Julius Nyerere: Former Tanzanian leader honoured by African Union statue

Statue of Julius Nyerere
Image caption,The anniversary of Julius Nyerere’s death, 14 October, is a public holiday in Tanzania

Tanzania’s founding father Julius Nyerere has been honoured with a statue outside the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Nyerere led what is now Tanzania from independence in 1961 until 1985.

Known as Mwalimu, Swahili for teacher, he was a committed pan-Africanist and hosted independence fighters opposed to white minority rule in southern Africa.

He played a key role in the creation of the Organisation of African Unity, which later became the African Union.

Unveiling the statue at a ceremony attended by numerous African heads of state, AU Commission leader Moussa Faki Mahamat said: “The legacy of this remarkable leader encapsulates the essence of Pan Africanism, profound wisdom, and service to Africa.”

He recalled Nyerere’s own comments at the inaugural OAU summit in 1963. “Our continent is one, and we are all Africans.”

But when he became prime minister of what was then Tanganyika in 1961, his first task was to unite the new country, made up of more than 120 different ethnic groups, including Arab, Asian and European minorities.

He managed to do this, by promoting the use of Swahili as a common language and through his vision of “African Socialism” or ujamaa (familyhood).

In 1964, Tanganyika united with the Zanzibar archipelago to form Tanzania.

It later became a one-party state. Nyerere defended the absence of multi-party elections by declaring that Tanzanians had far more freedom under him than they had ever had under British rule, and that the one-party system was vital for stability.

Nyerere meeting UK PM Harold Wilson at No 10 Downing Street in 1975
Image caption,Nyerere, seen here with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1975, lobbied Western governments over white-minority rule in southern Africa

Known for his modest lifestyle, Nyerere tried to create an egalitarian society based on co-operative agriculture – meaning farmers no longer worked their individual fields but instead worked together on communally-owned land.

He wanted Tanzania to be self-reliant, rather than depending on foreign aid and investment.

However, this largely failed and Tanzania’s economy was in dire straits when he stepped down in 1985.

Yet he oversaw a huge improvement in healthcare and literacy and remains widely revered in Tanzania.

The country’s main international airport is named after him, as are many roads, bridges and stadiums.

During the 1970s, Nyerere lobbied Western governments to take a stronger stance against white-minority rule in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, and South Africa, and backed armed groups fighting those regimes.

Paying her tribute to Nyerere, Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan said: “To him, Africa’s wellbeing came first, before popular approval, personal fortune or country wellbeing.”

Nyerere was strongly opposed to the expulsion of Asians in neighbouring Uganda under Idi Amin in 1972. Relations continued to deteriorate and seven years later, Nyerere sent his army into Uganda to oust Amin.

In a post on X, Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema described the unveiling of the statue to “one of our continent’s iconic figures” as a “proud day”.

He was a trained teacher and became the first person from Tanganyika to study at a British university, when he went to study in Edinburgh in 1949, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

He died in 1999, aged 77, and the anniversary of his death, 14 October, is a public holiday.

Nyerere is the third leader to be honoured with a statue outside the AU headquarters, after Ghana’s founding father and pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, and Ethiopia’s emperor Haile Selassie, who became a symbol of African nationalism for resisting Italy’s attempts to colonise the country in the 1930s, and later agreed to host the OAU. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Statue of Julius Nyerere

Gerindra jalin komunikasi dengan oposisi setelah suara Prabowo unggul

Gerindra jalin komunikasi dengan oposisi setelah suara Prabowo unggul
Sekertaris Jendral Partai Gerindra Ahmad Muzani di Kwitang, Jakarta Pusat, Jumat (16/2/2024) (ANTARA/Walda Marison)

“Beliau belum ngomong detail tapi ada rencana itu, (bertemu) dari 01 dan 03,”

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Sekertaris Jendral Partai Gerindra Ahmad Muzani memastikan pihaknya telah menjalin komunikasi dengan partai di luar Koalisi Indonesia Maju (KIM) setelah perolehan suara Prabowo-Gibran jauh mengungguli pasangan calon lain.

“Komunikasi kami dengan partai-partai di luar koalisi sudah mulai terjalin, meskipun baru tahap awal dan komunikasi itu insya Allah akan terus kita lakukan,” kaya Ahmad Muzani di Kwitang, Jakarta Pusat, Jumat.

Hal tersebut dilakukan pihaknya dalam rangka merangkul seluruh pihak untuk bekerja sama dalam menjalankan pemerintahan lima tahun ke depan.

Menurut Muzani, beberapa petinggi partai politik di luar koalisi pun sudah dijadwalkan untuk bertemu dengan Prabowo. Namun saat ditanya siapa saja tokoh tersebut, Muzani enggan menjelaskan dengan rinci.

“Beliau belum ngomong detail tapi ada rencana itu, (bertemu) dari 01 dan 03,” kata Muzani.

Terkait pernyataan Sekertaris Jendral Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI) Perjuangan Hasto Kristiyanto soal sikap pihaknya berdiri sebagai oposisi, Muzani mengaku menghargai sikap tersebut.

“Kami menghormati tetapi sekali lagi keinginan Pak Prabowo untuk merangkul semua kekuatan tetap akan kami lakukan,” jelas dia.

Sebelumnya, Hasto Kristiyanto menegaskan partai berlambang banteng moncong putih itu siap berjuang sebagai oposisi di luar pemerintahan dan parlemen untuk menjalankan tugas check and balance.

Menurutnya, berada di luar pemerintahan adalah suatu tugas patriotik dan pernah dijalani PDI Perjuangan pasca Pemilu 2004 dan Pemilu 2009.

