US tries to block Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as first African WTO head

The appointment of Nigeria’s former finance minister to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been thrown into doubt after the US blocked the move.

On Wednesday, a WTO nominations committee recommended the group’s 164 members appoint Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The US, critical of the WTO’s role over global trade rules, wants another woman, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said she was “immensely humbled” to be nominated.

But the four-month selection process to find the next WTO director-general hit a road block when Washington said it would continue to back South Korea’s trade minister.

Media reports cited WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell as saying just one member country did not support Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment at a delegates’ meeting on Wednesday.

“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process… for the outcome. Except for one,” he said. Reuters said Mr Rockwell confirmed that the objection came from the US.

US President Donald Trump has described the WTO as “horrible” and biased towards China, and some appointments to key roles in the organisation have already been blocked.

The WTO has called a meeting for 9 November – after the US presidential election – to discuss the issue. US opposition does not mean the Nigerian cannot be appointed, but Washington could nevertheless wield considerable influence over the final decision.

Mr Rockwell told reporters there was likely to be “frenzied activity” to secure a consensus for Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment. She has the support of the European Union.

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank..

She also serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 fight.

If Ms Okonjo-Iweala is eventually appointed she will have a full in-tray. The WTO is already grappling with stalled trade talks and tensions between the US and China.

Earlier this month she said that her broad experience in championing reform made her the right person to help put the WTO back on track. “I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.

Delivery driver turns on St Ivess Christmas lights

A delivery driver has turned on a Cornish town’s Christmas lights after being voted a local hero.

Dale Perry was nominated for the switch-on in St Ives after residents were asked for the names of people who had gone above and beyond for their community this year.

One of several nominations for Mr Perry, known at DPD Dale in the resort, described him as a “great chap”.

“I am so grateful, it is amazing,” he said after turning the lights on.

Asked why he thought he had been nominated, Mr Perry added: “It’s just the deliveries and the little bits of help I do here and there as best I can.

“I just get on with everyday stuff and everyone does this, it is fantastic.”

The town’s lights, which have been organised by volunteer group St Ives in December and the St Ives business improvement district (BID) team, have been switched on more than a month early.

BID manager Helen Tripconey said: “We thought let’s not just do it, let’s do it early so that people can enjoy it for longer.

“There are a lot of very tired businesspeople in St Ives who are working exceptionally hard; there are a lot of very worried locals about the number of people that are around and we thought well if you can just look out and see some lights, it is cheery for all.

“Also from the Covid perspective, if people are going to come they are not all going to descend upon you in one night.”

Ms Tripconey added of Mr Perry: “People adore him.”

Facebook sued over Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Facebook is being sued for failing to protect users’ personal data in the Cambridge Analytica breach.

The scandal involved harvested Facebook data of 87 million people being used for advertising during elections.

Mass legal action is being launched against Facebook for misuse of information from almost one million users in England and Wales.

Facebook said it has not received any documents regarding this claim.

The group taking action – Facebook You Owe Us – follows a similar mass action law suit against Google.

Google You Owe Us, led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd, is also active for another alleged mass data breach.

Both represented by law firm Millberg London, the Google case is being heard in the Supreme Court in April next year.

The Facebook case will argue that by taking data without consent, the firm failed to meet their legal obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

“We have not received any documents regarding this claim. The Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into these issues, which included seizing and interrogating Cambridge Analytica’s servers, found no evidence that any UK or EU users’ data was transferred by Dr Kogan to Cambridge Analytica,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.

In October 2018, the UK’s data protection watchdog fined Facebook £500,000 for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said Facebook had allowed a “serious breach” of the law.

Facebook apologised and allowed users to check which “banned apps” had accessed their data.

Although there is no precedent for such a mass legal action in the UK, there is in the US.

Google agreed to pay a record $22.5m (£16.8m) in a case brought by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the same issue in 2012.

The company also settled out of court with a small number of British consumers.

Facebook has not responded immediately to a BBC News request for comment.

Representative claimant in the case Alvin Carpio said: “When we use Facebook, we expect that our personal data is being used responsibly, transparently, and legally.

