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Indonesia tsunami hits Sunda Strait after Krakatoa eruption

Anak Krakatoa eruption. Photo: 22 December 2018 Image copyright Oystein Lund Andersen
Image caption This image of Anak Krakatoa erupting was taken by Oystein Lund Andersen on Saturday

At least 168 people have been killed and 745 injured after a tsunami hit the coast on Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, government officials say.

The country’s disaster management agency says hundreds of buildings were damaged by Saturday’s tsunami.

It says the possible cause of the tsunami was undersea landslides after the Anak Krakatoa volcano erupted.

The strait, between the islands of Java and Sumatra, connects the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean.

What is the latest?

The disaster management agency has warned people to stay away from the coastline due to fears of another tsunami.

Saturday’s tsunami struck at about 21:30 local time (14:30GMT), and the death toll is likely to rise further, officials say.

Deaths have been reported in the Pandeglang, Lampung and Serang regions.

The BBC’s Rebecca Henschke in Indonesia said there were reports that the death toll in Lampung province alone could be in the hundreds.

  • Follow the latest updates

Among the areas hit was the popular Tanjung Lesung beach resort in west Java. There was no warning of the advancing wave.

Image copyright BNPB
Image caption Images released by Indonesia’s disaster management agency showed devastation in Anyer
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Houses along Anyer Beach were devastated

Footage shared on social media showed a large wave crashing into a tent in the resort, in which a popular Indonesian rock band, Seventeen, was performing. Members of the band were seen being swept away as the wave destroyed the stage.

In an Instagram video, singer Riefian Fajarsyah, said the band’s bassist and road manager had died, and that three other band members and his own wife were missing.

The country’s Red Cross said it was on the scene and searching for victims in the rubble of one collapsed building.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, national spokesman at Indonesia’s disaster agency, tweeted footage of the damage in Lampung.

‘There were two waves’

Oystein Lund Andersen, Norwegian volcano photographer, Anyer Beach in West Java

I was on the beach. I was alone, my family were sleeping in a room.

I was trying to photograph the erupting Krakatoa volcano.

Earlier in the evening, there was quite heavy eruption activity. But just prior to the waves hitting the beach, there was no activity at all. It was just dark out there.

And suddenly I saw this wave coming, and I had to run.

There were two waves. The first wave wasn’t that strong – I could run from it.

Image copyright Oystein Lund Andersen
Image caption Flooded streets in Anyer after the tsunami

I ran straight to the hotel, where my wife and my son were sleeping.

And I woke them up… and I heard a bigger wave coming. I looked out of the window when the second wave hit. It was much bigger.

The wave passed the hotel. Cars were pushed off the road.

We and other people at the hotel went straight to the forest (on higher ground) next to the hotel. And we’re still up on the hill now.

– Oystein Lund Andersen was speaking to BBC World News television

What might have caused the tsunami?

Emergency officials are investigating whether the tsunami was caused by Anak Krakatoa, a volcanic island in the Sunda Strait.

  • The child who came back from the dead after tsunami

Volcanologist Jess Phoenix told the BBC that when volcanoes erupt, hot magma pushes underground and can displace and break through colder rock. This can trigger a landslide.

But because part of Krakatoa is underwater, she said “instead of just causing a landslide, you get an undersea landslide which pushes water as it moves.” This can then cause a tsunami.

The Anak Krakatoa volcano has seen increased activity in recent months.

Indonesia’s geologic agency said that the volcano erupted for two minutes and 12 seconds on Friday, creating an ash cloud that rose 400 metres (1,300ft) above the mountain.

It recommended that no-one be allowed within two kilometres of the crater.

Image copyright Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentin
Image caption A satellite image of Anak Krakatoa erupting in August

The disaster management agency said that high seas as a result of the full moon may also have contributed to the strength of the waves.

Were people warned?

The disaster agency spokesman, Mr Nugroho, initially said the wave was not a tsunami, but a tidal surge, and told the public not to panic.

He later apologised for the mistake, saying there had been confusion because there was no earthquake.

Meanwhile, earlier on Sunday, a tsunami warning went off by mistake, causing widespread panic.

“A tsunami siren in Labuhan Bay in Pandeglang regency started ringing all of a sudden, without any activation from the authorities,” Mr Nugroho said.

“There was possibly a technical error that made the sirens ring. Lots of people ran to save themselves… tsunami shelters are now packed.”

How common are tsunamis in Indonesia?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some residents in the Pandeglang region ran to a local mosque after the tsunami hit

Indonesia is prone to tsunamis because it lies on the Ring of Fire – the line of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific rim.

In September, more than 2,000 people died when a powerful earthquake struck just off the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, setting off a tsunami that engulfed the coastal city of Palu.

