The Overflow for August 14th

International News

Open Border

Thousands of Venezuelans were welcomed to Colombia by a military band early on Saturday morning as the two countries' borders were officially reopened after being closed by Venezuela a year ago. Some people had travelled across Venezuela to queue overnight hoping to cross to buy food and other basics that are in short supply in Venezuela, which is embroiled in an economic crisis.

Venezuela's stores lack the most basic foods and medicines. Queues of hundreds and even thousands of people are common, and riots and looting are a daily occurrence.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro abruptly closed the border last August hoping, he said, to protect his country from smugglers and paramilitaries. Critics saw the action as a stunt to shift attention from worsening domestic problems.

Maduro announced the reopening on Thursday, alongside his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos. "We're interested in a new beginning in economic and commercial relations with all of Colombia's productive sectors," Maduro said on Thursday. Santos said it would be a "gradual" reopening.

Five border crossings will be open to pedestrians during the day from 6am to 9pm local time.

Colombia's Foreign Ministry said more than 28,000 people - many of them Venezuelans - had crossed the border in the first few hours after it was reopened yesterday.


13,000 Ghosts

Mali has identified 13,000 fictitious workers on the state payroll who had cost a total of 30 billion CFA francs (£40 million), according to the information minister. The finance ministry said on Saturday these were mostly workers who had either died or left to go and work for international organisations. Prosecutions could follow, but for the moment the priority was to get stolen money repaid.

The landlocked desert nation and important gold exporter, Mali has suffered from endemic corruption and instability, and more recently from multiple insurrections by Islamist groups in the north, as well as infighting between armed factions.

Information Minister Mountaga Tall made the comments about bogus state employees on state TV and radio late on Friday. "The Foreign Minister conducted a physical control combined with paying in cash ... (and) detected about 13,000 staff that were either fictitious or irregular," he said. "The savings that can be made if all measures are taken ... will be around 30 billion CFA francs," Tall added. He did not give a breakdown of the figure. The source at the finance ministry also could not provide such details.


Manbij is Free

Thousands of displaced residents streamed back into the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Saturday after US-backed fighters ousted the last Islamic State militants from their former stronghold. The Syria Democratic Forces announced they had seized full control of the city near the Turkish border after the departure of the last of the militants, who had been using civilians as human shields.

Hundreds of cars and vehicles carrying families and their belongings flocked into the city from makeshift camps and villages in the countryside, where many of the city's residents took shelter during the two-month campaign, according to an SDF official and relatives who were in contact with residents. "Thousands are coming back and shops are opening. Today is the first day life is returning to normal," said Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council told reporters, adding they were working to restore basic services.

UK News

A Late Brexit

Britain could leave the European Union toward the end of 2019, instead of early that year as expected by some politicians, according to the Sunday Times, who have been briefed by ministers that Brexit departments were not ready.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not invoke "Article 50", the two-year formal process for divorcing the bloc, this year as the country needs time to prepare for negotiations. Britain's international trade minister, Liam Fox, said in July that early next year could be the best time for Britain to trigger the divorce talks.

But Article 50 could be invoked later than that, with any delays a result of new government departments set up to handle Brexit and international trade not yet being fully staffed.

Elections in France in May, and Germany in September, could also push back the timing of Britain triggering Article 50. Any delay to the Brexit process is likely to draw criticism from the pro-leave side of May's Conservative party, with senior members such as John Redwood calling for a quick departure from the bloc.


Funding Promises

Britain will fill a gap of as much as £4.5 billion in funding for agriculture, universities and regional funding that will open up when Britain leaves the European Union, Chancellor Philip Hammond said. Scientists, farmers and others who got EU funding were facing uncertainty after Britain voted to quit the EU. Hammond reassured them on Saturday that the British government would pick up the tab. The new guarantee over funding comes as Britain faces the looming prospect of a recession following the Brexit vote. Companies are expected to put off investment and consumers to cut their spending as Britain and the EU work out their new relationship.

Hammond told reporters that Britain needs about £4.5 billion a year to fill the gap left by the end of EU funding, although Britain's actual exit date may be some way off. Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not start the two-year process of leaving this year. "We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive," Hammond said in a statement.

According to Full Fact, an independent fact-checking agency, the British government paid about £13 billion to the EU last year, after its automatic rebate, and got back £4.5 billion in funding. "Clearly if we stopped making contributions to the European Union there will be money available to be invested in our own economy," Hammond said when reporters asked about Britain's funding arrangements after Britain's departure from the EU.

Britain's opposition Labour Party said Hammond had made the right move in giving the guarantees but added that it was important for the government to also ensure that Britain remained a member of the European Investment Bank.

Hammond said projects signed before Britain's Autumn Statement financial update will continue to be funded by Britain after it formally leaves the EU and the UK would match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020.