“Ketika PDI Perjuangan berada di luar pemerintahan tahun 2004 dan 2009, kami banyak diapresiasi karena peran serta meningkatkan kualitas demokrasi. Bahkan, tugas di luar pemerintahan, suatu tugas yang patriotik bagi pembelaan kepentingan rakyat itu sendiri,” kata Hasto, Kamis.

Oleh karena itu, selain berjuang di luar pemerintahan atau di DPR, PDI Perjuangan akan berjuang lewat jalur partai.

“Karena apa pun yang terjadi dalam dinamika politik nasional kami punya kewajiban untuk menyampaikan apa yang terjadi kepada rakyat,” ujarnya.

Tak hanya itu, PDI Perjuangan akan berjuang bersama gerakan masyarakat sipil prodemokrasi yang saat ini jumlahnya lebih banyak dibanding pada Pemilu 2009.

Berdasarkan hasil hitung cepat dari sejumlah lembaga survei menyebut bahwa perolehan suara pasangan calon nomor 2 Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka mengungguli pasangan calon nomor 1 Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar dan pasangan calon nomor 3 Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud Md.

Pemilu 2024 meliputi pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden, anggota DPR RI, anggota DPD RI, anggota DPRD provinsi, serta anggota DPRD kabupaten/kota dengan daftar pemilih tetap (DPT) tingkat nasional sebanyak 204.807.222 pemilih.

Berikutnya, Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), Partai Kebangkitan Nusantara (PKN), Partai Hanura, Partai Garuda, Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB), Partai Demokrat, Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), Partai Perindo, Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP), dan Partai Ummat.

Selain itu, terdapat enam partai politik lokal sebagai peserta yakni Partai Nanggroe Aceh, Partai Generasi Atjeh Beusaboh Tha’at dan Taqwa, Partai Darul Aceh, Partai Aceh, Partai Adil Sejahtera Aceh, dan Partai Soliditas Independen Rakyat Aceh.

Sedangkan untuk pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden diikuti tiga pasangan yakni Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar selaku nomor urut 1, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka nomor urut 2, dan Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud Md. nomor urut 3.

Seturut Peraturan KPU Nomor 3 Tahun 2022, rekapitulasi suara nasional Pemilu 2024 dijadwalkan berlangsung mulai 15 Februari sampai dengan 20 Maret 2024. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Ketua DPD: Ketidakadilan dan kemiskinan masih dirasakan warga daerah

Ketua DPD: Ketidakadilan dan kemiskinan masih dirasakan warga daerah
Ketua Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD) RI AA LaNyalla M Mattalitti saat memberikan sambutan pada pembukaan kegiatan Sarasehan DPD RI bersama Calon Presiden 2024 di Kompleks Parlemen, Jakarta, Jumat (2/2/2024). ANTARA/Bagus Ahmad Rizaldi.

Bagi kami ini sangat penting, karena wajah Indonesia adalah mozaik dari wajah daerah

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Ketua Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD) RI AA LaNyalla M Mattalitti mengatakan ketidakadilan dan kemiskinan struktural yang sulit dientaskan masih menjadi persoalan fundamental yang dirasakan oleh masyarakat di daerah.

Dia mengatakan hal tersebut ditemukan setelah dirinya bersama para 136 anggota DPD mengunjungi hampir seluruh kabupaten dan kota di Indonesia.

“Bagi kami ini sangat penting, karena wajah Indonesia adalah mozaik dari wajah daerah,” kata LaNyalla saat memberikan sambutan pada pembukaan kegiatan Sarasehan DPD RI bersama Calon Presiden 2024 di Kompleks Parlemen, Jakarta, Jumat.

Menurutnya para anggota DPD sudah menelaah, mempelajari, hingga memetakan sumber persoalannya. Maka dari itu, dia menyimpulkan ada tiga persoalan fundamental yang penyelesaiannya juga membutuhkan langkah yang fundamental.

Dia mengatakan filosofi dari sema upaya yang dilakukan pemerintah harus bermuara kepada tujuan lahirnya negara Indonesia, seperti yang termaktub pada Undang-Undang Dasar.

Adapun menurutnya permasalahan fundamental yang pertama adalah keadilan fiskal antara pusat dan daerah yang masih tidak berimbang. Hal itu, kata dia, menyebabkan penyelenggaraan kewenangan menjadi lemah dan terbatas.

“Sehingga standar pelayanan minimal pemerintah daerah rata-rata hanya 58 persen dan 59 persen untuk kabupaten dan kota,” ucap dia.

Lalu, menurutnya ada ketidakadilan yang dirasakan daerah terhadap pengelolaan sumber daya alam dan sumber daya ekonomi. Menurutnya hal itu memperparah bencana ekologi dan hanya memudahkan investor asing untuk menguasai sumber daya di daerah.

“Karena kami melihat paradigma pembangunan yang diterapkan adalah pembangunan di Indonesia, bukan membangun Indonesia,” kata dia.

Kemudian permasalahan yang terakhir adalah soal azas dan sistem bernegara Indonesia yang telah meninggalkan filosofi dasar dan identitas konstitusi, yaitu Pancasila.

Berdasarkan kajian yang dilakukan oleh para akademisi, menurutnya Undang-Undang Dasar (UUD) hasil perubahan sejak 1999-2002 yang sekarang digunakan telah meninggalkan Pancasila sebagai norma tertinggi.

Menurutnya perubahan pasal-pasal tersebut membuat UUD 1945 kini justru menjabarkan individualisme dan liberalisme, serta ekonomi yang kapitalistik.

“Sehingga bangsa kita semakin tercerabut dari akar budaya dan sejarah kelahirannya,” kata dia. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Whisky takes a shot at China’s baijiu-dominated market

Young friends toasting at bar - stock photo from Beijing China

The Lunar New Year is traditionally a time for gathering with family and friends to eat and drink.