  • A town smashed to pulp in minutes
  • Indian Ocean tsunami: Then and now

On 26 December 2004, a series of huge waves triggered by a powerful earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed about 228,000 people in 14 countries, mostly in Indonesia.

However, tsunamis caused by volcanic activity like this are less frequent.

Krakatoa (Krakatau in Indonesian)

Image copyright Oystein Lund Andersen

In August 1883, it underwent one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in recorded history:

  • Massive tsunamis with waves up to 135ft (41m) killed more than 30,000 people
  • Thousands more were killed by hot ash
  • The eruptions were equivalent to 200 megatons of TNT – about 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945
  • The eruptions were heard thousands of kilometres away
  • World temperatures dropped by more than 1C the following year
  • The volcanic island virtually disappeared

In 1927, a new island, Anak Krakatoa (Child of Krakatoa) emerged.


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Homelessness: Thousands sleeping rough in cars, Crisis says

Homeless person with sign saying 'Homeless, £1 towards a hostel Thank you' Image copyright Getty Images

Homelessness in the UK is at a record high with 170,000 families and individuals experiencing destitution, the charity Crisis has said.

For every one person sleeping rough on the street, there is another living in a car or a tent, figures suggest.

Publishing the new research on Sunday, Crisis insisted the underlying causes of homelessness could only be tackled by changes in government policy.

The government said it is investing £1.2bn to alleviate the problem.

The new research on homelessness, carried out for Crisis by researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, suggested:

  • Homelessness increased every year between 2012 and 2017
  • 38,000 under-25s and 4,200 over-65s are estimated to be homeless
  • 170,800 households are experiencing the most extreme forms of homelessness, compared to 151,600 in 2012. This includes people who are sofa-surfing, living in hostels and rough sleeping
  • 12,300 people are sleeping rough and a similar number of people (12,000) are living in cars, tents or public transport – double the amount compared to 2012

Crisis released the statistics as it prepares to open up its Christmas centres for homeless people.

Image copyright Getty Images

Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, said: “This new research echoes what we see every day in our frontline work – that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ homeless person, and that this crisis is affecting people who range from young care-leavers to pensioners.

“And, while rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, for every person on our streets there are another twelve families or individuals experiencing other terrible situations like sofa-surfing and living in cramped B&Bs.”

It comes after the number of deaths of homeless people were published for the first time ever earlier this week. The Office for National Statistics found almost 600 homeless people died in England and Wales last year.

The average age of death was 44 for homeless men and 42 for homeless women, compared with 76 for men and 81 for women among the rest of the population

Crisis blames the problem on a shortage of social housing, housing benefits which do not cover private rents and a lack of homeless prevention schemes for people leaving care. It wants the government to make policy changes.

Earlier this week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said if his party were elected, he would repeal the 19th century law which criminalises rough sleeping.

The Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it a crime to beg or sleep rough in Britain.

The party said it was used nearly 3,000 times in 2016 – leaving those convicted with fines of up to £1,000.

The government’s Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “No one is meant to spend their lives on the streets, or without a home to call their own.

“That’s why we are investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness and have bold plans backed by £100m to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.

“And to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, we’ve changed the law to require councils to provide early support for those at risk of being left with nowhere left to go, are boosting access to affordable housing, and making renting more secure.”


What can I do to help?

According to Crisis, members of the public in England and Wales can help a homeless person by calling Streetlink. People in Scotland can call the local council.

The location of the homeless person can be reported and they can be connected with local homelessness services.

Anyone who has immediate concerns about the welfare of a homeless person should call 999, the charity adds.

Read more: How to help homeless people this winter


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Newspaper headlines: Gatwick drone probe and Lord Ashdown death

