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Indonesia’s Merapi volcano erupts, blankets villages in ash

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The volcano located in Indonesia's Yogyakarta special region erupted at about 12pm local time (05:00 GMT)

Aljazeera reported that Indonesia’s Mount Merapi has erupted, spewing out smoke and ash that blanketed villages near the crater and forcing authorities to halt tourism and mining activities on the slopes of the country’s most active volcano.

The volcano, located in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta special region, erupted at about 12pm (05:00 GMT) on Saturday and unleashed clouds of hot ash and a mixture of rock, lava and gas that travelled up to seven kilometres (4.3 miles) down its slopes.

A column of hot clouds rose 100 metres into the air, said the National Disaster Management Agency’s spokesperson Abdul Muhari. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The eruption throughout the day blocked out the sun. At least eight villages near the volcano have been affected by volcanic ash, an officer at one of Merapi’s observation posts said.

 



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Malawi VP confirmed dead in plane crash in forest

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Saulos Chilima had been vice-president for 10 years[BBC]

The wreck of a plane carrying Malawi’s vice-president has been found with no survivors, President Lazarus Chakwera has said.

Saulos Chilima and nine others were flying within the country on Monday morning when their aircraft disappeared from airport radars.  The plane, a military aircraft, was flying in bad weather.

Soldiers had been searching Chikangawa Forest overnight and into the morning in an effort to find the plane.

In a news briefing on Tuesday, President Chakwera said the Malawi Defence Force commander informed him that the search and rescue operation had been completed and the plane was found. Mr Chakwera said he was “deeply saddened and sorry” to inform Malawians of the terrible tragedy.

He said the rescue team found the aircraft completely destroyed.

The vice-president and president come from different parties but the two teamed up to form an alliance during the 2020 elections.

Mr Chakwera paid tribute to Dr Chilima, describing him as “a good man”, “devoted father” and “formidable VP”.  “I consider it one of the great honours of my life to have had him as a deputy and as a counsellor,” he added.

Dr Chilima, 51, was on his way to represent the government at the burial of former government minister Ralph Kasambara, who died four days ago.

Former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri was also on the flight, which took off from the capital, Lilongwe, on Monday morning.

It was meant to land at the airport in the northern city of Mzuzu, but was turned back because of poor visibility.

BBC News A map showing the plane's route and the site of the crash

The military is transporting the remains of Dr Chiima and the other victims to Lilongwe, the president said, adding that funeral arrangements will be announced in due course.

Dr Chilima had been vice-president of Malawi since 2014.  He was widely loved in Malawi, particularly among the youth, AFP news agency reports.

However, Dr Chilima was arrested and charged in 2022 on allegations that he accepted money in exchange for awarding government contracts.  He denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, the court dropped the charges, giving no reasons for the decision.

Dr Chilima is survived by his wife, Mary, and two children, Sean and Elizabeth.

[BBC]

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Europe’s night of election drama capped by Macron bombshell

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Supporters of France's National Rally (RN) react after President Macron's decision to call parliamentary elections [BBC]

Exit polls had begun to roll in at the end of European elections across the EU’s 27 countries, when President Emmanuel Macron delivered his bombshell moment in a televised address to a stunned French population.

“I’ve decided to hand you back the choice of our parliamentary future with a vote. I am therefore dissolving the National Assembly,” he declared.

The National Rally party – led by  Macron’s rivals Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella – was one of the big gains that Europe’s far-right parties had expected, and confirmation came with all the exit polls giving the party more than 30%, double that of Mr Macron’s centrist Renaissance.

But beyond France, the broader story of Europe’s four-day vote marathon really belonged to the parties of the centre right. They tightened their grip on the European Parliament, with victories in Germany and Spain, and significant advances in Hungary, against long-dominant Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The far right did not enjoy as great a surge across Europe as many had predicted.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party came second, while Austria’s party of the same name came out as winners, but only narrowly.

