Risk of crushing death at Hillsborough was 'obvious', court hears

Police match commander David Duckenfield, 74, is charged with the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died as a result of crushing at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final match.

Prosecuting barrister Richard Matthews QC told the jury at Preston Crown Court: “It is not in any way merely with hindsight that we can look back and see that there was an obvious, serious and very present risk of death from crushing to those entering the Leppings Lane area of the stadium.”

The court was told that crushing at the stadium was nothing new. Mr Matthews said Tottenham Hotspur fans had been badly injured at an FA Cup semi-final match against Wolves in 1981.

Mr Matthews said that a tunnel leading to the West terrace had been blocked by police at that match to prevent further overcrowding – an action that was not taken before the 1989 disaster.

A 1981 letter from South Yorkshire Police to the then chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club read: “Both the club and the police should be able to improve their performance.

“The police action, in letting spectators onto the track, was not only necessary but was vital to avoid further serious injuries and possibly save life.”

Jurors at the trial have seen a 3D graphic model of the Hillsborough stadium police control box as it was on the day of the disaster.

It reconstructs the view that senior police officers, including then-chief superintendent Duckenfield, would have had over the overcrowded pens where supporters died.

The court was told that Sheffield Wednesday’s safety certificate at the time of the disaster was flawed and that those responsible recognised that it was “very out of date”.

Graham Mackrell, 69, who was club secretary at the time, was responsible for safety at the ground. He denies two charges of breaching health and safety laws.

Mr Duckenfield denies a charge of gross negligence manslaughter.

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How ‘one-third’ of a bat population died in two days

Over two days in November, record-breaking heat in Australia’s north wiped out almost one-third of the nation’s spectacled flying foxes, according to researchers.

The animals, also known as spectacled fruit bats, were unable to survive in temperatures which exceeded 42C.

In the city of Cairns, locals saw bats toppling from trees into backyards, swimming pools and other locations.

Wildlife rescuers found surviving animals clumped together, usually on branches closer to the ground.

“It was totally depressing,” one rescuer, David White, told the BBC.

‘Biblical scale’

Last week, researchers from Western Sydney University finalised their conclusion that about 23,000 spectacled flying foxes died in the event on 26 and 27 November.

That tally was reached through counting by wildlife volunteers who visited seven flying fox camps following the heatwave.

Lead researcher Dr Justin Welbergen, an ecologist, believes the “biblical scale” of deaths could be even higher – as many as 30,000 – because some settlements had not been counted.

Australia had only an estimated 75,000 spectacled flying foxes before November, according to government-backed statistics.

“This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since human settlement,” says Dr Welbergen, who is also the president of the Australasian Bat Society, a not-for-profit conservation group.

The spectacled flying fox – so named for light-coloured fur around its eyes – can also be found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

In Australia, the species is only found in a small rainforest region of northern Queensland, where it helps to pollinate native trees.

Dr Welbergen says about 10,000 bats of another species – black flying foxes – succumbed to the heat during the same two-day period.

Flying foxes often experience fatal heat stress when temperatures eclipse 42C, scientists say. During November’s heatwave, Cairns recorded its highest-ever temperature of 42.6C.

‘Canary in the mine’

Flying foxes are no more sensitive to extreme heat than some other species, experts say.

But because they often gather in urban areas in large numbers, their deaths can be more conspicuous, and easily documented.

“It raises concerns as to the fate of other creatures who have more secretive, secluded lifestyles,” Dr Welbergen says.

He sees the bats as the “the canary in the coal mine for climate change”.

“It is clear from the present data that these [heat] events are having a very serious impact on the species,” Dr Welbergen says. “And it’s clear from climate change projections that this is set to escalate in the future.”

Battle for protection

Experts have long been concerned about the survival of spectacled flying foxes.

Its population has more than halved in the past decade, says Dr David Westcott, who chairs the government’s National Flying Fox Monitoring Programme.

In the past, mass deaths in the population were often associated with cyclones. But in recent years heatwaves have become a bigger risk, Dr Westcott says.

“We’re very concerned. It’s been a massive population decline for a species that isn’t under a great deal of pressure outside of these weather events,” he tells the BBC.