Olympics Recap

Britain's Mo Farah won gold in the 10,000 metres final on Saturday, recovering from an early fall to retain his title with a blistering final lap. Elsewhere, Jeff Henderson of the United States won gold in the Olympic men's long jump on Saturday, leaping 8.38 meters to snatch the title in the last round. And Monica Puig clinched the women's tennis singles gold medal for Puerto Rico, defeating Germany's Angelique Kerber. With the victory, the US territory won its first ever Olympic gold medal, and its ninth medal in history.

Long Read

The simplest explanation is often the best, but not always. Ockham's Razor is often presented as a way to determine the correct solution, but is the simple solution always a "better" one? As Philip Ball explains this is rarely how science works.

It is futile to do with more what can be done with fewer.
— William of Ockham

The Overflow for August 13th

International News

Another Victory against Islamic State

The leader of Islamic State's branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed in a US drone strike on July 26th, a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday after the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan announced the news. The death of Hafiz Saeed Khan is a blow to Islamic State, in its attempt to expand from its heartlands in Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan and Pakistan, an area already crowded with extremist movements including the Taliban and al Qaeda.

It is the second US killing of a prominent militant in the region in months. In May, a similar drone strike killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a strike in Pakistan.

Islamic State has been largely confined to a handful of districts in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, where militants - mostly defectors from the Taliban - are blamed for raiding villages and government outposts.

Still, worries that Islamic State might be expanding its operational reach heightened this week when the group took credit for an attack on a Pakistani hospital that killed at least 74 people in the southwestern city of Quetta. A few weeks earlier, Islamic State claimed an attack on a rally in Kabul that killed more than 80 people.


Libya is "Crumbling"

Support for the government in Libya is "crumbling" amid increased power outages and a weakening currency that is hitting crucial imports, the UN envoy to the country told a newspaper. The Government of National Accord has been struggling to impose its authority on a country riven by political and armed rivalries, posing extra challenges as it tries to quash Islamic State jihadist militants.

The UN point man for Libya, Martin Kobler, told Switzerland's Neue Zuercher Zeitung in an interview published Friday there was no alternative to backing the GNA, but he acknowledged it had forfeited some of its initial popularity. Having previously speculated that95 percent of Libyans backed GNA Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, he said: "That was in April. There was a lot of good will then for the unity government. It has lost some support in the meantime. "At the time Tripoli had 20 hours of electricity a day, now it is 12 ... In April people had to pay 3 dinars for a dollar. Today it is 5 dinars. That is devastating for an import-oriented economy. Support is crumbling."

Kobler, a German career diplomat, said U.S. air power could not win the fight against Islamic State in Libya, appealing for squabbling factions to support the GNA. "Strikes by the Americans alone cannot defeat IS. The fight has to be a Libyan one. It will be won with ground troops," he said.


Security in Canada

The death of a Canadian supporter of Islamic State who authorities said was preparing an imminent attack has increased calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon his plan to scale back a 2015 law that gave increased powers to police and intelligence agents. But those calls are unlikely to translate into widespread public resistance to changing the law, as long as the government can frame it as a change that protects civil rights, pollsters and political analysts said on Friday.

"The government have to try to not fall into the trap of looking like they're weakening the legislation," said pollster Nik Nanos.

Aaron Driver, 24, was killed by police in a raid on Wednesday in a small Ontario town after authorities received "credible information of a potential terrorist threat." News of how close Driver came to carrying out an attack sparked a call from the Conservative opposition and others for police and intelligence officers to have more power to stop would-be attackers.

Driver was under a so-called "peace bond" that restricted some of his activities. The conditions of that bond were relaxed in recent months, including a requirement that he wear a monitoring bracelet.

UK News

Labour Crumbling

The Labour Party has won the right to exclude new members from voting in its ongoing leadership contest on Friday after a successful legal appeal - a decision which party leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised as legally and democratically wrong.

The row has ended up in the courts after the party's executive committee ruled last month that members who had joined the party since January 12th would not be eligible to vote unless they paid a further £25. An appeal court on Friday said the party was legally able to do so, overturning an earlier court ruling that it was unlawful.

Critics say the increasingly bitter contest is distracting the party at time when it should be pushing its priorities onto the agenda for the government's Brexit negotiations and exploiting divisions in the ruling Conservative Party.

The full impact of the decision on the leadership race is unclear: whilst Smith is backed by most of Labour's elected MPs, Corbyn is strong favourite to win the contest thanks to widespread support at grassroots level.

"We think that this is the wrong decision - both legally and democratically," a spokesman for Corbyn's campaign said. "If we are to build a big, inclusive party to take on the Tories (Conservatives), we need to secure democracy in our party."


Brexit Challenges: Part ...

A Northern Ireland human rights activist has launched a legal challenge against any British attempt to leave the European Union, saying it would be in breach of the 1998 peace deal that brought peace to the British province. Raymond McCord's move is one of several attempts being made to use the courts to stave off a British exit from the EU.

Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, with 56% voting 'Remain', putting it at odds with the United Kingdom's overall result in favour of leaving.

Senior Northern Ireland politicians have warned that a British exit could undermine the province's 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal by reinstating a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and by undermining the legal basis for the deal, which contains references to the EU.