Sunday Times
Image caption A photo of Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader who died on Saturday evening, makes the front of the Times. The paper’s main story is on its interview with Security Minister Ben Wallace, who warns that terror group al-Qaeda is “resurgent” and looking to launch attacks against airliners and airports. Intelligence suggests that the group – which was behind the 9/11 attacks – is developing ways to bring down passenger planes, he says.
The Observer
Image caption A picture of Lord Ashdown also appears on the front of the Observer. But the paper leads with a politics story about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, after he said he would continue to pursue Brexit if his party won a snap general election in 2019. The paper says Mr Corbyn is facing “a storm of criticism” from Remainers, adding there were the “first signs of a serious internal revolt from party members on the left”.
Sunday People
Image caption Meanwhile, the Sunday People leads with what it calls a “miracle breakthrough” – asthma pills which can also prevent miscarriages. The doctor who has led the latest research believes the common asthma drug aminophylline – which costs £13 a bottle – could save 60,000 unborn children in the UK every year, the paper adds.
Star on Sunday
Image caption The Star’s main story focuses on pop legend George Michael, ahead of the second anniversary of his death on Christmas Day. According to the newspaper, the Wham! star’s grave still has no headstone leaving some fans “outraged” and demanding someone fixes the “disgraceful” situation.
Sunday Telegraph
Image caption Many newspapers lead with the latest on the multiple sightings of a drone at Gatwick Airport, following the news that two people from Crawley are being questioned by police. The Telegraph quotes a Whitehall source who says they are “concerned” about potential “copycat” attacks. The paper says government ministers are “scrambling” to protect other UK airports and on Monday, ministers will meet to discuss the threat.
The Mail
Image caption The Mail on Sunday is one of several papers who have named and pictured the two people who are reportedly in custody in connection with the drone sightings.
Mirror
Image caption According to the Mirror, the pair include a window fitter and his wife.
Sunday Express
Image caption The Sunday Express also leads with the couple who are reportedly being questioned.

There are many tributes to Lord Paddy Ashdown after the former Liberal Democrat leader died aged 77 on Saturday.

For the Sunday Express, he was a true statesman. The Sunday Times describes how he made the Liberal Democrats a formidable force – taking them from obscurity and beginning a revival that led them to the coalition government in 2010.

The Observer reflects on how he styled himself as the “Action Man of politics” and suggests much of the party’s success was down to his “energetic, highly-focused campaigning” in by-elections and in local politics.

His success, argues the paper, was “no mean achievement for a man who was regarded as uncollegiate by many of his colleagues and was a moderate speaker”.

But with “ruthless ambition”, he turned the party into a national movement that earnestly believed it could win a measure of power.

Image caption Lord Ashdown was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday feels that after stepping down from the leadership, he evolved into a grandee figure for the party, commanding a level of respect which his successors could never match.

He was a special forces soldier, an intelligence officer, a diplomat – and a “giant of British politics”, the newspaper says.

In short, it concludes, “they don’t make ’em like Paddy any more”.

Brexit outlook

With fewer than 100 days before Britain leaves the EU, the Observer feels both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are playing alternate versions of brinkmanship.

All anyone can agree, suggests the paper’s political editor Toby Helm, is that nobody agrees on anything.

A report in the Sunday Times claims Theresa May’s allies are plotting so she can hang onto power until the autumn of 2021 when she would hand over power to a new Conservative leader.

But the Sun on Sunday predicts the plan will cause uproar among Eurosceptics, who want her out shortly after the UK leaves the EU at the end of March.

Without any climbdown from the EU, the Telegraph thinks it’s likely her plan will be rejected by the Commons. And in such circumstances, it concludes that no deal is the least bad option.

Meanwhile, the Observer reports Jeremy Corbyn is facing a storm of criticism from Labour activists and MPs after suggesting he would press ahead with Brexit if the party won a snap general election.

The paper says he has also been accused of betraying the party membership by appearing reluctant to back the idea of supporting Remain in another referendum.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Thousands of people were stranded at the airport as police hunted for those flying the drones

The Mail on Sunday – among other newspapers – features photographs of a couple who it says have been questioned by police about the illegal use of drones that have caused massive disruption at Gatwick Airport.

The paper claims that the “three day fiasco” could have been averted in minutes but offers of help from the RAF and Army electronics experts were rejected.

The Observer asks whether the disruption can be prevented elsewhere. The paper suggests the belated military response is a troubling reminder that drones can present a more sinister threat.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, ministers are scrambling to protect Britain against potential “copycat” drone attacks at other transport hubs.

The Mail on Sunday feels last week’s events exposed depressing levels of incompetence within the government, security services and airports – and claimed that our leaders aren’t fit to run a parish council.

According to the paper, a team of military electronic warfare specialists were prevented from bringing the crisis to an end because ministers refused to sanction their deployment.

The Sunday Mirror blames the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, saying his complacent approach has been nothing short of staggering.

Meanwhile, the Sunday People says that the incident begs the question: what other vulnerabilities are out there?

Attempting to provide an answer to a similar question, the Sunday Times carries a warning from the Security Minister Ben Wallace that al-Qaeda is resurgent and seeking to carry out new terrorist atrocities against airliners and airports.

Get news from the BBC in your inbox, each weekday morning

Elsewhere, the ramifications of President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria are examined by the Observer.

The newspaper believes it offers Islamic State militants the chance to regroup and regain the initiative to threaten the west again.

Christina Lamb in the Times wonders what kind of message Mr Trump’s decision sends to Syrian Kurds who have fought the Islamic State group and now find themselves left to the mercy of Turkish troops waiting on the border.