Even prior to November’s heatwave, conservationists were lobbying the Australian government to upgrade its classification of the species from “vulnerable” to “endangered” – a move which would strengthen efforts to help it.

Globally, the species is listed as of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Some experts worry that public antipathy to bats may hinder conservation efforts. This is usually related to fears about contracting diseases from bats, and their noise in urban areas.

This week, amid a heatwave in New South Wales, authorities warned people against approaching bats due to reports of aggression.

“They’re seen as these rats in the sky, so any preservation effort is hard going,” Dr Westcott says.

“You can bet there were some people glad to see so many bats go down in the heatwave.”

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Number of murder police in London plummets as crime rises

Scotland Yard’s murder investigation unit has lost 315 officers and civilians from a total of 1,208 since 2008, according to figures obtained by the Press Association.

Included in the figures were a drop in the number of officers from 850 to 715 and a drop in other staff from 358 to 177.

The number of major investigation teams also plummeted – from 26 to just 18.

The worst year for staffing was 2017, when the homicide and major crime command (HMCC) had just 590 officers and 168 other staff, making a total strength of 758.

The overall strength of the Met Police fell from 31,460 in October 2008 to 29,654 in October last year, according to figures released by the mayor’s office.

The news comes amid a rising number of violent crimes in the capital – there were 128 homicides last year, the highest number in a calendar year for a decade.

So far this year, police have launched six murder investigations.

A Met Police spokeswoman said the service “frequently adjusts resources to respond to violence in London”.

But a spokesman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “This is the stark reality of years of damaging government cuts that have seen the Met having to make colossal savings of £850m, which has resulted in officer numbers falling below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years.

“While even the Home Office admits there is a link between the increase in violence and a decrease in officer numbers, it’s fallen on deaf ears with ministers failing to reverse the cuts which could see the number of police officers fall still further by 2022.”

Police are mostly funded by central government but around 30% of their funding comes from council tax through the policing precept levy.

The Home Office said decisions about frontline policing and the deployment of resources in London were a matter for Met Commissioner Cressida Dick and Mr Khan.

A spokeswoman said: “Met Police funding will increase by £172m next year if the Mayor of London increases council tax precept by £2 a month for a typical (Band D) household.”

Meanwhile, another of England’s large police forces is failing to record more than 16,600 violent crimes each year, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

The watchdog has said the efforts of West Midlands Police to record violent crime and sexual offences are “inadequate”, with only 78.2% of violent crime and 89.2% of sexual offences reported to police being recorded.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said the report was “frustrating”.

She added: “It does not include the results of other crimes, and consequently it has not recognised the force’s overall crime recording from which we have good, reliable crime accuracy.”

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Egypt Pledges A Number Of Initiatives To Boost Investment, Integration And Governance During Africa 2018 Forum

– Egypt sends a clear message of intent as it prepares to take over chairmanship of the African Union

         – A Guarantee Fund created to assist Egyptians companies to invest in the continent

        – Governance and the fight against corruption, two core issues at the centre of their AU agenda

As Egypt prepares to take over the chairmanship of the African Union in 2019, President Al Sisi, in the closing plenary of the Africa 2018 Forum, sent a clear message of intent focused on greater integration and greater cooperation.

In an impassioned speech, it was clear that promoting the African agenda was at the heart of his country’s foreign as well as economic strategy. A number of announcements were made during the two day Forum to encourage greater regional private sector investments from Egyptian companies, as well as initiatives to deal with some of the issues and constraints holding back investments, not least infrastructure. A Guarantee Fund was launched as well as dedicated funds focusing on infrastructure and the digitization of African economies.

“This event emphasizes how much importance Egypt accords to the African continent,” Al Sis said. “It’s been an important platform to enhance the multilateral framework of African countries. Improving African infrastructure and a clear focus development will be central to our agenda during our chairmanship of the AU.”

A number of African presidents attended the Forum including the President of Niger who was keen to remind the audience of the urgent need to take bold and decisive action to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that was signed in March this year. Twenty two countries need to ratify it for it to come into force. “If political pan-africanism emerged victorious in the twentieth century he said, economic pan-africanism must win the day in this century.”