And for hundreds of years the drink of choice in China for these celebrations has been baijiu – a clear spirit made with fermented grains which packs a potent punch.

Baijiu is also often drunk straight and at social events such as weddings and birthdays.

Its Alcohol-By-Volume (ABV) can top 60% – in comparison spirits like scotch whisky and tequila typically have an ABV of around 40%.

“Baijiu certainly still has its place in Chinese liquor consumption, even among young consumers,” says Allison Malmsten, public research director at Daxue Consulting.

It accounts for well over 90% of China’s spirits sales, with annual sales of around $160bn (£127bn).

However, in recent times drinks from abroad have been growing in popularity in what is the world’s biggest spirits market.

Brand new story

In 2022, sales of whisky in China were valued at $2.3bn, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

That figure is expected to almost triple by 2027 as the whisky market there is expected to grow at around five times the rate seen globally.

Those sales are being driven by young, middle class, urban, educated and increasingly female drinkers.

Many of them are shunning baijiu in favour of less alcoholic spirits from outside China, according to Ms Malmsten.

The growth in demand for whisky in particular, has helped encourage international brands to open distilleries across China.

Bottles of whisky at a shop at the Pernod Ricard Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery in Emeishan, Sichuan Province, China.
Image caption,Pernod Ricard launched its Chuan Pure malt whisky in December

Amongst them is French drinks giant Pernod-Ricard, which owns the Jameson Irish whiskey brand as well as Beefeater Gin and Absolut Vodka. It is investing $140m in a production base near Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province, Southwest China.

UK-based rival Diageo also opened a plant in the Yunnan Province in December and is currently trialling production with plans to be fully up and running later this year. The company is also opening an Asia-Pacific Innovation hub in Shanghai.

“We are here for a long-term play,” Managing Director for Diageo in China Atul Chhaparwal told the BBC.

He is bullish about the market, saying the demand is so strong that is space for everyone.

“Given the vibrancy of the overall whiskey category in China, there will be enough space for single malts, for blended whiskies, for local players, for imported whiskey, to grow,” he says.

“Whiskey currently makes up less than 2% of the total spirits consumed in China, which indicates that how much room headroom everyone has to play in here,” he adds.

That includes homegrown distilleries which have sprung up across the country. Pernod estimates there are between 30 and 50, with many still being built.

The whisky market is also expanding in other parts of Asia.

“The growth is immense”, spirits retailer Maison du Whisky’s Jamie Li told the BBC in the French company’s store in Singapore.

Person places whisky in tumbler on bar with drinks bottles.
Image caption,In 2022, sales of whisky in China were valued at $2.3bn

Mr Li, who heads sales to South Korea, Japan and China expects to see a boost during the Lunar New Year as Chinese tourists visit Singapore.

“Chinese New Year is kind of like Christmas in Europe – it’s festive, people want to spend money, buy nice gifts and have something memorable. So whisky is part of their memory,” he says.

There is also a growing number of collectors who “buy and hold” bottles of whisky which are expected to rise in value.

But it’s not all smooth sailing for China’s whisky market warns Ms Malmsten.

“The local distilleries are still in the early stages. 80% of the whisky has only been aged for two years or less. There’s a lack of barrels and a lack of professionals to help with production,” she says.

Still, if the success of China’s wine industry is anything to go by, ‘watch this space’ when it comes to whisky.

“What we saw with China’s wine industry is that once it started to mature, the demand for Chinese wines skyrocketed. In our recent survey, we found that after French wines, Chinese wines are the second most preferred,” Ms Malmsten says.

“As China’s whisky production matures, we might see a similar rise in demand for domestically produced whisky as well.” https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Prabowo Subianto: The tainted ex-military chief who will be Indonesia’s new leader

Prabowo Subianto
Image caption,The former military commander, seen here flashing ink-stained fingers to show he voted, has overcome a troubling human rights record

After two failed attempts, Prabowo Subianto has finally clawed his way into Indonesia’s ultimate seat of power.

The ex-military general, accused of rights abuses and war crimes during the dark days of the Suharto regime, has triumphed in a modern-day democratic vote.

Gone were the inflammatory, nationalist comments of his previous presidential runs; in the 2024 election he sold himself as a cute grandpa on TikTok, flashing heart signs and doddering around with a viral dance.

It worked for younger voters – a generation poorly informed of the country’s past under a military dictatorship.

Some on voting day even told the BBC they wanted a strongman in office – someone to carry on the policies of the widely adored outgoing President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.

But others fear that the return of a military general – someone who was the son-in-law of Dictator Suharto – spells a slide back into dark days.

A privileged upbringing and dark past

The 72-year-old has a shocking human rights record according to both local and international rights observers.

He is most notorious for allegations he commanded a unit which abducted and tortured several democracy activists during the dying days of the Suharto regime in the late 1990s. Of the 23, some survived, one died and 13 remain missing.

He was fired from the army following this and went into self-exile in Jordan in the 2000s.

But he returned to Indonesia a few years later, building up his wealth in palm oil and mining before making the jump to politics.

It was a space he felt entitled to, some might say. Prabowo is a political blue blood, born into an elite family embedded in Indonesian politics.

His father was a renowned economist who held several trade and finance ministerships, and his grandfather formed the first state-owned bank in the country.

During his childhood he and his family lived in exile in Switzerland and England, after his father was accused of involvement with separatist groups in Sumatra.

When he returned to Indonesia in 1970, he enlisted in the military where he quickly rose up the ranks.

In the 1980s, he did several tours with a special forces unit fighting separatists in East Timor, now the country of Timor-Leste. Witnesses accuse him of committing atrocities both there and in Papua.

