Texas explosions: New Austin blast ‘may be tripwire-activated’

Dark image of police tape and emergency vehicle at scene of latest explosion Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police have sealed the area around the scene of the blast

Police in Austin, Texas, have warned the public that a fourth explosion there may pose a new threat.

They said they were investigating reports the explosion, which injured two people, was activated by tripwire.

Three parcel bombs left on doorsteps have killed two people and injured two others since early March.

The police they say they are working under the belief that the explosions are connected. They warned people in the area to remain indoors.

The latest blast came hours after officials announced a new $100,000 (£71,000) reward for information.

The cash reward is on top of an existing $15,000 being offered by the state’s governor.

The two men killed earlier this month were African Americans and police have not ruled out racism as a possible motive.

Austin police chief Brian Manley gave an early morning press briefing to warn of the possibility of a different style of attack.

He said: “It is very possible this device was activated by someone either handling, kicking or coming into contact with a tripwire.

“That changes things in that our safety message has been about the handling of packages. We need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device. Do not approach it. Call 911.”

He added: “We do believe that this was a bomb that exploded, but it was not similar to previous explosions. We are working under the belief they are connected but we have not processed the scene.”

Work at the scene will take place after dawn.

The two people hurt in the blast have been treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Mr Manley earlier said he believed the attacks were “meant to send a message”.

He said authorities could not confirm whether a specific ideology was behind the attacks, but appealed to those behind the bombings to contact authorities directly.

Image copyright FBI

Hundreds of federal agents are helping local police, but there has been no arrest. Authorities say they have responded to 735 reports of suspicious items since last Monday.

The first bomb exploded on 2 March, killing Anthony Stephan House, 29, at his home. Two more bombs exploded 10 days later, and were linked to the initial blast.

Draylen William Mason, 17, was killed when he brought a package inside his home. The explosion also critically injured his mother.

Hours later a 75-year-old Hispanic woman was injured by another package. Local media reports this may have been intended for someone else.

The local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Nelson Linder told NBC news that the two murdered victims had links to local prominent African-American families and were connected by the same Methodist church.

Investigators say the devices were being left on doorsteps overnight, not being delivered by official methods.

With the city on high alert, a concert by hip-hop band the Roots was cancelled on Saturday after organisers received a bomb threat via e-mail.

They were due to perform at the city’s South by Southwest festival, known as SXSW.

A 26-year-old was later arrested, but police have ruled out any link to the package bombs.



Fixed-odds maximum bet ‘should be cut to £30’

William Hill gambling machines Image copyright PA

The maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) should be cut to £30 or less, the UK’s Gambling Commission has recommended.

It comes after consultation on FOBTs for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The DCMS wants “to reduce the risks that consumers, especially those that are vulnerable, face from gambling”.

It says the maximum stake on “slots games”, which are like traditional fruit machine games, should be £2.

Fixed-odds terminals were introduced in casinos and betting shops from 1999, and offer computerised games including roulette and blackjack at the touch of a button. Currently, people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games.

The Gambling Commission’s report said the £30 limit for casino type games had been recommended, because any limit above this would have “a significant effect on the potential for players to lose large amounts of money in a short space of time”.

The government now has to decide whether to accept the commission’s advice on the stake limit, or decide to impose a lower figure.

The government began to look at FOBT machines in October 2016, when it made a “call for evidence” on the number and location of terminals and the measures in place to protect players.

Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focused on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm.

“In our judgment, a stake cut for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people.

“That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers. We have proposed actions that will tackle both the risk of harm and provide solutions that are sustainable in the longer term.”

These include working with the gambling industry and others on steps to make limit-setting more effective – this could include ending sessions when consumers reach time and money limits.

Another recommendation is a proposed ban on machines being able to allow different categories of games to be played in a single session.

FOBT machines generated more than £1.8bn in tax revenue last year.