Finally, the Sunday People features the panto star Berwick Kaler, who is retiring after 41 years of being dame at the Theatre Royal in York.

His final performance will be in February after a career which has seen him work alongside stars such as Pierce Brosnan and Gary Oldman. He recalls that when Mr Oldman was Dick Whittington’s cat in 1979 he fainted three times while wearing the cat suit on stage.

And what started as a polite chat on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme quickly turned into a quintessentially British row about the pecking order of the social elite, the Observer says.

The Telegraph reports John Humphrys became involved in a squabble with the programme’s guest editor, David Dimbleby, when he suggested he was “quite posh”.

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Whyte KOs Chisora – then calls out Joshua, who tells him he’s third in line

Whyte boxed patiently under pressure and found a late knockout

British heavyweight Dillian Whyte delivered a brutal 11th-round knockout of Dereck Chisora to maintain hope of facing world champion Anthony Joshua.

In an intense rematch, Chisora brought constant pressure and was up on two of the three cards when he was stopped.

But the 34-year-old – who had been deducted two points – left himself exposed to a crushing left to the jaw.

Afterwards, Whyte called out Joshua, who stepped up to the ring and said Whyte was third on his list of targets.

Addressing Joshua, who beat him in 2015, Whyte said: “Rematch, let’s go. Let’s do this.”

IBF, WBO and WBA champion Joshua has made it clear he hopes to fight WBC title holder Deontay Wilder, with Tyson Fury a second target.

The 29-year-old moved from his commentary position, climbed to the ring ropes and asked fans at London’s O2 Arena if they would be interested in him fighting Whyte, prompting cheers.

“So if the Whyte fight gets made I don’t want to hear any boos,” said Joshua.

“We know how the list goes, who is one and two. If there’s anyone that deserves a shot, if it isn’t them it’s you.”

Chisora chases despite judges’ cards

A left hand from Whyte in the 11th round sent Chisora down heavily

Whyte stormed from the ring as Joshua explained his place in the pecking order. But promoter Eddie Hearn later said a bout between the pair was a case of “when, not if” as he expects Whyte to become a mandatory challenger.

In defeating Chisora, Whyte showed more elements of progress as he boxed patiently against a rival who ploughed forward time and again.

Whyte, 30, seemed more cautious than during their heavy-hitting meeting in 2016 when he shaded a points win after 12 thrilling rounds which left many fans calling for a repeat.

The rematch was again played out at pace, with Whyte picking smart shots under pressure. A hard counter-right in the opening round and a short uppercut in the second caught the eye, while a shot drilled to the body jolted Chisora in eight.

But Chisora landed good work of his own as he closed the distance, with a heavy right hook getting home in the sixth.

He was docked points – for repeated low blows in the eighth and an elbow in the 11th – perhaps tempting him to chase the contest without knowing two ringside judges had him ahead.

In missing with a shot of his own, he was made to pay as Whyte swept a left hook to the jaw, leaving him in need of lengthy attention from his corner with the ninth loss of a 38-fight career sealed.

“I said it wasn’t going the distance,” said Whyte. “I was trying to box disciplined and take my time. I hurt him in the first round and thought ‘you have 12 rounds to do this’. I knew it would come.

“It was 23 rounds of carnage. This is my time now. Joshua is talking rubbish, my career needs to progress. Time is ticking.”

‘I mean my business’ – Joshua

Joshua and Whyte – who fought in 2015 – exchanged words over the ring ropes in London

This was Chisora’s first contest alongside manager David Haye, who shouted instructions from the first row of seats between rounds.

The focused training regime they talked of before the bout appeared evident as Chisora carried the fight to his rival with energy, only to be made to pay for losses of discipline with the deductions and a lapse of focus for a second in the penultimate round.

His boxing future now seems uncertain, while Whyte’s looks positive after his ninth straight win following defeat by Joshua. Few would begrudge him a first shot at a world title, with names such as Joseph Parker, Lucas Browne and Chisora (twice) on his resume.

Much will depend on how negotiations play out for Joshua’s Wembley opponent on 13 April, with Hearn attempting to lure Wilder away from a rematch with Fury following their draw in early December.

Joshua admitted Whyte’s choice to call him “lanky” led him to get up onto the ring, adding: “I’m not annoyed, I’m ready.

“I’m quite respectful but if Dillian steps in the ring with me you better believe me, none of these heavyweights are on my level, and I keep my lid on because I don’t want to explode on none of them.”

Undefeated American Jarrell Miller was also ringside in London and has an outside chance of being Joshua’s next opponent. The heavyweight scene looks like it will prove captivating in 2019.

