Published24 minutes agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, BBC/Tony JolliffeBy Jonathan Amos and Alison FrancisBBC News, ScienceThe skull of a colossal sea monster has been extracted from the cliffs of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.It belongs to a pliosaur, a ferocious marine reptile that terrorised the oceans about 150 million years ago.The 2m-long fossil is one of the most complete specimens of its type ever discovered and is giving new insights into this ancient predator.The skull will be featured in a special David Attenborough programme on BBC One on New Year’s Day. Was this the heaviest ever animal on Earth?’Jurassic Pompeii’ yields astounding fossil haulAncient fossil is earliest known animal predatorImage source, BBC StudiosOh, wow!” There are gasps as the sheet covering the fossil is pulled back and the skull head is revealed for the first time.It’s immediately obvious that this pliosaur is huge and beautifully preserved.There isn’t a specimen anywhere else to match it, believes local palaeontologist Steve Etches.”It’s one of the best fossils I’ve ever worked on. What makes it unique is it’s complete,” he tells BBC News. “The lower jaw and the upper skull are meshed together, as they would be in life. Worldwide, there’s hardly any specimens ever found to that level of detail. And if they are, a lot of the bits are missing, whereas this, although it’s slightly distorted – it’s got every bone present.Image source, BBC StudiosThe skull is longer than most humans are tall, which gives you a sense of how big the creature must have been overall.You can’t help but focus on its 130 teeth, especially those at the front.Long and razor sharp, they could kill with a single bite. But look a little closer – if you dare – and the back of each tooth is marked with fine ridges. These would have helped the beast to pierce the flesh and then quickly extract its dagger-like fangs, ready for a rapid second attack. Image source, BBC/Tony JolliffeThe pliosaur was the ultimate killing machine and at 10-12m long, with four powerful flipper-like limbs to propel itself at high speed, it was the apex predator in the ocean. “The animal would have been so massive that I think it would have been able to prey effectively on anything that was unfortunate enough to be in its space,” says Dr Andre Rowe from Bristol University. “I have no doubt that this was sort of like an underwater T. Rex.”Meals would have included other reptiles such as its long-necked cousin, the plesiosaur, and the dolphin-like ichthyosaur – and fossil evidence reveals that it would have even feasted on other passing pliosaurs.How this fossil skull was recovered is extraordinary. It started with a chance find during a stroll along a beach near Kimmeridge Bay on southern England’s famous World Heritage Jurassic Coast.Steve Etches’ friend and fellow fossil enthusiast Phil Jacobs came across the tip of the snout of the pliosaur lying in the shingle. Too heavy to carry, he went to fetch Steve and the pair rigged a makeshift stretcher to take the fossil fragment to safety.Image source, BBC StudiosBut where was the rest of the animal? A drone survey of the towering cliff face pinpointed a likely location. The problem was the only way to excavate it was to abseil down from the top. Removing fossils from rock is always painstaking, delicate work. But to do this while dangling on ropes from a crumbling cliff, 15m above a beach, requires another order of skill.The courage, dedication, and the months spent cleaning up the skull, have certainly been worth it. Scientists from across the globe will be clamouring to visit the Dorset fossil to gain fresh insights into how these amazing reptiles lived and dominated their ecosystem.Palaeobiologist Prof Emily Rayfield has already examined the large circular openings at the rear of the head. They tell her about the size of the muscles operating the jaws of the pliosaur, and the forces generated as its mouth snapped shut and crushed its prey.At the top end, this comes out at about 33,000 newtons. For context, the most powerful jaws in living animals are found on saltwater crocodiles, at 16,000 newtons.”If you can generate a really powerful bite, you can incapacitate your prey; it’s less likely to get away. A powerful bite means you’re also able to crunch through tissue and bone quite effectively,” the Bristol researcher explained.”As for feeding strategies: crocodiles clamp their jaw shut around something and then twist, to maybe twist a limb off their prey. This is characteristic of animals that have expanded heads at the back, and we see this in the pliosaur.”Image source, BBC/Tony JolliffeThis newly discovered specimen has features that suggest it had some particularly acute, and very useful, senses. Its snout is dotted with small pits that may have been the site of glands to help it detect changes in water pressure made by prospective prey. And on its head is a hole that would have housed a parietal, or third, eye. Lizards, frogs and some fish alive today have one of these. It’s light-sensitive and might have helped in locating other animals, especially when the pliosaur was surfacing from deep, murky waters.Steve Etches will put the skull on display next year at his museum in Kimmeridge – the Etches Collection.It has some vertebrae poking out at the back of the head but trailing off after just a few bones. They are a tantalising clue that more of the fossil might still be in the cliff. Steve is keen to finish what he started. Image source, BBC/Tony Jolliffe”I stake my life the rest of the animal is there,” he tells BBC News. “And it really should come out because it’s in a very rapidly eroding environment. This part of the cliff line is going back by feet a year. And it won’t be very long before the rest of the pliosaur drops out and gets lost. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”Additional reporting by Rebecca Morelle and Tony JolliffeAttenborough and the Giant Sea Monster will air on BBC One and iPlayer at 20:00 on 1 January – a BBC Studios Natural History Unit production for the BBC and PBS with The WNET Group.