Drivers stranded on A30 in Devon amid heavy snow

Crashed car on A30 slip road near Okehampton on 18 March 2018 Image copyright PA
Image caption Collisions started to cause delays on the A30 on Sunday afternoon

Dozens of vehicles have been stranded overnight on the A30 dual carriageway in Devon amid heavy snow.

Two Met Office weather warnings for ice remain in place across much of the UK after wintry showers disrupted many parts of Britain over the weekend.

The Okehampton service station on the A30 became an overnight refuge for drivers who slept in their vehicles.

And around 80 people, including children, stayed in an emergency rest centre set up at the town’s college.

Meanwhile in Wales, more than 170 schools will be fully or partially closed on Monday.

Two Met Office weather warnings for ice covering all of England, most of Wales and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are in place until 10:00 GMT on Monday.

Richard White, volunteer rest centre manager at Okehampton College – where 82 people spent the night – said: “We make sure people get a good night’s sleep, we feed them in the morning and weather-permitting, we prepare them to get back in their cars and on their way.

“Police want everybody off the roads to give them the opportunity to clear the roads with the snow ploughs and the gritters in time for the morning.”

Among those stranded were two newlyweds who spend their wedding night stranded at the emergency rest centre, Mr White said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a 64-mile stretch of the A30 from the M5 at Exeter to near Bodmin in Cornwall was closed to allow its officers and Highways England to clear the route.

The force warned drivers to only travel if necessary and “slow down”, adding on Monday morning that road accidents were beginning to be reported.

Scores of schools in Devon will be closed on Monday.

On Sunday, two multi-vehicle crashes caused long delays on the A30 around Okehampton and Whiddon Down.

Elsewhere, ice resulted in delays and 37 cancellations at Gatwick Airport on Sunday night.

The airport apologised to affected passengers, saying the problems were “due to the prolonged cold snap and the essential de-icing requirements which have mounted during the afternoon and evening”.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWeather forecast: Snowy and icy conditions to persist

Temperatures fell across many parts of the UK overnight, causing partly melted snow to refreeze.

Forecasters say more normal, spring-like conditions are likely to return to most areas by Tuesday.



The Papers: Facebook ‘pressure’ and Ant arrested

Guardian front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Guardian leads on the alleged information breach involving 50 million Facebook profiles. The social media company and data firm Cambridge Analytica have come under mounting pressure in the US and UK to explain the incident, says the paper.
Financial Times front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Financial Times says politicians are calling on Facebook to give a more detailed response to allegations that information about US voters was used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny any wrongdoing.
Time front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Times reports a call for MPs to be given more powers to investigate technology companies in the aftermath of the Facebook data leak claims. Its lead story says the gambling watchdog is moving away from backing tough curbs on fixed-odds betting terminals.
Sun front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Sun reports the arrest of TV presenter Ant McPartlin over suspected drink-driving in south-west London. It says the star’s Mini car was involved in a collision with two other vehicles.
Daily Mirror front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Daily Mirror also leads on Ant McPartlin’s arrest, reporting the I’m A Celebrity presenter’s mother had been a passenger in the car at the time.
i front page - 19/03/18
Image caption Vladimir Putin appears on several front pages, including the i, following his victory in the Russian presidential election. It reports he used a press conference to brand as “nonsense” the UK’s belief Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury.
Metro front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Salisbury case is also the focus for Metro, which reports Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has hit back at Russian claims the nerve agent used in the attack on Sergei Skripal could have come from a British laboratory.
Daily Express front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Daily Express says Premier League football could be “rocked to its core” if the government cracks down on wealthy oligarchs in the aftermath of the Salisbury case.
Daily Mail front page - 19/03/18
Image caption Food on sale in shops is widely-tainted with potentially dangerous airborne plastic particles, according to the Daily Mail. The paper said its investigation found the issue affected produce on sale in open counters, such as fish.
Daily Star front page - 19/03/18
Image caption The Daily Star says senior royals are furious about sex scenes in a US-made film dramatisation of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s relationship.

