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Covid news live: Africa sees cases ‘drop significantly’; experts say Australia’s Omicron wave ‘likely’ peaked »»

Scientists say Australia’s hardest-hit states are ‘probably through the worst’ as cases are ‘levelling off’; Covid cases have sharply declined in Africa for the first time since discovery of Omicron, WHO says

China has reported its lowest daily tally of local confirmed Covid-19 cases in nearly two months, after a national strategy to stamp out flare-ups and lock down affected cities.

China reported 23 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Thursday, official data showed, down from 43 a day earlier.

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The King’s Daughter: Pierce Brosnan’s cursed mermaid stabbing movie finally gets released »»

Made back in 2014 but only now being dumped in cinemas, this bizarre adaptation of an acclaimed novel is destined to be forgotten

From its title alone, you may be forgiven for thinking that The King’s Daughter is a film about a king’s daughter. It isn’t. It’s about Pierce Brosnan’s berserk quest to achieve immortality by stabbing a mermaid through the heart. True, there is a king in it; and, yes, he does have a daughter. But I have to make this perfectly clear, it’s actually a film about Pierce Brosnan trying to murder a mermaid through the heart.

Clearly, there have been meetings about this. The King’s Daughter is an adaptation of Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun; a novel that, it must be said, won the Nebula book award ahead of A Game of Thrones on publication. But you can’t call a film The Moon and the Sun, because people might inadvertently think they’re going to watch a film about the actual moon and the actual sun. My instinct, given the subject matter, would have instead been to call it Pierce Brosnan Stabbing a Mermaid Through the Heart. This is partly because it is a precise description of what happens in the film, but mainly because who wouldn’t want to watch a film called Pierce Brosnan Stabbing a Mermaid Through the Heart? Only the very worst kind of idiot, that’s who.

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One firefighter dead and another seriously injured in South Australia bushfire »»

Incident occurred when a tree collapsed on a fire truck as crews battled an out-of-control blaze at Coles, SA

One firefighter has died and another has been seriously injured after a tree collapsed on a fire truck battling an out-of-control bushfire in South Australia’s southeast.

The tragic incident occurred at the firefront at Coles, near Lucindale, where the blaze was running uncontrolled through bluegum plantations, scrub and grassland, a Country Fire Service spokeswoman said.

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Guatemala’s economy buoyed by record $15bn sent home from workers overseas »»

Critics accuse the country’s government of doing nothing to stop the ‘escape valve’ of migration as it covers up their lack of spending

The amount of money Guatemalans living abroad send home to their families reached record levels in 2021. Remittances rose to more than $15bn (£11bn) in 2021, an increase of 35% on the previous year.

The unprecedented rise prompted experts to question the political will to tackle the migration crisis when remittances from the US contribute so much to the Guatemalan economy.

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Nestle withdraws Hindu KitKat range in India over accusations of disrespect »»

Many people expressed outrage that wrappers, featuring Hindu gods, could be thrown in bins or trodden on

Nestle has withdrawn a special range of KitKats in India which featured images of sacred Hindu deities on the wrapper, after accusations of hurting religious sentiments.

The limited range of the well-known chocolate bar had been launched as part of the global “KitKat travel breaks” range, where photos of artwork by local artisans were printed on the wrappers.

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After Democrats’ historic defeat on voting rights, what happens next? »»

In an extremely bruising loss for Biden, Republicans used the filibuster to block the sweeping bill from passing

For a little over a year, America has faced a democratic crisis unlike any it has seen in recent history.

As Republicans have spread lies about the 2020 presidential election, confidence in it remains staggeringly low and about 1 in 3 Americans now believe Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. Republicans who claim the election was stolen are trying to grab key election administration roles, prompting unprecedented alarm that a future election could be overturned.

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Bose QC45 review: commuter favourite noise-cancelling headphones revamped »»

Top noise reduction, comfort and good sound – but a lack of bells and whistles for the price

Bose is back with a revamp of its most popular noise-cancelling headphones, which improve the technology but keep the good bits mostly the same.