Women and youth were also central to the programme. The message sent was that entrepreneurship and private sector should be the driving force to transform the continent. But there needs to be a deliberate approach as it will not just happen organically, according to Paul Kagame who alongside President Al Sisi took part in an intergenerational dialogue during the youth day.

As well as calling for entrepreneurs and investors to dream big, Al Sisi emphasized the need to act quickly. “People always asking me why you are in such a hurry?” he added. “It’s because the needs are so pressing.”

The Forum was attended by 5 heads of state, the Presidents of a number of Development Finance Institutions as well as numerous dignitaries and CEOs. Two hundred and fifty start-ups were invited to take part in the youth day. The Forum also included an exhibition of 30 leading African creators in fashion, design and luxury goods.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of Africa 2018.

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Millions of Indians set for holy dip

Millions of people in the northern Indian city of Allahabad are preparing to bathe in holy waters as part of the world’s largest religious gathering – the Kumbh Mela.

At least 15 million people are expected later at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical, subterranean Saraswati rivers.

Officials are preparing for 120 million people during the 49-day festival.

It is billed as humanity’s biggest gathering and can be seen from space.

Hindus believe that bathing at the confluence of the rivers – known as the Sangam – will cleanse their sins and help them attain salvation.

The biggest draw at the festival are the Naga sadhus – the naked ash-smeared ascetics who arrive in massive colourful processions.

At the last Kumbh in 2013, female ascetics were allowed to bathe at the Sangam for the first time. This time, hundreds of transgender people will be participating.

More than a million foreign pilgrims will also take part in the festival, senior administration official Rajeev Rai told the BBC.

He and other organisers have been preparing for more than a year for the event, which dwarfs the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia.

“Last minute preparations are on. All the religious sects have been allocated time for their processions and bathing rituals,” Mr Rai said. “We have devised a traffic plan to ensure there’s no overcrowding. The mela area is open only to pedestrians,”

The mela (meaning “fair” in Hindi) has been held in Allahabad for centuries now, but it has grown into a mega event in the past two decades.

This year the gathering will be particularly huge and many believe India’s Hindu nationalist government has organised it with an eye on key general elections due in the summer.

Massive billboards of Prime Minister Narendra Modi dot Allahabad city and the mela ground. Huge cardboard cut-outs have been placed strategically at the bathing areas.

A temporary tent city, spread over 32 sq km (12 sq miles) has been set up to accommodate the masses, complete with hundreds of kilometres of new roads. Hospitals, banks and fire services have been set up just for the festival, along with 120,000 toilets.

Hundreds of new train services are running to and from Allahabad to tackle the rush of pilgrims and more than 30,000 police and paramilitaries have been deployed to provide security and manage the crowds.

In the run up to the festival, religious sects have held daily processions marked by much pomp and show.

At one such procession on Sunday night, there were elephants, camels and horses. Brass bands and drummers played, as religious leaders sitting atop several vehicles threw marigold flowers to thousands of devotees.

On Monday – a day before the official start of the festival – tens of thousands of pilgrims bathed at the Sangam. Some then lit clay lamps and floated them along with flowers in the Ganges.

The atmosphere at the mela is festive, and the authorities have announced a calendar of music and dance performances. But there’s plenty of impromptu entertainment taking place by the roadside, with children performing rope tricks and shows by drummers and ballad singers.

Most pilgrims, however, say they are here to “answer the call of Mother Ganges”.

“We believe that bathing here will destroy our sins,” farmer Pramod Sharma said.

“The waters here have regenerative properties. Bathing here can cure your ailments. It also removes obstacles from your way,” Shahbji Raja said.

Kumbh Mela at a glance


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Top 10 African Dance Styles of 2018

Africa is known for its rich diversity in music and dance. 2018 was no different as the continent witnessed some of the best dance styles ever created. From North to South, East to West, there is no doubt these dance styles that were trending throughout the entire year will continue to captivate participants and audiences in the years to come. It is amazing to see how creativity has been perfectly infused with African culture and trends to create amazing dances that will tempt you to join the dance floor. It is expected these dance sensations will continue to remain popular in 2019 as the continent awaits new dances.