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Little Mix, Jay-Z and Demi Lovato are a typical part of our day jobs

Romans, Kamille and Ruth=Anne Cunningham Image copyright Nicole Nodland/Getty Images
Image caption Romans, Kamille and Ruth-Anne are three of pop’s biggest songwriters

Imagine your working day involves messaging Little Mix so you can channel the emotion of Perrie and Zayn Malik’s break- up.

Or the most surreal moment in the office involves a conga line with Nicki Minaj and Beyonce while Jay-Z plays the Grease soundtrack off a laptop.

But that’s the life of leading songwriters Sam Romans and Kamille, who help some of the biggest stars in the world create their massive hits.

“Jay-Z was playing Summer Nights. It was a bit weird,” says Sam (known as Romans), who’s signed to the rapper’s Roc Nation company.

Warning: The rest of this article contains strong language

Romans and Kamille got together with Irish singer-songwriter Ruth-Anne Cunningham to share the secrets of their success.

They’re all singers in their own right but they work with some huge acts including:

• Little Mix • Clean Bandit • Elton John • Niall Horan • Jennifer Hudson • One Direction • John Legend • Demi Lovato • Jonas Blue • Alicia Keys • Mary J Blige • Jess Glynne… and many more

‘I was so angry for Perrie’

Image caption Shout Out To My Ex won best single at the Brit Awards

One job of a songwriter is to get into the headspace of the artist they’re writing for and Kamille is essentially the fifth member of Little Mix.

She worked with the band loads, including on their latest album LM5 and is also in a WhatsApp group with the girls.

“Before we get into an album I’ll be asking them what is happening with them. I like to know exactly how they’re feeling,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

As most people imagined, Shout To My Ex was a reaction to Perrie Edwards and Zayn Malik’s break-up.

“I remember being on the piano in Los Angeles and I wrote Shout Out To My Ex for Perrie. I was so angry for her, and how she felt, that it was the only thing I could have written at the time.

“The girls are very much part of everything that I do. When they’re not around, I take their ideas and everything becomes part of their songs.”

No fangirling

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption When Ruth-Anne sang to Jennifer Hudson, the Oscar-winner asked her whether she’d studied Whitney or Mariah

All three say they have to resist the urge to become best mates with the artist they’re working with.

“You have to act chill,” says Kamille. “You can’t be a groupie around these people because the last thing they want is for you to be fangirling.

“You have to transfer their innermost thoughts into an amazing hit.”

Ruth-Anne says working with Jennifer Hudson was scary.

“She asked me to sing the demo the way I would sing it and I felt like I was on The Voice and she was going to give me a critique.”

One of Romans’ biggest moments came when he worked with his idol Elton John.

“That was a strange experience,” he says. “We were there with Clean Bandit.

“Elton’s method is to have a lyricist (usually Bernie Taupin) and he puts the lyrics to music. But for this session we were sat around a piano singing weird melodies.

“For him, it was an alien process. It was interesting seeing someone as legendary as that also feeling slightly uncomfortable.”

Friendships

For Kamille, her working relationship with Little Mix has turned into a true friendship and the band asked her to appear on their track More Than Words.

“It’s one of the reasons I love them,” she says. “I can’t think of any artist that’s featured their writer on a song.”

Likewise, Ruth-Anne has struck up a strong friendship with Niall Horan and he even invited her on stage in Dublin to sing the song they co-wrote together,

An unexpected hit

All three songwriters admit it’s disappointing when a track you get hyped about fails to do the business.

They say it’s far better to have a song that does so much better than you expected it to.

In Ruth-Anne’s case, it was Work Bitch by Britney Spears.

“Anyone who knows me would wonder how I’m a part of that song because I’m so emotional.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ruth-Anne says people still send her memes and videos of people singing the Britney hit

“It was a novelty song that I helped write in about 20 minutes. I didn’t think it would turn into anything and then suddenly I was on a call to Britney.

“It was one of those Frankenstein songs where different parts were put together to create something iconic.”

She also says she never expected Niall Horan’s Slow Hands to be a hit while Kamille says Power by Little Mix was made “off the cuff, last minute and it was probably one of the biggest songs off Glory Days”.

Giving a banger away

One of the most challenging parts of being a songwriter is coming up with a huge hit and then giving it to someone else.

Ruth-Anne reveals JoJo’s Too Little Too Late was originally intended to kick-start her own musical career.

“The song didn’t feel like me,” she says. “I was offered record deals because of it but I always had in my mind that JoJo would sing it.

“I don’t follow fame and I’ve never regretted giving it away.”

Kamille agrees that “songs come to us” and if a song is meant for another artists then “give it away”.

