Trump mounts extraordinary defence of his ‘mental stability’

President boasts of being a very stable genius and calls Michael Wolff a fraud but author says his explosive book will finally end this presidency

In an extraordinary public defence of his own mental stability, Donald Trump issued a volley of tweets that seemed guaranteed to add fuel to a raging political fire.

Suggestions in a new tell-all book that he was mentally unfit to be president were out of the old Ronald Reagan playbook, Trump wrote on Saturday.

Actually, the president added, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.

He also said he would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!

The book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, burst into the public consciousness on Wednesday, when the Guardian reported excerpts nearly a week ahead of publication. Trump threatened to sue but succeeded only in prompting the publisher Henry Holt to bring the book forward.

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Fire and Fury: Key explosive quotes from the new Trump book – video

Wolff presents a picture of a doomed administration lurching from crisis to crisis, steered by a childlike figure who responds to overstimulation with intense, reflexive outbursts.

The president may not be able to restrain himself from commenting but I can restrain myself from commenting on his comments, Wolff told the Guardian on Saturday.

At a lunchtime press conference at Camp David, the president was asked why he tweeted. In a characteristically freewheeling answer, he said: Only because I went to the best colleges or college. I went to I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people.

Went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won.

In fact, in 1999 Trump mounted a first run for the White House when he sought the nomination of the Reform party.

The president continued, referring to Wolff: And then I hear this guy that does not know me doesnt know me at all by the way did not interview me for three he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House it didnt exist, OK? Its in his imagination.

Trump called Wolff a fraud and his book a work of fiction and complained about US libel laws, which he has threatened to change.

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told a White House pool reporter the president tweeted to get around the filter of the media. Trump had not at all seemed angry on Friday night or Saturday, Kelly said, adding that the president had watched the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman about the hoaxer and politician PT Barnum with lawmakers and others.

Before Trumps tweets, Wolff spoke to the BBC. He said: I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor has no clothes effect.

Suddenly everywhere people are going: Oh my God, its true, he has no clothes. Thats the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this presidency.

The 25th amendment of the US constitution provides for the removal of a president if a majority of the cabinet and the vice-president agree. In Wolffs book, the then White House strategist Steve Bannon refers to Vice-President Mike Pence as our fallback guy. Pence stood to Trumps right at Camp David, his gaze rarely leaving the president.

Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, briefed a dozen members of Congress last month on Trumps behaviour. At the end of a week that began with Trump taunting North Korea over the size of his nuclear button, Lee told the Guardian the danger has become imminent.

Fifty-seven House Democrats have signed on to a bill to establish an oversight commission to determine if a president is mentally and physically fit.

We need this legislation quite apart from the Trump administration, Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the author of the bill, told the Guardian.

The 25th amendment was framed during the nuclear age the nuclear arsenal being a vast destructive power that is vested, as the president reminded us this week, in one person who views himself as having the power to press a button. We certainly dont want someone in that position who lacks the power of empathy.

The rising tide of questions around the presidents mental health reflects a lot of anxiety unleashed by the presidents nuclear taunts lodged at North Korea.

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A queue for Fire and Fury at Kramerbooks, in Washington. Photograph: Guardian

The White House has forcefully criticised Wolff, who has said he stands by his work, which included more than 200 interviews and extensive access to the West Wing and key administration figures.

At Camp David, Trump referred to Bannon derisively as Sloppy Steve. The former Trump campaign chief has avoided extensive comment, though in the aftermath of the Guardian story he called Trump a great man.

Trumps reference to the Ronald Reagan playbook was a curious one. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimers, a degenerative brain disease, in 1994, five years after leaving office.

The extent to which he suffered during his time in the White House remains a matter of contention. Reagan, like Trump in his 70s when in office, long faced questions over his mental state. Opponents pointed to his habit of forgetting names and making contradictory statements.

In the Hollywood Reporter this week, Wolff wrote of Trump: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes hed repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions he just couldnt stop saying something.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has said Trump will undergo his annual physical examination on Friday 12 January. The results are due to be made public.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/06/donald-trump-tweets-mental-stability-fire-and-fury-michael-wolff

Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty in America, the world’s richest nation

At the heart of Philip Alstons special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if theyre unable to meet basic living standards?

