US bars investments in Chinese military companies

US President Donald Trump has issued an order banning American investments in Chinese firms the government determines have ties to the Chinese military.

In the order, Mr Trump accused China of “increasingly exploiting” US investors “to finance the development and modernisation of its military”.

The ban is to go into effect in January.

It could affect some of China’s biggest publicly-listed firms, including China Telecom and tech firm Hikvision.

Throughout his administration, Mr Trump has made efforts to disentangle the US from its close economic ties with China.

He has raised border taxes on billions of dollars worth of China goods and imposed sanctions on some of its tech companies.

Relations between the two superpowers have also soured over issues such as coronavirus, and China’s moves in Hong Kong.

Officials said the new order had been under review for months. It applies to shares owned directly or indirectly in 31 firms identified by the US earlier this year as backed by the Chinese military, a list that includes tech firms and large state-owned construction companies among others.

US investors have a year to comply with the rules.

Mr Trump, who recently lost to challenger Joe Biden in the US presidential election, is due to leave the presidency shortly after the order goes into effect.

Mr Biden has not outlined his China strategy, but during the campaign he promised to challenge the Chinese government on similar issues as Mr Trump, including trade abuses and cyber-theft.

Mr Trump’s stance on China is one of the rare areas in which he has sometimes received support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Several politicians in Congress have also proposed laws to block US investment in firms the White House designates as threats.

Earlier this year, Mr Trump ordered the pension fund for government employees to abandon a plan to invest in Chinese companies. The US has also said it is considering de-listing Chinese firms from US stock exchanges if they do not comply with US audit rules.

Deacon Cutterhams medal collection sells for £140k

A soldier whose heroics in winning one of the highest military honours for bravery were called into question has sold his medal collection for £140,000.

Deacon Cutterham was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for picking up and hurling away a Taliban grenade.

But some who served alongside him in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, have disputed what happened that day.

Mr Cutterham, who strongly denies their claims, said he was glad the medals would be going to a new home.

Some of his former colleagues in the 1st Battalion the Rifles chose to speak to the BBC after reading reports about Mr Cutterham selling his collection of seven medals at auction.

One said: “We didn’t care if he wanted to tell people how brave he was. What we care about now is him making financial gain from this.”

The medals were sold at auction at Dix Noonan Webb in London to a private collector in the UK.

Mr Cutterham, 37, from Bristol, joined the Army at 16 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 19-year military career. He was medically discharged after developing PTSD.

The grenade incident happened in 2011 when, as Sjt Cutterham and serving in the 1st Battalion the Rifles, he was leading a patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj District in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

His medal citation for the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – one level down from the Victoria Cross – reads: “The action itself was utterly courageous, carried out with composure and clarity of thought.

“Cutterham’s gritty leadership and gallant act saved lives and inspired his men.”

No-one disputes that a grenade did go off that day. Everyone on Mr Cutterham’s patrol – and back at the patrol base – said they heard an explosion.

“We believe a grenade was thrown, but it was his,” one of his former comrades told the BBC.

Another soldier, who says he carried out an equipment check when the patrol returned to base, claimed: “There was one grenade missing.”

In response, Mr Cutterham said he was “extremely disappointed” by the claims, adding that he strongly denied them.

“I’m just surprised. I can only hazard a guess that they are either jealous or envious,” he said.

“The citation wasn’t written by me, it was written by the commanders. The award is rigorously tested through several committees before being granted.

“I’m proud of the fact I saved those soldiers’ lives. What if I had jumped the other side of the ditch and the grenade exploded and killed both those blokes? My name would have been mud.”

He said he was “extremely privileged” to have been awarded the honour, and added: “I am pleased to see it will be going to a new owner in my lifetime. I am planning to use the money to support my family as they are now my focus.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Our service personnel display exceptional gallantry and courage while performing duties at home and abroad.

“Acts of courage that warrant an honour or award are rigorously scrutinised before being approved.