She admits it can sometimes be tough seeing people she’s worked with hit the big time.

“I wanted to be an artist from day one. I used to be a vocal coach on The X Factor and helped other people become artists.

“I used to cry in the toilet as you have to give yourself to these artists and then you have to watch their success.

“But it taught me about patience and it told me about giving. You have to be quite selfless as a writer.

“It’s not about you. You have to be humble and write an amazing song for someone else and let them have their moment.

“That’s an amazing part of who we are as writers. Writers should be celebrated.”

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Prague: The city watching out for Russian and Chinese spies

Prague's famous Charles Bridge is seen in an early morning mist, lending the scene a mysterious ambience Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The first Mission Impossible was set here – but real-life spies flock to Prague too

Czech counter-intelligence has issued stark warnings of intensified espionage activity by Russia and China.

Both countries are pursuing a long-term strategy of undermining the West, according to the Security Information Service (BIS).

While Chinese spies and diplomats pose “an extremely high risk” to Czech citizens, Moscow has continued its hybrid warfare strategy to gain influence over this EU and Nato member, it says.

Prague’s leafy Bubenec district is home to grand villas, diplomatic missions, the Russian embassy, and an excellent Russian-run cafe.

“Thank you,” I said to the waitress, as she laid down a pot of green tea and a slice of lemon tart.

“You’re welcome,” she replied softly, in Russian-accented Czech.

How many spies are here?

I opened the 25-page 2017 BIS Annual Report, and turned to the section on counter-intelligence activity.

“For Czech citizens, the Russian diplomatic corps remains the most significant source of risk of unwitting contact with an intelligence officer of a foreign power,” the report reads.

It highlights an “extensive approach to the use of undeclared intelligence officers using diplomatic cover”.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption More than 120 staff work in the Russian embassy in leafy Bubenec

Russia’s embassy employs 44 accredited diplomats and 77 support staff while another 18 people, including eight diplomats, are employed at Russia’s consulates in Brno and Karlovy Vary.

The exact number of spies using diplomatic cover is known only to Moscow. But privately Czech officials believe it could be as high as 40%. In other words, they think many may be working for Russian intelligence or passing intelligence on to them.

  • Why Vienna is still a hotbed of spies
  • Looking for China’s spies

Around the corner from the cafe is a statue of Marshal Konev, the Russian general who liberated Prague in 1945 and went on to crush the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Marshal Konev’s statue in Prague has been targeted by protesters several times, including last May

A brisk walk takes you through Pushkin Square, then on to Siberia Square and the Russian secondary school. Nearby are the Russian Cultural Centre, the Russian consulate and the Russian embassy – now a major headache for the Czech government.

One diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the supersized Russian diplomatic presence also posed a threat to neighbouring Germany and Austria.

‘What does Russia want from us?’

The disproportionately high number of diplomatic cars registered to the embassy cannot be stopped or examined by police, and can travel easily around Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel area.

“Who knows what they’ve got in the boot?” my source wondered, adding that Prague was now beginning to “push back”, denying new Russian requests for vehicle registration.

“What does Russia want from us? It’s difficult to answer,” said journalist Jaroslav Spurny, who’s been writing about intelligence matters for 30 years.

“Partly it’s influence. They liberated us in 1945. They ‘liberated’ us again in 1968. They still see us as their sphere of influence. So on that level it’s quite primitive,” he explained.

“But we’re also part of the EU and Nato. The Russian intelligence services know very well where the weaknesses are, which countries can be exploited.”

“The Hungarians – well, the relationship with (Prime Minister) Orban isn’t so straightforward. The Poles – relations with them will never be great.”

“But with us Czechs it’s different. They occupied us for 20 years. They know us. They know how things work.”

  • Czechs still shiver from Soviet 1968 invasion
  • Czech PM denies son was kidnapped

Why China is becoming a Czech problem

The BIS report also warns of frenetic Chinese espionage activity, particularly in technology.

A separate alert came this month from the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency of a threat from Chinese IT giant Huawei.

“The Chinese approach is de facto just as hybrid as the Russian one,” said the intelligence agency, adding that Chinese career diplomats and businessmen represented the same risk as intelligence officers.

China, it says, has three aims:

  • using Czech entities to undermine EU unity
  • intelligence activity aimed at important Czech ministries
  • economic and technological spying

The report has led to a major spat between the BIS and Czech President Milos Zeman, who has made overtures to both Moscow and Beijing a centrepiece of his presidency.

How spy report angered Czech president

President Zeman described the BIS as “dilettantes” and the report as “blather”, provoking a rare public rebuke from the agency’s director.

