruit is usually just about group size," says Higham.

    In other words, the larger the group, the easier it will be to "push the smaller group out" when competing for food.

    "All of these things are co-evolving, but the main problem with the social brain hypothesis is that it's explicitly saying that this one force is contributing more than another force," says DeCasien.

    "If you want to break it down like that, our study shows that it's the opposite force [diet] that is contributing more," she adds.

    DeCasien and Higham are aware that their findings will have their critics.

     

    The new study says brain size is better predicted by diet than social complexity

    The new study says brain size is better predicted by diet than social complexity (Credit: Dr. James Higham)

     

    I put their conclusions to the researcher behind the social brain hypothesis, Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford in the UK. He contests the findings.

    First, Dunbar says that it is not overall brain size that is the important factor. Instead, it is the size of a particular part of the brain called the neocortex, which plays an important role in cognition, spatial reasoning and language.

    "There is an important distinction between neocortex volume and brain volume," says Dunbar. "The original social brain analyses showed that social group size does not correlate especially well (if at all) with total brain size, but only with neocortex size… That would be difficult to reconcile with their claim."

    Second, Dunbar points out that social group size and diet need not be two alternative explanations of brain evolution.

    "Both are necessarily true," he says. In line with DeCasien and Higham, Dunbar thinks these features must be connected at a deep level. "You cannot evolve a large brain to handle anything, social or otherwise, unless you change your diet to allow greater nutrient acquisition, so as to grow a larger brain," he says. 

    However, Dunbar still maintains that social group size, not diet, is the key driving force.

    Read more »
  • Venezuela: Supreme court backtracks on powers bid

    The Venezuelan supreme court has reversed its ruling to strip congress of its legislative powers.

    It made the decision after the government of President Nicolas Maduro urged it to review the ruling "to maintain institutional stability".

    The initial decision - announced on Wednesday - had been denounced as a "coup" by the opposition, which dominates the National Assembly.

    Anti-government protesters have staged daily protests against the move.

    The supreme court announced the reversal on its website.

    A day earlier, chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an ally of President Nicolas Maduro, became the first high-ranking official to criticise the judges.

    Speaking live on TV, she expressed "great concern" about a measure which, she said, violated the constitution.

    An opposition supporter holding a placard that reads, Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe opposition says Mr Maduro is turning Venezuela into a dictatorship

    Promising dialogue to end the crisis, Mr Maduro had convened a late-night meeting of the state security council.

    Afterwards Vice-President Tareck El Aissami said: "We urge the supreme court to review the decisions... in order to maintain institutional stability and the balance of powers."

    Mr Maduro said: "This controversy has been overcome, showing the power of dialogue."

    How did the dispute start?

    In its original ruling, the supreme court had annulled the powers of the assembly, allowing the judges to write laws.

    The court had accused lawmakers of "contempt" after allegations of irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections.

    The court has backed the leftist president in his ongoing struggles with the legislature. On Tuesday it removed parliamentary immunity from the assembly's members.

    There has been widespread international condemnation, with the Organisation of American States talking of the "final blow to democracy" in Venezuela.

    Why is Venezuela in crisis?

    Tensions have been high because the country has been engulfed in a severe economic crisis.

    It has the world's highest inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach 1,660% next year. Long queues, power cuts and shortages of basic goods are common.

    The president attends a rally held by his followers against 'imperialism' on March 9thImage copyrightEPAImage captionMr Maduro blames the difficulties on an "economic war" waged by his rivals

    The government and opposition blame each other for the country's problems, made worse by the falling price of oil, Venezuela's main export product.

    President Maduro has become increasingly unpopular and the opposition has called for his removal

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  • A 24-YEAR-OLD NIGERIAN PHYSICS STUDENT BUILDS A WORKING HELICOPTER FROM OLD CAR AND BIKE PARTS

    FLYING HIGH: Mubarak Muhammad Abdullahi

    A 24-YEAR-OLD physics student from Nigeria has built a working helicopter out of old car and bike parts.

    Mubarak Muhammed Abdullahi spent eight months building the model, using the money he makes from repairing cellphones and computers.

    While some of the parts have been sourced from a crashed 747, the chopper contains parts from cars and bikes.

     

    The 12-meter-long aircraft, which has never flown above a height of seven feet, is powered by a secondhand 133 horsepower engine from a Honda Civic.