Let’s take a look at the African dance styles that set the trends in 2018.

1Shaku Shaku Dance – Nigeria

Shaku Shaku is a Nigerian sensation street dance style that took not only the African continent but the entire world by storm. Ever since Shaku Shaku hit, people just can’t seem to get over it. Shaku Shaku has continuously gained popularity and shows no signs of letting up. The dance steps come in various varieties and are likened to those of a drunk person. They typically involve entire body movement including the arms and legs. The dance is a freestyle and traces its origins from the streets. Shaku Shaku is today referred to as Nigeria’s Gangnam Style.

2Odi Dance – Kenya

Odi dance is a Kenyan dance sensation that is commonly associated with the youth. Started by a gospel professional dancer and artist, Timeless Noel, Hype Ochi and Jabiddi, gospel dancehall artist, Odi dance was started to attract more youth to the gospel of Christ. ‘Odi’ is a slang word for ordinary. The target of the dance were ghetto (slum and low income neighborhood) youths based on the group’s belief that despite Jesus being an extraordinary person, he came into the world as an ordinary person and mingled with everyone despite of their social status. The dance has become not only a national sensation but popular across the entire African continent.

3Gwara Gwara Dance – South Africa

In 2018, Gwara Gwara dance, a South African viral dance went international. Started by DJ Bongz, the dance entails lifting and swinging one leg while getting the entire body involved including the arms in synch with the leg movement. The peak of the Gwara Gwara was when it was performed in the 2018 Grammy Awards Ceremony. Some of the international artists who’ve performed and danced Gwara Gwara include Rihanna.

4Rosalina Dance – Democratic Republic of Congo

The list of 2018 top African dances cannot be complete without the famous Rosalina dance that originated from BM’s song Rosalina. Originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rosalina which means “Break Your Back” became an instant hit in 2018 with fans across the continent taking part in numerous dance challenges. This a high adrenaline dance with electrifying moves thanks to the impressive Congolese beat that sets the pace for the rhythm. The dance involves systematic movement of the legs, arms, waist and the entire body.

5Pilolo Dance – Ghana

Pilolo is famous Ghanaian dance step that was a big hit across the continent and globally in 2018. The creator of Pilolo, Zigi is also known for previously releasing Kupe, a famous dance challenge that took everyone by storm. From the streets of Ghana, Pilolo became a hit in New York City with Janet Jackson performing both Kupe and Pilolo at the end of her performance “Made for Now” on “The Tonight Show” starring Jimmy Fallon. The name Pilolo was borrowed from a hide and seek game popular among Ghanaian kids. Zigi in an interview explained he came up with the steps in the evening while making preparations to shoot a dance video.

6Malwedhe/Idibala Dance – South Africa

Malwedhe is no doubt South Africa’s biggest dance in 2018 that rapidly spread its wings to an international audience. The dance is a product of King Monada’s hit song “Malwedhe” that means illness in Sepedi language. In this dance, fans fall to the ground when the chorus “ke na le bolwedhe bao idibala” (I have an illness of fainting) is sang. Videos of the dance craze have emerged from far abroad countries such as China. The simulating collapse or fainting is loved by everyone but non-profit organizations dealing with epilepsy have complained the dance mocks epileptic individuals. Others have raised concerns about the possibility of getting injured when one falls to the ground. The Malwedhe/Idibala challenge took the continent by storm.

7Black Panther/Wakanda – Africa/Diaspora

After the release of Black Panther movie that was a worldwide hit, fans began a dance that rapidly sent shockwaves throughout Africa. The dance is a testament to how fans were really excited with Black Panther. There is no doubt, Wakanda dance was a force to reckon with in 2018. Interestingly, Africans living in the diaspora as well as non-Africans were all on board having fun.

8Vosho Dance – South Africa

Vosho is a famous South African dance that involves kicking and squatting at the same time. In recent times, Vosho has turned its focus on the head that has replaced the kicking and squatting. Instead, you only need to dance and lean your head forward in line with the rhythm of the dance tunes. In a short while, there were numerous videos of this dance posted online.