“The centre is holding, but it is also true that the extremes on the left and on the right have gained support,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the centre-right head of the European Commission. “And this is why the result comes with great responsibility for the parties in the centre.”

There had been talk before the vote that her dominant European People’s Party might consider talking to the two right-wing groups that house the far right.  But she made clear her only allies would be the Socialists & Democrats and the liberal Renew group that includes Mr Macron’s party.

Germany’s opposition conservatives were always going to come out on top, and they scored an impressive 30% of the vote.  But for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD party this was the worst ever result in a European election, coming third behind the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD has endured a slew of scandals involving espionage, foreign interference and allegations of Nazi sympathies, and yet its support still held up.  “After all the prophecies of doom, after the barrage of the last few weeks, we are the second strongest force. And I’m telling you, the only way is up,” said co-leader Alice Weidel.

EPA Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla of the AfD celebrate the exit polls
Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla of the AfD celebrate the exit polls [BBC]

Meanwhile a new anti-migrant far-left party, BSW, led by charismatic left-wing firebrand Sahra Wagenknecht, also performed well – rounding off a good night for radical parties.

In Spain, the centre-right opposition Popular Party (PP) defeated Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, but not by the big margin that PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo had been hoping for. Another far-right party, Vox, came a distant third.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s dominance of the country’s politics continues.  Her far-right Brothers of Italy defeated the centre left Democratic Party of Elly Schlein by less than four points.  “Thank you to the Italians who are continuing to choose us… I am proud of the result tonight,” she told her supporters.

Reuters Giorgia Meloni speaks at an election night rally
Giorgia Meloni thanked Italians for “continuing to choose” her party [BBC]

 

In just five years, Ms Meloni has more than doubled her party’s seats in the European Parliament, while Ms Schlein’s performance pleasantly surprised even party activists.

There was no far-right success story in Belgium’s national elections, even though Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang was widely expected to win.  The Flemish National Alliance is now the dominant party there, bringing an end to the rule of liberal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“The far right has under-performed in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland and Poland. But it has over-performed in France,” said Prof Alberto Alemanno of HEC Paris, who was surprised that President Macron decided to dissolve parliament.

“It’s disproportionate that these election results might push a government out of a country,” he told the BBC.

[BBC]

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Dead in 6 hours: How Nigerian sextortion scammers targeted my son

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Sextortion is the fastest-growing scam affecting teenagers globally and has been linked to more than 27 suicides in the US alone. Many of the scammers appear to be from Nigeria – where authorities are defending their actions and are under pressure to do more.

It has been two years since Jenn Buta’s son Jordan killed himself after being targeted by scammers who lured him into sending them explicit images of himself, and then tried to blackmail him.

She still can’t bring herself to change anything about his bedroom.  The 17-year-old’s basketball jerseys, clothes, posters and bedsheets are just how he left them.  The curtains are closed, and the door is shut to keep memories of him that only a parent would understand.  “It still smells like him. That’s one of the reasons I still have the door closed. I can still smell that sweat, dirt, cologne mix in this room. I’m just not ready to part with his stuff,” she said.

Jordan was contacted by sextortion scammers on Instagram.  They pretended to be a pretty girl his age and flirted with him, sending sexual pictures to coax him into sharing explicit photos of himself.  They then blackmailed him for hundreds of pounds to stop them sharing the pictures online to his friends.

Jordan sent as much money as he could and warned the sextortionists he would kill himself if they spread the images. The criminals replied: “Good… Do that fast – or I’ll make you do it.”

Nigeria Police Samuel Ogoshi and Samson Ogoshi
Samuel, 22, and Samson Ogoshi, 20, arrested in Lagos, are awaiting sentencing in the US [Nigeria Police]

It was less than six hours from the time Jordan started communicating until the time he ultimately took his life.  “There’s actually a script online,” Jenn told BBC News, from her home in Michigan, in the north of the US. “And these people are just going through the script and putting that pressure on.

“And they’re doing it quick, because then they can move on to the next person, because it’s about volume.”

The criminals were tracked to Nigeria, arrested, and then extradited to the US.