Published37 minutes agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, ReutersBy Sean SeddonBBC NewsConspiracy theorist Alex Jones is set to have his account on X – formerly Twitter – reinstated by Elon Musk.Musk asked users to vote in a poll whether or not to lift a Jones ban pre-dating his ownership of the platform, signalling he would honour the result.Around 70% of roughly two million respondents voted to lift the ban.Jones is most notorious for falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children and six adults died, was “staged”.He was ordered to pay $1.5bn (£1.32bn) in damages to family members of the victims, after courts found he had caused them to be subjected to harassment and death threats with his false claims.Jones, who founded the conspiracy theory website Infowars, has been removed from other major platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.He was banned from Twitter in 2018 for breaching the site’s rules on abusive behaviour.After buying the platform in October 2022, tech billionaire Musk rejected calls from some of Jones’s supporters to reinstate his account.In one post, he cited the death of his 10-week old baby in 2002 as motivation for not reversing the ban, writing: “I have no mercy for anyone who would use the death of children for gain, politics or fame.”But on Saturday Musk asked users to vote on whether or not Jones should be allowed to return – a repeat of the move which saw former US President Donald Trump’s account reinstated a month after Musk took over the firm.After Musk posted the poll, Jones shared a video online in which he called on his supporters to vote in favour of his ban being overturned.As of 05:00 GMT, Jones’s old account was still suspended.Responding to one user on Saturday, Musk said he “vehemently” disagreed with Jones’s statements about Sandy Hook, adding: “but are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not?”He said the move would be “bad for X financially” but “principles matter more than money”.Musk has taken an increasingly bullish line on free speech online during his time at the top of X.Last month he accused major advertisers of trying to “blackmail” him when they boycotted X over concerns about antisemitic content shared on the site – including a post by Musk himself, which he later apologised for.More on this storyCould X go bankrupt under Elon Musk?Published2 DecemberBankrupt Alex Jones spends nearly $100,000 a monthPublished16 FebruaryElon Musk tells Rishi Sunak AI will put an end to workPublished3 November
Published47 minutes agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesA judge has strongly criticised the BBC for failing to release a large number of emails relating to the scandal over Martin Bashir’s 1995 interview with Princess Diana on Panorama. The documents had been requested by a journalist, who was investigating what managers at the corporation knew and what had been done about the reporter. Mr Bashir officially stepped down from his job at the BBC in 2021.It emerged he had secured the interview through deception and faking documents.Princess Diana interview: Why was it controversial?Timeline: Martin Bashir’s actions from Diana interview to Dyson reportInquiry criticises BBC over ‘deceitful’ Diana interviewThe court ruling relates to a freedom of information request made by journalist Andy Webb.He wants to see the emails BBC managers sent each other about Mr Bashir over a two month period in 2020.The BBC disclosed a small number of messages to Mr Webb, but it has now emerged there were more than 3,000 emails.The corporate has said these contain “irrelevant” or “legally privileged” information.Judge Brian Kennedy KC ordered the BBC to release more emails – saying the corporation had been “inconsistent, erroneous and unreliable” in the way it dealt with the initial request.The judge added the BBC’s response had been a “cause for serious concern”.In a statement the BBC accepted mistakes had been made but says it is considering the judgement.The corporation says it has also apologised to Andy Webb and the tribunal.Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Webb welcomed the judgement. Mr Bashir’s departure from the BBC came after questions were raised about how he secured the interview with Princess Diana. Watched by more than 20 million people, the interview was considered a huge scoop for the BBC at the time.But questions about the manner in which interview was secured started to be asked within a short time of its airing.In 2021, an independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, found that Mr Bashir used deception to secure the interview and then lied to BBC managers.A graphic artist working for the BBC said he had been asked by Martin Bashir to produce fake bank statements.These appeared to show payments by a newspaper group to a former member of staff of Earl Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother.The Dyson report said this was to gain Earl Spencer’s confidence, so he would introduce Mr Bashir to Diana.When questioned by BBC bosses, Mr Bashir admitted having the statements mocked up, but repeatedly denied showing these documents to Earl Spencer.The report said Mr Bashir “lied and maintained the lie until he realised that it was no longer sustainable. This was most reprehensible behaviour which casts considerable doubt on his credibility generally”.Mr Bashir has previously said mocking up the documents “was a stupid thing to do” and he regretted it, but said they had had no bearing on Diana’s decision to be interviewed.More on this story’Dark cloud over BBC journalism’ says Lord GradePublished9 November 2020Designer ‘angry’ at treatment over Diana interviewPublished10 November 2020Key dates in the Martin Bashir interview controversyPublished21 May 2021