The company appears to have taken an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the new headphones, which are similar to the excellent QuietComfort 35 from 2016 but markedly different to the more modern NCH 700 that launched two years ago.

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Tales from the crypto: lira crisis fuels Bitcoin boom in Turkey »»

Lack of trust in official currency has led to surging interest in cryptocurrencies – despite their volatility and government opposition

In the offices of AltCoin, a cryptocurrency hub tucked away in a sidestreet in Istanbul’s bustling Kadiköy neighbourhood, two wall-mounted TV sets showed the live value of currencies bitcoin and Ethereum, both graphs sloping downwards.

AltCoin’s all-male inhabitants were not worried – in the chaotic world of cryptocurrency, their fortunes could soon change.

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Tonga turns back aid flight from Australia after positive Covid case discovered »»

Morrison government promised Tongans Covid-safe humanitarian relief after volcanic eruption and tsunami

Tonga has turned back an aid flight from Australia due to a positive Covid case on board, despite assurances from the Morrison government that humanitarian relief from the volcanic eruption and tsunami could be offered in a Covid-safe way.

Tonga is Covid-free and has a strict border control policy, requiring contactless delivery of aid that began arriving by plane on Thursday.

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‘Endless torrent’ of announcements on UK railways to be sharply reduced »»

Transport secretary Grant Shapps calls for ‘bonfire of the banalities’ as he commissions review

Train announcements are to be given a formal hearing by government officials so that those deemed “repetitive and unnecessary” can be axed.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has commissioned a cross-industry review and called for a “bonfire of the banalities”.

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‘I was so close to the sky. It was spiritual’: Sonny Rollins on jazz landmark The Bridge at 60 »»

It’s one of the most romantic stories in music: the jazz star rejecting fame to practise on a New York bridge for two years. Now 91, Rollins recalls those long cold days – and how he has coped after losing the power to play

If you happened to be gazing idly from a window of New York City’s J train crossing the East River on the Williamsburg Bridge, most days between the summer of 1959 and the autumn of 1961, you might have glimpsed a lone saxophonist huddled into a cranny of the gigantic steel skeleton.

Travellers on the footway might have got close to the sound of him, too: an astonishing tumult of fast tumbling runs seeming to echo the chatter of the wheels on the subway tracks, honking low-tone exclamations exchanged with the hoots of the riverboats, snatches of blues, pop hits, classical motifs, calypsos. Few witnesses to those torrential monologues will have shrugged him off as just another busker; this was an intuitive master of his instrument who, for some reason, had chosen to tell this multitude of stories to the sky instead of a rapt roomful of fans.

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Two-thirds of passengers on first flight to Covid-free Kiribati diagnosed with virus »»

Island nation set to impose lockdown next week after virus escaped from quarantine centre

After remaining Covid-free for the entirety of the pandemic, Kiribati has reopened its borders – only for two thirds of the passengers on the first international flight to arrive in ten months to test positive for the virus.

The island nation is now set to impose a four-day lockdown from Monday after the virus was found to have spread into the community.

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China’s threat to ‘punish’ Olympic athletes for free speech ‘very concerning’, Australia says »»

Sports minister Richard Colbeck says Australia opposes advisory on political comments from Beijing Winter Olympics committee

Potential restrictions on athletes’ speech at the Beijing Winter Olympics are “very concerning”, Australia’s sports minister, Richard Colbeck, has said after China warned of “punishment” for political comments at next month’s Games.

Colbeck said the Australian government opposed China’s advisory, and maintained athletes had the right to free speech on the Olympic stage.

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Papua New Guinea repeals death penalty 30 years after reintroduction »»

Justice minister says state lacks ability to humanely execute those convicted, while PM says PNG is a ‘Christian nation’

Papua New Guinea has repealed the death penalty 30 years after reintroducing it, with prime minister James Marape saying it was “not an effective deterrent to serious crime”.

Offences such as treason, piracy, murder – including sorcery related violence – and aggravated rape will now be punishable by life imprisonment without parole or parole after 30 years.

