Australia bushfires north of Sydney 'too big to put out'


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Media caption’Sydney’s mega fire is getting out of control’
A “mega blaze” raging across a 60km (37 mile) front north-west of Sydney cannot currently be put out, Australian fire officials have warned.The fire across almost 300,000 hectares (1,150 sq m) is just an hour’s drive from the nation’s most-populous city.People who cannot defend their property from approaching fires have been told they should leave immediately.Since October, bushfires have killed six people and destroyed more than 700 homes across Australia.The severity of the blazes so early in the fire season has caused alarm, and prompted calls for greater action to tackle climate change.Fires have also raged across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.What’s the latest on the ground?Several fires have combined to form the Gospers Mountain mega blaze, which is more than 283,000 ha in size.At 12:00 local time Saturday (01:00 GMT) 95 fires were burning, with half yet to be contained, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) tweeted.It said that more than 2,200 firefighters “were out in the field”.

At one point on Friday, nine fires had been raised to emergency level warnings, although these decreased markedly amid a brief respite in conditions later in the day.The blazes north of Sydney were sending black fumes across the city, causing a rise in medical problems.NSW RFS deputy commissioner, Rob Rogers told national broadcaster ABC: “We cannot stop these fires, they will just keep burning until conditions ease, and then we’ll try to do what we can to contain them.”He said the 60km stretch from Hawkesbury to Singleton was “just fire that whole way”.Video footage from the Orangeville area showed firefighters running from a wall of fire and the Walkabout Wildlife Park has evacuated hundreds of animals.Fire officials in Ingleburn warned: “If your property is not prepared for the bushfire season and you’re not sure you are able or capable of defending your property if a fire approaches you need to leave straight away.”Firefighters from Canada were briefed in Sydney on Friday and will be deployed across New South Wales over the weekend, to be joined by teams from the US.What’s the outlook?There was some respite overnight but another dry and windy day is predicted.”They were able to strengthen a number of containment lines [overnight]… in preparation of some of those challenging conditions we are expecting this afternoon,” RFS Chief Superintendent Ben Millington told the ABC.But he added: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

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A smoky haze has enveloped much of Sydney

Tuesday is the next big concern, with temperatures inland of Sydney likely to reach above 40C (104F).Some firefighters have expressed concern that volunteer numbers might not be enough and that there are inadequate water supplies.The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said that “some fires were too big to put out” while the NSW RFS said late Friday the blazes would only be extinguished “when we get good rain”.

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Media captionFirefighters flee intense flames in Sydney, in a video shared by them to show the dangers of bushfires
Sydney may be blanketed in smoke for weeks, if not months.Is this fire season particularly bad?It hasn’t come close to the fatalities of 2009, when nearly 200 people died, but the scale of the damage has been huge.
How bad is bushfire smoke for health?
Toxic smoke affects golfers at Australian Open
More than 1.6 million hectares of land have burned in New South Wales alone.The season has hit earlier than normal and has been exacerbated by drought conditions.RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: “There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation… you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely.”Is climate change to blame?The BOM says that climate change has led to an increase in extreme heat events and raised the severity of other natural disasters, such as drought.

Last week, the bureau noted that NSW had endured its driest spring season on record. It also warned that Australia’s coming summer was predicted to bring similar conditions to last year’s – the nation’s hottest summer on record.
Australia may see 50C days ‘in decades’
Climate emergency ‘clear and unequivocal’
The government has been criticised over its efforts to address climate change. PM Scott Morrison has dismissed accusations linking the crisis to his government’s policies.
Final call to halt ‘climate catastrophe’
What could be wiped out by temperature rise
Hundreds of bushfire survivors and farmers converged on the nation’s capital, Canberra, this week in protest. One woman displayed the charred remains of her home outside Parliament – on which she had written: “Morrison, your climate crisis destroyed my home.”