During this period he also moved into Suharto’s inner sanctum, marrying in 1983 one of the former dictator’s daughters, Siti Hediati Hariyadi. Their marriage lasted 15 years, ending around the same time of the regime’s collapse.

Prabowo at this time was commander of a special forces unit accused of the activists’ abductions. While he was sacked, charges were never brought against him.

He later admitted to the kidnapping of those who survived; but the families of the missing are still protesting for answers.

In the chaotic last days of Suharto, he also instigated race riots in the capital Jakarta, directing anger at the Chinese ethnic minority, critics say. He has always denied these allegations.

After Suharto’s fall, he fled to Jordan, keeping a low profile as Indonesia pulled itself into a democratic age in the new millennium.

The ex-military figure was banned from entering the US and Australia at this point, on a blacklist for his human rights record. That ban was lifted only in recent years.

Prabowo Subianto and other men dressed in military uniform in East Timor in the late 1970s
Image caption,Prabowo in East Timor in the late 1970s

Prabowo made his comeback shortly before the 2004 elections, starting his own party and then dealing with coalitions to get his foot on the ladder.

In 2014 and 2019, he went head-to-head against his bitter enemy Jokowi in fierce presidential races. He lost both times.

But after violent protests from his supporters in the wake of his loss in 2019 – 10 people died in riots – Jokowi made a deal, bringing him into his government and installing him as defence minister.

He was free to travel then – from Paris to Washington and Beijing – as a senior Indonesian official. The Western sanctions vanished.

Rights advocates at the time warned how his elevation into a senior position legitimised his position in Indonesian governance.

“Prabowo’s appointment sends a worrying signal that our leaders have forgotten the darkest days and the worst violations committed in the Suharto era,” Amnesty International’s Indonesia director Usman Hamid said at the time.

“When Prabowo was at the helm of our special forces, activists disappeared and there were numerous allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Prabowo has been pressed several times on his dark past. He denies most of the accusations and when he does admit to a crime – like the abductions – he falls back on the classic soldier defence: that he was only taking orders.

“It was my superiors who told me what to do,” he said during one presidential debate in 2014.

His rebranding for the 2024 vote was one part of the winning strategy.

But most crucially he received the backing of his former enemy, Jokowi, when the outgoing leader put his son on Prabowo’s ticket.

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court had to amend electoral rules in allowing the 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka to be the vice-presidential running mate for Prabowo. Previously, only those aged over 40 were eligible. Jokowi’s brother-in-law is the Chief Justice on the court and cast the deciding vote.

Prabowo and his running partner Gibran claim victory in Jakarta
Image caption,Prabowo and his running partner Gibran claim victory in Jakarta

Protesters in the lead up to Wednesday’s election accused Jokowi of abuse of power and electoral interference. They argue he just wanted to retain his influence in politics.

It was a good deal for Prabowo. Many voters told the BBC they trusted whomever Jokowi endorsed.

On Wednesday, the unofficial tallies showed this strategy had worked. Prabowo pulled ahead quickly in the counting, with nearly 60% of the vote in the first round, precluding any need for a run-off.

During his victory speech he addressed thousands of supporters in the stadium, making light references to the past. He reminisced about his lunches with Suharto.

A leader from that era has now returned to power in Indonesia.

For many freedom fighters, what was once unthinkable has come to pass. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Divya Deshmukh: India chess player’s Instagram post sparks sexism discussion

Women in chess
Image caption,Divya Deshmukh’s Instagram post has sparked a discussion on sexism in chess

An 18-year-old Indian chess player has sparked a conversation on attitudes towards women in the sport with an Instagram post about her experiences.

Divya Deshmukh, who is an International Master (the second-highest title in chess), said that her chess videos often received online comments that focused on her appearance rather than her games.

“It’s a sad truth that when women play chess, [people] often overlook how good they actually are… and every irrelevant thing is focused on,” she wrote, adding that she had wanted to address the issue “for a while”.

Deshmukh shared the post at the end of the recent Tata Steel Chess tournament held in the Netherlands as she said that the behaviour of the audience had irked her throughout the competition. The organisers of the tournament later issued a statement supporting her and said that they “remain committed to promoting women in chess and ensuring a safe and equal sporting environment”.

Sexism is still an under-discussed topic in chess, which is one of the few mainstream sports where men and women often compete against each other. Deshmukh’s post, experts say, has ignited a crucial conversation on the behaviour of fans and even male players towards women in chess – even grandmaster Susan Polgar joined in.

Deshmukh told the BBC that she has been receiving hateful comments related to the way she dresses, looks or speaks since she was 14 years old. “It makes me sad that people don’t pay the same kind of attention to my chess skills,” she said.

Thousands of people have liked her post, and many have left supportive comments. One Reddit user noted how even seemingly innocuous jokes and comments were often “laced with sexist attitudes” while another said that it was common for people to leave sexually suggestive remarks under videos featuring women players.

“With an increase in online tournaments and with games being livestreamed, women players have become disproportionately vulnerable to receiving misogynistic comments from the predominantly male audience online,” says sports writer Susan Ninan, who has written extensively about chess.

She adds that such trolling deepens sexist attitudes about chess and can impact the confidence of young women players.

As a sport, chess already has a poor gender balance. According to the International Chess Federation or FIDE, women make up just 10% of licenced players globally, and the gap only gets wider at the top. For example, only three of India’s 84 grandmasters are women.

Chess experts and women players have ascribed this imbalance to the lack of access, opportunity and support for women and girls due to stereotypes surrounding the sport.

“There’s this common misconception that men are ‘wired differently’ and are hence, inherently better at chess,” says Ms Ninan, adding that such beliefs are amplified online, feeding into existing socio-cultural biases people have about women and their intellectual abilities.