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‘They cut him into pieces’: India love jihad conspiracy theory turns lethal »»

Hindu extremists are carrying out violent attacks to stop interfaith relationships with Muslims

It was dark and pelting down with rain as Sameer Parishwadi ran along the railway tracks. Up ahead, as torches darted across the tracks, they shone on to a pair of feet.

A few metres away, sliced clean from the body, was a head, one that he recognised. It was Arbaaz Aftab Mullah, his cousin and best friend from childhood.

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‘Not sustainable’: Omicron tests China’s zero Covid policy as first cases detected »»

With the Winter Olympics imminent, experts predict more extreme measures but question strategy’s wisdom

Like many middle class Chinese, the 26-year-old banker from Beijing spent the first two weeks of January celebrating the new year. She visited Dior, shopped at Walmart and lunched at Quanjude, the city’s best-known Peking roast duck restaurant. One evening, she watched a standup comedy show. And on one weekend, she drove with friends to a ski resort on the outskirts of the capital.

Last week it was announced she was Beijing’s Omicron “patient zero”. Authorities released a detailed account of her itinerary dating back to 31 December, and her mundane – if a little extravagant – lifestyle became the talking point of China. Authorities also noted that she had been triple vaccinated with Sinovac.

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Love jihad: India's lethal religious conspiracy theory – video »»

The mutilated body of a 24-year-old Muslim, Arbaaz Aftab Mullah, was discovered on a railway track near his home. His family believe he was murdered because of his interfaith relationship with a Hindu woman and that he is one of the latest victims of the 'love jihad' conspiracy theory, which has swept across groups of Hindu nationalists in India. The theory claims that Muslim men are seducing Hindu women and luring them into marriage in order to convert them to Islam. The claims are baseless, yet the consequences are real

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Liz Truss says Boris Johnson is doing a ‘fantastic job’ but sidesteps leadership question »»

The foreign secretary, in Sydney for ministerial-level talks, says the embattled PM has her support and should stay in No 10 ‘as long as possible’

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has backed Boris Johnson, saying he is doing “a fantastic job” as prime minister, that he has her “100% support”, and should remain in Number 10 “as long as possible”.

Truss, in Sydney for a series of ministerial talks with her Australian counterpart, was asked on Friday whether the prime minister’s leadership remained tenable, given the unfolding anger over a series of parties in Downing Street while the UK was under a strict Covid lockdown.

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When You Finish Saving the World review – Jesse Eisenberg’s patchy directorial debut »»

The actor turns writer-director for a hit-and-miss comedy drama about a mother and son trying to find meaning in their lives

And so Sundance 2022 begins with the curtain drawn back by Jesse Eisenberg, an actor who’s long been linked with the festival, with films such as The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland, Holy Rollers, The End of the Tour and last year’s Wild Indian all premiering. His on-screen persona – jittery, insecure, fast-talking, intelligent – made him an ideal poster boy not just for Sundance but the independent scene at large, a writer’s schtick made so believable on screen that it felt inevitable he would soon head behind it.

He went from writing short stories to writing plays and now he’s writing and directing his first film, the so-so festival opener When You Finish Saving the World, based on his audio drama from 2020. Eisenberg doesn’t star but he’s cast Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard to fill the role, the actor doing a successful cover version without leaning into cheap impersonation. He’s Ziggy, a high schooler who devotes his time to his music which he livestreams to an audience of over 20,000 people worldwide, a number he’s endlessly proud of. His mother Evelyn (Julianne Moore) is less impressed, her time focused on the more noble act of running a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

When You Finish Saving the World is showing at the Sundance film festival and will be released later this year

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Australia has had its deadliest day yet of the pandemic – here’s what we know about who is dying »»

As the nation reaches the deadliest stage of the entire coronavirus pandemic, the protective effects of the vaccine remain clear

The last two weeks of the Omicron outbreak have been the deadliest of the entire coronavirus pandemic, with four of the five highest daily death tolls all in the past week alone, figures reveal.