Vladimir Putin’s election triumph in Russia is widely covered.

According to the headline in the the Times, Mr Putin’s landslide victory was thanks to Britain.

It says anger over the UK’s response to the nerve agent attack on the former spy, Sergei Skripal, galvanised voters behind their leader.

Image copyright EPA

The Washington Post takes a similar line. It quotes a former Kremlin adviser-turned critic as saying the approach adopted by Theresa May and her government was a “pre-election present” for Mr Putin.

The paper predicts that as in-fighting over Russia’s domestic course continues at the top in Moscow, President Putin could look towards intensifying the conflict with the West.

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The website of the Russian tabloid Komosmolskaya Pravda hails what it describes as a well-deserved victory.

It tells readers it is noteworthy that no Western media reported that the election had been rigged or falsified.

It apparently had not noticed, among others, the Financial Times, which reports on isolated episodes of violence against election monitors, as well as ballot stuffing and other violations.

Its headline reads “Sunshine, smiles and headbutts as Russia makes its choice”.

But the paper quotes an elderly voter called Olga in Moscow who says: “In America they have a fool, here we have a strong president. Hurrah for Putin!”

Tech regulation

The Daily Telegraph leads on what it claims is the “End of the Wild West Era For Tech Firms”.

As controversy intensifies over the reported misuse of data from millions of Facebook users by the company Cambridge Analytica, the paper quotes a warning from Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Matt Hancock.

He says technology firms must accept increasing regulation and taxation by national governments “for the good of the people”.

Image copyright Getty Images

In an editorial, the Guardian says data from Facebook users helped to subvert the openness of democracy.

It says the standards around the world by which the internet is controlled need to be open and subject to the workings of independent judiciaries.

The paper concludes that the task cannot be left to the companies themselves “whose own judgements are almost wholly opaque and arbitrary”.

The Financial Times has spoken to the head of the Cambridge Analytica. Alexander Nix denies that he deliberately misled a parliamentary committee last month when he said his firm did not use Facebook data.

He told the paper that he stood by his remarks, despite a whistleblower saying over the weekend that he had evidence to the contrary.

Cannot be serious

The Daily Mail devotes the whole of its front page to what it describes as the first UK study of food contamination by airborne plastic.

The Mail says food in shops is widely tainted with potentially dangerous particles that float in the air.

According to the paper, experts have warned that ingesting the particles can damage lungs, poison kidneys and interfere with hormones.

Several papers pick up on tonight’s Panorama programme about equal pay.

Under the headline “You Cannot Be Serious!”, the Daily Mail reports Martina Navratilova’s assertion that the BBC pays her fellow Wimbledon commentator, John McEnroe, 10 times as much as her.

Image copyright PA

The Guardian quotes the former women’s tennis champion as saying she was shocked to discover that the former men’s number one was paid £150,000 for his commentary work, whereas she got £15,000.

She says the bottom line is that men’s voices are valued more than women’s.

A BBC spokesman said the two stars performed different roles, with McEnroe’s of a different scale, scope and time commitment. Gender, according to the BBC, is not a factor.



Empire Awards: Steven Spielberg says Time’s Up is a “watershed moment”

Steve Spielberg with his award Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steve Spielberg was awarded Empire’s Legend Of Our Lifetime Award

Steven Spielberg said the Time’s Up movement is “more important than any of us can ever really realise”.

He was speaking at the Rakuten TV Empire Awards which were held in London on Sunday.

The Oscar-winning director, 71, was handed the Legend Of Our Lifetime Award.

He praised the campaign to fight sexual harassment and described it as a “watershed moment” for attitudes in the entertainment industry.

On collecting his award, the Indiana Jones director said: “It’s been a rich and diverse year for film and for gender and for race, and for speaking out.

“Thank you, Time’s Up. We were very much on board from the very beginning, my wife Kate and I.