“By failing to protect our personal information from abuse, we believe that Facebook broke the law.

“Paying less than 0.01% of your annual revenue in fines – pocket change to Facebook – is clearly a punishment that does not fit the crime.

“Apologising for breaking the law is simply not enough.

“Facebook, you owe us honesty, responsibility and redress.

“We will fight to hold Facebook to account.”

Mother and son found dead sitting on sofas in Bracknell

A reclusive mother and son were found dead sitting on sofas in their home, an inquest has heard.

The bodies of June Corfield, 84, and Stephen Corfield, 60, were discovered in Bracknell, Berkshire, in January.

Reading Coroner’s Court heard the pair were discovered “in a state of decomposition” during a welfare check.

Assistant coroner Alan Blake found Mrs Corfield died from hypothermia, but recorded an open conclusion on the death of her son.

The inquest heard no-one at the flat at Iveagh Court in Nightingale Crescent would open the door to contractors who were renovating the block, owned by a housing association.

On 15 January a housing officer called out a locksmith and the bodies were discovered.

Det Sgt Liam Butler of Thames Valley Police told the inquest the two-bedroom flat appeared to have no central heating, its electricity was turned off at the fuse box and had very few items of furniture.

The inquest heard the pair, who had not spoken to family for years, were both found in a state of undress. Mr Corfield, who was visually impaired, had in excess of £1,000 in his pocket.

A newspaper with the date 2 December 2019 was found in the bin, the court heard.

Det Sgt Butler said detectives looked at a variety of scenarios, but there was no evidence of forced entry or violence.

Pathologist Robert Chapman told inquest: “It has not been possible to establish when each individual died, whether they died at the same time or if one died significantly before the other.”

Covid: Mark Drakeford accuses Tory of calling for shops to break law

The first minister has been accused of acting like a dictator after saying a senior Welsh Tory called for lockdown laws to be broken.

In a letter, Mark Drakeford objected to a tweet from Andrew RT Davies saying major food retailers should “take a stand” for their customers.

The Conservatives’ health spokesman opposes rules banning the sale of non-essential items in supermarkets.

Mr Davies said the letter was “pathetic”.

It is the second time the first minister has accused Conservatives of encouraging people to break coronavirus rules.

Ahead of a meeting between supermarkets and the Welsh Government, Mr Davies tweeted on Monday: “In the absence of any commons sense emerging at the top of government, please do take a stand for your customers. Wales is behind you.”

Mr Drakeford responded in a letter to Mr Davies’s boss, Paul Davies.

He told the Welsh Conservative Senedd leader: “While your group has made it clear you do not support this two-week firebreak to bring coronavirus under control and to save lives, it is another thing for the Welsh Conservatives’ health spokesperson – an elected Member of the Senedd and a lawmaker – to be advocating people and companies break the law.

“We need everyone to work together to make this firebreak successful if we are to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and even more people losing their lives this winter.”

He asked for confirmation that “from now onwards, the whole of the Welsh Conservatives group in the Senedd will be unambiguous in its support for the law”.

In response, Andrew RT Davies said “we’re all entitled to an opinion”.

“For Labour’s first minister to go into work this morning and set out to intimidate members of the Senedd is a disgrace and there should be no room in Welsh democracy for these dictator-style tactics,” he added.

“I’m astonished that during a pandemic with deaths rising and the Welsh economy crashing, Mark Drakeford has time on his hands to compose such pathetic and inaccurate letters.”

In a decision announced on Tuesday, Welsh Government listed baby clothes as essential items during the firebreak lockdown.

It also said customers should be able to ask for non-essential items in exceptional circumstances.

Earlier in October, Mr Drakeford objected to comments from north Wales Conservatives that earlier local lockdowns in the region were disproportionate.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to face new trial in Iran court on Monday

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been summoned to an Iranian court next Monday for a new trial.

The British-Iranian, under house arrest in Tehran since being moved from jail in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, has been told to expect to return to prison, according to her husband Richard.

The charity worker is nearing the end of her current five-year sentence after being jailed on spying charges in 2016.

She has always denied the charges.