However, despite the rising numbers, experts say we still don’t know enough about who is dying and why.

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Tesla’s expansion in Xinjiang ‘sets a poor example’, say US lawmakers »»

Elon Musk last month announced opening of new showroom in region at heart of China’s years-long campaign of repression against Uyghur people

The chairmen of two congressional panels on oversight and trade have assailed Tesla’s expansion in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, where mass internment camps have drawn heavy criticism, and asked the electric carmaker about its Chinese product sourcing.

“Your misguided expansion into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region sets a poor example and further empowers the CCP [Chinese government] at a fraught moment,” Democrats Bill Pascrell and Earl Blumenauer, who head two House of Representatives ways and means subcommittees, wrote in a joint letter to Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

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‘My show ain’t ready’: Adele postpones Las Vegas residency »»

Singer announces she is rescheduling Weekends with Adele show as half her crew infected with Covid

Adele has been forced to delay her three-month Las Vegas residency after Covid hit the production.

“I’m so sorry, but my show ain’t ready,” the singer announced in an Instagram post. “We’ve been absolutely destroyed by delivery delays and Covid. Half my crew … are down with Covid – they still are – and it’s been impossible to finish the show.”

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Biden warns Russia will ‘pay a heavy price’ if Putin launches Ukraine invasion – as it happened »»

Here’s where the day stands so far:

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Belarus: US charges four government officials with piracy over Ryanair plane diversion »»

When the plane landed authorities arrested journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich

US prosecutors have charged four Belarusian government officials with aircraft piracy for diverting a Ryanair flight last year, allegedly claiming that there was a bomb threat in order to arrest an opposition journalist.

The charges, announced by federal prosecutors in New York, recounted how a regularly-scheduled passenger plane traveling between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania, on 23 May was diverted to Minsk in Belarus by air traffic control authorities in Belarus.

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Deadly explosion in Ghana leaves huge crater after a mining truck accident – video »»

A massive crater has been formed in the ground following an explosion in Ghana's rural west. The explosion happened when a truck carrying explosives to a gold mine collided with a motorcycle. Multiple people are believed to have been killed. Footage shows widespread damage to houses nearby

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‘Stuck in perilous moment’: Doomsday Clock holds at 100 seconds to midnight »»

The clock has been set at that time third year in a row as science and security board says it ‘brings neither stability nor security’

The Doomsday Clock, established 75 years ago by scientists to illustrate the danger of human extinction, remains at 100 seconds to midnight according to a panel of experts.

It is the third year in a row that the clock has been set at that time, which is closer to midnight than at any period during the cold war, including the Cuban missile crisis.

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UK’s Liz Truss warns Russia of ‘terrible quagmire’ if it invades Ukraine »»

Foreign secretary says emboldened autocracies are seeking to export dictatorship around the world

Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, has warned Russia that any invasion of Ukraine would only lead to “a terrible quagmire and loss of life” on the scale of the Soviet-Afghan war.

Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, Truss framed the Ukraine conflict as part of a wider dispute between what she saw as liberal states and autocracies, including Russia and China.

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Mitch McConnell’s viral Black voter comments cause widespread furor »»

Republican Senate minority leader’s comments came after party members blocked voting rights bill and changes to filibuster rule

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has sparked widespread outrage by appearing to refer to African Americans and Americans as two separate groups in comments about Black voters that have since gone viral.

The Kentucky Republican was speaking after Republican senators once again blocked Democrats’ voting rights legislation on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening.

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Dozens feared dead after immense explosion rocks western Ghana »»

The blast, which flattened hundreds of buildings and killed at least 17 people, was the result of a mining explosive vehicle colliding with a motorcycle

Dozens of people are feared dead after a truck carrying mining explosives collided with a motorcycle in western Ghana, sparking an explosion that has left hundreds of buildings destroyed.

The accident happened around noon in Apiate, near the mining city of Bogoso, 300km (180 miles) west of the West African country’s capital, Accra.