Women in chess
Image caption,Koneru Humpy is one of India’s top chess players

In a study conducted by researchers at New York University for which around 300 parents and mentors – 90% of these were men – were interviewed, it was found that a majority of the respondents believed that girls have a lower potential in the sport than boys and that they were more likely to stop playing chess due to a lack of ability than their male counterparts.

Nandhini Saripalli, a chess player and coach, says she has experienced first-hand the consequences of such biases. She says that her chess career took a hit because she didn’t get enough support compared with her male counterparts.

And now, she says that her career as a coach is being hampered because society doesn’t have much confidence in a woman’s chess-playing ability. “Parents want their children to be mentored by a male coach because they feel that male players are more talented,” she says.

Observers also say that online trolling feeds into the culture of women players and tournaments not being taken seriously.

Saripalli says that online, she has had men telling her that her male opponent can “trash” her easily, while offline, she has encountered male players who’ve said that they don’t feel the need to practise if their opponent is a woman because they don’t consider female players to be “real competition”.

“Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, and even then you can’t escape sexist judgements,” she says, adding that like many of her female chess-playing friends, she too “dresses down” to escape unwanted attention from male players and the audience.

Women in chess
Image caption,Nandhini Saripalli says she feels she was held back as a player because of her gender

Interestingly, this is something Polgar – who is widely regarded to be among the best chess players in the world – says she experienced decades ago when she was a young chess player.

Polgar responded to Ms Deshmukh’s post by sharing her own experience on X (formerly Twitter). “I did not even touch make-up until I was in my 20s… It is because I was tired of being sexually harassed/assaulted and hit on constantly by male chess players,” she wrote.

Ms Ninan says that chess offers a “fertile space for predatory behaviour” because of its one-on-one setting and the fact that players are just a chess board away from their opponent.

But Koneru Humpy, one of India’s top chess players who started her career in the 1990s when there were few women in chess, and stunned the world by becoming the then-youngest female Grandmaster at the age of 15 (this record was broken later), says that there is more equality now compared with when she began playing.

Humpy recalls being the only female player to compete in open tournaments – she says these are much tougher to win than women’s-only tournaments because the players are more skilled on average.

“Men wouldn’t like losing to me because I’m a woman,” she says and adds that today’s crop of male players are different as they regularly train and play against their female peers.

But it will take more time for women players to wield the same amount of influence on and off the chess board as their male counterparts. One way to alter this power imbalance is to remove socio-cultural barriers that prevent women’s participation in chess at the entry level.

“Once there are more female players, there will be more of them in the top levels of the sport,” says Humpy, adding that this will change prevailing perceptions.

The other way to encourage more women to play chess is by increasing the number of women-only tournaments.

“The more women play chess, the more claim they have over the sport,” she adds. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Richard Scolyer: Melanoma doctor’s high-stakes gamble to treat his brain cancer

Richard Scolyer and Georgina Long
Image caption,Pathologist Richard Scolyer and oncologist Georgina Long are cancer research pioneers

On opposite sides of the world, Richard Scolyer and Georgina Long each took one look at a scan and their hearts sank.

In front of them was, to the untrained eye, an innocuous-looking brain.

But these long-time friends – both leading skin cancer doctors – feared it held a ticking time bomb.

Nestled in the top right corner of Prof Scolyer’s skull was a section of matter lighter and cloudier than the rest.

“I’m no expert in radiology, but… in my heart I knew it was a tumour,” he tells the BBC.

Neurosurgeons soon confirmed it wasn’t just any brain tumour, but “the worst of the worst” – a subtype of glioblastoma so aggressive most patients survive less than a year.

Devastated but determined, he and Prof Long set out to do the impossible: to save his life by finding a cure.

And it may sound crazy, but the Australian researchers have done it before, with melanoma.

“It didn’t sit right with me… to just accept certain death without trying something,” Prof Scolyer says.

“It’s an incurable cancer? Well bugger that!”

National treasures

Thirty years ago, when Prof Scolyer and Prof Long met as bright, young doctors, advanced melanoma was a death sentence.

But that’s exactly what drew them to it.

Australia has long had the highest rate of the skin cancer on the planet and where many saw a daunting challenge, they saw potential.

“[Back] when I was doing the cancer block the most challenging patients to see were the ones with advanced melanoma. It was heartbreaking,” Prof Long says.

“I wanted to make a difference.”

Today, it’s near impossible to overstate their impact on the field.

Anyone who gets a diagnosis or treatment for melanoma worldwide does so because of the work pioneered by the Melanoma Institute that they now lead.

Georgina Long, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and Richard Scolyer
Image caption,Prof Long and Prof Scolyer with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Over the past decade, their team’s research on immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells, has dramatically improved outcomes for advanced melanoma patients around the world. Half are now essentially cured, up from less than 10%.

That breakthrough – or as Prof Long calls it, “penicillin moment” – is now being applied to many other cancers, saving even more lives.

It has made the duo national treasures. Almost every Australian would know someone impacted by their work and this year they’ve been jointly named as the Australians of the Year.

But as they were transforming the field, they were also leaving their mark on each other.

They bonded over frustration at the cases they couldn’t crack, the highs of life-changing discoveries, a love of exercise, and a lofty ambition of reaching zero melanoma deaths in Australia.

“We’re very different but very similar in that sort of… roll up your sleeves, get things done way,” Prof Long says.

Georgina Long (left) and Richard Scolyer (right) at a triathlon event
Image caption,Prof Long and Prof Scolyer both represented Australia at the 2019 World Triathlon Championships in Switzerland

Eyes shining, the medical oncologist rattles off a list of qualities – brave, honest, upbeat, driven – which make Prof Scolyer the dream colleague and friend.

“He’s a delight,” she surmises.