Richard Ratcliffe, said the Iranian summons came only days after British courts delayed, by six months, an imminent hearing over a legal dispute between Iran and the UK about an outstanding debt which dates back to before the 1979 revolution.

Mr Ratcliffe said he had spoken to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and urged him to ensure British diplomats can attend the court proceedings.

“We don’t know what will happen on Monday. We don’t know how far and how soon they will take forward their prison threat. But we do know that the Revolutionary Guard are signalling something to the British government. And we also know they are signalling this could have a long time still to run,” he said.

“We do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years.

“So I really hope there’s something we’re not being told, as on the face of it, the government’s response seems disastrous.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 while travelling to visit her parents with her young British-born daughter, Gabriella.

The dual national was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, which she denies. Prior to her arrest, she lived in London with her husband and child.

Last month, she was told she would face a new trial. At the time, the Foreign Office said the new charge was “indefensible and unacceptable”, adding: “We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison.”

Mr Ratcliffe maintains his wife and other dual nationals are being held hostage because Iran wants the UK to pay a decades-old debt over an arms deal that was never fulfilled.

“It is imperative that the UK protects Nazanin,” he said.

“I told the Foreign Secretary that I felt the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune, and exposing Nazanin to abuse because of it.”

“Nazanin’s case shows clearly that abuse is not something ended by shiny promises and abuser accommodation, but by action and accountability – that applies to all kinds of crime, even hostage taking.”

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife had told him over the phone she was feeling “desperate”.

“I am dying of this stress – of being taken back [to jail],” she told him. “I can’t stop thinking about it. I envy everyone that is free.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and the UK government have always maintained her innocence and she has been given diplomatic protection by the Foreign Office – meaning the case is treated as a formal, legal dispute between Britain and Iran.

The family’s local MP Tulip Siddiq said the timing of the new trial raised “serious concerns”.

“Nazanin has once again been treated with utter contempt and I am extremely concerned about her future and wellbeing,” the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn said in a statement.

Ms Siddiq said she hoped there was work going on “behind the scenes” to resolve the issues surrounding the historic debt to Iran, adding “Nazanin, as ever, is paying the price”.

Covid-19: Nottinghamshire tier 3 to feature 9pm alcohol rule

Nottinghamshire’s auction houses, car boot sales, betting shops, saunas and tattoo parlours must close, the government has announced.

The measures were revealed as it was confirmed the whole county would move into tier three at 00:01 on Friday.

Alcohol cannot be sold after 21:00 GMT in shops, but can be sold until 22:00 if bought “in hospitality venues where accompanying a substantial meal”.

Hotels can remain open, as can gyms and leisure centres.

Fitness and dance studios, sports courts and swimming pools can also remain open, although it is “strongly advised” group indoor classes do not take place.

Public buildings such as community centres, libraries and town halls are allowed to remain open to run activities such as childcare and support groups, but not for private hire, birthday parties and other social events.

“Indoor entertainment and tourism venues” have to close, but cinemas, concert halls, ice rinks and theatres are not affected by the new rules.

Nottingham, Rushcliffe, Gedling and Broxtowe had been expected to move into the top tier of Covid restrictions on Thursday.

While the tier three status has been delayed for 24 hours, it will now include the entire county.

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher praised the local authorities “for entering into productive discussions and coming to an agreement as quickly as possible”.

“We are very conscious that these new restrictions will have a huge impact on those living and working in the county, but this action is vital and is based on public health advice,” he said.

However, Nottingham South Labour MP Lilian Greenwood has criticised the government for taking “a week and a half” to come to an agreement over the city and county.

“It’s created huge anxiety and uncertainty, by doing that I think they’re undermining trust,” she said.

Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome also said she was not happy with the way information had been shared with local officials.

“The communication has been shoddy,” she said.

“It’s been so disrespectful. They’ve just treated the people of Nottingham with a total lack of respect.”

Ashfield District Council leader Jason Zadrozny said some districts including Ashfield had been kept out of the original discussions as “we did not think they would affect us”.

He added: “I am disappointed about the lack of communication from the government.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the MP for Newark, has defended the government’s handling of local lockdowns.