McCord is arguing that the British government would be in breach of its domestic and international treaty obligations under the Good Friday Agreement if it leaves the EU and that it would be illegal to leave without a parliamentary vote in the British House of Commons.

McCord also expressed concerns that funding from the European Union paid to victims of that era would likely be stopped following Britain's exit. "As a victim of the most recent conflict in Northern Ireland, Mr McCord is very concerned about the profoundly damaging effect a unilateral withdrawal of the UK from the EU will have upon the ongoing relative stability in Northern Ireland," lawyer Ciaran O'Hare said.

Olympics Recap

American swimmer Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win an individual swimming event at the Olympics. She tied with Canadian Penny Oleksiak for the record-breaking time of 52.70 seconds in the 100 metre freestyle.

And Sir Bradley Wiggins has become the first Briton to win eight Olympic medals over the course of his career. He won gold in track cycling on Friday along with teammates Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, and Owain Doull.

Long Read

For a lot of people running helps soothe the mind, and when one of those people is one of the greatest novelists of recent years there's a certain eloquence that can be granted to the subject that no-one else could bring. He's written a whole book on the subject and this is just a starter of you, Haruki Murakami on running.


The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.
— Barbara Kingsolver

The Overflow for August 12th

International Edition

Venezuela to Colombia

The Venezuela-Colombia border will be reopened gradually, the presidents of the two countries announced on Thursday, speaking in Venezuela's southeastern state of Bolivar. The news signalled a warming of relations between the neighbouring countries after Venezuela's President Maduro formally closed the border at this time a year ago in what he called a crackdown on smugglers and paramilitary groups.

"We're interested in a new beginning in economic and commercial relations with all of Colombia's productive sectors," said Maduro, seated next to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in front of a picture of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar, who dreamed of integrating the region.

The porous border has long been a haven for smuggling of everything from Venezuela's price-controlled toothpaste and pasta to illegal drugs and weapons. Santos said bilateral talks in preparation for opening the border had gone on for months and that both countries would guarantee security and help curb smuggling.

The border will be opened at five crossing points during the day from Saturday.


Protests in Ethiopia

Mass street protests that saw dozens shot by Ethiopian security forces over the weekend could spill into civil war if the government fails to reform land use policies, a veteran Ethiopian opposition politician has warned. Merera Gudina, leader of the Oromo People's Congress, said the East African country was at a "crossroads". "People are demanding their rights," he said. "People are fed up with what the regime has been doing for a quarter of a century. They're protesting against land grabs, reparations, stolen elections, the rising cost of living, many things. "If the government continue to repress while the people are demanding their rights in the millions that (civil war) is one of the likely scenarios," Gudina said in an interview from Washington DC.

More than 90 people were shot dead by security forces in protests across Ethiopia's central-western Oromiya and northern Amhara regions at the weekend, according to opposition officials and residents.

Gudina said thousands of people were arrested in Addis Ababa, after the government used "massive and excessive force" to shut down demonstrations that had spread there. Other activists estimated that 3,000 protesters had been detained. "There have been no attempts at negotiation from the government, no engagement with the opposition or the people. So far, their only response is bullets," Gudina said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged Ethiopia on Wednesday to allow international observers into Oromiya and Amhara. He also said allegations of excessive use of force across the two restive regions must be investigated and that his office was in discussions with Ethiopian authorities.


Russia Flexing Its Muscles

Vladimir Putin summoned his security council and the Russian Navy announced war games in the Black Sea a day after the Russian president accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict over Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014. The posture heightens worries in Ukraine that Russia may plan to ramp up fighting in a war between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists that had been de-escalated by a shaky peace process.

Using some of his most aggressive rhetoric against Kiev since the height of the war two years ago, Putin has pledged to take counter-measures against Ukraine, which he accused of sending saboteurs into Crimea to carry out terrorist acts.

Ukraine has called the accusations false and says they look like a pretext for Russia to escalate hostilities. Such an escalation could be used by Putin to demand better terms in the Ukraine peace process, or to inflame nationalist passions at home ahead of Russian parliamentary elections next month.

The Russian leader met his top military and intelligence service brass on Thursday and reviewed "scenarios for counter-terrorism security measures along the land border, offshore and in Crimean air space," the Kremlin said.

Ukrainian UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko warned that Russia had amassed more than 40,000 troops in the region and said the build-up could reflect "very bad intentions."

The Russian Defence Ministry said its navy - whose Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea - would start to hold exercises in the area to practice repelling underwater attacks by saboteurs.

UK News

The Falklands

British Prime Minister Theresa May has written to Argentina's President Macri calling for restrictions on oil exploration in the Falklands Islands to be lifted and for more flights to the British-run islands. Argentina claims sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands, and relations between Buenos Aires and London have been strained for decades over the issue, culminating in a war in 1982 which Britain won.

May called for "more productive" relations between the two countries in her letter to the pro-business Macri, who took office in December as Argentina's first non-Peronist president in more than a decade. "Since the election of President Macri, we have been working towards improved relations with Argentina because we think that is in the interests of both our countries and the Falkland Islanders too," May's office said in a statement.