“If serving personnel have a grievance, there is a formal process for them to register their complaint through their chain of command, which would be looked into accordingly.”

Several of the soldiers who spoke to the BBC said they did raise concerns at the time, but were told they were only doing so because they disliked Mr Cutterham.

Most of those who spoke to the BBC have admitted they disliked him.

Naomi Long reconsidering position in Northern Ireland Executive

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said she has been reconsidering her position in the Northern Ireland Executive over its handling of the Covid restrictions.

Her vote was excluded when the DUP used the cross-community mechanism to block proposals to extend the regulations.

Mrs Long, leader of Alliance, said while some parties had the right to deploy it, “it doesn’t make it right”.

The executive reached a compromise on Thursday after four days of disagreement.

Ms Long said she had been clear with ministerial colleagues that her position would become “unsustainable” if the use of the cross-community vote continued.

It is a mechanism that can be deployed on any issue in the executive, if three or more ministers ask for a vote to be taken on that basis.

It effectively gives parties with enough ministers a veto.

In an interview with BBC News NI, Mrs Long said the device “shows the farce that is these structures”.

“I have been reconsidering my position – it would be hard to imagine anyone around the executive table with an ounce of sanity or scruples wouldn’t have reconsidered their position, in light of the debacle that took place this week,” she said.

“On balance, I still believe it is important that those of us who want to do our absolute best for people of Northern Ireland, and find a way through these difficult times, are still at that table trying at least to have influence – even if there are those who try to block us from having that influence through votes.”

The justice minister said she had warned before entering the executive in January 2020 about use of the cross-community vote, and continues to oppose it.

“I have asked people to desist from this abuse of power because it will make my position in the executive unsustainable,” said Mrs Long.

Coronavirus: Safety officials had political pressure to approve PPE

Britain’s safety watchdog felt leaned on by the government to make factually incorrect statements about PPE suits bought for NHS staff earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, the BBC has found.

Emails reveal how the Health and Safety Executive said protective suits, bought by the government in April, had not been tested to the correct standard.

But the emails describe “political” pressure to approve them for use.

The government said all PPE is “quality assured” and only sent out if safe.

Early on in the pandemic, the NHS experienced severe shortages of personal protective equipment, known as PPE. As the country woke up to the lethal threat of Covid-19, there was a scramble to secure gloves, overalls and masks for NHS staff.

The shortage was so drastic that some hospital staff were even pictured at the time wearing bin bags.

The government had to find new suppliers quickly to meet demand and to compete with rising global competition. But that rush has prompted questions about its choice of provider.

One of those providers was small pest control firm Crisp Websites Ltd, trading as PestFix, which secured a contract in April with the Department of Health and Social Care for a £32m batch of isolation suits.

Three months after it was signed, the suits from PestFix had still not been released for use in the NHS, despite the rush to get PPE into hospitals. Instead, they were being stored at an NHS supply chain warehouse, in Daventry, waiting for safety assessments.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had concluded they had not been specified to the correct standard for use in hospitals when they were bought.

Separately, the contract was being challenged in the courts by campaign group the Good Law Project. It asked why DHSC had agreed to pay 75% upfront when the provider, it claimed, was “wholly unsuited” to deliver such a large and important order.

The contract had been awarded without being opened to competition because of the urgency of the crisis.

Now, emails from the HSE – given to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) – reveal how its officials came under pressure from government over the summer to release the suits to the NHS.

In June, one email from a firm working alongside the HSE describes “political pressure” being applied to get the suits through the quality assurance process.

By September, the legal wrangling was still going on, the emails show, even though the suits had, by then, been released to the NHS.

“We are being drawn into the legalities”, one official wrote, saying they’d been asked to provide a statement that PestFix’s products had had the right safety documents.

“I have been contacted by [name redacted] today requesting a statement to the effect that HSE were provided with the required documentation by Pestfix… This is not factually correct,” the safety regulator wrote.

The following day, another email reveals: “…various colleagues in DHSC are contacting those involved in the assessment of the Pestfix products requesting statements to the effect that HSE assessed the products and they were compliant – not factually correct”.

