Father ‘won’t forgive’ siege killers

15 September 2014Last updated at 14:17

The In Amenas siege ended when Algerian forces attacked and took control of the gas plant

The father of a Briton killed in a siege at an Algerian gas plant has not “forgiven or understood” his son’s death, an inquest has heard.

Stephen Green from Fleet in Hampshire, was one of six British workers killed at the In Amenas plant in January 2013. A UK resident also died.

His father David told the hearing, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, he felt “anger at those responsible”.

Forty workers and 29 militants were killed during the siege.

The inquest is examining the deaths of Garry Barlow, 49, from Liverpool; Carson Bilsland, 46, from Perthshire; Stephen Green, 47, from Hampshire; Sebastian John, 26, from Norfolk; Paul Morgan, 46, from Liverpool and Kenneth Whiteside, 59, from Fife.

It is also examining the death of Carlos Estrada, a Colombian who had moved to London.

David Green spoke of his family’s pain. “Stephen’s death has been very hard for us. He had a lot of happiness to look forward to,” he said.

“I feel both grief and anger – grief that my son was refused a happy future, and anger against those responsible.

“They are not forgiven or understood.”

Paul MorganPaul Morgan, from Liverpool, was among the Britons who died

All the victims’ relatives gave statements in front of a picture of their loved ones.

Carson Bilsland’s younger brother, Christopher, said the engineer had criticised security in the month before his death.

The court heard Mr Bilsland wrote: “The job is fine, but security is not good and not safe compared to other places I’ve worked.”

Nicola John described her husband, Sebastian, as a “lovely, friendly man who was clearly very intelligent”.

Opening the inquest, assistant coroner for West Sussex, Nicholas Hilliard QC, said: “Each was wholly innocent of events which unfolded when a group of heavily armed went into the In Amenas gas facility.

“Forty innocent people lost their lives, such was the scale of events.

“Each and every death is a wholly separate tragedy and leaves family and friends devastated and bereft.”

Sensitive material

Last week, the inquest’s coroner stood down to be replaced by Judge Hilliard after the government said it might present “sensitive material” as evidence.

In a statement, coroner Penelope Schofield said she had been asked to stand down by the chief coroner after government officials said they “held sensitive material which they considered was possibly relevant to the inquest, and that this material could only be reviewed by a judge”.

She said she initially refused because appointing a judge would have meant a “lengthy adjournment” which would have “devastating effects on the families and witnesses”.

But she said Judge Hilliard was available to hear the case, and that it was “in the interests of justice” for the judge to hear the inquest.


In Amenas road sign

16 January 2013 Militants attack two buses carrying In Amenas workers, killing two. They then go on to the living quarters and main installation, seizing hostages. Some gas workers manage to escape

17 January Algerian forces attack after the militants try to move their hostages in five 4x4s. Four of the vehicles are destroyed in an air strike and an unknown number of hostages are killed

18 January Stalemate as Algerian forces surround the gas plant where the remaining hostages are held

19 January Algerian forces launch a final assault after reports that the hostage-takers are killing their captives

For more information on the British victims, see the In Amenas profiles page.

Army assault

Militants from a group known as the Signed-in-Blood Battalion arrived before dawn on 16 January last year and entered the In Amenas plant, a joint venture run by British company BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.

Within 15 minutes they had taken control, killing some some of the plant’s 800 workers and taking others – mostly foreigners – hostage.

Algerian forces surrounded the site and, while militants were moving hostages in a convoy, destroyed four vehicles – killing an unknown number of hostages.

The Algerian army finally regained control of the plant with an assault on 19 January.

The hearing is expected to last until the end of next month.


Belgian murderer wins ‘right to die’

15 September 2014Last updated at 19:07

The Dutch parliament was the first in the European Union to approve a euthanasia bill in 2001

A Belgian man serving a life sentence for rape and murder will be allowed to have doctors end his life, after a landmark ruling.

Unable to control his violent sexual urges, Frank Van Den Bleeken, who is 50, argued he would never be freed.

The decision follows a three-year legal battle by the prisoner, who was convicted in the 1980s.

The ruling is the first involving a prisoner since the assisted dying law was introduced in Belgium 12 years ago.

Van Den Bleeken will soon be transferred to a hospital where the medical procedure will take place, his lawyers told reporters.

“But I cannot say when or where that will happen,” Jos Vander Velpen added.

Die ‘with dignity’

Van Den Bleeken first requested euthanasia in 2011, citing “unbearable psychological anguish”, but Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Commission wanted to consider every possible treatment option, before consenting to such a measure.

The European Court of Human Rights has criticised Belgium several times for its failure to properly treat mentally ill prisoners, the BBC’s Piers Scholfield reports.