“This is more important than any of us can ever really realise.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 71-year-old spoke as he accepted the Legend Of Our Lifetime gong

Actors Reese Witherspoon and Ashley Judd and producer Shonda Rhimes were among hundreds of prominent Hollywood women who launched the initiative in January.

It came in the wake of sexual abuse claims by high-profile actresses against film producer Harvey Weinstein. He’s denied the allegations.

Spielberg, who’s one of Hollywood’s best known directors, said he thought the movement was a turning point for inequality in the industry.

“I think in 10 years we’ll look back and realise what a watershed moment we are all experiencing together. 2017 to 2018, it’s extraordinary what’s happening right now.”

He said he hoped the initiative would mark the “end of the ways things were”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Daisy Ridley won the award for best actress

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the big winner at the awards, which are voted for by film fans. It won the best film prize.

Daisy Ridley was named best actress for her performance in the latest instalment in the space saga.

Star Wars legend Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker, was presented with the Empire Icon trophy.

Other winners included Hugh Jackman who won best actor for his role in Logan. His co-star Dafne Keen was voted best female newcomer.

Wonder Woman won the best sci-fi/fantasy gong while Get Out picked up the best horror prize.

Nicole Kidman won the best actress in a TV series for her performance in mini-series Big Little Lies and Jason Isaacs took home the male television actor gong for Star Trek: Discovery.

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News Daily: Experts test nerve agent, and Putin wins Russian election

Hello. Here’s your morning briefing:

Image copyright EPA/ Yulia Skripal/Facebook

Experts to test Salisbury nerve agent

A team of international experts is due to arrive in the UK to assess the nerve agent used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons delegation will visit the military research base at Porton Down in Wiltshire, whose own experts say the agent is of a type first developed by Russia.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has accused Moscow of stockpiling the agent used. But President Vladimir Putin said Russia had destroyed all of its chemical weapons and it was “nonsense” to implicate his government in the attack on 4 March.

Mr and Ms Skripal remain critically ill in hospital. Here’s what we know so far.

Putin remains as Russian president

Vladimir Putin has won again, as widely expected. He’s been re-elected as Russian president with an increased – 76% – share of the vote and will remain in office for another six years. Asked about running again in 2024, he replied: “What you are saying is a bit funny. Do you think that I will stay here until I’m 100 years old? No!”

His win means Mr Putin will have been either Russian president or prime minister for 24 years. His nearest rival, millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, got 12% of the vote. But main opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running.

Independent election monitoring group Golos reported hundreds of irregularities on polling day – including some papers being found in boxes before voting started and webcams at some polling stations being obstructed by balloons and other objects. But the head of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission said there had been no serious violations. Here’s a profile of Mr Putin.

TV’s Ant McPartlin in drink-driving arrest

Ant McPartlin, co-host of TV shows Britain’s Got Talent and I’m A Celebrity, has been arrested on suspicion of drink-driving following a collision involving three vehicles. Police were called to the scene in Mortlake, south-west London, on Sunday afternoon. Ambulance staff treated a number of people for minor injuries.

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Drivers stranded in heavy snow

The so-called “mini-Beast from the East” has indeed not been as powerful as its predecessor, but it’s still brought disruption. A Met Office yellow warning for ice is in place for most of England and Wales, central and southern Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland until 10:00 GMT. And dozens of vehicles have been stranded on the A30 dual carriageway in Devon. Forecasters say more normal, spring-like conditions will return by Tuesday.

What are the UK’s oldest and youngest city populations?

By Andrew Carter and Paul Swinney, Centre for Cities

Over the past two decades, the average age of a UK resident has risen by two years, to 40. Within 30 years, one in four people is expected to be aged 65 and over. But the picture in cities is more complex. At 38, the average city dweller is younger. Cities are home to 62% of people aged 18-34, but only 46% of those aged 65 and over. Despite this, the populations of most UK cities are growing older, raising big questions about what that means for their development, and for meeting the future needs of residents.