In her letter, May said she hoped that where the two countries had differences, "these can be acknowledged in an atmosphere of mutual respect".

She called for progress towards new flights between the islands, which are located about 435 miles off the coast of Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina, and third countries in the region.

As things stand, a Chilean airline flies from Santiago to the Falklands every Saturday via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, according to the Falklands Tourist Board. Once a month, the flight also stops in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, in both directions.


Privatisation Hurting Royal Mail

A labour union representing the majority of Royal Mail's 140,000-strong workforce said that it would fight any move by the British company to end its defined benefit pension scheme. Royal Mail said in June that it would increase workers' base salary, but told staff it might not be able to keep the pension scheme running beyond 2018.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) had in March overwhelmingly rejected Royal Mail's plans to end the scheme, the union said in a statement on Thursday. "The CWU do not accept that closure of the Royal Mail Pension Plan is inevitable and will explore every avenue to defend it," said Terry Pullinger, the union's deputy general secretary.

Olympics Recap

Michael Phelps has now made a daily habit of breaking his own record, and has set a new bar of 22 gold medals, over five Olympic Games. And yet, he still managed to be outshone by the tiny island nation of Fiji, who yesterday claimed their first Olympic medal - and a gold one at that. With the introduction of Rugby Sevens into the Olympics, Fiji knew there was a chance at a medal, and once the competition started there seemed to be no doubt about their path.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced a further day of public holiday for the Pacific island nation on Thursday after its rugby sevens team won the country's first Olympic medal. Bainimarama attended every day of the three-day competition, shunning the VIP area to sit with Fijian fans in the stands. Speaking after his country claimed gold, the prime minister said there would be at least one more day of public holiday after three this week. "They're all celebrating (back home), they've been celebrating for the last three days," he told reporters. "We've got celebrations programmed for when (the team) return ... We are all proud to be Fijians right now."


Long Read

For today's long read, something we don't cover too often: the Mongolian postal system. In one of the world's most sparsely populated countries, a traditional number/street organisation simply doesn't work. So from this September, they'll be implementing a new system.

Man fixed his expectations on the frowns or smiles or words of men, not on the strength of his own soul, or the sunrise, or the warming south wind, or the song of the warbler.
— William O. Douglas

The Overflow for August 11th

International News

Ceasefire, for three hours

Russia said on Wednesday there would be daily three-hour ceasefires in Syria's Aleppo starting toda, in order to allow humanitarian convoys to enter the city safely, a proposal the United Nations said it would consider. Aleppo is currently split into rebel- and government-held. The rebel-held east, where about 250,000 people are still living, came under siege in early July after government forces cut the Castello Road, the main supply route into the district.

On Friday rebels staged a major assault southwest of Aleppo to break through this siege. Fighters did manage to pierce the ring of government-controlled territory, but a safe corridor for civilians and aid has not yet been established as fierce fighting continues.

Speaking at a televised briefing, Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian Defence Ministry official, said the Russian plan was a pause in fighting which would run from 10am to 1pm local time. Rudskoi said the question of joint control over delivery of humanitarian aid via Castello Road was being discussed with the United Nations and the United States.

He said "all military action, air and artillery strikes" would be halted for the three-hour periods.


South Sudan

South Sudan said on Wednesday it opposed a proposal to station extra foreign troops in the country under UN command, something the United States, Western nations and regional countries want in order to prevent a slide back into civil war. The government said last week it would allow a deployment of African troops to Juba, after fighting between President Kiir's forces and fighters loyal to his rival, former vice president Riek Machar, killed dozens of people and drove tens of thousands from the capital last month. But on Wednesday, the Information Minister said the force should be independent rather than under UN command. He said US moves to compel the government to accept such a force smacked of imperialism.

"We do not want the protection force to be under UNMISS," Makuei said, accusing the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, which currently has 12,000 troops, of failing to protect civilians. 

"There is a clear split in the Security Council between those who insist on sovereignty above all else and those who want to make sure there is a robust protection force," said a senior Security Council diplomat, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.



Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Wednesday of using terrorist tactics to try to provoke a new conflict and destabilise Crimea after Russia said it had thwarted two armed Ukrainian attempts to get saboteurs into the contested peninsula. Russia's security service said two people were killed in clashes and its forces had dismantled a Ukrainian spy network inside Crimea. Kiev denied the assertions, calling them an attempt by Moscow to create an excuse to escalate toward a war.

The Russian president accused Kiev of playing a dangerous game and said he saw no point in holding a new round of talks about the troubled peace process in eastern Ukraine on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China next month.

"The people who seized power in Kiev ... have switched to terror tactics instead of searching for ways for a peaceful settlement," Putin told a news conference, saying Russia would not let such actions pass without a response. "The attempt to provoke an outbreak of violence, to provoke a conflict is nothing other than a desire to distract (Ukrainian) society from its problems," he added, calling Ukraine's actions "criminal."