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the worlds richest nation and its president to account for the hardships endured by Americas most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alstons withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the worlds leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality, Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, given the United States consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society.

David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.

The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth, he said.

Grusky added that the US reaction to Alstons visit could go either way. It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.

Alstons findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the presidents habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration.

Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices.

On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trumps inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party.

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Ruby Dee Rudolph in her home in Lowndes County. A recent study suggests that nearly one one in three people in Lowndes County have hookworm, a parasite normally found in poor, developing countries. Photograph: Bob Miller for The Guardian

Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda.

Alston concluded the speech by saying: These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.

The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.

It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.

To some extent, Trumps focus on making America great again a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation chimes with the UNs concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alstons visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%.

In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich.

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A man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria in September sits on a cot at a school turned shelter in Canovanas. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters

The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights arguing that these matters are best left to individual states.

Such an emphasis on states rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities.

By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco the first stop next week of the UN tour.

Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels and be equally critical of both.

Theres a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing, Davis said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/01/un-extreme-poverty-america-special-rapporteur

Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

Ratko Mladi convicted of war crimes and genocide at UN tribunal

Former Bosnian Serb army commander known as the butcher of Bosnia sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after Srebrenica massacre

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladi, nicknamed the butcher of Bosnia, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

As he entered the courtroom, Mladi gave a broad smile and thumbs up to the cameras a gesture that infuriated relatives of the victims. His defiance shifted into detachment as the judgment began: Mladi played with his fingers and nodded occasionally, looking initially relaxed.

The verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when he asked the judges for a bathroom break. After he returned, defence lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladi then stood up shouting this is all lies and Ill fuck your mother. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence.

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Mladi removed from court after angry outburst video

Mladi, 74, was chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, during the ferocious civil wars and ethnic cleansing that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.

The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to ethnic cleansing operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.

The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days across more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defence, including survivors of the conflict.

Delivering the verdicts, judge Alphons Orie said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

Orie dismissed mitigation pleas by the defence that Mladi was of good character, had diminished mental capacity and was in poor physical health.

Relatives of victims flew into the Netherlands to attend the hearing, determined to see Mladi receive justice decades after the end of the war in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

Among those present was Fikret Ali, the Bosnian who was photographed as an emaciated prisoner behind the wire of a prison camp in 1992. Justice has won and the war criminal has been convicted, he said after the verdict. Others were reduced to tears by the judges description of past atrocities.

Fikret
Fikret Ali holds a copy of Time magazine that featured his emaciated image on its cover in 1992. Photograph: Phil Nijhuis/AP

Mladi was one of the worlds most wanted fugitives before his arrest in 2011 in northern Serbia. He was transferred to the ICTY in the Netherlands, where he refused to enter a plea. A not guilty plea was eventually entered on his behalf. Through much of the trial in The Hague, he was a disruptive presence in court, heckling judges and on one occasion making a cut-throat gesture towards the mother of one of the 8,000 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Mladi was acquitted of only one charge, that of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. The chamber ruled that although he was part of a joint criminal enterprise to carry out mass killings there, which represented crimes against humanity, they did not rise to the level of genocide because the victims did not represent a substantial proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population of those municipalities.

Timeline

Ratko Mladi: the long road to justice

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia formally begins when Slovenia and Croatia declare independence. The Serb-led Yugoslav army withdraws from Slovenia after a 10-day conflict, but the war in Croatia that followed would last until 1995.

War breaks out in Bosnia

Bosnian Serbs swiftly take control of more than two-thirds of Bosnia and launch the siege of Sarajevo, headed by Ratko Mladi, who becomes the Bosnian Serb army commander a month later. The siege lasts 1,460 days, during which more than 11,500 people die.

Srebrenica massacre

Mladi’s troops capture Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, most by summary execution. Nato bombs Bosnian Serb positions following reports of the slaughter.

The international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia indicts Mladi and Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadi on charges including genocide.