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Taliban launch raids on homes of Afghan women’s rights activists »»

Campaigners arrested by armed men days after anti-hijab protest in Kabul, with beatings reported

Taliban gunmen have raided the homes of women’s rights activists in Kabul, beating and arresting female campaigners in a string of actions apparently triggered by recent demonstrations.

Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parawana Ibrahimkhel, who participated in a series of protests held in Kabul over the last few months, were seized on Wednesday night by armed men claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department.

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Biden warns Russia will 'pay heavy price' if it invades Ukraine – video »»

Joe Biden sought to clarify US policy on a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine after his remarks about how the Nato alliance might respond to a 'minor incursion' triggered alarm in Kyiv. Biden told reporters at the White House: 'If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. Let there be no doubt if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price'

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Teenager becomes youngest woman to fly solo around the world – video »»

A Belgian-British teenager has flown into the record books by becoming the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Zara Rutherford, 19, touched down at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in Flanders, completing a 52,000km (28,100 nautical mile) journey that took in 31 countries across five continents. 'It’s just really crazy. I haven’t quite processed it,' Rutherford, draped in British and Belgian flags, told reporters

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Covid-19 map of the US: latest cases state by state »»

The US emerged as an early hotspot for the coronavirus and it continues to have some of the highest case and death rates in the world. It leads the world in both confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

It’s important to point out that the actual death toll is believed to be far higher than the tally compiled from government figures.

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Tonga: new footage shows aftermath of volcano eruption and tsunami – video »»

Footage has emerged from Tonga showing buildings covered with ash, as well as damage to properties and infrastructure. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday evening, triggering tsunami waves of up to 15 metres. Water supplies were seriously affected by volcanic ash, according to the government

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Biden lays bare Nato divide over Russian aggression against Ukraine »»

Analysis: Greatest tension is between US and Germany over arms sale and energy dependency

Joe Biden confirmed at his press conference on Wednesday what has been apparent for weeks – Nato remains divided over how to respond to Russian aggression against Ukraine.

His admission of a split was overshadowed by his passing remark that a minor incursion would be treated differently to a full-scale invasion. The White House afterwards clarified that a minor incursion meant cyber-attacks, as opposed to a movement of Russian troops into Ukraine sovereign territory.

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Peru seeks compensation after oil spill devastates marine life – video »»

Peru has demanded compensation from the Spanish oil firm Repsol after freak waves caused by a volcanic eruption near Tonga caused a disastrous oil spill. The spill happened in an area rich in marine life such as seabirds, sea lions and otters. Locals have only rudimentary equipment to try to clear the oil.

 Peru’s prime minister, Mirtha Vásquez, has claimed the Pampilla refinery, run by Repsol, apparently did not have a contingency plan for an oil spill

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By 2050, a quarter of the world’s people will be African – this will shape our future | Edward Paice »»

Africa’s unprecedented population growth will impact geopolitics, global trade, migration and almost every aspect of life. It’s time for a reimagining of the continent

In 2022 the world’s population will pass 8 billion. It has increased by a third in just two decades. By 2050, there will be about 9.5 billion of us on the planet, according to respected demographers. This makes recent comments by Elon Musk baffling. According to him, “the low birthrate and the rapidly declining birthrate” is “one of the biggest risks to civilisation”.

Fertility rates in Europe, North America and east Asia are generally below 2.1 births per woman, the level at which populations remain stable at constant mortality rates. The trajectory in some countries is particularly arresting. The birthrate in Italy is the lowest it has ever been in the country’s history. South Korea’s fertility rate has been stuck below one birth per woman for decades despite an estimated $120bn (£90bn) being spent on initiatives aimed at raising it. Japan started the century with 128 million citizens but is on course to have only 106 million by 2050. China’s population will peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, but if it proves unable to raise its fertility rate, the world’s most populous country could end the century with fewer than 600 million inhabitants. This is the “big risk” alluded to by Musk. The trouble is, his statement seems to imply that “civilisation” does not include Africa.