An email, dated 25 June, said Pestfix was worried news its equipment had not completed necessary testing might leak to the public.

“We are very concerned about whom we speak to with regard to getting these suits tested as we do not want it to be made public knowledge that PPE from Pestfix has not passed HSE inspection,” it read.

The firm added that, with the legal challenge looming, it hoped that new tests could be done quickly. This was so that “we and the DHSC can confirm that the product… has been certified and accepted”.

The isolation suits were ultimately tested to the required standard, and on 6 August the regulator allowed them to be used for staff treating Covid-19 in hospitals.

But it insisted the products were relabelled because the description was incorrect. The decision says: “The product refers to itself as an isolation gown, but it is clearly a disposable coverall”.

Last month, the government published five more contracts it had signed with PestFix for gowns, gloves, masks and aprons totalling more than £300m.

A government spokesperson said: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff throughout the pandemic, with more than 4.7 billion items delivered so far and 32 billion items ordered to provide a continuous supply to the frontline over the coming months.

“All PPE products are quality assured and only distributed if they are safe to use.”

In a statement, PestFix said it had “delivered these products to DHSC on time and in compliance with the DHSC’s specification and applicable regulations.

“After delivery, there was some delay while the product was re-categorised as a PPE product and further testing was carried out to confirm that the product was PPE compliant.”

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Octavian dropped by record label after abuse allegations

Rapper Octavian has been dropped by his record label after allegations of physical and emotional abuse by his ex-girlfriend.

Posting on Twitter and Instagram, the musician’s ex-partner claimed he “frequently kicked and punched” her during their three-year relationship.

Octavian, 24, has strongly denied the allegations and said he was dealing with the matter “legally and properly”.

Black Butter Records said it was no longer working with the rapper.

A spokesperson said: “We at Black Butter have taken the decision not to continue working with Octavian and we will not be releasing his album.

“We do not condone domestic abuse of any kind and we have suggested Octavian seeks professional help at this time.”

His ex-partner has posted a thread on Twitter, including a video and photos, saying she was subject to physical, verbal and psychological abuse during their relationship. She alleges violence including being kicked in the stomach.

In a video on Instagram today, Octavian acknowledged she was his ex-girlfriend and said he broke up with her. In a separate, longer video reposted by another account he said he had never been abusive.

Octavian won BBC Music’s Sound of 2019 and his long-anticipated debut album, Alpha, was due to be released tomorrow.

Pattern Publicity said it had stopped all work with Octavian since the allegations came to light.

Radio 1 and 1Xtra said there were currently no tracks by Octavian on the stations’ playlists.

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Noah Donohoe: Theft accused tried to trade in laptop

A man accused of stealing Noah Donohoe’s laptop allegedly attempted a trade-in while searches for the tragic Belfast schoolboy were ongoing.

Daryl Paul was identified on CCTV trying to sell it at a Cash Converters shop two days after 14-year-old Noah went missing, a court has heard.

Mr Paul, 33, of Cliftonville Avenue in Belfast, says he did not know to whom the computer belonged.

He faces a single charge of theft on 21 June – the day Noah disappeared.

There is no suggestion he had any direct contact with Noah before that date.

Mr Paul says he found a rucksack containing the computer and some of Noah’s schoolbooks.

The St Malachy’s College pupil vanished during a cycle trip from his home in the south of the city, sparking a massive operation to locate him.

His body was found in a north Belfast storm drain on 27 June. A post-mortem examination established he had drowned.

Mr Paul was not brought before Belfast Magistrates’ Court due to Covid-19 protocols.

District Judge Peter Magill was told a man and woman went into Cash Converters shop on 23 June, where they tried and failed to sell a laptop.

CCTV from the shop allegedly showed a man identified as Mr Paul.

An anonymous call was then made to police about someone being in possession of the computer, a rucksack and green North Face jacket and school books with Noah’s name on them.