Read the full article

What the papers say

Image copyright Guardian, Sun

The Guardian leads on the alleged information breach involving 50 million Facebook profiles, while the Financial Times says politicians are calling for a more detailed response from the social media giant. Meanwhile, the i calls Valdimir Putin’s election win a “landslide” – and reports on the Russian president dismissing allegations that his country was behind the Salisbury poisonings as “nonsense”. And the Daily Mail warns that food on sale in supermarkets is widely tainted with airborne plastic particles.

Daily digest

Stem cell transplant “Game changer” for multiple sclerosis patients

Martina Navratilova BBC pays John McEnroe far more than me, says tennis star

Circus death Cirque du Soleil aerialist falls on to stage during Florida show

Australia bushfire Dozens of buildings feared lost in coastal town of Tathra

If you see one thing today

Is ageing a curable disease?

If you listen to one thing today

Image copyright Getty Images

The menopause and the workplace

If you read one thing today

Did my parents leave me on a hillside to die?


14:30 ParalympicsGB athletes are due to land at Heathrow Airport, as they return from Pyeongchang, South Korea.

18:40 US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil a plan to combat the opioid crisis, including urging prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers in fatal overdose cases.

On this day

1976 Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon are to separate after 16 years of marriage, Buckingham Palace announces.

From elsewhere

The future did not have to be luxury condos (New Yorker)

Nigerian emir wants to take his ancient city into modern era (Washington Post)

Tame your inner chimp (Guardian)

Walking among the world’s tallest trees (Daily Telegraph)

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Briton Anna Campbell killed fighting with Kurdish YPJ unit

Anna Campbell

A British woman volunteer with the all-female Kurdish armed unit the YPJ has been killed in Syria, her father has told the BBC.

It is understood Anna Campbell, 26, from Lewes in East Sussex, died on 15 March in Afrin, which has been under bombardment by Turkish forces.

Dirk Campbell said his daughter was “very idealistic” and “determined”.

Turkey has been fighting Kurdish groups on Syrian territory close to its border since January.

  • Why Turkey is targeting Kurdish enclave in Syria
  • Kurds ousted from heart of Syrian city

Ms Campbell, who was a qualified plumber in the UK, travelled to Syria in May 2017 to help the Kurds, who were battling the Islamic State group.

Her father said: “She wanted to create a better world and she would do everything in her power to do that.”

He added: “I told her of course that she was putting her life in danger, which she knew full well she was doing.

“I feel I should have done more to persuade her to come back, but she was completely adamant.”

British police have repeatedly warned against travelling to Syria, and have advised that becoming involved with any armed group could lead to arrest and prosecution.

Stood out

The BBC understands Ms Campbell had originally been involved in the fighting with the YPJ in Deir ez-Zor, where IS have continued to hold the last of their territory.

But in January, Turkish forces began a major offensive against the Kurds along the northern Syrian border.

Many Kurdish fighters left the fight against IS to defend Afrin and some British volunteers are known to have joined them.

Mr Campbell told the BBC he understands his daughter’s Kurdish comrades tried to stop her.

Image caption Ms Campbell dyed her hair black before moving on to Afrin

“With fair hair and blue eyes they knew she would stand out, but she dyed her hair black and persuaded them to let her go,” he said.

He added: “I contacted my MP Maria Caulfield as soon as I knew she was in danger from the Turkish bombardment.

“I emailed my MP and said my daughter is in danger, you have to get on to the Foreign Office and get them to put pressure on Turkey to stop.”

Turkey sees the YPJ and associated YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a link that the Kurds deny.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Turkish forces stepped up their offensive in Afrin in January

YPJ commander in Syria, Nesrin Abdullah, said Ms Campbell had “insisted” on leaving for Afrin, adding: “Although we tried to keep her far from the frontlines, the attacks from the Turkish state were very heavy.”