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Dean Sewell/ Greenpeace

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Melinda Plesman called for the government to take action on climate change



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General election 2019: Reddit says UK-US trade talks document leak 'linked to Russia'


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Jeremy Corbyn holds up the leaked documents at a press conference on 27 November

Leaked documents detailing UK-US trade talks were posted on Reddit by an account linked to a campaign “originating from Russia”, the online message board has said.In a post on Friday, the site said it had suspended 61 accounts that were part of a co-ordinated effort.The papers had their first wide burst of public attention when unveiled in the election campaign by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He claimed they show the NHS is “for sale” and Labour says their release was in the public interest.The Conservative Party, which denies the NHS would be on the table during trade talks with the US, declined to comment on Reddit’s announcement.Reddit’s post did not provide any further details about the evidence behind its conclusions.But it said a group of suspect accounts “provides us with important attribution for the recent posting of the leaked UK documents, as well as insights into how adversaries are adapting their tactics”.The leakMr Corbyn and Boris Johnson continue to debate what the UK government documents actually mean – and the subject came up again during Friday’s televised BBC debate. The Labour leader, who first highlighted them at a press conference on 27 November, contends they pave the way to higher drug costs and the privatisation of the National Health Service, while the prime minister insists that is not true. The documents themselves were posted on Reddit more than a month prior to Mr Corbyn’s announcement, prompting questions about how they got there – and why few people seemed to notice them before.Where did the leaked trade documents come from?Reddit statementThe original Reddit post containing the trade talks documents came from an account with the user name “gregoratior”.

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gregoratior

In its post, Reddit said: “We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it, and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia.””Suspect accounts on Reddit were recently reported to us, along with indicators from law enforcement, and we were able to confirm that they did indeed show a pattern of coordination,” the post continued.The company also said the suspended accounts participated in vote manipulation – Reddit uses a “karma” points system to highlight popular posts – but that “none of these accounts or posts received much attention on the platform.”Trying to get attentionFollowing the original Reddit post, further attempts were made to get attention for the documents – via a Twitter account, the fringe message board 4chan, websites in Germany and Austria, and an American conspiracy site.

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On Monday, researchers at Oxford and Cardiff universities, the Atlantic Council think tank and social media analysis firm Graphika said that the way the documents were posted and spread online closely resembled a Russian campaign uncovered earlier in the year. Researchers dubbed that earlier campaign “Secondary Infektion” after a Soviet-era disinformation plot.The researchers who uncovered the earlier network pointed out that “gregoratior” used the same unusual combination of websites to spread the leaked documents. At several points, the account’s posts seemed to be written by a non-native speaker of English.Similarly, the BBC determined that a post made by one of the accounts in German does not appear to be the writing of a native German speaker.Debate confrontationDuring a previous leader debate on 19 November, Mr Corbyn produced heavily-redacted versions of the documents, and announced that they were the result of a Freedom of Information request.

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Media captionMoment Corbyn produces ‘NHS dossier’
That request was originally lodged by campaign group Global Justice Now. A spokesperson told the BBC that after the debate, the organisation was contacted via email and alerted to the presence of the uncensored documents on Reddit. Labour’s responseThe BBC attempted to contact “gregoratior” via Reddit and email, but we have not received a reply.A Reddit spokesperson said Friday: “The integrity of our site continues to be of great importance, and we will continue to be transparent with our community and the public on these issues.” However the company did not release any specific details about the evidence it obtained from law enforcement or its own investigation. The Labour Party has not commented on how they obtained or became aware of the documents. A party spokesperson said: “These documents reveal the plot against our NHS. And of course neither the UK nor the US government have denied their authenticity. Our releasing them to journalists was clearly in the public interest.” Is there something we should be investigating? Email usFollow BBC Trending on Twitter @BBCtrending, and find us on Facebook. All our stories are at bbc.com/trending.



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'How smart home tech helps me live independently'



Adam, who has Down’s syndrome, lives independently in a tech-filled home he shares with housemates.The house is part of a project which uses smart devices, sensors and bespoke applications to enable people with learning disabilities to live without in-home carers.Adam showed BBC Click’s Paul Carter how the technology helps him in everyday life.See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick



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General election 2019: Who is paying for the election?


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Cider, steam locomotives and Thailand: some of the more unusual things that unite major party donors

Russian oligarchs. A fashion magnate turned cider maker. A theatre impresario. An online gambling entrepreneur. The wife of a Syrian-born arms trade fixer.These are some of the big donors pouring hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of pounds into the political parties, and they are an intriguing bunch. Their largesse pays for the increasingly important online messaging, the battle buses, the rallies, stunts and all the paraphernalia of a 21st Century election campaign. All the parties hoover up smaller donations from supporters of more modest means, but these big donations from the mega-wealthy can transform the parties’ striking power.Why do they do it? Some reach into their wallets out of genuine support and conviction. But others may do it hoping for influence and access, and there’s genuine concern around public policy being shaped behind the scenes by special interests which can splash the cash.Donations of more than £7,500 have to be registered with the watchdog body, the Electoral Commission. There were £20.3 million of these large donations in the first three weeks of the campaign, and the Conservatives reaped the biggest share.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest sums and some of the most interesting names to crop up in the Electoral Commission’s list.Conservatives