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Why is the UK government still getting away with complicity in the Yemen war? | Owen Jones »»

For seven years, the Yemeni people have been pummelled with Saudi bombs, many from Britain. Yet Westminster is silent

This is a far greater scandal than the parties in Downing Street. In a just world, it would prove the downfall of our prime minister. This week, airstrikes by the Saudis and their allies killed more than a dozen people in Yemen, civilians among them. Last month an estimated 32 civilians died as a result of the ongoing conflict. The country has been convulsed by civil war since 2014. For seven years, a Saudi-led coalition has been pummelling the impoverished country with bombs, many of them supplied by Britain. Through our staunch military alliance with the Saudi dictatorship, our government is directly complicit with these atrocities.

You can be forgiven for knowing nothing about any of this: Yemen does not matter, you see. Its people have been relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy of death, and most of our media show little interest in scrutinising our government for slaughter that it is directly complicit in. The Saudi violence has only increased in Yemen since October, after the UN human rights council voted to end its war crimes investigation following intensive lobbying by the dictatorship in Riyadh.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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‘For the first time, I felt free’: Pakistan’s women-led livestock market »»

In rural provinces, women have always reared animals but are excluded from selling them. A new market is changing attitudes

On Saturday, Rozina Ghulam Mustafa arrived at the market in Tando Allahyar city, Pakistan’s Sindh province, to sell the goats she had raised, milked and fed.

Usually her brother sells the animals, but he sold them too cheaply because he didn’t know their true value. “He has always sold our goats at a much lower price,” she says, standing inside an enclosure with 15 of them.

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Nepal hospital trials ‘life-changing’ treatment for leprosy wounds »»

Technique using artificial scabs made from a patient’s own blood could also help those with diabetes, say doctors

Doctors at a Nepal hospital trialling a new treatment for skin wounds say the technique, which mimics the scabbing process, has “enormous potential”.

Trials at the mountaintop Anandaban leprosy hospital, south of Kathmandu, have been promising, bringing hope to patients worldwide. It is hoped that the treatment will also help millions living with diabetes, who have an increased risk of amputation.

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No ‘fire and fury’ yet, but a game of nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea looms »»

Analysis: Kim Jong-un’s pressure on Joe Biden has so far elicited only fresh sanctions. Pyongyang has now signalled it may resume nuclear and ICBM tests

North Korea has already conducted four test launches of ballistic missiles this year, but they could be a mere precursor to more serious provocations, as Kim Jong-un’s regime attempts to break the nuclear stalemate with the US.

Superficially, the recent tests were a reminder of the North’s ability to manufacture more sophisticated weapons – perhaps including those capable of evading missile defences – despite years of international sanctions.

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‘What are the Republicans for?': Joe Biden says Trump 'intimidating' entire party – video »»

US president Joe Biden has accused the Republicans of blocking his legislative agenda for purely political purposes, saying the party is more interested in defeating his presidency than doing things for the American people. Without mentioning his name, Biden suggested that former president Donald Trump was still in control of the Republican party, with members of Congress fearful they will be defeated in their primaries if they vote contrary to his wishes. Biden questioned what the purpose of the Republican party was during his a press briefing marking the one-year anniversary of his presidency

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Zimbabweans put their country on the map in the world of wine »»

After rising to the top of a white-dominated industry, a new generation of Zimbabweans are bringing their talents home

Like many young Zimbabweans before and since, Tinashe Nyamudoka left the economic chaos of his country to find work and a better life for himself in neighbouring South Africa.

When he left in 2008, Nyamudoka had never tasted wine. Now, he ranks among southern Africa’s top sommeliers and has his own wine label with international sales.

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Capitol attack panel grapples with moving inquiry forward: to subpoena or not? »»

The committee is undecided on making the near-unprecedented step as the threat of Republican retaliation looms

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is weighing whether to subpoena some of Donald Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill as it considers its options on how aggressively it should pursue testimony to move forward its inquiry into the January 6 insurrection.

The Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and Republican members of Congress Jim Jordan and Scott Perry may have inside knowledge about Trump’s plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election and whether it was coordinated with the Capitol attack.

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