Eighth British death

Friends of Ms Campbell in Syria told the BBC she was killed by Turkish airstrikes, describing her as a feminist with “sincerity and courage” who wanted to fight for women’s liberation in the Middle East.

She is the first British woman to have died in Syria with the YPG or YPJ, but the eighth citizen to have been killed while assisting the groups.

Mr Campbell said he was “in pieces”, having only heard about the death on Sunday.

He said his daughter had been involved in human rights activism in the UK and it was the Kurdish aim of creating a democratic society in the wake of IS that inspired her to join them.

“When she heard about the political experiment in Rojava [the Kurdish area of northern Syria] this seemed to her to be the way the world should be”

“The social organisation at all levels, the equality. She wanted to help protect that.”



Russia election: Putin basks in election he could not lose

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow the Russian election unfolded

It was the victory rally he never doubted he’d join. Two hours after the last polling stations in western Russia closed, Vladimir Putin strode on stage beneath the Kremlin walls to declare his re-election.

With a broad smile, he thanked the country for what he called “a vote of confidence” and promised to work for the future of a great nation. He then led the crowd of loyal, flag waving fans braving the freezing cold in a chant of “Russia! Russia!”

This was an election with eight candidates but one clear winner from the very start.

Russia’s most popular opposition politician Alexei Navalny had been excluded and a communist candidate was vilified by state-run media.

The society-girl-turned-activist Ksenia Sobchak ran her entire campaign on the basis she would lose.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ms Sobchak (right) visited Mr Navalny (left) at his office on polling day

President Putin shunned the pre-election debates entirely while the other candidates made threats or burst into tears. No wonder some critics called the whole event a circus.

Dancing to Putin’s tune

Turnout was the only real variable. So the vast majority of election billboards were not for individual candidates but simply reminders that Russians were “choosing a president”.

On voting day itself there was music and entertainment to help pull in the crowds.

At one central Moscow polling station a man on a balalaika played Western rock hits in front of a stall selling cheap pies.

  • Life in Putin’s Russia explained in 10 charts
  • Google’s most popular Putin search queries answered

There was a mini-ice hockey game for children, and face-painting. Pensioners could take the chance to sign up for activities including ballroom dancing and keep fit.

It was all part of the effort to secure maximum support for another six years of Vladimir Putin.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A child is pictured playing at one booting booth in Moscow on Sunday

The vote was held on the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the moment when the president’s rating had soared to a historic high.

“I want to see change, I am so tired of his leadership,” Olga said, after casting her ballot for the only female candidate in the race. “I want to see my country develop in a different way.”

“I’m not voting for Putin,” Kirill agreed, recalling that Vladimir Putin had been in power since 2000. “He’s been president too long and should go.”

But the final result – a landslide victory – showed that the vast majority of voters disagreed.

“We have started to live much better under Putin, patriotism is spreading. It’s wonderful,” Gelena Zakharova said, one of many smartly-dressed voters emerging from a central Moscow polling station.

“Russia has become a very powerful country. We’re rising from our knees. I really like it.”

‘Tough guy’

As Russia has “risen” relations with the West have sunk, most lately with furious accusations from the UK over the poisoning of a former Russian spy.

Shortly after his victory speech, Mr Putin made his first extended comments on the case calling claims of Russian involvement “utter nonsense” and insisting his country destroyed all chemical weapons “unlike our partners”.

Most people here are baffled by the whole story.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The voters’ mandate gives Mr Putin another six years as the country’s president

To some, like Dmitry heading into another central Moscow polling station, it’s a chance for their president to act tough on the world stage.

“He’s one of the most powerful politicians in the world; a real tough guy and that’s good.”

But squaring up to the West only has limited appeal according to political analyst Ekaterina Shulman.

“The besieged fortress mentality is very useful to mobilise the incumbent. It reinforces the idea that there’s no alternative,” she says. “But it makes the electorate anxious and tired. It wears them out.”