9Kwangwaru Dance – Tanzania

Kwangwaru dance style from Tanzania originates from Kwangwaru, a famous East African hit by Tanzanian artists Harmonize and Diamond Platnumz. Upon releasing the song in 2018, the Kwangwaru dance immediately picked up momentum with fans across the continent uploading their Kwangwaru dance challenges on social media. There is no doubt, as big as the Kwangwaru hit is, this dance move is expected to remain a craze in the coming days.

10Kpakujemu – Nigeria

Kpakujemu from Nigeria features among the top African dances of 2018. The dance originates from Kpakujemu, a track by Olamide, Terry, Bhary, Jay and Lyta. The highly electrifying dance moves are associated with this dance craze whose roots have spread far and wide. It is expected Kpakujemu dance challenges will continue in 2019.

11Bonus:  Kupe Dance

The KupeChallenge is named after the song featured in the original video; Kupe Dance by Ghana’s A-Star who is also responsible for the Chocobodi dance challenge. The Kupe dance was not just about the dance, but also about good looks, style and swag.

2019 is expected to be another great year with everyone waiting for creative, fun and exciting dance moves that will unite fans across Africa.

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Boss of collapsed China mine kills self

The owner of a gypsum mine in China’s eastern Shandong province has killed himself, as rescuers try to reach 17 miners who have been trapped for two days, state media report.

One person died and four miners escaped when the mine collapsed on Friday.

Since then, rescue workers have managed to pull a number of miners to safety.

China has a long history of industrial accidents. The latest incident comes days after a deadly landslide caused by construction waste in southern China.

Ma Congbo, the chairman of Yurong company which owns the mine, drowned himself by jumping into a mine well early on Sunday, China’s Xinhua news agency reports.

His motive is not clear but the Chinese authorities have toughened the punishment of employers who are negligent, says the BBC’s Stephen Evans in Beijing.

Mr Ma killed himself two days after the mine collapsed in Pingyi County’s Linyi city, Shandong Province, just before 20:00 local time. It is not yet clear what caused the collapse.

Rescuers have drilled a hole to access some of the trapped workers, and are trying to transfer food and water, officials say. More than 700 emergency officials are involved in rescue efforts, according to Linyi Mayor Zhang Shuping.

Xinhua news agency reports that seven people have been rescued so far.

The facility was used to mine gypsum, a soft mineral that is widely used in construction.

The latest incident comes a week after a landslide in the southern city of Shenzhen killed one person and left another 75 people missing, presumed dead.

Authorities say the landslide was caused when a huge man-made mound of earth and construction debris lost stability and collapsed.

It is one in a series of industrial accidents to occur this year, with questions raised about rapid industrialisation and safety standards in China.

This tightening of safety law in recent years is credited with bringing a fall in the number of deaths of miners at work from 7,000 a year in 2002 to 931 last year, our correspondent says.

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Jury in rape trial of cricketer Alex Hepburn fails to reach verdict

Ex-Worcestershire star Alex Hepburn, 23, denied attacking the alleged victim, who cannot be named, after she had sex with England Lions batsman Joe Clarke following a night out in April 2017.

The jury deliberated for more than nine hours following a five-day trial at Worcester Crown Court.

After Judge Jim Tindal had discharged the jury, prosecutors were granted a two-week period to decide whether to seek a retrial.

Hepburn, who was born in Australia and lives in Worcester, was bailed and a provisional retrial date was listed for 8 April.

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The strange normality of life in a breakaway state

A postal address is the marker that identifies our home’s place in the world. The last line designates our country, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

But for a few million people worldwide, that last line of the address is a problem. The international postal service does not recognise a letter marked Abkhazia, Trans-Dniester, or Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Letters find their way after being re-routed via other countries. Open up the drop-down box of countries on an internet form and they are unlikely to be listed.

This trio of European statelets are among the few territories in the world, mostly formed by war, which exist on maps but are not full nation states, or members of international organisations.

However, they are self-governing and fairly stable. Life goes on – taxes are collected and children go to school. But it is all a little more complicated than elsewhere in the world.