     

    In the basic cockpit there are two Toyota car seats, with a couple more in the cabin behind.

    Controls contain an ignition button, an accelerator lever to control vertical thrust and a joystick that provides balance and bearing.

    A camera beneath the chopper connected to a small screen on the dash gives the pilot ground vision, and he communicates via a small transmitter.

    img_1675

     

    Mubarak says he learned the basics of helicopter flying through the internet after he decided it would be easier to build a chopper than a car. Flying his creation is easy, he claims. “You start it, allow it to run for a minute or two and you then shift the accelerator forward and the propeller on top begins to spin,” he explains. “The further you shift the accelerator the faster it goes and once you reach 300 rpm you press the joystick and it takes off.”

     

    Undeterred that his home-made transporter, which lives in a hangar on campus, lacks the gear to measure atmospheric pressure, altitude and humidity, Mubarak is working on a new machine which “will be a radical improvement on the first one in terms of sophistication and aesthetics”.

    A two-seater with the ability to fly at 15 feet for three hours at a time, Mubarak’s new creation will be powered by a brand-new motor straight from Taiwan, normally found in motorbikes.

    Read more »
  • Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

    Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

    The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as "Geulat Zion", near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

    It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

    Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

    It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to "hold back" on settlement construction.

    The Israeli authorities approved thousands of new homes in existing settlements after Mr Trump took office in January.

    What are settlements?

    More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

    Israeli policemen remove a pro-settlement activist from a house during an operation to evict settlers from the unauthorised outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank (1 February 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe unauthorised settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated in early February

    There are also 97 settler outposts - built without official authorisation from the Israeli government - across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

    However, the largest, Amona, was evacuated by police at the start of February after the Supreme Court ordered that it be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land.

    Why is a new settlement being established?

    As Israeli police cleared the last homes in Amona, Mr Netanyahu promised to establish a new settlement for the families who were being evicted.

    On Thursday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously approved a plan to build one on a hilltop just east of the existing settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.

    West Bank settlements map

    It also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as "public land" in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.

    While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

    What has been the reaction?

    Palestinian officials swiftly condemned the move.

    Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

    A Palestinian argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest to mark Image copyrightEPAImage captionSettlements take up land the Palestinians want as part of their future state

    "Israel's relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with 'Greater Israel' should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures," she added.

    A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "took notice with disappointment and alarm" of Israel's decision.

    "The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution," he said.

    The Yesha Council, the leading organisation representing Jewish settlers, cautiously welcomed the security cabinet's decision, saying the "true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar".

    What has the Trump administration said?

    An unnamed White House official sought to play down Israel's announcement, telling the Associated Press that "while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace".

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's international negotiations envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (14 March 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionDonald Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says he is interested in trying to broker a peace deal

    "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this," the official added.

    At a summit in Jordan on Wednesday, Mr Trump's special representative for international negotiations discussed with Arab leaders how progress could be made towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Jason Greenblatt told them the president believed a peace deal was "not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world".

    Read more »
  • Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

    Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

    The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as "Geulat Zion", near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

    It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

    Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

    It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to "hold back" on settlement construction.

    The Israeli authorities approved thousands of new homes in existing settlements after Mr Trump took office in January.

    What are settlements?

    More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

    Israeli policemen remove a pro-settlement activist from a house during an operation to evict settlers from the unauthorised outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank (1 February 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe unauthorised settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated in early February

    There are also 97 settler outposts - built without official authorisation from the Israeli government - across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

    However, the largest, Amona, was evacuated by police at the start of February after the Supreme Court ordered that it be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land.

    Why is a new settlement being established?

    As Israeli police cleared the last homes in Amona, Mr Netanyahu promised to establish a new settlement for the families who were being evicted.

    On Thursday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously approved a plan to build one on a hilltop just east of the existing settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.

    West Bank settlements map

    It also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as "public land" in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.

    While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

    What has been the reaction?

    Palestinian officials swiftly condemned the move.

    Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

    A Palestinian argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest to mark Image copyrightEPAImage captionSettlements take up land the Palestinians want as part of their future state

    "Israel's relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with 'Greater Israel' should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures," she added.

    A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "took notice with disappointment and alarm" of Israel's decision.

    "The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution," he said.

    The Yesha Council, the leading organisation representing Jewish settlers, cautiously welcomed the security cabinet's decision, saying the "true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar".