That rebuke was countered by presidential spokesman Jiri Ovcacek, who told the BBC: “It is absolutely unacceptable for the director of the secret services of a Western country to indulge in political point-scoring.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Milos Zeman has frequently stoked controversy in Prague with his outspoken pro-Russian views

Critics accuse the president of deliberately working to undermine his own intelligence services, and insiders claim the BIS is now withholding sensitive information for fear it will be betrayed to the country’s adversaries.

  • The politically incorrect president dividing a nation

A particular problem, they say, are the president’s two closest advisers, who lack security clearance to see classified documents.

One formerly headed the Czech subsidiary of Russian oil giant Lukoil and was a key player in Mr Zeman’s presidential campaign.

The president’s office vigorously denies the claims.

“We certainly don’t want people to assume that every Russian is a potential spy,” said BIS spokesman Ladislav Sticha.

“What we’re saying is this: don’t give sensitive information to people you don’t know. All we’re advocating is common sense.”

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The Christmas card I could never reply to

Christmas card

For years, poet Ian McMillan received a Christmas card from a person he met just once – and he has always regretted being unable to send one back.

This story begins at Jersey airport on a breezy night in autumn and ends with an empty space at the front of a bookshelf at Christmas many years later. This story feels small and inconsequential but the more I tell it, to myself and now to you, the more it seems to mean something. Its meaning shifts in the winter wind and in the passing of time but now, as I get into my 60s, it seems to mean that we should stay in touch with each other, but we should remember that to stay in touch we have to tell people where we are.

It was sometime in the mid-1990s and I’d been recording a radio programme on Jersey and I was waiting at the airport for my flight home. I knew that the plane was about as big as a minibus, and I knew that it was a stormy night, and I was nervous.

I sucked an entire pack of mints as I strolled around, trying to get the wind to drop through the sheer power of my will. A man smiled at me and beckoned me over. He introduced himself as Brian and he’d been in the audience for the recording of the show. And he could see that my face was as white as sweaty flour, so he reassured me with simple stories about all the good flights he’d been on and then, because I was blubberingly grateful for his help, we swapped addresses and I said I’d keep in touch. I followed his reassuring shape up the steps to the cramped seats.

The plane wasn’t as big as a minibus, it was as big as a trilby hat and it danced through the sky with – I hesitate to use the word – abandon. And I glanced across at Brian and he was just as scared as me but he gave me a shaky thumbs-up which I returned.

And then, weeks after our safe landing, for some reason I lost his address and, for some reason, he didn’t lose mine.

And the Christmas cards started to arrive – always a simple design, always with spidery writing and for the first few years they said, “From Brian, we met in Jersey,” and then they simply said, “From Brian.”

Each year, Brian’s was one of the first cards to arrive and each year I gazed at the back of the envelope to see if he’d left his address. But he hadn’t, so each year he sent his card into the void and never got an echo back. Every year, though, I remembered the airport and the plane and the words he spoke and his soft voice that helped me into the air.

I think we all get Christmas cards like this – from people who aren’t relatives, and they’re not friends and, if you look hard enough, they’re not really acquaintances. They’re people you brushed against briefly once, either literally or metaphorically.

Who was, or is, “Kathleen”? Can you really recall “Mrs Dibb”? “Dennis and Family with Best Wishes” – well, best wishes to you, Dennis, but who are you?


Find out more

  • From Our Home Correspondent has insight and analysis from BBC journalists, correspondents and writers across the UK on life in Britain
  • Ian McMillan’s story will be broadcast at 13:30 on 23 December and at 23:30 on 25 December 2018 on BBC Radio 4, or listen on iPlayer

And yet, and yet, those people you never see from one decade to the next are there, sitting beside you on the settee when you get their card and they get yours. “Harry and Lizzie Webb.” “Dave from Hull.” “John Morris” – reminders of shared pasts and promises to meet up.

Brian’s card always stood on the bookshelf in front of my collections of translated poems. I like reading poems in translation and they always seem to have glamour and mystery in the same way that, over the years, Brian acquired glamour and mystery, translated as he was from a past glimpsed momentarily, like the sea from that plane from Jersey.

Each year I noted that the card was postmarked York and each year I was determined to do something about it, and each year I never did. Except one year, early in this millennium, I took a chance and sent a card with “Brian, York” on the front, and the words, “Remember Jersey!” on the back. I don’t really know what I expected to happen, except perhaps that a postman would know Brian, that he liked to go to Jersey and that a Christmas miracle would happen and Brian would get the card.

And maybe he did, because I never got another card from Brian after that and the space in front of those translated poetry books will remain empty this year, as it has every year since.

Image caption Ian’s bookshelf, empty at the front

And the moral to this Christmas story?