Of the world’s contested states, Taiwan is by far the biggest. Yet despite it being independent to all intents and purposes since 1949, China regards it as part of its own territory which “must and will be reunited”. It is recognised by fewer than 20 countries and is not a UN member.

At the other end of the scale, the Islamic State group proclaimed a state straddling Syria and Iraq which existed for three years, but was never recognised by any countries.

Abkhazia, Trans-Dniester (also known as Transdniestria or Transnistria) and northern Cyprus are somewhere in the middle. All three emerged out of conflicts which remain unresolved.

The breakaway region of Abkhazia won a war of secession with Georgia in 1992-93 and declared independence in 1999. In 2008, it was recognised by Russia – which Georgia considers an occupying force – and a handful of other states.

Trans-Dniester also emerged as the Soviet Union fractured into smaller states, breaking away from Moldova after a brief war in 1992.

Turkish Cypriots declared a state even earlier, in 1983, nine years after Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup backed by the Greek government. The UN continues to patrol the dividing Green Line and reunification talks have never succeeded.

Each has a government and, although they are far from receiving international recognition, there is no sign of them collapsing.

This qualifies them as “de facto states” – places that govern their own territory, but which are outside the international system.

Importantly, all three of these breakaway territories have a powerful patron – Russia in the case of Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester, and Turkey in the case of northern Cyprus.

The patron helps them to survive – providing financial and military backing and stationing troops there, in defiance of international law.

But even if Russia or Turkey were to reduce support, these breakaway territories would not just melt away.

They would be weaker, but all would still retain a strong local identity and harbour aspirations to be separate.

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The international community does not think about these places very often – or the underlying problems that keep them in their strange state of limbo.

Interest in the de facto states is often from lovers of “places that don’t exist”, particularly in the cases of Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester.

Lack of formal recognition certainly leads to over-compensation in the production of state symbols.

They have developed quasi-state paraphernalia worthy of Freedonia – the Marx Brothers’ fictitious state in Duck Soup – or the Republic of Zubrowka, from Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.

Abkhazia prints exotic stamps with an eye on collectors around the world.

Trans-Dniester still has Soviet-era insignia on its symbols, such as the hammer and sickle. It prints its own currency, the Trans-Dniester rouble, which can only be used inside its borders.

Uniquely in the world it prints plastic coins in different shapes, which make them easily identifiable for blind people, and which fetch high prices on eBay.

Yet while they may be idiosyncratic, it is a stretch nowadays to call the trio “rogue states”.

That is not to say they are without problems. Human trafficking, for example, is a big issue in both northern Cyprus and Trans-Dniester.

Yet the main impression a visitor to these places would have is of their ordinariness.

All have traffic lights, traffic police, hospitals and other trappings of more “normal” states.

Shoppers sit in cafes glancing at smartphones – even if the coffee they drink is not brewed by a global brand like Starbucks.

And despite their home state having almost zero prospect of wide international recognition, people have the same goals as those anywhere else.

Businesses want foreign trade, students want scholarships abroad.

The states follow many European norms voluntarily. None of them has the death penalty and all hold quite strongly competitive elections – even if the pool of candidates is quite limited.

However, a place cannot live by postage stamps alone – it needs to collect those tax revenues and to make sure the police force and school system work.

That gives the outside world and would-be conflict mediators some leverage and influence – something that is only being used to a limited extent at present.

Offers of help with education and health could be accompanied by calls for co-operation on the extradition of fugitives, for example.

To a degree that is already happening with Trans-Dniester, which has quietly signed up to Moldova’s free trade agreement with the European Union.

It has also made an agreement that means cars from Trans-Dniester can travel abroad with neutral-looking number plates registered in Moldova. And diplomas from Trans-Dniester’s main university can be registered internationally.

Visually the place may still look like a Soviet theme park, with its statues of Lenin and hammers and sickles, but it is actually moving in another direction.

As one former official said to me: “My head is in Russia, but my legs are moving towards Europe.”

With full resolution of these disputes still far off, this model of incremental change and international engagement offers an alternative way forward.

If the three territories will not be reintegrated into their parent states of Cyprus, Georgia and Moldova in the near future, at least their residents – but not their governments – could become part of the global community.