Dayton agreement signed

The Dayton agreement is signed, ending the war and creating two mini-states in Bosnia: a Bosnian-Serb one and a Muslim-Croat one.

Mladi goes into hiding

Nato peacekeepers and western intelligence agencies operating in Bosnia step up attempts to track down war crimes suspects, but Mladi is sheltered by loyalists inSerbia. He is seen attending football games and eating at Belgrade restaurants.

Mladi arrested

Following intense pressure from the international community on Serbia, Mladi is arrested in Serbia.

He appears in court at the UN tribunal for the first time in June but refuses to enter pleas to the charges against him. At a second hearing in July, judges enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Trial hears closing statements

The trial in The Hague is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Over 530 days, the UN tribunal hears from 591 witnesses and examines nearly 10,000 exhibits concerning 106 separate crimes.

During closing statements, prosecutors urge judges to convict Mladi on all counts and sentence him to life in prison. Defence attorneys call for acquittal.

Mladi convicted

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, the now 74-year-old Mladi is sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Delivering the verdicts, the judge said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

The Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadi, was also found not guilty of genocide in the municipalities. That tribunal verdict in 2016 triggered protests from Bosniaks, who wanted the court to acknowledge that genocide was committed across Bosnia, not just in Srebrenica.

In evaluating Mladis culpability for genocide, the court pointed to his command and control of the Bosnian Serb army and interior ministry forces, which carried out almost all of the executions, his presence in the area, and his frequent remarks about how the countrys Muslims could disappear.

Orie said: The chamber found that the only reasonable inference was that the accused intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim of Srebrenica as a substantial part of the protected group of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Accordingly, the chamber found the accused intended to carry out the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprises through the commission of the crime of genocide and was a member of the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprise.

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Ratko Mladi, the ‘butcher of Bosnia’ video profile

Once Mladic has exhausted any appeals, he could, theoretically, be sent to the UK to serve out the rest of his life behind bars. Britain is one of the countries that has signed up to the tribunals agreement on the enforcement of sentences.
The UK has hosted other Serbian convicts sent on from the ICTY. In 2010, Radislav Krsti who was convicted at the Hague in 2001 for his part in the Srebrenica massacre, had his throat slashed in his cell at Wakefield prison by three Muslim inmates intent on revenge.

The former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor is also serving out his 50 year prison term in a UK jail.
Mladic will remain in the UN detention centre at Scheveningen, near the Hague, in the meantime. Any appeal will be dealt with by the successor court, the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

The hearing, broadcast live, was followed closely in Bosnia. The Bosnian prime minister, Denis Zvizdi, said the verdict confirmed that war criminals cannot escape justice regardless of how long they hide.

In Lazarevo, the Serbian village where Mladi was arrested in 2011, residents dismissed the guilty verdicts as biased. One, Igor Topolic, said: All this is a farce for me. He [Mladi] is a Serbian national hero.

Mladis home village of Bozinovici retains a street named after the former general, where he is praised as a symbol of defiance and national pride.

The trial is one of the last to be heard by the ICTY, which is to be dissolved at the end of the year.

People,
People, including victims, protest in front of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prior to the verdict Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

After the ruling, Serge Brammertz, the ICTYs chief prosecutor, said it was not a verdict against all Serb people. Mladis guilt is his and his alone, he said.

Mladis defence lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, announced that he would appeal against the convictions.

In Geneva, the UNs high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, described Mladi as the epitome of evil and said his conviction was a momentous victory for justice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/22/ratko-mladic-convicted-of-genocide-and-war-crimes-at-un-tribunal

Russia used hundreds of fake accounts to tweet about Brexit, data shows

Researchers discover that accounts run from troll farm in St Petersburg tried to sow discord between Britons

Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US.

One of the accounts run from the Kremlin-linked operation attempted to stir anti-Islamic sentiment during the Westminster Bridge terror attack in March in a bogus post claiming a Muslim woman ignored victims a claim that was highlighted by mainstream media outlets including Mail Online and the Sun.