Putin's comments will stir fears that Russia, which has been steadily reinforcing Crimea militarily, may be considering new military action.

"Putin wants more war. Russia escalates, desperately looks for a casus belli against Ukraine, tests the West's reaction," a spokesman for Ukraine's foreign ministry, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted.

The Russian allegations follow an uptick in Russian military activity in northern Crimea and heavier fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian government troops are battling pro-Russian separatists.

UK News

EU Directives

A complex legal dispute involving a transgender woman's pension rights over a period when her gender had not been officially recognised has divided Britain's Supreme Court, which referred the issue on Wednesday to the European Union's top court. The Supreme Court made it clear it required EU guidance to resolve the case of a woman, named only as "MB" in court documents, who was registered as a boy at birth but has lived as a woman since 1991 and had gender reassignment surgery in 1995.

MB turned 60 in 2008 and applied for a state pension, which under British law women born before 1950 are entitled to from that age. Men born before 1953 become entitled at the age of 65. MB was turned down because she did not have a full gender recognition certificate, an official document she could not obtain because she remained married to a woman. At the time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Britain.

In Britain, the laws affecting MB's circumstances have since changed. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2014 and a full gender recognition certificate can now be given to a married transgender applicant with the consent of their spouse. But that did not change MB's situation and she was told she could not be treated as a woman for state pension purposes and would only become eligible when she turned 65.

MB took legal action against the government, arguing that its approach to her case breached an EU directive on the equal treatment of men and women in matters of social security.

Article 4 of that directive says there must be no discrimination on ground of gender either directly, or indirectly by reference to marital or family status.


Hinkley point

French firms Bouygues and Vallourec denied that members of their boards who are also on the board of EDF had a conflict of interest when they voted in favour of the French utility's Hinkley Point nuclear project in Britain. EDF's board narrowly approved the controversial £18 billion project in a 10-7 vote. EDF unions argue the project should be delayed because of its financial risk and said on Monday that conflicts of interest in EDF's board might have impacted the vote.

They say three EDF board members are also on the boards of other firms that are EDF customers, which could benefit from Hinkley Point, and should therefore have abstained.

Hours after the EDF board's decision, the British government announced a surprise decision to review the project, delaying its verdict until early autumn.

EDF board member Colette Lewiner is also on the board of construction firm Bouygues, set to be one of the main contractors for Hinkley Point. "There was no conflict of interest with regard to Mme. Lewiner," a Bouygues spokesman said on Wednesday. He said Lewiner is an independent Bouygues board member with whom management cannot interfere. He added that Bouygues decisions about Hinkley Point are not taken at board level.

Olympics Recap

Swiss Fabian Cancellara rode off into a golden retirement with a second Olympic time trial title. Australia's Kyle Chalmers won the gold medal on Wednesday in the men's 100 meters freestyle, the blue riband event in the pool. Top-seeded Mashu Baker (pictured) won the men's under 90-kg judo competition on Wednesday in a night of double golds for the sport's birthplace of Japan, when Haruka Tachimoto also won a gold medal in the women's event. Japan has now won three gold medals in judo, of five overall.

Long Read

Elon Musk is now one of the world's leading lights in innovation, founding and funding Tesla, and Space X. But how does such a thing happen? Where did it all come from? In a candid interview with Forbes, Musk's father divulges parts of his relationship with Elon, and gives us a glimpse into what makes him the man he is today.

Well, all information looks like noise until you break the code.
— Neal Stephenson

The Overflow for August 10th

International News

Arming your friends

The US has approved the sale of more than 130 tanks, 20 armoured vehicles and other equipment, worth around $1.2 billion, to Saudi Arabia. The approval for land force equipment comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition in support of Yemeni forces loyal to the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who are trying to oust Iran-allied Houthi forces from the capital, Sanaa. The coalition's air strikes have come under criticism from rights groups for the deaths of civilians.

The US Defense Security Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said that General Dynamics will be the principal contractor for the sale, adding it would contribute to US national security by improving the security of a regional partner. "This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with U.S. forces and conveys U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia's security and armed forces modernisation," the agency said in a notice posted on its website. Lawmakers now have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare.

Saudi Arabia and its mostly Gulf Arab allies intervened in Yemen's civil war in March 2015 after the Houthi movement had pushed the administration into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations General Assembly in June to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council until the military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen.


Russia and Turkey

Russia and Turkey took a big step toward normalising relations on Tuesday, with their leaders announcing an acceleration in trade and energy ties at a time when both countries have troubled economies and strains with the West. President Putin received his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in a Tsarist-era palace outside his home city of St Petersburg. It was Erdogan's first foreign trip since last month's failed military coup, which left Turkey's relationship with the United States and Europe badly damaged.

The visit is being closely watched in the West, where some fear both men, powerful leaders ill-disposed to dissent, might use their rapprochement to exert pressure on Washington and the European Union and stir tensions within NATO, the military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

Putin said Moscow would gradually phase out sanctions against Ankara, imposed after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border nine months ago, and that bringing ties to their pre-crisis level was the priority.