Ultimately she argues the focus will have to shift to people’s real concerns – their shrinking wealth, health care, housing and education.

But judging by Vladimir Putin’s first comments after victory, a sudden thaw in relations with the West looks unlikely.



What is it like when an asylum centre opens near you?

Ajit Atwal
Image caption Ajit Atwal says there was little consultation with locals before asylum seekers were housed in the area

Each year, thousands of asylum seekers are rehoused across the UK. But in some areas residents say they are not happy with the influx, or the lack of communication.

“It’s a fantastic area, very-close knit community. One of those areas where all the neighbours are on first name terms with each other,” Ajit Atwal tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

He was a vocal opponent of a plan to convert a student halls of residence in Derby into an Initial Accommodation Centre for 225 asylum seekers.

Hundreds of people signed a petition against the centre, but it opened and the first arrivals began moving in last month.

Ajit says they have had little information from private security firm G4S, which runs the centre.

Image caption The Initial Accommodation Centre will house 225 asylum seekers once it is fully occupied

“They should’ve consulted with people and given reassurance that ‘we’re here to work with you and any concerns you’ve got come to us directly. You can get on with life and the refugees here can get on with their life’.”

In recent years private security firm G4S has housed more asylum seekers than any other provider.

Asylum seekers are only supposed to be in Initial Accommodation Centres for a maximum of 19 days, while the Home Office decides whether they are destitute – before they are housed elsewhere in the country.

A multi-billion pound government contract to provide initial and longer term accommodation for the next 10 years is currently out to tender and G4S is hopeful of getting the green light.

But they have faced criticism.

Image caption Mark Harris says he was told of the centre “out of the blue”

“I picked this area for [many reasons] – it’s close to town, [good for] my future, it’s everything it provides for me,” says Mark Harris, who says he is worried about his property and his family.

“Then one day I get told out of the blue, now’t to do with me, ‘Oh by the way you’re having 240 asylum seekers on your doorstep and guess what, you can’t do anything about it’.”

Janet Fuller, who manages an advice centre for Derby’s refugees and asylum seekers, recognises such concerns, but is keen to point out that those entering the country are “vetted very strongly” by the Home Office.

G4S said in a statement that prior to the centre opening it “held a public consultation event and gave regular statements to local newspapers who covered the planning process”, and later attended a public meeting to update residents on its progress.

“The feedback from the vast majority of local residents has been positive”, it added.

‘Treated like slaves’

Many asylum seekers say they have also been ill-treated by G4S and the dispersal system, having been sent to an unfamiliar part of the country.

“Usually the G4S people, they give you accommodation where no-one else wants to live and life is very difficult – crime is very high, there’s prostitution, addiction,” says one female asylum seeker.

She did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the firm for speaking out.

She claims that when in need of help, G4S had ignored her attempts to contact them.

“They don’t contact us, they don’t reply to our problems, they don’t solve our problems,” she says.

“They don’t return our phone calls… they think we are just like slaves, that whatever we [are given] we will accept.”

‘Don’t call them back’

Jen – not her real name – used to work at a G4S call centre on the Compass contract, which provides accommodation to asylum seekers in the Midlands and the north of England.

“I wanted to help people because you do get to know people’s situations and people’s stories.

“Most people would want to do good in that situation, but you can’t there [at G4S],” she explains.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption “Jen” says one of her colleagues pretended not to understand asylum seekers who phoned for help

“I’ve heard a senior person say that if an asylum seeker hasn’t got credit [on their phone] to not call them back.

“There was a woman who I used to work with, she’d pretend that she couldn’t understand somebody and put the phone down on them.”

G4S said in its experience employees “act in a professional manner and actively listen to asylum seekers’ concerns in order to support them with issues that they raise”.

“Whenever we find to the contrary we always investigate and take action,” it added.

The firm said all its front line staff “have access to telephone interpreters and use them frequently”, adding: “There is no instruction to or acceptance of not calling a service user back.”