Belgium’s euthanasia laws hit the headlines earlier this year when they were extended to cover children who are terminally ill.


Apple releases U2 album removal tool

15 September 2014Last updated at 19:24

Apple and U2 announced the giveaway last Tuesday

Apple has released a tool to remove U2’s new album from its customers’ iTunes accounts six days after giving away the music for free.

Some users had complained about the fact that Songs of Innocence had automatically been downloaded to their devices without their permission.

It had not been immediately obvious to many of the account holders how to delete the tracks.

The US tech firm now offers a one-click removal button.

“Some customers asked for the ability to delete ‘Songs of Innocence’ from their library, so we set up itunes.com/soi-remove to let them easily do so. Any customer that needs additional help should contact AppleCare,” spokesman Adam Howorth told the BBC.

Apple U2 removal toolUsers who want to remove the new U2 album can now click a button to do so

Users who remove the album and do not download it again before 13 October will be charged for the 11 tracks if they subsequently try to add them again.

“It’s embarrassing for Apple that it’s had a bit of a backlash,” commented Ian Maude from the media consultancy Enders Analysis.

“It was giving something away to its customers – so that part was really good – but what it should have probably done was make it optional. Not everybody’s a U2 fan as it’s just discovered.

“Is there any long-term impact? No. It’s moved very quickly to fix the problem.”

TweetSome users had requested an easy way to delete the music from their collection

Apple made the album available to about 500 million iTunes customers in 119 countries to coincide with its iPhone 6 and Watch launch event last week.

U2’s singer Bono acknowledged at the time that not everyone would appreciate the gift.

“People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library,” he wrote on the band’s site.

“And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail.”

Bono added that Apple had “paid” for the giveaway, and reports have suggested that prime placement of banner ads publicising the album on the iTunes store and other publicity provided by the tech firm might be worth as much as $100m (£62m).

Sales of earlier U2 albums have re-entered iTunes’ charts and the band has also raised its profile ahead of an expected tour as well as a planned follow-up album called Songs of Experience.


Goldfish has brain operation

15 September 2014Last updated at 18:46

Vets said they had to be precise to minimise blood loss in the 80g fish

A goldfish in Australia is recovering from surgery after a life-threatening tumour was removed from its brain in a “high-risk” operation.

George, whose owner lives in Melbourne, was put under general anaesthetic for the $200 (£125) “high-risk” procedure.

Dr Tristan Rich, who carried out the operation, told Melbourne’s 3AW radio station that the fish was now “up and about and swimming around”.

Vets say the 10-year-old fish is is now expected to live for another 20 years.

“George had a quite large tumour on the top of his head that was growing slowly, and it was beginning to affect his quality of life,” Dr Rich from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital said.

George’s owner was given the choice between an operation or having the fish put to sleep.

“She was dedicated enough to give it a go,” he said.

He added that the fish was kept alive by pumping oxygenated pond water through its gills.

Dr Rich described the 45-minute operation as “fiddly”.

George the fish post-operationVets say the operation went swimmingly, and that George can be discharged soon

UN takes over CAR peace mission

15 September 2014Last updated at 17:43

The African Union troops already in CAR will start wearing blue helmets

The UN is formally taking over peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic (CAR), where about 25% of the population has fled their homes.

No new troops have been deployed to boost the 5,000 African and 2,000 French troops already there.

Human rights groups say more troops are urgently needed to end the violence.

CAR has been in turmoil since a mainly Muslim rebel group seized power in the majority Christian country in March 2013.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia resigned in January under intense diplomatic pressure but the killings have continued.

Muslims have fled revenge attacks, with the country now largely split into a Muslim north and Christian south.

A “rehatting” ceremony, in which the peacekeepers swap their green African Union helmets for blue UN ones, was due to have started at 15:00 local time (14:00 GMT).

The new mission is to be known as Minusca from its French acronym.

“Our mission can be summed up in a triptych: to protect the population, back the political process and contribute to the restoration of the authority of the state,” said Minusca chief Gen Babacar Gaye of Senegal.

The UN Security Council has authorised a force of 12,000 and human rights groups say the extra 5,000 troops should be deployed without delay.

“The switch from AU to UN peacekeepers must be more than a cosmetic change: the swapping green berets for blue helmets. Instead it must serve as a fresh start for the peacekeeping operation in CAR,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s campaigns deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

“The gap between the number of peacekeepers promised and the number deployed must be urgently filled. Only once the full force is on the ground, undertaking patrols and protecting CAR’s civilian population, can the UN properly fulfil its protection mandate.”