For days after, the tweeter was gleefully sharing press clippings. Wow Im on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! Youre making me famous, he said, referring to an article that appeared on Mail Online and which still bore the tweet at the time of writing.

@SouthLoneStar
@SouthLoneStar tweet – which appears to have been generated by a Russian. Photograph: Twitter

A day later, he tweeted: Im on The Sun! Thank you again, British libs! Now Im even more famous!

Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, which is investigating fake news, said the Russian agency appeared to be attempting to divide society and destabilise politics.

The Conservative MP wants Twitter to tell the committee how it believes Russia has been attempting to influence UK politics.

What is at stake is whether Russia has constructed an architecture which means they have thousands of accounts with which they can bombard [us] with fake news and hyper-partisan content, he said.

We need to understand how widespread it is and what the impact is on the democratic process.

Collins has demanded that Twitters chief executive, Jack Dorsey, supply examples of posts from the Internet Research Agency about British politics citing concern at possible interference by foreign actors in the democratic process of the UK.

This is information they hold and I cant see any reason they should be delaying supplying it, he said.

The developments come after the US Congress intelligence committee investigated Russian troll campaigning in the US election of November 2016.

Twitter told the House committee that it had suspended 2,752 accounts which were tweeting about the US election because it believed they were controlled from Russia. The committee said it may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

Hundreds of paid bloggers work round the clock at the IRA to flood Russian internet forums, social networks and the comments sections of western publications sowing disinformation, praising the countrys president, Vladimir Putin, and raging at the west.

The agency has been linked to a businessman who was once Putins favourite chef.

Prof Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian that at least 419 of those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times mostly after the referendum had taken place.

Archives of the now deleted Russian accounts show they included people purporting to be a US Navy veteran, a Tennessee Republican and a Texan patriot all tweeting in favour of Brexit.

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‘We know what youre doing,’ Theresa May tells Russia video

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson urged Theresa May to bring political pressure to bear on tech giants to reveal the extent to which their platforms have been hijacked, and to take action against agents of the Russian state who use their platforms to disseminate misinformation and untruths.

He said tech companies including Twitter and Facebook havent done enough to identify and weed out the fake profiles and automated content that pose a direct threat to our democracy.

On Monday, May gave a speech in which she said Russias actions were threatening the international order on which we all depend.

She accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media to weaponise information and sow discord in the west.

Concerns about Russias cyber-operations have also been raised elsewhere in Europe.

Spains prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, claimed on Monday that half of the Twitter accounts that amplified the issue of Catalan independence were registered in Russia and 30% in Venezuela.

Others have voiced concerns that Russian social media accounts also sought to influence this years French and German elections.

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company recognises that the integrity of the election process itself is integral to the health of a democracy. As such, we will continue to support formal investigations by government authorities into election interference as required.

The Russian tweets identified by Twitter as coming from the IRA included one by an account holder using the name @SouthLoneStar.

He reportedly said: I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion! and UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote.

The same account posted a widely shared tweet at the time of the March terror attack on Westminster Bridge in London.

It posted a photograph of a woman in a headscarf passing the scene of the attack with the caption: Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone #PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam.

The woman said later: Not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, Ive also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.

Another suspended account appeared to be a Republican from Tennessee. @TEN_GOP quoted Nigel Farage telling Fox News about Brexit and Donald Trump: What youve seen this year is just ordinary, decent people, the little people, whove said Weve had enough. We want change.

@WadeHarriot, purporting to be a former member of the US Navy, retweeted criticisms of leftists for trying to subvert #Brexit and predictions of #Brexit #Frexit #Grexit.

Cram said the content of the Brexit tweets overall was quite chaotic and it seems to be aimed at wider disruption. Theres not an absolutely clear thrust. We pick up a lot on refugees and immigration.

She stressed that more research is needed to establish the extent of the tweets influence, and urged caution about drawing conclusions from the relatively small number of troll accounts so far identified. About 78% of the tweets came after the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, she added.

Russia has been adamant it did not interfere in any way in the EU referendum. We closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it, Putin said the day after the poll.