Bahamas-based theatre impresario, John E Gore, who made his money from blockbuster musicals, including Wicked and Hamilton. He says he’s donating to the Conservatives as a British citizen concerned about the rise of extremism. His donation during the election adds to the £1.8m he’s given over the previous two years. A co-founder of Hargeaves Lansdown, one of the UK’s largest financial services companies, Peter Hargreaves is estimated to be worth £3.3bn. He was a major supporter of the Leave.EU campaign during the EU referendum, donating £3.2m. He predicted the Brexit vote would be “the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had….It will be like Dunkirk again.”Notable others:

Lubov Chernukhin, £200,000: The wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, a former Russian deputy finance minister who became chairman of a state-owned bank. After a falling-out with President Vladimir Putin, he was dismissed, and the couple moved to Britain. Lubov is now a British citizen and she has donated more than £450,000 to the Conservatives in the past year. She once successfully bid £160,000 at a Tory fundraiser to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and £30,000 to have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson in the Churchill War Rooms, in Whitehall. Asked about the match some years later, in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, Mr Johnson defended it, warning against creating a “miasma of suspicion” against all Russians.

Ann Rosemary Said, £200,000: The wife of Wafic Said, a Syrian-born billionaire arms deal fixer who helped broker Britain’s biggest arms sale – the controversial al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia – signed by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Mrs Said also donated £10,000 to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign. Before 2000, Mr Said had himself donated to the Conservative Party, but this was before the law was changed so that only people on the UK electoral register were allowed to give to political parties.

Lakshmi and Usha Mittal, £75,000 each: Once the third richest man in the world, Lakshmi is married to Usha Mittal. He is the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaking company, owning 38% of its shares. He is also a member of the board of directors of Goldman Sachs and owns 11% of Queens Park Rangers football club. Mr Mittal gave £10,000 to Boris Johnson’s Conservative leadership campaign. He had previously given £125,000 to Labour, when the party was in government under Tony Blair.

Aquind Ltd, £50,000: Led by Ukrainian-born British businessman Alexander Temerko, Aquind is a company proposing to build a cross-Channel electricity interconnector to bring energy generated in the EU to Britain. Mr Temerko was an official in the Russian Defence Ministry in the 1990s and later a senior executive and director at the Russian oil and gas company, Yukos. He became a UK citizen in 2011 and is a major Conservative donor, having given more than £1.3m to the party. In November 2019, he called for the Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in British politics, to be published.
Labour

The biggest single donation of the election, cementing Unite’s position as Labour’s banker – they gave Labour £3.5m for the 2015 election and £4.4m in the months up to the vote in 2017. The union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, is a staunch supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and has played a key role in preventing Labour from swinging behind a second referendum or a Remain position. Unite has also made a number of smaller donations, in the tens of thousands, which have come from the regions and possibly from individual fundraising initiatives. The more Corbyn-sceptic union, the GMB, gave £250,000 (it gave £1m in 2015, when Ed Miliband was Labour leader),Notable others:

Ecotricity, £35,000: The green electricity company led by former New Age traveller turned eco-entrepreneur, Dale Vince.

Harold Immanuel, £10,000: A long-standing Labour member, who stood against Labour in the Brent East by-election of 2003 in protest at the Labour government’s Iraq policy and against “creeping privatisation” in the NHS.
Brexit Party

Previously a Conservative donor, Christopher Harborne is a little-known figure even in Brexiteer circles, keeping a much lower public profile than previous backers of Nigel Farage, like the insurance tycoon Arron Banks. He gave three separate donations of £1m each to the Brexit Party earlier this year, and also gifted a coffee machine to their HQ. His donation for the election campaign, which amounts to more than 90% of the Brexit Party’s total funding, would have given them the financial firepower to compete with the established parties, had they decided to campaign in Conservative seats. It looks likely that the Brexit Party will end this campaign with much of the money unspent, providing a war-chest for future operations. Two of Mr Harborne’s businesses – AML Global and Sherriff Group – are linked to private aircraft and aviation. Mr Harborne has British nationality, but lives most of the time in Thailand. Notable others:
Jeremy Hosking, £250,000: Another former Conservative donor who became a major Brexit backer, he gave £1.7m to the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum. He is the main financial force behind the new political-cultural magazine The Critic. He is also Britain’s biggest owner of vintage steam engines and is a shareholder of Crystal Palace FC.Lib Dems