Officers attended Mr Paul’s home on 25 June – four days after Noah went missing – and recovered his backpack and books, the court heard.

At the time, the accused was in custody for unrelated matters, but said he had found the laptop and given it to a friend to look after.

The computer was then said to have been found at the other person’s address.

The court also heard police had been searching for the accused since he was released from custody on 5 November.

He allegedly covered his face and tried to run away when located in the street.

During interviews he said that he discovered the rucksack and its contents perched up against a wall.

Claiming not to have examined the books inside in any detail, he said he would have returned them if he had known to whom they belonged.

Mr Paul also told officers he planned to return the bag at some stage.

Defence solicitor Una Conway said her client had had fully co-operated with police as a witness back on 25 June.

“He led police to the recovery of this laptop,” she said.

“There is no suggestion that Mr Paul’s involvement was anything more than coming across this rucksack.”

But Mr Magill responded: “It’s theft of not just any rucksack, it’s theft of the rucksack of a young boy who was missing and who the whole populace of Northern Ireland knew was missing and was being actively sought.

“This man (allegedly) had the boy’s rucksack with the boy’s laptop and the boy’s schoolbooks which had his name on them, I understand, and were stamped from his school.

“Descriptions were out in the media about all of these things being sought, that’s the circumstances that make this particularly unpleasant.”

Seeking bail, Ms Conway acknowledged Noah’s tragic death and how Mr Paul discovered his bag.

It was also claimed that Mr Paul had been attacked in custody due to media speculation about the case.

Bail was refused, however, due to concerns he could re-offend or fail to turn up for any trial.

Remanding Mr Paul in custody for four weeks, Mr Magill also denied an application for reporting restrictions.

Airbnb glitch cancels trips after deactivating user accounts

Airbnb accidentally cancelled bookings made by its users due to an internal glitch, the company has said.

The problem was caused during “routine maintenance” and deactivated some users’ accounts, resulting in their bookings also being cancelled.

The company’s Twitter help feed was inundated with both regular users and hosts affected by the issue.

Airbnb said the problem was a “system issue” at its end, and not a hack or data breach.

It also said “a very small subset of user accounts” were affected.

Some hosts complained online that they had had multiple bookings cancelled at once – with one reporting more than a dozen – and were not receiving any help from the booking firm.

“We apologise to those users impacted by this incident and have restored their accounts, in addition to providing rebooking support for impacted reservations,” Airbnb said in a statement. It also promised a thorough investigation.

However, some hosts may miss out if their guests booked alternative accommodation after being told their stay was cancelled.

One cancellation email sent to a BBC employee told them their one-week stay had been cancelled and they had been refunded an amount of $0.

The email also encouraged paying customers to find a different nearby host to stay with.

“So angry with Airbnb right now!” one Twitter user wrote. “I did not cancel my guests’ reservation, news to me!”

Another user, concerned that the error was a sign of someone accessing her account, wrote: “I’ve had an account for years, and today it was hacked, wiped, and my family’s Thanksgiving reservation was ‘cancelled’ with only half of my $900 being refunded.”

“Happened to me too on the hosting side and thousands in multiple bookings were cancelled. Now the dates are blocked per their host cancellation policy,” another host replied.

It comes as Airbnb is widely rumoured to be preparing for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to sell shares to everyday investors for the first time.

The company is reportedly hoping to raise some £3bn (£2.3bn) from the share sale.

Im A Celebrity: First look behind the scenes of Gwrych Castle

Walk down the main street in Abergele, and you’re in no doubt that I’m A Celebrity is in town.

And if the show’s hosts fancy a balti, a new caravan or any dental work during the series, it’s clear they’ll be well catered for.

All down the street, shops have window displays featuring Ant and Dec’s faces.

A paint shop promises to cater for all your Dec-orating needs, accompanied by a picture of Mr Donnelly.

“I’m an optician,” boasts another window “get your eyes tested here!”