However, there is no doubt that many in Moscow welcomed the outcome. An EU without Britain would be less united on sanctions against Russia, many Russian officials hoped, because it would lose one of its stronger foreign policy voices and would be too consumed with its own internal problems to prioritise Russia policy.

At the time, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said the vote to leave the EU was a giant victory for Putins foreign policy objectives.

The US Congressional investigation into Russian meddling through social media also gathered evidence from Facebook that between June 2015-August 2017 there were 470 accounts on the platform associated with the IRA and that 126 million Americans are likely to have seen content from an IRA page.

Additional reporting by Stacee Smith

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/how-400-russia-run-fake-accounts-posted-bogus-brexit-tweets

‘Only God can save us’: Yemeni children starve as aid is held at border

Iona Craig reports from Yemen where aid agencies cannot get vital shipments into the war-torn country already gripped by cholera outbreak

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemens western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition.

Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the worlds worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows.

Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the countrys medical facilities are still operating most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015.

Map of Yemen

More than 200 miles away in the southern governorate of Lahij, territory under the control of the coalition, more emaciated children lie listless, gasping for every breath.

These scenes are replicated in therapeutic feeding centres in the capital, Sanaa, and at the heart of the conflict-ravaged city of Taiz. There in the shadows of a single incandescent bulb, what appears to be a blanket bundled into a dark corner is in fact three month-old Elias Basem, who has spent 20 days of his short life being treated for severe malnutrition.

Aid agencies are now warning that Yemens already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a nightmare scenario if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the countrys land, sea and air ports a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadhs international airport this month.

United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country. More than 20 million Yemenis over 70% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked.

Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.

Children
Children walk through their school, damaged by a Saudi-led air strike, in October, in Hodeidah. Photograph: Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels controlling the capital Sanaa, who are allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to another president, the ousted Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military intervention to counter the advance of the Iran-allied Houthis, with the ultimate aim of reinstating Hadi.

With regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalating, Yemen is trapped in the middle of a proxy war in addition to its own internal power struggle. The UK has also been criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the high casualty rate of its US-backed airstrikes in Yemen.

In Aden, where Hadi and his government ostensibly rule, parents and children from surrounding governorates crowd the feeding centre in Al-Sadaqa hospital. Aisha was 21 months old but weighed just 7lbs half the healthy weight of a baby her age when she arrived at the hospital, her second admission in three months. Across the corridor, two year-old Shohud Hussein, weighing 11lbs, stares vacuously into the middle distance. Hungry children dont smile. Shes been here a whole month and hasnt smiled, said Dr Aida al-Sadeeq.

In Sanaa, Nor Rashid sold her familys cow to pay for the transport costs to get her four year-old daughter, who weighs 16lbs, to the citys feeding centre in Al-Sabaeen hospital. She has other children who are also sick but she cannot afford to pay for the medical care if she brings them in for treatment too. Its because of the lack of government wages, she said. Usually we go to the person in the village with a wage to ask for help and borrow money if someone needs to go to the hospital. But since the wages stopped we have no support.

Shohud
Shohud Hussein, two years old, in Al-Sadaqa hospital, Aden. Photograph: Iona Craig

In Al-Thawra, employees grab the sleeve of the hospitals director, Dr Khaled Suhail, begging him for money as he navigates the teeming therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Government salaries have gone unpaid for more than a year, and the hospital now runs on the goodwill of its doctors, nurses and administrative staff. Suhail clutches the hand of an elderly maintenance man in charge of the hospitals oxygen tanks as he pleads for cash. If I had anything to give you, you know I would. But there is nothing, he says.

Saudi officials have repeatedly claimed that there is no hunger crisis in southern Yemen, where local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, a coalition partner, largely hold power. According the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, however, Lahij is the most food-insecure governorate in the country. It is ranked at level four, while level five denotes full-blown famine.

In the markets of both Hodeidah and Lahij, food is plentiful. Stalls bulge with fresh fruit and vegetables and traders offer sacks of flour and beans. The only shortage is the customers, who cannot afford to eat. In Hodeidah, the price of a 50kg bag of flour has risen from a pre-war 5,500 Yemeni rial to 7,600 YR. Fruit and vegetables are a luxury like meat used to be, said Arafat Zayed, who came to buy three kilos of flour, when he would have bought 50 to feed his family of five children before the war.