Map showing the location of the Central African Republic and the countries that border it

Migrant boat sinking ‘kills 500′

15 September 2014Last updated at 17:42

Maltese authorities have launched naval missions to find and rescue migrants in trouble

About 500 migrants are feared dead after their ship was rammed by another boat near Malta last week, a migration body said.

Two Palestinian survivors told the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that the boat had been intentionally sunk by traffickers.

They said the boat had left Damietta in Egypt in early September.

The IOM says that more than 2,500 people are now believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

News of the sinking near Malta emerged as another vessel carrying 250 people sank off the coast of Libya.

Over 200 people are feared to have drowned in that incident.

‘Violent confrontation’

IOM spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said that the two survivors from the Malta sinking were rescued on Thursday, the day after their boat sank.

They said traffickers rammed the boat after a “violent confrontation” on board. The IOM said there were nine known survivors in total.

The boat had been carrying Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese, the survivors said.

Map showing approximate location of ship sinking

The passengers, who included women and children, were reportedly told to move to a smaller, less safe boat. When they refused, the traffickers sank the larger vessel, the eyewitnesses said.

The Maltese authorities have not yet commented on the incident.

The UN says more than 130,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea this year, compared with 80,000 this year. Italy has received more than 118,000 migrants, the UN said.

Many attempt to cross from North Africa and the Middle East in unsafe and overcrowded vessels.

The UN’s Andrej Mahecic told the BBC that more than half of those arriving by boat were refugees from Syria and Eritrea.


Uganda predicts bigger coffee crop

15 September 2014Last updated at 17:01

By Russell PadmoreBusiness reporter, BBC World Service

Rainy weather is expected to boost the crop of coffee beans grown in Uganda

Exports of coffee from Uganda could rise as much as 3% this year as crop outputs increase, thanks to more rain in regions where the bean is grown.

Uganda, the biggest exporter of coffee in Africa, could see exports rise to 3.6 million 60-kg bags for the season.

The National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises, NUCAFE, predicts farmers will benefit from good prices for the commodity.

Uganda predominately cultivates the robusta variety of coffee.

NUCAFE’s head of marketing and production, David Muwonge, admits there are concerns about how crops may have been affected by a prolonged dry spell between January and March, but says it will probably not affect overall output.

“I am expecting the above normal rains we’re getting now should really yield a strong harvest,” he said.

Bean counting

Two months ago, the state owned Uganda Coffee Development Authority reported eastern Uganda was experiencing heavy rainfall in all coffee-growing districts.

The UCDA report, issued in July, said the rains were supporting good bean formation and development.

Coffee farmers in eastern and central Uganda, who account for about 55% of the country’s annual production of beans, are expected to harvest the commodity later this year.

The Ugandan government has been encouraging the industry to grow more coffee to boost export earnings.

Coffee beansUganda’s coffee farmers predict good crop of beans this year

Nebert Rugadya, an economic commentator in Kampala, told the BBC: “Two decades ago, the coffee sector was fully liberalised, replacing the state-run Coffee Marketing Board with private coffee buyers, processors and exporters.”

The Agriculture Ministry launched a 20-year campaign in 1994 to plant 200 million trees by 2015. To date, they say, they have planted at least 150 million trees.

“This should increase production from 3.5 million to 4.5 million bags annually,” Mr Rugadya said.

Mr Rugadya also noted that until about 10 years ago, coffee was Uganda’s major export earner, before being overtaken by diaspora remittances and now tourism.

“However, it still remains a top export industry, worth about $450m (£277m), with 1.5 million households involved in coffee growing,” he said.

Climate woes

Scientists are engineering a new drought-resistant coffee plant that will help farmers in Uganda boost their annual crop output.

Cup of coffee

Lengthy dry spells, attributed to climate change, are having serious effects on farmers’ livelihoods and researchers are developing drought-tolerant crops to help them cope.

Continue reading the main story

Sipping Uganda’s coffee numbers

  • Global coffee exports worth $15.4bn
  • Coffee is 18% of Uganda’s export revenues
  • Uganda exported 314,304 bags of coffee last season

Source: International Coffee Organisation

“When you talk about lifting the rural farmers out of poverty, you have to also start thinking about the kind of crops that they produce,” says Dr Ademola Braimoh, senior natural resources manager at the World Bank.

“We promote the cultivation of high-value crops on the part of the farmers,”

Commodity markets

The price that coffee growers in Uganda and elsewhere in the world get for their crop is guided by traders in the commodity markets.

In neighbouring Kenya, the chief executive of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, Daniel Mbithi, recognises how markets in London or New York decide prices.