“I’m certain I haven’t got everything right, neither has the government, but we’re learning as we know more about the virus and trying to take the right decisions,” he said.

“We’re trying to follow the data, what is actually happening in our major hospitals, and taking action.”

Nottingham had the highest figures in the UK earlier this month, but its seven-day rate of infection has dropped again, according to the latest data.

The city had the 23rd highest rate of infection per 100,000 people in England, at 451.5, in the week to 25 October – down from 611 the previous week.

Mansfield’s seven-day infection rate is currently at 349.5 cases per 100,000 people.

Mansfield’s Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who previously opposed his constituency moving into tier three, said “big rises in cases in the north of the county” meant it was hard to argue with the tightening of restrictions.

“The more and more those figures are similar – and we’ve seen Mansfield is pretty much the same as Broxtowe in terms of numbers – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make that case and treat it differently,” he said.

Hospital bosses in Nottingham have cancelled some cancer operations due to “pressure on intensive care units”.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust medical director Keith Girling said the trust had taken the “extremely difficult decision” to postpone four cancer operations this week.

More than eight million people in England will be living in the tier three “very high” alert level by the end of the week.

Nottinghamshire will join the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Warrington in the highest tier.

Pubs in tier three that do not serve substantial meals have to close, and there are further restrictions on households mixing.

Facebook, Twitter and Google face questions from US senators

The chief executives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google faced more than three and a half hours of questions from US Senators on Wednesday.

At present, the firms cannot be sued over what their users post online, or the decisions they make over what to leave up and take down.

But some politicians have raised concerns that this “sweeping immunity” encourages bad behaviour.

The three CEOs say they need the law to be able to moderate content.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai were summoned before the Senate after both Democrats and Republicans agreed to call them in for questioning.

But some Democrats used their time to question that decision, so close to election day, and decried it as a political ploy.

Senators are worried about both censorship and the spread of misinformation. And some industry watchers agree that the legislation – known as Section 230 – needs to be revisited.

“[It] allows digital businesses to let users post things but then not be responsible for the consequences, even when they’re amplifying or dampening that speech,” Prof Fiona Scott Morton, of Yale University, explained to BBC’s Tech Tent podcast.

“That’s very much a publishing kind of function, and newspapers have very different responsibilities. So we have a bit of a loophole that I think is not working well for our society.”

As the hearing began, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg vanished, unable to connect to the committee meeting – something that Republican Senator Roger Wicker labelled a “most interesting development”.

But after a brief recess, Mr Zuckerberg told politicians that he supports changes to the rule “to make sure it’s working”.

Section 230 is the main legal protection for social networks so they don’t get sued.

It means that generally, websites themselves aren’t responsible for illegal or offensive things that users post on them. They’re treated as neutral middlemen – like newspaper sellers, rather than the editors that decide what goes in the paper.

Originally seen as a way to protect internet providers (like BT or Comcast), it’s become the main shield for huge sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which can’t possibly review every post from their users before they go up.

But politicians say Section 230 is outdated.

Democrats take issue with the spread of lies online with no consequences for the sites. Republicans argue that big tech is using its moderation powers to censor people it doesn’t agree with – making editorial calls rather than staying neutral.

And both sides agree they want to see the social networks held accountable.

Twitter boss Mr Dorsey told the committee that section 230 “is the most important law protecting internet speech” and its abolition “will remove speech from the internet”.

But he found himself faced with pointed questions over the implementation of Twitter’s policies about what it removes or labels as misinformation.

Asked why Twitter would label a post from President Trump about the security of mail-in ballots but leave posts by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that threatened violence against Israel unlabelled, Mr Dorsey was forced to explain that the Iranian leader’s tweets were considered “sabre rattling”, which did not violate its terms of service.

Mr Dorsey also found himself facing questions from Republican senators over Twitter’s limiting of a New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son.

“The New York Post isn’t just some random guy tweeting,” Republican Ted Cruz said.

“Who the hell elected you and who put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?”

Mr Zuckerberg, meanwhile, told the committee that section 230 encourages free expression, and “helped create the internet as we know it”.