Without giving them recognition, de facto states can be more predictable and better aligned with their neighbours.

Over the longer term, the deep-rooted conflicts that created these de facto states could be a little bit easier to overcome.

Just do not hold your breath. They promise to be around for a long time to come.

About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

It is based on Uncertain Ground: Engaging With Europe’s De Facto States and Breakaway Territories, by Thomas de Waal – a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. Follow him @Tom_deWaal.

Edited by Duncan Walker

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The brutal secret of school sport initiations

Hazing rituals have long been a brutal secret among high school and college sport teams. But in the #MeToo era, can teenage victims shatter the code of silence?

*This story includes some graphic descriptions of sexual assault*

When Allison Brookman arrived at Reed Custer High School to pick up her 14-year-old son Anthony from American football camp, she knew something was wrong.

“You can kind of tell when your kid is hurt or sad,” she told the BBC.

“When I pulled up I saw that same look in his face, that he was hurt.”

After some needling, he admitted he had just been “jumped” by four senior football players.

But it wasn’t until she took him to hospital to have his injuries examined that she heard what had really happened – that Anthony had been beaten up and sexually assaulted by members of the team as part of a violent hazing ritual.

“The first guy who slapped me twice and knocked me down, he kicked me in my right side on to my ribs,” Anthony told CBS in an interview.

“While the fourth one took my shorts off and they pulled my legs up so that he could get his finger to my, you know, body part.”

Allison says when they heard this in the hospital examining room, she and her husband were stricken with horror.

“They didn’t just beat you up, they tried fondling you?” she recalls asking.

“At that point my son looked at us and said ‘don’t worry mom, don’t worry dad, they didn’t get in me.'”

“That was probably the breaking point for both of us.”

Now the family is suing the Reed-Custer Community Unit School District 255 in Braidwood, Illinois, claiming it failed to prevent the sexual assault and for allegedly not properly responding to the incident once they became aware.

Superintendent Mark Mitchell defends the schools actions and says the players were punished “according to the terms of the School District’s Athletic Code of Conduct.” The school is defending the legal action.

Three of the alleged attackers have also been charged as juveniles with aggravated battery. They are not named as they were minors at the time of the incident.

As their case winds through the courts, other eerily-similar incidents have also come to light. In Maryland, four 15-year-old members of the Damascus High School junior varsity football team are accused of raping a younger teammate with a broomstick as part of a hazing ritual, and trying to rape others.

Prosecutors have told in chilling detail how the alleged attackers cornered four freshmen teammates in the locker room.

“It’s time,” one of them said before they ganged up on the first victim, holding him down and sodomising him with the broom handle.

They are being tried as adults. A fifth suspect is being charged as a juvenile.

And in the Canadian city of Toronto, seven 14- and 15-year-old football players from St Michael’s College School are facing charges of gang sex assault related to three separate hazing incidents.

In one incident, a video allegedly showing a teammate being penetrated by a broom was shared online.

These high-profile cases of sexual assault have reignited the call to end hazing in sports. And in the #MeToo era, many former victims are coming out to share their story.

What is hazing?

Hazing is when members of a group deliberately embarrass or harm new or prospective members as part of a right of passage, or initiation into the group.

“These are powerful forces that we’re talking about, wanting to belong and wanting to be a part of a community,” says Jay Johnson, an expert on hazing on sports teams who teaches at the University of Manitoba.

Hazing rituals can run the gambit from relatively benign – forcing team members to carry the gear to matches, or chant silly songs on campus – to extreme forms of bullying, including physical and sexual abuse.

It has been most commonly associated with university fraternities and sororities and athletic clubs, but high school groups are not immune. A 2000 survey by Alfred University found that about half of high school students reported participating in activities that qualified as hazing – while only 14% identified as being hazed.

In the US, 44 states have banned hazing.

In Canada, many universities and sport organisations have anti-hazing policies, though no federal law specifically targets the practice. Like in the St Michael’s incident, police have often relied on assault laws when laying charges in hazing cases.

In the UK, the Rugby Football Union, the sport’s governing body, has said initiations at university clubs are putting people off wanting to continue playing.