And so, after she received that fateful call from Poland last June – where Prof Scolyer was on holiday when a seizure triggered his diagnosis – she spent the night crying.

“I’m grieving… I’m thinking my friend is going to be gone in 12 months.”

But then she spent the morning plotting – poring over textbooks, researching clinical trials, and firing off emails to colleagues globally.

Glioblastomas, found in the brain’s connective tissue, are notoriously aggressive and the general protocol for treating them – immediate excision then radiotherapy and chemotherapy – has changed little in two decades.

Survival rates have fared similarly. Still, only 5% of all patients live beyond five years.

Desperate, Prof Long formulated a radical plan to treat Prof Scolyer based on what had worked in melanoma, but which had never been tested in brain cancer.

Risk vs reward

In melanoma, Prof Long and her team discovered that immunotherapy works better when a combination of drugs are used, and when they are administered before any surgery to remove a tumour.

It’s like training a sniffer dog, she explains: you give it a smell of the contraband, in this analogy the cancer cells, for it to be able to hunt them down later.

Prof Scolyer jokes that trying the treatment was a “no brainer”.

But it comes with huge risks.

Some oncologists were sceptical that the drugs would reach his brain at all, and even if they did, that his immune system would respond.

And they worried the experiment could kill him faster.

Many brain cancers grow so rapidly that even a two-week delay to surgery could mean it’s too late to operate, they said. Immunotherapy drugs are quite toxic, especially when mixed, so he could be poisoned. And if either of those things caused the brain to swell, he could die instantly.

At home colleagues quietly shared fears Prof Long’s emotional ties were clouding her judgement.

“They were saying… ‘Just let the neuro-oncology experts do their thing and be his friend’,” she says.

“[But] he needs us… We have all this depth of knowledge, it’s our duty.”

Richard Scolyer in a hospital bed with Georgina Long sitting beside him
Image caption,Prof Long helped assemble a specialist team to treat Prof Scolyer

And so, under the care of Prof Long and a team of experts, Prof Scolyer became the first brain cancer patient to ever have combination, pre-surgery immunotherapy.

He is also the first to be administered a vaccine personalised to his tumour markers, which boosts the cancer-detecting powers of the drugs.

‘A glimmer of hope’

Weeks after that initial scan sent their lives into a tailspin, Prof Scolyer and Prof Long looked at another test result.

It was an analysis of the tumour that had been carefully plucked from Prof Scolyer’s skull.

“I was blown away. In a millisecond,” he says.

“It was bloody obvious that it is doing something.”

Not only were there traces of the drugs in the tumour – proving the medication had reached his brain – there was an explosion of immune cells. And they were “activated”, giving the team hope they would be attacking his cancers cells at that very moment.

The average time for a glioblastoma cancer to return is six months post-surgery. But eight months on, after continued immunotherapy, Prof Scolyer is showing no signs of active cancer.

Just last week, another scan came back clean and Prof Long says his brain is “normalising”.

The results so far have generated huge excitement.

There’s creeping hope that this could prolong Prof Scolyer’s life.

But there’s also optimism that the duo may be on the cusp of a discovery which could help the 300,000 people diagnosed with brain cancer globally each year.

This kind of research would usually take years – even decades – but what Prof Scolyer and Prof Long have achieved in mere months has already attracted interest from pharmaceutical companies and generated talk of clinical trials.

Richard Scolyer undergoing an MRI
Image caption,Prof Scolyer has been documenting his treatment on social media

Roger Stupp, though, is more tempered.

The doctor – after whom the current protocol for treating glioblastomas is named – says Prof Scolyer’s prognosis is “grim”, and that it’s too early to tell if this treatment is working.

“Promising is a difficult word… Encouraging, I would call it,” he tells the BBC from Chicago.

“It’s not a revolution, but it is still a step forward.”

He wants to see Prof Scolyer reach 12 months, even 18, without recurrence before he’ll be persuaded.

But Dr Stupp says he is “absolutely” confident that immunotherapy can change the treatment of brain cancer – the science just hasn’t been cracked yet.

“We need to get out of our silos and look at what worked in other tumour types,” he says.

Prof Scolyer and Prof Long are also trying to resist being swept up in the buzz.

The best-case scenario is that Prof Scolyer is cured, but they call the odds of that “miniscule”.

“A miracle could happen,” Prof Scolyer says.

As for the worst-case scenario, he tells the BBC he’s already beaten it: “I would have died before now.”

Instead, he celebrated his 57th birthday in December, and another Christmas with his family – wife Katie, and his teenage children Emily, Matthew, and Lucy.

Richard Scolyer (centre) and his family
Image caption,Prof Scolyer says he wants to live long enough to see his kids “become truly independent”

But with the gratitude for each additional milestone, every clear scan, is the fear it’s his last.

“It’s tough,” Prof Long says of treating her friend.

They’ve had discussions about death and funerals. “He’s extraordinarily resilient,” she adds.

But sitting in his office – surrounded by pictures of his children, tasks scribbled on a whiteboard and shelves filled with framed accolades – Prof Scolyer tears up.

For all his outward positivity, he admits he’s also scared and soul-crushingly sad.

“I love my family. I love my wife… I like my work,” he says with a grimace.

“I’m pissed off. I’m devastated… I don’t want to die.”

But giving him comfort is the idea that this research could bring meaning, some purpose, to his diagnosis.

“The data that we’ve generated – I know it’s changing the field, and if I die tomorrow with that, I’m very proud.” https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Pakistan election: Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif each claim advantage

Imran Khan addressing supporters in an AI video posted on X
Image caption,Imran Khan posted an AI-generated speech claiming victory on X

With most results now declared in Pakistan’s election, no political force has a clear majority but candidates linked to jailed former PM Imran Khan have won most seats so far.