But he added: “The internet has also evolved, and I think that Congress should update the law, to make sure that it’s working as intended.”

Sundar Pichai, speaking for Google, fiercely defended the law. “Our ability to provide access to a wide range of information is only possible because of existing legal frameworks like section 230,” he said.

“The United States adopted section 230 early in the internet’s history, and it has been foundational to our leadership in the tech sector.”

Both President Donald Trump and his election rival Joe Biden have called for the removal of Section 230, though for different reasons.

But some Democrats used their time to criticise the entire hearing, positioned so close to the election, as a political ploy.

“I’ve been an advocate of reform of Section 230 for literally 15 years,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told the committee, referring to his time as a state attorney general.

“But frankly I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election, when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try and tilt them towards President Trump’s behaviour. The timing seems inexplicable,” he said.

His colleague Brian Schatz said: “What’s happening here is a scar on this committee and the United States Senate.”

“We have to call this hearing what it is. It’s a sham,” he said – not asking any questions of the three chief executives, “because this is nonsense”.

Essex lorry deaths: PC saw trailer full of half-naked bodies

A police officer has described seeing a trailer full of the half-naked dead bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a lorry container.

The men, women and children were found dead in a container on an industrial estate in Essex in October 2019.

A court was told one of the first on scene, PC Jack Emerson, checked for signs of life and recalled the bodies were “closely packed” together.

Four men are on trial at the Old Bailey in connection with the find.

The court has previously been shown CCTV of lorry driver Maurice Robinson collecting the trailer, which had been transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium, and driving out of Purfleet port.

Robinson, 26, of Craigavon, County Armagh, called 999 and described finding “loads” of migrants and has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

In a statement read to court, PC Emerson said that when police arrived at 01:50 Robinson was “just standing there” and appeared calm.

PC Emerson said: “I could see one of the trailer doors was already open and I could visibly see numerous half-naked bodies in the back of the trailer, lying on the trailer floor motionless.

“I approached the door of the trailer to further inspect the bodies and it became apparent as I got closer that the entire trailer was full of bodies, and the individuals appeared to be half-naked.

“Most of them were wearing clothes on their lower half but they all appeared to not be wearing any clothing on their upper half.”

He said there was “a strange smell coming from the trailer that smelt like chemicals” and “smoke condensation… which suggested to me that the trailer was refrigerated”.

PC Emerson said he got inside the trailer to search for any signs of life “but there was not”.

He said the bodies were “closely packed” together, mainly lying on their backs.

“All bodies appeared completely motionless.

“Due to how packed together the bodies were in the trailer it was not possible to check every body so I made an attempt to check the bodies I could reach.”

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, deny the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese people, aged between 15 and 44.

Mr Harrison, of Mayobridge, County Down, Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, deny being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy, which Mr Nica has admitted.

The trial continues.

Marcus Rashford school meals petition passes 1m signatures

More than a million people have signed Marcus Rashford’s petition calling for children from poor families in England to get free meals in school holidays.

The Manchester United and England forward wants the government to provide free lunches amid fears for incomes as coronavirus restrictions increase.

His Parliamentary petition says that “no child should be going hungry”.

The government says it has already introduced more effective measures to support families.

It has ruled out extending free meals across England beyond term time – as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have done – saying it has given councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions, as well as increasing welfare support by £9.3bn.

Last week, MPs rejected Labour’s motion to extend the provision of free school meals, with five Conservative MPs rebelling.

Since then, many Conservative and Labour councils have agreed to supply meal vouchers for pupils.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes have also been among those to support the initiative.

If Parliamentary petitions get more than 100,000 signatures, the subject is considered for a House of Commons debate.

It was announced on Wednesday that Mr Rashford will receive the City of Manchester Award in honour of his campaigning.

The 22-year-old has already been made an MBE for his work on child poverty.

The UK government extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays this year and, after a campaign by Mr Rashford, repeated this during the summer break.

But, with England’s schools having reopened fully in September, cabinet minister Brandon Lewis told the BBC at the weekend that it was now up to councils to use the welfare system so that money is “targeted where it’s needed most”.

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