The leaders were to discuss the war in Syria, over which they remain deeply divided, in a subsequent closed-door session. Progress there is likely to be more halting, with Moscow backing President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara wanting him out of power.

Turkey has been incensed by what it sees as Western concern over its post-coup crackdown but indifference to the bloody putsch itself, in which rogue soldiers bombed parliament and seized bridges with tanks and helicopters. More than 240 people were killed, many of them civilians.

Putin's rapid phone call expressing his solidarity to Erdogan in the wake of the failed putsch had been a "psychological boost", the Turkish president said.


Vietnam moving for the south china sea

Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials. Diplomats and military officers confirmed that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.

The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating.

Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, told reporters in Singapore in June that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures. "It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory," he said.

The move is designed to counter China's build-up on its seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam's military strategists fear the building runways, radars and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam's southern and island defences increasingly vulnerable.

The ruling last month, stridently rejected by Beijing, found no legal basis to China's sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea. Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratlys while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some of the area.

UK News

Scotland Courts Berlin

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met the deputy foreign minister of Germany on Tuesday, seeking to strengthen her ties with Europe's economic powerhouse in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the EU - a move Scotland overwhelmingly rejected. Sturgeon has said that Scotland must not be dragged out against its will and that she would start preparing for independence to keep Scotland's post-Brexit options open.

The surprise visit to establish contact with Berlin may not, however, sit well with some European countries, such as Spain and France, that have been wrestling with regional separatist movements and are opposed to holding any direct talks with Scotland on the terms of Brexit. "The situation in Scotland won't be repeated anywhere else, unless Spain suddenly decides to leave the EU and I don't think that will be the case anytime soon," Sturgeon told Germany's ARD TV. "Scotland is in a unique situation...and I think that under these circumstances it's important to stay open for all possible options. And I think that it would be very positive for the rest of the EU if part of Great Britain, if not all of Great Britain, should remain part of the European family of nations."

In what was her first visit to an EU capital as first minister since a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels days after Britain's EU referendum, Sturgeon met Michael Roth, one of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's top deputies and also Germany's European Affairs Minister.

"Today's discussion has been a welcome and constructive opportunity to strengthen our relations to discuss the way forward for the European Union and how all voices can be heard in that process," Sturgeon said in a statement in Edinburgh. "Scotland chose to remain in the European Union, and the solidarity shown toward Scotland as an enthusiastic part of the EU - demonstrated once again in today's talks here in Berlin – has been very welcome."

The meeting, however, did not take place at the German Foreign Ministry, which declined to say where it was held.

In a statement on the German Foreign Ministry website, Roth said: "We had a very pleasant and constructive conversation between two passionate Europeans. I hope that the United Kingdom will find a way forward so that at the end of the day Europe will profit as a whole."


How to even the game

British banks will from 2018 have to share customers' data with third parties who can then show how much could be saved by using other lenders, the competition watchdog said on Tuesday. New banks, and consumer advocates, derided the plans as relying too much on people's ability and willingness to use new technology. Customers are paying more than they should for banking and are not benefiting from new services, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said in its final report after a three-year review of consumer and small business banking.

Financial technology companies are expected to offer smartphone "apps" and web sites that use customers' information to enable them to compare bank charges. The CMA believes setting a 2018 deadline will also boost the sector, which uses technology to make financial services cheaper and more efficient.

The government wants to see financial tech grow, but European Union countries like Germany would like to lure the sector from London after Britain voted to leave the EU. "This is a real opportunity for the UK to take the lead. We are going to make it happen and give it a push to get it across the line," Adam Land, a senior director at the CMA, said. "There is no question that fintech companies are champing at the bit."

Olympics Recap

Yesterday marked another milestone for Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, as he picked up his record 20th gold medal - 11 more than 2nd place on the list. The US women's gymnastics team also picked up gold, maintaining their country's position on top of the standings.

Long Read

Brazil was long hailed as the next nation to breach the "top tier", with a fast rate of growth and improving living conditions. However, it's suffered serious setbacks in recent years, in the run up to it's planned two stage unveiling to the world: the World Cup, and this years Olympic Games. With the economy shrinking, and politics in turmoil, what's next for the bright light of South America?

We look back at history when we’re writing about the present to remind ourselves of where we fall short, but also of the promise and glory in the competition to make things better.
— John Dickerson

The Overflow for August 9th

International News

Pakistan Mourns

A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed 70 people and wounded more than 100 on Monday in an attack on mourners gathered at a hospital in the city of Quetta, and Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility. The bomber struck as a crowd crammed into the emergency department to accompany the body of a prominent lawyer who had been shot and killed in the city earlier in the day.

Abdul Rehman Miankhel, a senior official at the Civil Hospital, where the explosion occurred, told reporters that at least 70 people had been killed, with more than 112 wounded. "There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise," said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, the provincial health minister.