    What has the Trump administration said?

    An unnamed White House official sought to play down Israel's announcement, telling the Associated Press that "while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace".

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's international negotiations envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (14 March 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionDonald Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says he is interested in trying to broker a peace deal

    "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this," the official added.

    At a summit in Jordan on Wednesday, Mr Trump's special representative for international negotiations discussed with Arab leaders how progress could be made towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Jason Greenblatt told them the president believed a peace deal was "not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world".

    Read more »
  • Faces of Africa 11/27/2016 Haile Selassie: The pillar of a modern Ethiopia part 2

     

     

     

    Upon his return to Ethiopia from exile in Britain in 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie managed to get his ruler-ship back. His core goal for the country was to propel it into modernization. The Emperor built two Institutions; one high school and a university, Haile Selassie University now known as Addis Ababa University.

     

    Emperor Haile Selassie salutes the entertainers.

    To ensure excellence in the education sector, he appointed himself the Minister of Education and he served in the position for twenty years. Through this he was able to replace foreigners with educated locals in different positions. “He made education his priority.

    For many years he could not trust anybody else. He himself was the Minister of Education. He used to come to school. He was our father, bringing fruits and all,” Kassan Eskinder – former Ethiopian Airlines Executive.

    The Emperor’s dream of educating young achievers helped propel Ethiopia to what it is today. Today the country boosts of hundreds of schools and over a hundred and fifty colleges. “He educated all of us, to bring us to this level unless,” tells the Emperor’s grandson-in- law – Prince Mengesha Seyoum.

    In order to spread his dream of modern education to other African states he invited two hundred African students to study at Haile Selassie University in 1958. He also engaged leaders in different countries. In his vision, this was the beginning of his Pan –Africanism efforts. But he made sure Ethiopia retained its role in the continent.

    He not only wanted Ethiopia to stand out in the African continent, but also in the world platform. To ensure this, he invited European diplomats, scholars and tourists to Ethiopia. Through the Ethiopian Airlines that he founded, he thought of creating world trade relations with the visiting groups but his foremost aspiration was to ensure they respected Ethiopia.

     

     The Emperor with other African leaders, like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. The Emperor encouraged the leaders towards the formation of Organization of African Union (O.A.U) today known as African Union (A.U.)

     To achieve this, he started using his excelled students. He sent them out to represent the country. One such student was Habteselassie Tafesse – former Director of Ethiopian Tourism. The Emperor sent him to Germany on Ethiopian Airlines. That was the first flight there. Upon his return he came with some ideas on tourism.

    “That was the first inaugural fight to Frankfurt,” recalls Tafesse. That was a big deal and the Emperor instructed him to get a tourism operation going. “The Emperor called me, he said: ‘You have to do this job’ I said: Your Majesty, I know nothing about this job. He told me ‘Try!’ It was like an order, camouflaged order, so I said ok,” recalls Tafesse with a chuckle.

    To have a personal touch with the tourists, he invited them to his magnificent palace, which up to date is a major tourist attraction in Ethiopia. Since then, the tourism industry in Ethiopia has been booming.  

    The other area that the Emperor invested in was in the theatres. He realized that the whites had dominated the theatres and since they did not know Amharic language, the local themes were therefore not represented. 

     

    Theatre actors. The Emperor was fond of theatre acting and he supported many young Ethiopians.

    He therefore instructed some of the students to study arts. One such student was Tesfaye Gessesse – actor, author and theatre manager. “He asked me what my plans were; I said I am going to study law. He asked the minister beside him, ‘how many students are going to study law?’ I think he answered twelve. He said ‘oh, twelve! That’s quite a lot. He said ‘why don’t you go and study theatre?’ I graciously accepted it and I don’t regret it at all. I’m very happy with the profession,” tells Gessesse.

    The Emperor committed so much time to the Organization of Africa Union (O.A.U) now known as the African Union (A.U) that he missed the changing tides in his country.

     

    The Emperor with his wife Queen Menen.

     In 1974 Marxist Derg led by the Mengistu Haile Mariam staged a coup against the Emperor and his statesmen. The revolutionaries abolished the monarchy and detained the Emperor. The Imperial family who were still in Ethiopia at the time were imprisoned until their release in 1988 and 1989. In 1975 Emperor Haile Selassie died.

     

     Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. He was the last Emperor. He died in 1975

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