“We depend on the buyers from out there and therefore the moment the prices dip, then we will be bound to suffer the same, we will see our prices going down,” he said.”

A rally in coffee prices of recent months has fizzled out, as fears of drought in Brazil have eased.

However, the price of robusta, the type of bean grown in Uganda, has been on a steady climb and last week in London the contract for November rose $10, or 0.5% to $1,998 a tonne.


Afghan rape death sentences upheld

15 September 2014Last updated at 16:39

Rarely has a rape case attracted this much attention in Afghanistan

An Afghan court has upheld death sentences for five men convicted of gang raping four women, in a case which has sparked national outrage.

But the court commuted to life terms the death sentences of two other men found guilty of armed robbery.

All seven men were convicted of armed robbery but only five were found guilty of rape.

Activists say violence against women is prevalent in Afghanistan, but rarely attract this much attention.

The four women were attacked in Paghman town when they were returning to Kabul after a wedding in August.

Human Rights Watch said that many women in Afghanistan who reported rapes to police ended up being arrested for adultery.

Afghan women attend a protest against a high-profile gang rape case that shocked the capital Kabul, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, 7 September 2014Demonstrations were held condemning the gang rape

The BBC’s Bilal Sarwary reports that one of the men accused the police of torture and forcing him to confess to the gang rape.

Police said the men were wearing police uniforms when they stopped a convoy of cars near Paghman, a town near Kabul. The men pulled out four of the women, separated them from their husbands and robbed and attacked them.

At least one of the victims had to spend a week in hospital following the attack. Another was said to be pregnant.


Egypt activist to be freed on bail

15 September 2014Last updated at 16:13

Mr Abdul Fattah is viewed as an icon of the 2011 revolution

An Egyptian court has ordered the release on bail of one of the country’s most prominent bloggers and pro-democracy activists, Alaa Abdul Fattah.

Mr Abdul Fattah had been sentenced to 15 years in jail for violating a strict anti-protest law. He is currently facing a retrial in the case.

Mr Abdul Fattah gained fame during the 2011 uprising against the then-President, Hosni Mubarak.

His arrest had heightened fears of a crackdown on dissent in Egypt.

Correspondents say the 15-year sentence was one of the harshest ever awarded to a non-Islamist activist in the country.

Mr Abdel Fattah had been charged with assaulting a policeman at an illegal protest. He was sentenced in June, along with 24 others, but was not allowed to be in court for the verdict.

The same judges presided over his retrial, prompting Mr Abdel Fattah to complain that he had “no confidence” in them.

Egyptians celebrate after the swearing-in ceremony of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in front of the Presidential Palace in Cairo, 8 June 2014Abdul Fattah al-Sisi won May’s elections with nearly 97% of the vote

A lawyer for Mr Abdul Fattah, Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, said on Monday that the judge presiding over the retrial had stepped down at the request of the defence team.

He said the judge had also ordered an investigation into the prosecutor’s use of Mr Abdul Fattah’s personal videos, “which violated the accused’s privacy”.

At a previous hearing, the prosecutor had shown videos of family celebrations which had no link to the case, Mr Abdel-Aziz told AFP news agency.

The retrial will resume when a new judge is assigned to the case.

Mr Abdul Fattah is expected to leave prison on Tuesday. Along with two other activists, whose release was also ordered by the court, he must pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($430; $700) as bail.

Mr Abdul Fattah comes from a prominent family of Egyptian activists. His sister, Sanaa Seif, is also in custody on charges of violating the protest law.

His father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, was a leading human rights lawyer and campaigner who died late last month.

File photo: Members of the "April 6" and "Against you" movement with liberal activists shout slogans during a protest against presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and a law restricting demonstrations as well as the crackdown on activists, in downtown Cairo, 24 May 2014Activists have demonstrated against a law restricting protests

Hundreds of people have been killed in street clashes since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi last year.

Thousands have also been arrested, most of them Islamists who supported Mr Morsi.

The crackdown has since been extended to student leaders and secular activists who had protested against Mr Mubarak.

Former army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took office as president after winning 96.9% of the vote in elections in May – almost a year after he ousted Mr Morsi.

However turnout was below 50%, as Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and some liberal and secular activists urged a boycott of the poll.

Also on Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Badie, and 14 others to life in jail on charges of murder and inciting violence at protests near Cairo last year.

Mr Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down after mass anti-government protests in 2011, following nearly three decades in power.


Millions of gloves to fight Ebola

15 September 2014Last updated at 16:01

Medical gloves play an important role in preventing the spread of Ebola

Malaysia plans to donate more than 20 million protective rubber gloves to five African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, the government says.

They will be distributed among medical workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A shortage of protective equipment has been one factor in the virus spreading.