Owns 31.2% of Gamesys, the company that runs the “soft gaming” website Jackpotjoy.com, which specialises in bingo, instant-win games and casino tables. In 2009/10, the company made £21m profit. Noel Hayden has a stake worth £60m. Notable others:
Davide Serra, £60,000: The Italian-born founder and CEO of Algebris Investments, a global asset management company that manages $11.3bn of assets. Strongly anti-Brexit, he argues it was “mis-sold” to the general public and will leave the younger population “screwed”. He describes himself as “a good Catholic boy” who voted Labour in 2017.Green Party

Founder of the fashion chain Superdry, and a maker of organic cider. Julian Dunkerton donated £1m to the People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in 2018. He has also donated £35,000 to Plaid Cymru and £30,000 to the Liberal Democrats.



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Elon Musk wins defamation case over 'pedo guy' tweet about diver


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Elon Musk pictured leaving the courtroom in LA

Elon Musk did not defame a British diver who helped in last year’s Thai cave rescue by calling him a “pedo guy” in a tweet, a US jury has found.Vernon Unsworth was seeking $190m (£145m) in damages from the Tesla founder, over the tweet sent last year.A public row broke out between the two over the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave in June 2018.Mr Musk told the court this week the phrase “pedo guy” was common in South Africa, where he grew up.Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the jury reached its decision, Mr Musk said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”Jurors took less than an hour to return their unanimous verdict, following a four-day trial at a federal court in Los Angeles.What was the row about?Mr Unsworth, an experienced 64-year-old cave explorer, splits his time between the UK and Thailand. During the rescue of the young football team, which captured the world’s attention, Mr Unsworth helped recruit expert cave divers who were instrumental in freeing the boys safely.Mr Musk sent Tesla engineers and a small submarine to northern Thailand to help with the rescue effort, but the vessel was never used.Instead, he and Mr Unsworth got into a public war of words after the diver branded the offer of help a “PR stunt”.During an interview with CNN, the diver suggested the billionaire “stick his submarine where it hurts”.Mr Musk, who has 22 million followers, responded with a series of tweets about Mr Unsworth – including the one calling him “pedo guy”. It was later deleted.What was said at court?Testifying over two days on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr Musk told the court he did not expect the “pedo” tweet to be taken literally.He said that at the time he thought Mr Unsworth was “just some random creepy guy” who was “unrelated to the rescue”.Mr Musk apologised on Twitter and in court for his outburst.Contesting this, Mr Unsworth’s lawyer Lin Wood cited another now-deleted tweet the billionaire sent to his followers saying: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”

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Vernon Unsworth said the tweet left him “humiliated”

He also cited an email exchange that Mr Musk had with a Buzzfeed reporter who contacted him for comment on the threat of legal action, where the entrepreneur said: “Stop defending child rapists.”Mr Wood said Mr Musk was a “billionaire bully” who had “dropped a nuclear bomb” on his client, and that the tweet had affected his career and relationships.On Thursday, Mr Unsworth told the court that Mr Musk’s tweet had left him feeling “humiliated”.Reporters in court said the diver appeared on the verge of tears as he told jurors: “It feels very raw. I feel humiliated. Ashamed. Dirtied. Effectively, from day one, I was given a life sentence without parole. It hurts to talk about it.”

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Media captionHow the Thai cave boys were rescued
He added: “I find it disgusting. I find it very hard to even read the word, never mind talk about.”Alex Spiro, Mr Musk’s lawyer, argued that the “pedo guy” tweet was an offhand comment made in the course of an argument between the two men, which no-one could be expected to take seriously.”In arguments you insult people,” he said. “There is no bomb. No bomb went off.”



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General election 2019: Johnson questions Corbyn's Brexit stance



Jeremy Corbyn said he taken has a neutral stance on Brexit because “the country has to come together”.In the BBC election debate, the Labour leader said he would implement whatever the public decide in another referendum on the EU.But Boris Johnson said it’s a “failure of leadership” not to have a position.