Two brothers from Lagos – Samuel Ogoshi, 22, and Samson Ogoshi, 20 – are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to child sexploitation charges. Another Nigerian man linked to Jordan’s death and other cases is fighting extradition.

Jordan’s tragic story has become a touch point in the fight against the growing problem of sextortion.

Jenn Buta TikTok
Jordan’s mother, Jenn, has posted dozens of videos to raise awareness [BBC]

Jenn is a now high-profile campaigner on TikTok – using the account Jordan set up for her – to raise awareness about the dangers of sextortion to young people. Her videos have been liked more than a million times.

It’s feared that sextortion is under-reported due to its sensitive nature. But US crime figures show cases more than doubled last year, rising to 26,700, with at least 27 boys having killed themselves in the past two years.

Researchers and law enforcement agencies point to West Africa, and particularly Nigeria, as a hotspot for where attackers are based.

In April, two Nigerian men were arrested after a schoolboy from Australia killed himself. Two other men are on trial in Lagos, after the suicides of a 15-year-old boy in the US and a 14-year-old in Canada.

In January, US cyber-company Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) highlighted a web of Nigerian TikTok, YouTube and Scribd accounts sharing tips and scripts for sextortion. Many of the discussions and videos are in Nigerian Pidgin dialect.

It’s not the first time that Nigeria’s young tech-savvy population has embraced a new wave of cyber-crime.

The term Yahoo Boys is used to describe a portion of the population that use cyber-crime to earn a living. It comes from the early 2000s wave of Nigerian Prince scam emails which spread through the Yahoo email service.

Dr Tombari Sibe, from Digital Footprints Nigeria, says cyber-fraud such as sextortion has become normalised to young people in the country: “There’s also the big problem of unemployment and of poverty.

“All these young ones who don’t really have much – it’s become almost like a mainstream activity where they don’t really think too much about the consequences. They just see their colleagues making money.”

African human rights charity Devatop has said the current methods of handling sextortion in Nigeria have failed to effectively curb the practice. And a report from NCRI said that celebrating sextortion crimes are an established part of the internet subculture in the country.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the director of Nigeria’s National Cyber Crime Centre (NCCC) defended his police force’s actions, and insisted it was working hard to catch criminals and deter others from carrying out attacks.

Uche Ifeanyi Henry, the Director of Nigeria’s Cyber Crime Centre
Sextortion criminals are not only from Nigeria, Cyber Crime Centre director Uche Ifeanyi Henry says [BBC]

Uche Ifeanyi Henry said his officers were “hitting criminals hard” and said it is “laughable” that anyone should accuse Nigeria of not taking sextortion crime seriously. “We are giving criminals a very serious hit. A lot have been prosecuted and a lot have been arrested,” he said. “Many of these criminals are moving to neighbouring countries now because of our activity.”

The NCCC director pointed to the fact that the government has spent millions of pounds on a state-of-the-art cyber-crime centre, to show it was taking cyber-crime seriously, especially sextortion.

He said Nigerian teenagers are also being targeted, and he argued that the criminals were not just a Nigerian problem, with other sextortionists in south-east Asia. Tackling them would require global support, he said.

With that in mind, the director and his technical team are this week visiting the UK’s National Crime Agency, which last month issued a warning to children and schools about a rise in sextortion cases.

The visit is designed to improve collaboration on sextortion and other cyber-crime investigations. It follows similar recent meetings with Japanese police.

Meanwhile, Jenn Buta continues to campaign alongside Jordan’s father John DeMay. They regularly give advice to young people who may become victims.

Advice that Jenn and many law enforcement agencies regularly give people targeted by sextortionists includes:

  • Remember you are not alone and this is not your fault
  • Report the predator’s account, via the platform’s safety feature
  • Block the predator from contacting you
  • Save the profile or messages – they can help law enforcement identify and stop the predator
  • Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images
  • Co-operating with the predator rarely stops the blackmail and harassment – but law enforcement can

[BBC]

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