‘Infested by rats’

But campaigners like John Grayson – an expert on asylum housing – says the company is unfit to do the job.

“A good minority of the housing, 30% at least, is in appalling, atrocious conditions.

“It’s been like that since 2012 when they took over the contract. It hasn’t got any better,” he says.

“We’re still coming across houses with rats, terrible damp, bed bugs.”

In January 2017, a Home Affairs Committee report found some asylum seekers had been placed in accommodation infested by rats, mice and insects after arriving in the UK, and called the conditions a “disgrace”.

G4S said all its properties were subject to inspections to ensure they met the standards set by the Home Office.

“There are over 4,000 inspections conducted every month by G4S and the Home Office, and local authorities also conduct random, no-notice inspections,” it said.

“We always take complaints about the accommodation we provide very seriously.”

But Mr Grayson is adamant that G4S should not be given the 10-year contract.

“There could be legal action to stop them,” he says.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.

“The Home Office maintains an active partnership with local authorities across the UK and funds Strategic Migration Partnerships to plan for the most appropriate dispersal of asylum seekers and increase the number of areas who can support people seeking asylum.

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.



Russia election: Vladimir Putin wins by big margin

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Media captionHow the Russian election unfolded

Vladimir Putin will lead Russia for another six years, after securing an expected victory in Sunday’s presidential election.

Mr Putin, who has ruled the country as either president or prime minister since 1999, got more than 76% of the vote, official results show.

The main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race.

Addressing a rally in Moscow, Mr Putin said voters had “recognised the achievements of the last few years”.

Speaking to reporters after the results were announced, he laughed off a question about running again in another six years.

“What you are saying is a bit funny. Do you think that I will stay here until I’m 100 years old? No!” he said.

The scale of victory – which had been widely predicted – appears to be a marked increase in his share of the vote from 2012, when he won 64%.

Mr Putin’s nearest competitor, millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, received about 12%.

The race also included Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality TV host, and veteran nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – they got less than 2% and about 6% respectively.

Mr Putin’s campaign team said it was an “incredible victory”.

“The percentage that we have just seen speaks for itself. It’s a mandate which Putin needs for future decisions, and he has a lot of them to make,” a spokesman told Russia’s Interfax.

In some areas, free food and discounts in local shops were on offer near polling stations.

Video recordings from polling stations showed irregularities in a number of towns and cities across Russia. Several showed election officials stuffing boxes with ballot papers.

Mr Navalny was excluded from the election because of an embezzlement conviction that he said was manufactured by the Kremlin.

In his first reaction to the news, Mr Navalny indicated he had been unable to contain his anger.

“Now is the season of Lent. I took it upon myself never to get angry and not to raise my voice. Oh well, I’ll try again next year,” he tweeted.

During polling day, independent election monitoring group Golos reported hundreds of irregularities, including:

  • Voting papers found in some ballot boxes before polls opened
  • Observers were barred from entering some polling stations
  • Some people were bussed in amid suspicion of forced voting
  • Webcams at polling stations were obstructed by balloons and other obstacles

Videos taken from the election commission’s live stream of polling stations also appeared to show some instances of officials stuffing ballots into boxes.

In Dagestan, one election official said he was prevented from doing his job by a crowd of men who blocked the ballot box.

But Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said there were no serious violations.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Turnout was reported to be 67% – higher than in the last vote

“We have analysed and monitored everything we could, everything that has arrived. Thank goodness, it’s all rather modest so far,” she told a commission meeting while speaking about violations.

She had earlier said that anyone involved in violations would be caught.

Sunday’s vote was also the first in Crimea since Russia seized the region from Ukraine. Mr Putin’s victory rally coincided with the anniversary of the annexation.

The annexation was bitterly contested by Kiev and ratcheted up tensions between Russia and the West. Russians living in Ukraine were unable to take part in Sunday’s vote because access to Russian diplomatic missions was blocked by the Kiev government.