Always keep the address. Always remember where people are, and then you can translate those moments of the kindness of strangers into a winter scene and a first class stamp.

Merry Christmas, Brian, if you’re listening. And even if you’re not.

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Image copyright Ian McMillan
Image caption Ian McMillan with his dad

It can sometimes seem as though the whole Christmas season is about a single day. For poet Ian McMillan, though, the most special date in the festive calendar is 24 December.

Why I prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day

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Josh Warrington beats Carl Frampton to retain IBF world featherweight title

Josh Warrington extended his unbeaten record that now spans 28 fights with a unanimous points win over Carl Frampton

Josh Warrington retained his IBF featherweight world title as a blistering start set up a unanimous points win over Carl Frampton in a fight-of-the-year contender in Manchester.

Captivating from start to finish, the Englishman’s staggering work-rate laid the platform for a hugely impressive win – his 28th in succession.

Having narrowly avoided being dropped in the opening round, Frampton fought gallantly with wonderful shot selection to tighten up the contest in the middle rounds.

However, the Northern Irishman could not reverse the damage sufficiently as he slid to defeat in a world title fight for the second time.

Warrington now looks set for a unification bout against one of the division’s other belt holders, with WBO champion Oscar Valdez his most likely opponent.

Two judges scored the fight 116-112, with the other scoring 116-113.

“My hands are sore and I’ve got bruises on my head but I’ve done it. I’ve shown what I’m about,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

“If you had said last year that I would’ve beaten Lee Selby and Carl Frampton back to back, people would’ve laughed in your face.

“I think I earned his respect as soon as I hit him, but it was always about controlling the pace. I’ve always had self-belief and I’ve had it for a long time.

“I don’t feel pressure now once I get into a building because I get this massive energy from somewhere. Once I’m in there, I feel I can’t be beaten.”

Warrington again defies bookmakers

The styles of the fighters pointed to this being a classic featherweight contest, and so it proved, with both men backed by raucous support to create a memorable night.

Warrington seized the belt with a wonderful display of front-foot boxing against Lee Selby in May, but still few could have anticipated the incredible onslaught he produced in the opening two rounds, twice rocking Frampton with a terrific flurry of shots.

Frampton, having sustained a cut under the left eye, worked his way back into the fight and landed several neat hooks but it was the champion who continued to produce the more eye-catching combinations.

Little separated the pair from the third round onwards, with Warrington remarkably catching a second wind in the eighth to stop Frampton seizing the momentum in the crucial final rounds.

The Belfast fighter had pointed to Warrington’s record of just six knock-outs as evidence of a lack of power, however in the opening exchanges no such limitation seemed to hamper him.

Frampton was sent rocking across the ring and seemed certain to hit the canvas for the first time in seven fights but remained on his feet and managed to close out the second round.

In the build-up to the fight the pair were at pains to point out that the apparent absence personal animosity would not dilute the end product and so it proved, with Warrington describing himself as a “Frampton fan” in the immediate aftermath while the defeated fighter stated that he had no complaints with the result.

A standing ovation from the entire crowd seemed a fitting conclusion to the bout, which promoter Frank Warren described as “the best fight I have ever seen”.

What next for Warrington and Frampton?

Given the absorbing nature of the contest, one could be forgiven for pleading the case for a rematch. However, Warrington will rightfully have the opportunity to unify as he once again showed he is more than worthy of his world champion status in one of boxing’s most competitive divisions.

Should Valdez come through his title defence next month, the undefeated Mexican is his most likely opponent and had already signalled he wanted to face the winner of this fight.

For Frampton, the loss is a severe blow to his desire to meet WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz for a third time, with the 31-year-old hinting he will consider his future in professional boxing.

Having lost the belt to Santa Cruz in January 2017, the Belfast man has spent the past two years plotting a path back to the top of the division and eventually landed his world title shot in his fourth fight with new trainer Jamie Moore.

One of the best fights I’ve covered – analysis

Mike Costello, BBC Sport boxing correspondent at Manchester Arena

It’s very high among the best fights I’ve covered at ringside. Very rarely have we seen something like we have seen here tonight.

This has the making of a fight of the year nominee because the two men showed such determination, such resilience and such skill, that we ended up with something very memorable.

Carl Frampton competed at an elite level tonight but the question is how much has that taken out of him? He’s lost a world title before and knows how tough it is to climb back. He has to ask himself that question because the desire to fight is like elastic in your socks. Once you’ve lost it, you can’t get it back.

The plan was definitely to apply controlled pressure because he felt he had the greater strength in those exchanges. But the way Warrington closed the gap between him and Frampton in those exchanges was key in the fight.

It was a phenomenal performance from Warrington for a first defence of his title.

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