It claimed the traditions are partly to blame for an estimated 10,000 school leavers who recently stopped playing.

When hazing turns criminal

Most students who have been hazed have trouble realising they were, says Johnson, in part because a lot of the activities may seem harmless and like they were “just being a part of a team”.

But hazing can turn sinister, and the practice leads to several deaths a year, often from alcohol intoxication.

Sexualised hazing is also fairly common, says Johnson.

From Texas to Australia, there have been reports of ritual sex assault on school sports teams for years.

A 2017 investigation by the Associated Press found 70 cases of teammate-on-teammate sexual assaults in US public schools between 2012-2017, which it called “the tip of the iceberg”.

The cases are shocking both in their violence and their similarity, often featuring some variation of older teammates sodomising victims with anything from a fist, to a Gatorade bottle to the nozzle of a carbon-dioxide tank.

Earlier this year, an organisation called End Rape on Campus released a report saying that orientation week at Australian Universities is called “The Red Zone” by sexual assault support workers due to the combination of assaults, hazing rituals, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Code of silence

Sometimes all it takes is one bad apple to push a team to commit sexual assault, Johnson says.

“All it takes is that one person in power, or at the top of the hierarchy… a veteran player who came in who was a bit on the sadistic side, who pushes that boundary of what it can become,” he says.

But hazing rituals usually stem from a toxic team culture, he says.

Traditions are passed down from year-to-year, and today’s aggressors were often last year’s victims. Often, coaches and other authorities turn a blind eye, Johnson says.

In their lawsuit, the Brookmans blame the school for allowing the hazing to fester on the team until it escalated to their son’s assault. They also blame the school for allegedly not protecting their son from bullying after the incident.

Allison says Anthony was harassed every day by fellow students who called him a “rat”. Meanwhile, she says, the alleged attackers only received a three-day game suspension.

It was the lack of action, she says, that led the family to sue.

“We just wanted to do our best to let our son see that he was somebody who was worth fighting for,” she says.

Anthony now goes to a different school, and is seeing a therapist. The head coach resigned from the team, although he is still a teacher at the school.

Superintendant Mitchell says the student-athletes were disciplined according to school guidelines. He says he is not legally allowed to comment on individual disciplinary cases.

“We intend to vigorously defend these baseless allegations and protect the reputation of our fine School District and its staff,” he said in a written statement.

In Toronto, the hazing allegations led to the resignation of school principal Greg Reeves and school president Father Jefferson Thompson.

Several alumni critiqued what they claim was the elite school’s culture of “toxic masculinity” and claimed it had a “code of silence”, especially once it was revealed that Principal Reeves did not immediately report the video of the alleged sexual assault.

He said that he did so the next day, after first helping the victim to tell his parents, because caring for the victim had been his first priority.

“This is a great school, and the majority of the teachers are great people. Where was the oversight? Like, what’s going on with your teams? What is the mentality here? … There’s a code of silence at the school,” a parent told Postmedia news outlet.

#MeToo in the locker room

The Brookman’s story, and the sexual assault cases in Maryland and Toronto, have come to light during an era of public reckoning about sexual violence.

From Hollywood to the Supreme Court, victims have come forward to describe how powerful institutions silenced them to protect their attackers.

Are youth sports next?

Johnson says he believes the attention that is being paid to Anthony’s case, and the sexual assault charges laid in Maryland and in Toronto, show that people are beginning to think differently about hazing.

“I actually have hope that this might sort of be the flashpoint, for opening up the floodgates, similar to what happened to the #MeToo movement,” Johnson says.

“That more people might start to come forward and feel empowered to share their stories.”

There are signs that is starting to happen. In Toronto, prominent NHL players have revealed they were victims of sexual hazing while playing in junior ice hockey leagues, as have some alumni of St Michael’s.

Ultimately, that is why Anthony agreed to tell his story on the nightly news.

“You see a lot of hazing on TV, but that’s all it is, it’s the news reporter maybe talking with the other news reporter and a picture of the school,” Allison recalls her son telling her.

“Nobody ever steps forward, I want people to actually see my face and see what people did to me.”

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