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British diplomat resigns over having to 'peddle half-truths' on Brexit


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UK Government

A UK diplomat in charge of Brexit at the British embassy in the US has quit.In her resignation letter, seen by broadcaster CNN, Alexandra Hall Hall said she could no longer “peddle half-truths” on behalf of political leaders she did not “trust”.She said she has become “dismayed” by the reluctance of politicians to “honestly” address the “challenges and trade-offs” involved in leaving the EU.The Foreign Office said it would not comment on details of her resignation.However, it did confirm Ms Hall Hall had resigned as UK Brexit Counsellor at the British embassy in Washington – a post which involves explaining the UK Brexit policy to US lawmakers and policymakers.In her letter, dated 3 December, she wrote: “I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and trade-offs which Brexit involves; the use of misleading or disingenuous arguments about the implications of the various options before us; and some behaviour towards our institutions, which, were it happening in another country, we would almost certainly as diplomats have received instructions to register our concern.””It makes our job to promote democracy and the rule of law that much harder, if we are not seen to be upholding these core values at home.”BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams described her letter as “stunningly blunt”.’Unbearable’Ms Hall Hall, who is a former ambassador to Georgia and has worked in the diplomatic service for 33 years, did not name any specific politicians in the letter, but took aim at the current Conservative government.She wrote: “I am also at a stage in life where I would prefer to do something more rewarding with my time, than peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust.”Diplomats are supposed to be politically neutral and Ms Hall Hall stressed her decision to resign was not tied to her personal views on leaving the EU.”I took this position with a sincere commitment, indeed passion, to do my part, to the very best of my abilities, to help achieve a successful outcome on Brexit,” she wrote, but added her position had become “unbearable personally and untenable professionally”.With a week to go until the UK heads to the polls, Ms Hall Hall insisted she had stood down before the election to avoid her resignation being portrayed as a reaction to its outcome.CNN reported that she had also filed a formal complaint about being asked to convey overtly partisan language on Brexit.Ms Hall Hall suggested her role as a diplomat had been diverted to convey messages that were “neither fully honest nor politically impartial.”The UK has been without an ambassador to the US since Sir Kim Darroch resigned in the summer over a row about leaked emails critical of President Trump’s administration.



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Watford: Nigel Pearson succeeds Quique Sanchez Flores as manager




Nigel Pearson has previously managed Leicester City, Hull City and SouthamptonWatford have appointed Nigel Pearson as manager until the end of the season.The former Leicester City boss will take charge after Saturday’s Premier League match against Crystal Palace.The 56-year-old is Watford’s third manager of the season following Quique Sanchez Flores’ sacking on Sunday after less than 90 days in charge.”Nigel comes with all of the experience and success we believe can have a very positive impact on our season,” chairman Scott Duxbury said.Watford’s under-23 coach Hayden Mullins will oversee Saturday’s fixture.Flores was dismissed on Sunday following the 2-1 defeat at Southampton, with the side bottom of the Premier League.He succeeded Javi Gracia, who was sacked in September.Pearson last managed in the Premier League at Leicester but was sacked in May 2015 and replaced by Claudio Ranieri, with the Foxes winning the Premier League title the following season. He has since had a five-month spell at Derby County, leaving by mutual consent in October 2016, and at Belgian First Division side OH Leuven, where he was sacked in February 2019.”It’s been a pleasure spending time listening to the passion with which he talks about the game,” Duxbury said.”Saturday gives the perfect opportunity for Nigel to be officially introduced to our supporters as Hayden leads the team in the quest for a very important three points.”Nigel Pearson’s managerial record in EnglandClubPlayedWonDrawnLostWin percentageCarlisle United306121220West Brom (caretaker)431075Newcastle (two caretaker spells)311133Southampton1437421Leicester10755302251Hull City6423202136Leicester18285385947Derby1224617



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Dillian Whyte: British heavyweight has doping charge dropped


British heavyweight Dillian Whyte has had a charge for a doping violation dropped.The 31-year-old provided a sample on 20 June this year – before his victory against Oscar Rivas in July – that contained traces of a banned steroid.But UK Anti-Doping has announced the charge has been withdrawn as the levels in his sample were “very low”.Ukad says the presence of a steroid was “not caused by any fault, negligence or wrongdoing” on Whyte’s part.More to follow.



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