It has killed more than 2,400 people, including many health workers, this year, in the world’s worst outbreak.

Health workers in Liberia recently went on strike, saying they need more protective equipment.

Gloves and rubber boots forming part of the Ebola prevention gear for health workers drying in the sun in Monrovia, Liberia, on 8 September 2014. More than half the deaths from the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak have been in Liberia

Malaysia is a leading rubber glove manufacturer, producing 60% of the world’s supply.

“Malaysia can make a unique and vital contribution to the fight against Ebola because we are one of the biggest manufacturers of rubber gloves,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement.

“We hope this contribution will prevent the spread of Ebola and save lives,” he added.

Among the companies supplying the shipment are Sime Darby, Kuala Lumpur Kepong, IOI Corporation Berhad and Top Glove, the prime minister’s office said.

Malaysia will send 11 containers overall, each holding 1.9 million gloves, the statement from Kuala Lumpur said.

The Malaysian government did not say who would pay for the shipment.

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and severe headaches
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and sweat
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% but is 55% in this outbreak
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy in parts of West Africa, are considered to be virus’ natural host

Top US honour for Vietnam soldiers

15 September 2014Last updated at 15:58

Army Command Sgt Maj Bennie Adkins will attend the ceremony at the White House

US President Barack Obama is set to award the nation’s top military award to two soldiers for acts of bravery during the Vietnam War.

Command Sgt Maj Bennie Adkins rescued wounded comrades during a North Vietnamese attack on a US camp.

Specialist Donald Sloat was killed in 1970 when he shielded three soldiers from a grenade with his body.

The men were granted an exemption from a requirement the Medal of Honor be given within three years of the action.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to US military members who have risked their lives in acts “above and beyond the call of duty”.

Command Sgt Maj Adkins, 80, who served 22 years in the Army, will attend the White House ceremony. He served three tours of duty in Vietnam.

In this undated photo provided by the US Army, Donald Paul Sloat is pictured. The White House announced Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014Sloat’s medal will be accepted on his behalf by his brother

During his second deployment in 1966, then-Sgt First Class Adkins fought in close combat for 38 hours against a North Vietnamese attack on a US Army camp in A Shau valley.

Early in the battle, he dragged several wounded soldiers to safety through exploding mortar rounds as he himself was injured, according to an Army report.

Sgt Adkins continued fighting to defend the camp with both mortar and rifle fire throughout another day. When the order was given to evacuate, he and others destroyed papers to prevent them being captured, then dug their way out of a back of a bunker.

He and several others could not reach an evacuation helicopter because Sgt Adkins was carrying a wounded soldier, so he led remaining soldiers into the jungle, evading enemy forces for 48 more hours before being rescued.

Specialist Four Donald Sloat was born in Oklahoma and was killed in action at the age of 20.

While on patrol near Hawk Hill Fire Base, a soldier in his group triggered an enemy hand grenade booby trap.

Specialist Sloat picked up the grenade to throw it away, but he realised it was about to explode. He drew the grenade into his body before it exploded, saving the lives of three fellow soldiers.

“Sloat’s actions define the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life in order to save the lives of his comrades,” the Army said.

His brother, William, was to accept the medal from the US president on Monday.


Trial deal for German ‘IS fighter’

15 September 2014Last updated at 10:12

Hundreds of European citizens are thought to be fighting for IS

A 20-year-old man is going on trial in Germany on charges of fighting for Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.

Prosecutors say Kreshnik Berisha received weapons training and combat experience with the jihadist militants over several months last year.

He was arrested at Frankfurt airport last December while on his way home.

The trial – the first in Germany for alleged membership of IS – comes amid growing alarm at the potential threat posed by jihadis returning to Europe.

IS is thought to have attracted hundreds of recruits from European countries in its battle to establish what it describes as a “caliphate”, spanning a borderless stretch of Syria and Iraq.

Jihadist groups in Syria are thought to have attracted some 400 Islamists from Germany alone.

The US is spearheading efforts to form an international coalition against IS militants, following their seizure of several towns and cities in northern Iraq this summer.

France on Monday hosted a meeting of foreign ministers from around the world to consider how to defeat IS.

Germany announced on Friday that it would seek to prosecute anyone who tried to recruit for IS or spread the group’s propaganda.

The German government also recently said it would arm Iraq’s Kurds in their fight against IS.

Mr Berisha was born in Bad Homburg near Frankfurt to a family from Kosovo.

He is going on trial in the same city, and faces 10 years in prison if convicted of membership of a foreign terrorist organisation.

He is alleged to have been based with IS fighters in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where rebels are fighting against forces loyal to the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.