Islamic State's Amaq news agency reported the Middle East-based movement was behind the atrocity. If true, it would mark an alarming development for Pakistan, long plagued by Islamist militant violence but most of it locally-based. "A martyr from the Islamic State detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in the city of Quetta," Amaq said.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Islamist militant Pakistani Taliban group, earlier said it carried out the attack, although the group is believed to have claimed responsibility for bombings in the past that it was not involved in.


Japan on high alert

Japan ordered its military on Monday to be ready at any time to shoot down any North Korean missiles that threaten to strike Japan, putting its forces on a state of alert for at least three months, a defence ministry official said. 

Up to now, Japan has only issued temporary orders when it had knowledge of an imminent North Korean missile launch that it has cancelled after a projectile had been launched. However, because some test firings are hard to detect, it has decided to put its military on standby for a longer period. The order will be reviewed after three months, NHK said.


Duterte's plan in action

Dozens of Philippine government and police officials turned themselves in on Monday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte linked them to the drugs trade, stepping up a war on narcotics that has killed hundreds since he took office in June. On Monday, 27 mayors and 31 police officers, including a colonel, went to the national police office in the capital, Manila, to clear their names, fearing the president's order to hunt them down if they failed to surrender within 24 hours.

Several local officials reported to regional police offices to beat the deadline set by Duterte, who won the elections in May on the single issue of fighting crime and drugs. On Sunday, he identified about 160 officials in a name-and-shame campaign.

Nicknamed "the punisher" and "Duterte Harry" for his brutal fight on crime, Duterte has hit back at activists incensed by the surge in the killings of suspected drug traffickers.

Alarmed human rights groups have urged the United Nations to condemn the rise in extrajudicial killings. The Philippine Senate is to hold a legislative inquiry.

All police officers linked to the drug trade were disarmed, investigated and could face criminal and administrative cases if there was strong evidence, said national police spokesman Dionardo Carlos.

Besides local officials and police officers, Duterte's list included two retired police generals, soldiers, paramilitary members, judges and a former lawmaker.

In a letter, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday told the president the court alone had the right to discipline judges. One judge named by Duterte died eight years ago and two others have already been removed.

UK News

Fracking Settlement

Britons who live near "fracking" developments will be able to decide how a £1 billion shale gas fund should be spent, either by accepting direct personal payments or supporting projects such as railways or flood defences, the government said on Monday.

In a consultation published on Monday outlining how the shale wealth fund should be run, the government said payments to individual communities, where residents could decide what to do with the money, should not exceed £10 million over the 25-year lifespan of the fund. Residents would be given the choice of receiving payments directly or picking a project that would help their community.

"Local communities should be the first to benefit from the Shale Wealth Fund, and they should get to decide how a proportion of the funding is used," the government said in its consultation document.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Sunday that some tax proceeds from new shale gas developments could go directly into local residents' pockets, showing her support for the nascent industry that she hopes can ease Britain's growing reliance on imported gas.

Britain is estimated to have plenty of shale gas resources in place, enough to cover the country's annual gas needs for hundreds of years. But shale gas extraction has been slow because of local residents' and green campaigners' concerns over environmental impact and the fall in energy prices.

"The onshore oil and gas industry in the UK continues to believe that local people should share in the success of our industry and be rewarded for hosting sites on behalf of others in the country," said Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Oil and Gas body.


Competition Continues

England's Premier League will be able to continue to seek top prices for domestic TV football rights after the media regulator dropped a two-year investigation into the auction process. Alarmed by the runaway costs broadcasters have to pay to show the top games in the country's national sport, Ofcom launched an investigation in 2014 to examine whether the current system distorted or restricted competition.

Driven by a fierce rivalry, British TV companies Sky and BT paid a combined £5 billion to show live matches from 2016 to 2019, smashing expectations and sparking fears that those costs would be passed on to consumers. Ofcom has now said the investigation has been closed after the league agreed to increase the number of matches made available for live broadcast in the 2019/2020 season.

"Given the considerations outlined ..., we have decided to close the investigation," it said. "Ofcom's resources could be used more effectively on other priorities to benefit consumers and competition."

The investigation, sparked by a complaint by the cable TV operator Virgin Media, had been seen as a threat to the league and its leading clubs including the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Virgin, which offers the games to its subscribers via wholesale deals meaning it feels the impact of higher costs, had argued the proportion of matches shown live on TV was lower than elsewhere in Europe.

The fact they are also shown exclusively by an individual broadcaster means the pay-TV groups compete to pay the highest price.

Ofcom said from 2019/2020 a minimum of 190 matches would be available for live broadcast per season, half of the 380 games that are played.

Olympics Recap

Hosts Brazil celebrated their first gold with Rafaela Silva's judo win, and Australia's women won the first Olympic rugby sevens title with a 24-17 win over arch-rivals New Zealand.

There are another 15 gold medals available tomorrow, but for now here's how the table looks:

Long Read

We hear a lot about the gender wage gap, but we don't often hear about the specifics of the disparity. This piece takes the issue to a new level, exploring the huge variety of factors differing between the lives and careers of men and women, breaking up into age groups, career paths, and family structure.