Production of the show has been moved to north Wales because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Contestants including Radio 1’s Jordan North and Eastenders’ Shane Richie will move in this weekend ahead of Sunday night’s launch show.

Radio 1 Newsbeat was given rare access to the site right before filming started.

But before we even got near the castle, it was clear the town was buzzing.

Helping to document it all is Angela Jones, who normally works at the Venue Cymru theatre in Llandudno but is now off furlough thanks to I’m A Celeb.

And she’s not the only local enjoying a return to working life.

“There’s a big team at the castle doing all the technical stuff,” she says. “Helping ITV with a bit of local knowledge.

“I myself have been pulled in to work on an art exhibition.

“It’s been amazing because I’ve not been able to work for about eight months. Being able to get back out the house, have a bit of routine – see daylight and see people – it’s great!”

“There’s been a lot of hype,” she goes on. “We’ve seen a couple of helicopters flying over the last few days. So everyone’s on tenterhooks.”

So there’s only one thing left to ask Angela. Which way to Gwrych Castle?

(If you’re not up to speed with the pronunciation, it’s guu-REEKH, ending with a ‘ch’ sound as in ‘loch’.)

She points us in the right direction with a final warning: “Apparently it’s haunted.”

“I was in the castle last year and it’s really creepy. Like, you’re walking around and things definitely bump.

“They are gonna need their thermals in there too.”

At the castle, it’s clear she’s right about the thermals. The breeze coming in off the Irish Sea is bitter.

First impressions? The castle feels, and smells, old. There’s the undeniable air of a graveyard among the ancient stones.

The camp area, with its ivy-clad walls, feels very atmospheric. Hammocks and single beds are ready to receive their occupants.

The sleeping bags feel thicker than usual but it’s clear keeping warm will be a challenge.

The contestants will need to collect wood and keep their boiler pumped up for hot water.

And for a shower, celebrities will have to work in pairs, one pumping while the other stands under a dribbling watering can.

Among the ruins is – surely – the busiest man in television right now. His name’s Tom Gould and he’s the show’s creative director.

Tom is getting ready for a programme that will be starkly different from its usual run but, at the same time, needs to feel familiar.

“There will still be a lot of elements that viewers will know and love,” he tells us. “They will still be celebrities stripped of their luxuries, they will still be facing their fears, they will still be living in a camp on basic rations of rice and beans.

“But dealing with the environment in Wales… is going to be a very different proposition to Australia. And also they’ll be living in the castle and contending with whatever surprises that might have in store for them.”

Ghosts? “That’s not for me to say. You can ask the celebrities after three weeks living there.”

So far, so enigmatic. What other behind-the-scenes nuggets can Tom let us know?

Well, the dunny is now the privy. But we got a glimpse of it and can confirm it’s every bit as primitive as its jungle counterpart.

The Bush Telegraph is now simply the Telegraph.

And we will no longer see Kiosk Keith (or, latterly, Kiosk Kev) in his Outback Shack as part of the Dingo Dollar challenge.

Now, celebrities will be visiting Ye Olde Shoppe, run by Kiosk Cledwyn, to spend their Castle Coins.

It has, Tom says, been a “massive undertaking” to virtually rebuild the series from the ground up like this. But he’s sounding confident.

“There will be a lot of challenges and the cold will definitely be one of them. But I think that it’s a magical place that they’re going into.

“It will be very different to the jungle, but I still think it will be a very special place.”

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Covid: People arriving in UK from mainland Greece will need to isolate

People arriving in the UK from mainland Greece will need to self-isolate for two weeks from 04:00 on Saturday, the transport secretary has said.

The rules will not apply to the Greek islands of Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Kos and Zakynthos.

Travellers from Qatar, the UAE, Laos and the Turks and Caicos Islands will no longer need to quarantine.

Bahrain, Chile, Iceland and Cambodia will also be exempt from isolation rules.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said data had shown “a consistent increase” in newly reported cases in Greece over the past fortnight, with a 136% increase in new cases to 16,429 between 5 and 12 November from 6,965 between 22 and 29 October.