The results have defied expectations and Mr Khan is claiming victory.

However another ex-PM, Nawaz Sharif, says his party has emerged the largest and wants others to join a coalition.

On Saturday Pakistan’s army chief urged the country to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.

General Asim Munir said that a stable hand was needed to unite “Pakistan’s diverse polity”, and to make “democracy functional and purposeful”.

The army is an important and powerful player in Pakistani politics and was widely regarded as backing Mr Nawaz.

Mr Sharif’s PML-N party has begun talks with other groups about forming a unity government.

The final official results are yet to be announced.

In a staunch video message posted on X that was generated using AI, a message credited to Imran Khan said his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had won a landslide victory – defying what he has called a crackdown on his party.

“I congratulate each and everyone of you for winning the 2024 election… you have made history,” the message said.

Mr Khan is currently in jail having been convicted in cases he says are politically motivated.

The success of the PTI-linked candidates was unexpected, with most experts agreeing that Mr Sharif – believed to be backed by the country’s powerful military – was the clear favourite.

But the PTI is not a recognised party after being barred from running in the election, so technically Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML-N, is the largest official political group.

The political horse-trading has begun in earnest, which means it could still be a while before anyone is able to claim outright victory.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Sharif acknowledged that he did not have the numbers to form a government alone. But addressing supporters outside his party’s headquarters in the city of Lahore, he urged other candidates to join him in a coalition and said he could remove the country from difficult times.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Friday, Mr Khan’s former special assistant Zulifkar Bukhari said: “Knowing Imran Khan and knowing the ethos of our political party PTI, I don’t think we’ll be making any coalition, forming a government with any of the main parties.

“However, we will be forming a coalition… to be in parliament – not as an independent but under one banner, one party”.

And asked about whether Mr Khan could potentially be released, Mr Bukhari said: “I think the minute we go to the high court and the supreme court we are extremely confident that he will be released, and a lot of the charges – if not all – will be thrown out on legal merit and procedural merit.”

The third biggest party appears to be the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of PM Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007.

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif (not pictured), former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), react as he spoke in Lahore, Pakistan, 09 February 2024.
Image caption,In Lahore, an eruption of cheers and fireworks could be heard by supporters of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party

Burzine Waghmar, a member of the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at SOAS University of London, told the BBC that the elections “may well prove to be one of the most divisive and dangerous this chronically unstable, episodic democracy has ever confronted”.

As results trickled in, the UK and US voiced concerns over restrictions on electoral freedoms during the vote.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the UK urged authorities in Pakistan “to uphold fundamental human rights including free access to information, and the rule of law”.

In a statement, he went on to express “regret that not all parties were formally permitted to contest the elections”.

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller criticised what he described as “undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly” during Pakistan’s electoral process.

He also cited “attacks on media workers” and “restrictions on access to the internet and telecommunication services” as reasons to worry about “allegations of interference” in the process.

Many analysts have said this is among Pakistan’s least credible elections.

Voters in Lahore told the BBC that the internet blackout on polling day meant it was not possible to book taxis to go and vote, while others said they could not co-ordinate when to head to polling stations with their family members.

An interior ministry spokesman said the blackouts were necessary for security reasons.

Support from the military in Pakistan is seen as important to succeed politically, and analysts believe Mr Sharif and his party currently have their backing, despite their differences in the past.

Maya Tudor, associate professor at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, said the lead taken by Imran Khan’s PTI was “shocking” in the context of the country’s past.

“A win would be remarkable – in every single other election in Pakistan’s recent history, the military’s preferred candidate has won,” Dr Tudor explained.

As many as 128 million people were registered to cast their votes, almost half of whom were under the age of 35. More than 5,000 candidates – of whom just 313 are women – contested 266 directly-elected seats in the 336-member National Assembly.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, said Pakistan “desperately” needs political stability to address what she described as “the worst economic crisis in its history”.

But, in a hopeful note, Ms Lodhi said Pakistan’s voter numbers show a “belief in the democratic process”. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

‘My memory is fine’ – Biden hits back at special counsel

US President Joe Biden has hit back angrily at an investigation that found he mishandled top secret files and struggled to recall key life events.

“My memory is fine,” he insisted in a surprise news briefing.

He gave an emotional response to a claim that he could not recollect when his son died, saying: “How the hell dare he raise that?”

The inquiry found Mr Biden “wilfully retained and disclosed” classified files, but decided not to charge him.

Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Hur determined Mr Biden had improperly kept classified documents related to military and foreign policy in Afghanistan after serving as vice-president.

The scathing 345-page report, released earlier in the day, said the president’s memory had “significant limitations”.

Even as Mr Biden sought to rebut reporters’ questions about his age and mental acuity, he inadvertently referred to Egyptian leader Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as the “president of Mexico”.

Asked to comment on the latest in the Israel-Gaza war, he said: “I think as you know initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.”

Mr Hur interviewed the 81-year-old president over five hours as part of the inquiry.

The special counsel, a Republican appointed to the role by Biden attorney general Merrick Garland, said Mr Biden could not recall when he was vice-president (from 2009 to 2017), or “even within several years, when his son Beau died” (2015).

At Thursday night’s news conference, an emotional Mr Biden lashed out at the passages casting doubt on his recollection of events.

“Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, was none of their damn business,” he said.

“I don’t need anyone to remind me when he [Beau Biden] passed away.”

He said he was “very occupied… in the middle of handling an international crisis” when he was interviewed by the special counsel from 8-9 October last year – just as the Israel-Gaza war erupted.

The inquiry also said Mr Biden had shared some of the sensitive material from hand-written notebooks with a ghostwriter for his memoir, a finding that the president denied from the podium.