How did the conflict in Yemen begin

In addition to the hunger crisis, Yemen has seen the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded, with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Although numbers keep rising, in September the rate of infection began to ease, largely due to the response by aid agencies who set up cholera treatment centres in towns and cities around the country.

But the advances could be short-lived if restrictions on aid continue. If the closure is not stopped in the coming days, we may see that the progress is stopped, said the World Health Organisations spokeswoman in Geneva last week. A Red Cross shipment of chlorine tablets, used for the prevention of cholera, remained stuck for the fifth day on Sunday on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen.

Without the free cholera treatment and essential humanitarian aid, international agencies warn that many more Yemeni children like Abdulaziz will suffer.

We are weak, our children are weak and we have nothing left to give. We cant even feed our animals anymore said Nor Rashid as she cradled her daughter. Only God can save us now.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/12/millions-on-brink-of-famine-in-yemen-as-saudi-arabia-tightens-blockade

Quebec passes law banning facial coverings in public

The Canadian province is barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil while using public transit or government services

The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a sweeping ban on face coverings barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil when riding public transit or receiving government services ushering in a law believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

The legislation was adopted on Wednesday, capping off two years of work by the provinces Liberal government to address the issue of state neutrality. The resulting law has been condemned by critics who say it deliberately targets Muslim women and will fuel the provinces simmering debate on identity, religion and tolerance.

Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, was defensive as he addressed the new law. We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face, he told reporters. We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. Its as simple as that.

The law was originally meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities.

In August, the legislation was extended to apply to municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities, raising the possibility that women wearing a niqab or burqa in Quebec would not be able to take the metro or ride the city bus. As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered, Stphanie Valle, Quebecs justice minister, said when asked.

The legislation stipulates that exemptions can be made for those who provide spiritual care or religious instruction, as well as those who are forced to cover their faces due to working conditions or occupational hazards.

Amid widespread confusion as to how the new law would be applied and who it would affect, Valle said the province would now work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines.

The Liberal government has long argued that the legislation which does not specifically mention the niqab or burqa addresses public safety, noting that it would also apply to masked protesters.

We are not legislating on clothing, Valle said last year. Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.

Others citing a 2016 survey that suggested that just 3% of Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab have accused the provincial government of targeting Muslim women in order to curry votes in the run-up to next years provincial election.

It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem, said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. We dont have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.

The law comes after two attempts by authorities in Quebec to legislate secularism in the public domain in recent years. A 2010 attempt by the Liberals died on the order paper after two years; a bill by the previous separatist government that sought to ban teachers, doctors and other public workers from wearing highly visible religious symbols failed to pass before an election was called.

On Wednesday the Liberals flexed their majority in the provincial government to pass the legislation, fending off calls from the provinces two main opposition parties to put in place tougher laws to address the issue of secularism and religious accommodation.

I know people would have liked us to go further, Valle told the provinces national assembly. Others think we are going too far. I think a balance has been found.

Many have voiced concerns that the new law targets a segment of the population that is already marginalised and stigmatised. We cant divorce this bill from the larger context in which it falls, said Gardee. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased from 2012 to 2015 by 253%.

Earlier this year, the province was left reeling after six men all of them fathers were shot dead as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City. During the eulogy for the men killed, Imam Hassan Guillet drew a direct line between their murders and the political climate facing Muslims in Canada.

Unfortunately, day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians, and certain reporters and certain media, poisoned our atmosphere, he said.

While Quebec politicians said the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would enter into effect immediately, implementation of the law is likely to be hindered by the many questions that remain. We dont know how this is going to be applied and how it will be enforced, said Gardee. Its deeply troubling.

The legislation does note that those affected by the law can put in a request for accommodation, but little explanation is given to the criteria or how exactly it would work. The government said it would use the coming months to better outline how these requests should be treated as well as develop guidelines for those working in the public sector.