It added the islands of Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Kos had not seen as significant a growth in cases over recent weeks as the rest of Greece and therefore quarantining was not required.

The UAE, Qatar, Turks & Caicos islands, Laos, Iceland, Cambodia, Chile and Bahrain were also seen as “posing a lower infection risk”, a statement said.

Denmark was cut from the UK’s safe list last week after a mutated strain of Covid-19 was found to have spread to humans from mink.

Grant Shapps said the UK’s travel ban on non-UK citizens arriving from Denmark would be extended for a further 14 days.

UK citizens can return from the country – but will have to isolate along with all members of their household for 14 days.

Current restrictions in England mean that only people with valid reasons are supposed to travel abroad at the moment.

People who break the rules face fines starting at £200 and rising to a maximum of £6,400.

In Wales, travel abroad is only permitted for people with a reasonable excuse.

In Northern Ireland, people are advised to avoid all unnecessary travel, while the Scottish government advises against all non-essential foreign trips.

England’s Nations League match against Iceland will be played at Wembley on Wednesday after a government exemption was granted for Iceland.

Iceland play Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday and would ordinarily have been subject to a travel ban, prohibiting them from entry into the UK.

Meanwhile, the transport secretary said earlier this week that the UK is making “good progress” in developing a testing regime to reduce the amount of time people need to spend self-isolating.

He has previously said he is “very hopeful” a new testing regime for travellers to the UK could be in place by 1 December.

It comes as a record 33,470 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK in the past day, official data shows.

It is the highest daily figure since mass testing began in the UK, and brings the total number of cases to more than 1.29 million.

Manchester University students occupy building in rent protest

Students are “occupying” a University of Manchester building in a protest against “extremely high” rents and a claimed lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic.

They accuse the university of “putting profits before students” and have asked for rents to be reduced by 40%.

Izzy Smitheman, 18, said they had enough food to stay there for a week but could get more.

The university said it was “already engaging” with student unions.

Ms Smitheman, who is studying English Literature and French, said she was protesting at the Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield because the university had “put us on unsafe campuses, paying extremely high rent” and she felt there had been a lack of support.

“They brought us here for profit rather than our safety,” she said, adding: “We’ve tried protesting and withholding our rent but the university won’t respond to our demands with support.”

Last week, students living at the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield halls of residence tore down “prison-like” fencing erected around their campus on day one of England’s national lockdown.

Ms Smitheman said the university had tried “fearmongering and threatening” students who have not paid their rent as part of the UoM Rent Strike action group.

“This is the same university that fenced us in and told us when we were isolating to put on a mask and get to the shops,” she said.

The 18-year-old added: “I thought the university would be on our side and try help us but it feels like it is us against them. They’re here to take our money and that’s all they care about.”

“This is a fight now.”

Another protester Ben McGowan said: “There have been so many mistakes made by the university.

“The state of the accommodation has been ridiculous with regular flooding in the rooms.”

He said he wanted a refund on rent paid for December as new government guidelines meant he had to leave the accommodation, but the university had “refused to engage” and he had been “threatened with fines”.

Barnaby Peter, a first year student who is also a rent striker, said he had been told his contract would be terminated if he continued to withhold rent.

“We are being charged for things like use of common room facilities which are actually shut, among other things.

“We are also not being provided adequate mental health support.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said a “handful of students” were protesting in an empty residential building and they had been told “they shouldn’t be there” and they could be breaking Covid-19 public health regulations.

The university statement added: “We are already engaging with elected Students’ Union representatives about many of the issues being highlighted by the protestors.”

Ms Smitheman said: “We are forming a household. We are aware of Covid and are wearing masks and socially distancing.

“We’re not doing it for ourselves but for every other student on campus.”

Greater Manchester Police said officers would support the university “wherever necessary” to deal with those involved.

“We condemn any breaches of Covid legislation and the risk it poses to those present, the emergency services and the wider public,” a spokesperson said.

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