The special counsel concluded it would be difficult to convict the president of improper handling of files because “at trial, Mr Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

Opinion polls indicate the president’s age is a concern for US voters ahead of November’s White House election. But Mr Biden told reporters on Thursday he was the most qualified candidate.

“I am well-meaning,” he said. “And am elderly. I know what the hell I’m doing. I put this country back on its feet.

“I don’t need his recommendation.”

the cluttered garage where the docs were found
Image caption,Classified files were kept next to a dog bed and firewood in Mr Biden’s garage, found the report

Asked whether he took responsibility for having classified documents in his home, Mr Biden blamed his staff.

He said he didn’t know they had put sensitive memos in his garage, where the special counsel says they were located next to a dog bed.

A BBC reporter at the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room described the atmosphere as tense.

When one journalist said the American people were concerned about his age, Mr Biden raised his voice in reply: “That is your judgement, that is your judgement.”

He insisted that his memory is “fine” and “has not gotten worse” during his presidency.

Mr Biden’s legal team also criticised the special counsel’s remarks about Mr Biden’s apparent memory lapses.

“The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” wrote White House lawyer Richard Sauber in a letter attached to the report.

The top secret files were found at Mr Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware, and former private office from 2022-23.

The discovery came after a separate investigation charged former President Donald Trump, 77, with mishandling classified documents following his departure from the White House. He faces a trial in that case this May.

The Hur report distinguishes between both cases, saying Mr Biden handed over the documents to government archivists, while Mr Trump “allegedly did the opposite”.

Mr Biden's notebooks were also recovered from his Delaware home office
Image caption,Mr Biden’s notebooks were also recovered from his Delaware home office

“According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it,” the report says about Mr Trump.

Mr Trump, in response, said his classified files trial should be cancelled by the justice department prosecutor.

“If Special Counsel Jack Smith wants to do good for our Country, and help to unify it, he should drop all Litigation against Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, ME, and let our Country HEAL,” the Republican White House frontrunner posted on his platform, Truth Social. https://elementlagu.com/wp/

Could the Houthis sabotage undersea cables?

Armed Houthi soldiers sit in the back of a pick-up vehicle
Image caption,The Houthis have been targeting ships in the Red Sea for several months

Revenge takes many forms. The Houthis in Yemen have made no secret of their determination to retaliate against the West for the US-led airstrikes that have been targeting their missile and drone launch sites.

These in turn have been in response to more than 30 Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which they say is in support of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The stakes have now been raised.

Yemen’s legitimate, UN-recognised government in Aden has warned that the Houthis, who seized much of Yemen in 2014, are now threatening to sabotage the crucial undersea communication cables, including internet lines, which run under the Red Sea – connecting Asia to Europe.

The warning came after a channel linked to the Houthis on the Telegram messaging app posted a map showing undersea cable routes in the Red Sea.

Could the Houthis sabotage these lines? They almost certainly would if they could.

The group has reportedly claimed that they have easily accessed maps showing the confluence of undersea communications cables running past their coastline, as they pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait which, at its narrowest, is just 20 miles (32km) wide.

But the fibre cables, which carry 17% of the world’s internet traffic, lie on the seabed mostly hundreds of metres below the surface – well beyond the reach of divers.

The US and Russia are both thought to have the naval capability to cut them. This involves deploying a deep-sea submersible from a mothership and then using what are, in effect, a giant pair of scissors for severing the cables on the ocean floor.

However, it would be more difficult for the Houthis to do.

“I assess it’s a bluff, unless it’s an attack on a terminal,” former Royal Navy submarine commander Rear Adm John Gower says of the claims the group is threatening to sabotage the cables.

“It would need an ally with the capability, [someone with] a submersible plus the ability to locate [the cables]”.

The Houthis do have an ally – Iran. With help from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Houthis have built up a formidable arsenal of missiles and drones.

Over the past eight years they have fired these at Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, US and British warships – as well as any vessel they suspect of links to Israel, the US or UK.

So, could Iran enable the Houthis to cut the undersea cables?

“There is nothing I’ve seen in the Iranian orbat (Order of Battle) that could touch these cables, certainly not their submarines,” says former Royal Navy Cdr Tom Sharpe.

“Diving is an option but it’s deep and busy so I think it would be pushing it,” he says. Concurring with Rear Adm Gower, Cdr Sharpe says: “I think this is a bluff.”

A map of the area controlled by the Houthis

For Iran to enable an ally to sabotage the world’s undersea internet cables would also be a risky move on Tehran’s part.

Neither Iran nor the US want to get into a full-scale war with each other and they have made that clear.

The current conflict between the US and Iran’s proxies and allies around the Middle East is calibrated to a degree. The US gave several days’ warning before hitting Iran-backed militia bases in Iraq and Syria, allowing key personnel to evacuate.

Cutting global communications cables would be a major escalation that could even result in retaliatory strikes on Iran itself.

“Iran would be nervous about expanding their global disruption campaign [to shipping],” says Edmund Fitton-Brown, who was the UK ambassador to Yemen from 2015-2017.

“The Iranians might resort to cyber options sooner than sabotage of infrastructure,” he adds.

In conclusion, the threat made recently by the Houthis on their Telegram channel would be hard to carry out.

It would be both technically challenging and politically risky for Iran, whose hand the West sees in all the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

But the Houthis have surprised their adversaries before – firing missiles at a Saudi oil depot in Jeddah just before a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2022.

They have also survived nearly eight years of intensive air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition that has failed to reverse their illegal takeover.

And today, despite repeated US-led air strikes on their missile and drone bases, they are showing no signs of backing down in their standoff with the West.

The Houthis, who are loathed and feared by many Yemenis in the areas outside their control, have become a force to be reckoned with. https://elementlagu.com/wp/