Legal observers said they expect several advocacy groups to challenge the new law in courts, pitting it against the countrys Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the provincial equivalent.

Gardee said it was an option his organisation would likely be considering in the coming days. We are of that opinion that the state has no business in the wardrobe of the nations, he said. The state should not be coercing women to undress or dress in any particular fashion.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/quebec-passes-law-banning-muslims-from-wearing-face-coverings-in-public

Dyslexia: scientists claim cause of condition may lie in the eyes

In people with the condition, light receptor cells are arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may confuse the brain

French scientists claim they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing mirror images, the co-authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.

Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia, said the studys co-author, Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes.

It offers a relatively simple method of diagnosis, he added, by simply looking into a subjects eyes.

Furthermore, the discovery of a delay (of about 10 thousandths of a second) between the primary image and the mirror image in the opposing hemispheres of the brain, allowed us to develop a method to erase the mirror image that is so confusing for dyslexic people using an LED lamp.

Like being left- or right-handed, human beings also have a dominant eye. As most of us have two eyes, which record slightly different versions of the same image, the brain has to select one of the two, creating a non-symmetry.

Many more people are right-eyed than left, and the dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the weaker one. Image signals are captured with rods and cones in the eye the cones being responsible for colour.

The majority of cones, which come in red, green and blue variants, are found in a small spot at the centre of the retina of the eye known as the fovea. But there is a small hole (about 0.1-0.15 millimetres in diameter) with no blue cones.

In the newstudy, Ropars and colleague Albert le Floch spotted a major difference between the arrangement of cones between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people enrolled in an experiment.

In non-dyslexic people, the blue cone-free spot in one eye the dominant one, was round and in the other eye unevenly shaped. In dyslexic people, both eyes have the same, round spot, which translates into neither eye being dominant, they found.

The lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities, said the studys authors.

Dyslexic people make so-called mirror errors in reading, for example confusing the letters b and d.

For dyslexic students their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, they added.

The team used an LED lamp, flashing so fast that it is invisible to the naked eye, to cancel one of the images in the brains of dyslexic trial participants while reading. In initial experiments, dyslexic study participants called it the magic lamp, said Ropars, but further tests are required to confirm the technique really works.

About 700 million people worldwide are known to have from dyslexia about one in 10 of the global population.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/dyslexia-scientists-claim-cause-of-condition-may-lie-in-the-eyes

Penguins starving to death is a sign that somethings very wrong in the Antarctic | John Sauven

Overfishing, oil drilling, pollution and climate change are imperilling the ecosystem. But ocean sanctuaries could help protect what belongs to us all, says Greenpeace director John Sauven

The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life dont need is additional strain on food supplies.

Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary the largest protected area on Earth which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a pale blue dot.

Our planet is a blue planet, echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBCs landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.

The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, thats the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.

It wasnt long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.

humpback
A humpback whale dives for krill in Wilhelmina Bay, off the Antarctic Peninsula. The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. Photograph: Charles Littnam/WWF/EPA

All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.

Heres the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.

This ocean treaty wont be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.

Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.

The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adlie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.

The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.

Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but its not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.

Creating the worlds largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.

John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/13/penguins-starving-death-something-very-wrong-antarctic

Catalan referendum: preliminary results show 90% in favour of independence

Spanish prime minister defends violent response to poll, as raids on ballot stations by riot police leave hundreds of Catalans injured

Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain.

Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters.

Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.

Catalonias regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonias citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.

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Catalan referendum: hundreds injured as police attack protesters video

My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.

Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the regions own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever.

The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

Although many Catalans managed to cast their ballots, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court.

The large Ramon Llull school in central Barcelona was the scene of a sustained operation, with witnesses describing police using axes to smash the doors, charging the crowds and firing rubber bullets.

Barcelona referendum map

Spains interior ministry said 12 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested for disobedience and assaulting officers.

Salut (@salutcat)

The Department of Health informs that 844 people required medical assistance today on #CatalanReferendum pic.twitter.com/XQnSBwmM8O

October 1, 2017

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, speaking on Sunday night, said the government had done what it had had to do and thanked the police for acting with firmness and serenity.

Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.

We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, demanded an end to the police actions and called for the Rajoys resignation.

Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose government staged a symbolic independence referendum three years ago, called for the authoritarian Rajoy to stand down, adding that Catalonia could not remain alongside a state that uses batons and police brutality.

Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said the police had behaved professionally in carrying out a judges orders.

Soraya Senz de Santamara, the Spanish deputy prime minister, echoed that position, saying the police had shown firmness, professionalism and proportionality in the face of the absolute irresponsibility of the Catalan government.

She called on Puigdemont to drop the farce of the independence campaign, saying Spain had long since emerged from the authoritarian shadow of the Franco dictatorship.

I dont know what world Puigdemont lives in, but Spanish democracy does not work like this, said Senz de Santamara. We have been free from a dictatorship for a long time and of a man who told us his word in the law.

The Catalan governments spokesperson Jordi Turull said 319 of the 2,315 polling stations set up for the referendum were closed by police.

Jess Lpez Rodrguez, a 51-year-old administrator, had taken his family to vote at the Ramon Llull school in the morning. Like thousands of Catalans, they began queuing from 5am. Three and a half hours later, national police officers arrived in riot gear.

They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse, he told the Guardian. We chanted, No! No! No!, and then about 20 police officers charged us. It was short only about two minutes but we stayed together.

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Riot police attack protesters in Girona video

After about 15 minutes, eight or nine more police vans appeared and officers began cordoning off the surrounding streets and arresting people, Lpez Rodrgue said.

They dragged them out violently. We stood our ground but they kept dragging people away, kicking them and throwing them to the ground.

More police arrived and jumped over the school fence to enter the building to look for ballot boxes. After using axes to break down the doors of the school, they emerged with the boxes.

Lpez Rodrguez said that at about 10.25am, police began shooting rubber bullets at least 30 or 40.

He fled the shots with his wife and children, returning to their flat opposite the school. I feel really angry about it, he said, but I also hope people in Europe and around the world will see whats happening in Catalonia.

Similar scenes were reported elsewhere. Riot police smashed the glass doors of the sports centre near Girona where Puigdemont had been due to vote. Despite forcing their way in, they failed to stop the Catalan president voting. Pictures showed him casting his ballot in nearby Cornella del Terri.

The day started peacefully and hopefully in polling stations across the region. Hundreds of people started queuing outside the Cervantes primary school in central Barcelona from well before dawn.

Im here to fight for our rights and our language and for our right to live better and to have a future, said Mireia Estape, who lives close to the school. One man in the queue, who did not wish to be named, said he had come because Catalans need to vote; theyre robbing us in Spain.

Another would-be voter said simply: I dont want to live in a fascist country.

Many Catalans saw their wishes fulfilled in polling stations as officers from the regional force, the Mossos dEsquadra, hung back.

Joaqun Pons, 89, was delighted to have cast his ballot, as he had done in the symbolic referendum three years ago.

Last time it was cardboard ballot boxes, he said. This time they were real. It was very emotional. Pons said he felt Catalans had had little choice but to proceed unilaterally.

It would have been nice if we could all have stayed together in Spain but the Madrid government has made it impossible. Its sad but thats the way it is.

News and images of the police operation travelled quickly through the crowds in Barcelona and elsewhere, adding to the uneasy atmosphere that has intensified since police arrested 14 Catalan officials and seized millions of ballot papers last week.

On Sunday afternoon, FC Barcelona announced that its Spanish league game against Las Palmas would be played without fans at the citys Nou Camp stadium. In a statement, the club condemned the attempts to prevent Catalans exercising their democratic rights to free expression and said the professional football league had refused to postpone the game.

Sundays violence came less than 24 hours after the Spanish government had appeared confident that enough had been done to thwart the vote.

On Saturday, Millo said police had sealed off 1,300 of the regions 2,315 polling stations, while Guardia Civil officers acting on a judges orders had searched the headquarters of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.

These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees, he said.

Additional reporting by Patrick Greenfield

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/01/dozens-injured-as-riot-police-storm-catalan-ref-polling-stations