As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many.
— William Bradford

The Overflow for August 8th

International News

The Philippine Crackdown

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday identified 160 serving and former town mayors, judges, and policemen allegedly linked to the illegal drugs trade, stepping up a name-and-shame campaign in his five week war on drugs. Duterte read a list of those he said "destroy the country" during a visit to an army base in his hometown Davao city.

The list included two of the five police generals he identified last month as protectors of drug syndicates and a town major who has recently surrendered to police.

"You are the (law) enforcers and you allow yourselves to be used," said Duterte, the former Davao city mayor, vowing to wipe out drugs gangs and end crime.

Duterte did not say what he would do with the list. Hours later, two mayors on the list, one from Iloilo and another from Bulacan, turned themselves in to police, denying any involvement in the drug trade.

On Friday, Duterte reiterated his "shoot-to-kill" order against drug dealers resisting arrest. He said he would be accountable for what has been a bloody anti-narcotics crackdown. As many as 770 to 800 have been killed in police operations against illegal drugs since Duterte was sworn in as president on June 30, including more than 200 killed by vigilante groups.

Last week police commandos killed six bodyguards of a town mayor who had turned himself in over links to the illegal drug trade, signalling the shift in Duterte's anti-drug war from street peddlers to officials.


Cuba versus the USA

Cuba has blamed Washington for a surge in Cubans trying to reach the United States by land and sea, accusing the Obama administration of encouraging illegal and unsafe immigration. Tens of thousands of Cubans over the last two years have flocked to the US-Mexican border and taken to the sea in hopes of reaching Florida.

Under a 1960s law, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Communist-run country’s citizens are treated as legal immigrants if they set foot on US soil, while migrants from any other land are considered illegal.

A government statement carried by local media and announcing the arrival of 14 Cubans deported by Colombia, said they were the “victims of the politicisation of the migration issue by the US government which stimulates illegal and unsafe immigration.” The government said its citizens “receive differential treatment ... they are immediately and automatically admitted ... including if they arrived by illegal means.”

Colombia last week announced that more than 1,000 Cubans stuck in the country, and who were trying to reach the United States, would be deported.

Colombia is just the latest government to crack down on Cubans who legally visit the region and then illegally, often with the help of human smugglers, pass through their territory on the way to the Mexican border.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday reported that since Oct. 1, at least 5,786 Cubans have tried to migrate to the southeastern United States by sea and been intercepted, compared with 4,473 in federal fiscal year 2015.


Updates from Aleppo

Syrian insurgents who broke the siege of rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Saturday came under intense air attack from pro-government forces trying to repel the advance, which also cut Aleppo's main supply route. Rebels have taken most of a government military complex southwest of Aleppo in a major offensive begun on Friday to break a month-long siege, and are now attacking further into government held territory.

The surprise advance allowed fighters from insurgent areas in western Syria to break through a strip of government-controlled territory on Saturday and connect with fighters in the encircled sector of eastern Aleppo. But fierce fighting and continuous Russian and Syrian air strikes in and around the Ramousah area mean no safe passage for besieged east Aleppo residents has been established.

Fighters from a coalition of Islamist rebel groups called "Jaish al Fateh" announced the start of a new phase to liberate the whole of Aleppo, saying it pledged to increased the numbers of fighters for the battle it said will only end by hoisting their flag on the ancient Aleppo citadel in government hands.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to take full control of Aleppo, pre-war Syria's most populous city, which has been divided between rebel and government-held areas. Assad's government forces are supported in Syria by Russian air power, Iranian militias and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah group who have sent reinforcements to shore up the army .

Rebel gains this weekend could change the balance of power in Aleppo, after Assad said a siege by government and allied forces on rebel-held east Aleppo in early July was a prelude to re-taking the city. The loss of Aleppo would be a crushing blow for rebels.

UK News

Paying Us Off

Some tax proceeds from shale gas developments in Britain could be given directly to residents, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday, in a bid to help clear the path for an industry hampered for years by local opposition to fracking. Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks yet fracking applications have struggled to find approval from local communities, concerned about noise and environmental impacts.

Last year, then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the government would create a shale wealth fund that would receive up to 10% of tax revenue from shale gas developments for investments in communities affected by the projects.

May, who took over as prime minister last month said she wanted to look at the option of this money being paid directly to residents rather than to local authorities. "The government I lead will be always be driven by the interests of the many, ordinary families for whom life is harder than many people in politics realise," May said in a statement on Sunday, ahead of the launch of a consultation on the fund. "This announcement is an example of putting those principles into action. It's about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken, not just councils, and putting them back in control over their lives."

Long Read

There has been a recent proliferation of slavery narratives on our screens, and in our literature, with multiple attempts to entirely rewrite the rules. Brit Bennett explores recent cinema and novelisation of a large part of our collective history that has oftentimes been ignored.

It’s easier to build strong children then repair broken men.
— Frederick Douglass