A funnel cloud moving over Madison, a suburb in Tennessee, caused electrical flashes and a small explosion seen in a video shared on social media. Parts of Tennessee were hit by tornadoes and severe storms on Saturday, and at least six people died as a result. Buildings were reduced to rubble and communities were plunged into blackouts in the southern US state.A funnel cloud differs from a tornado in that it doesn’t touch the ground. The weather phenomenon has also been described as a “baby tornado beginning to form but never quite getting there”, according to BBC meteorologist David Braine.Read more details of the storm impact here.
Published2 hours agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Guy Levy/BBCBy Charlotte GallagherCulture correspondentShirley Ballas has said bullying left her on the verge of quitting dancing just before Strictly Come Dancing asked her to join its judging panel.Ballas said she was targeted by men “at the top” while teaching dancers. The 63 year old said couples she was training were receiving “threats”, warning their careers would be damaged if they worked with Ballas.She believes it was because of misogyny and the men involved “didn’t want a woman in any high places”. Ballas was speaking about her experiences on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs with Lauren Laverne. She told Laverne she did not believe the industry was much better today, adding: “I still think bullying goes on. There are a lot of great people in my industry, there are a lot of people who want to see people do extremely well. I think we have this handful of misogynistic people with egos that just will not deflate.””Even the other day, I was reading messages of a couple that had been to a competition overseas, of different professionals that had written these most horrendous messages to them. It still goes on today. I don’t know how people get away with it. It will carry on until it becomes name and shame, and I’m pretty much close to doing that, I’ll tell you,” Ballas said.Shirley Ballas lost marks for ‘revolting’ stretch marksNigel Harman pulls out of Strictly Come DancingThe Strictly judge also spoke about body shaming in dancing, telling the programme that when she returned from having a baby her teacher said he hated seeing her stretch marks and she “made people feel physically sick”. Image source, Amanda Benson/BBCOn the brink of giving up Shirley Ballas was approached by Strictly Come Dancing and asked to join the judging panel. “Fortunately something aligned and I got the job on Strictly. So thank you very much to all the bullies in my industry and you know who you are, and everybody in my industry knows who they are – thank you, because you gave me a platform and a job that I sincerely love and adore,” she said. Ballas also spoke about the death of her brother David who took his own life in December 2003 and explained why Christmas was such a difficult time for her and her mother.But she said she found Strictly’s Christmas spirit uplifting and working on the show enabled her to meet her boyfriend, the actor Danny Taylor, when they appeared in a pantomime together. At the beginning of their relationship he bought her and her mother a tiny Christmas tree which Shirley said was the start of them beginning to celebrate Christmas again. You can listen to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 at 11:15 GMT, or catch up on BBC Sounds
Published51 minutes agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, EPABy Sally NabilBBC Arabic, CairoOnce hailed by many people as a saviour, Egypt’s strongman leader Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is now seen in a very different light. Egyptians who took to the streets to cheer for the general-turned-president a decade ago are not as happy as they hoped they would be. As Mr Sisi runs for his third consecutive term as president next week, a crumbling economy is top of most people’s list of complaints. Nadia is one of those struggling to make ends meet as Mr Sisi’s government continues to implement what it calls “economic reforms”.The 57-year-old widow and mother of six can barely make a living selling newspapers at a street-side kiosk. In her small flat in one of Cairo’s crowded slums, Nadia tells me that she last bought meat three years ago. To her, life is becoming more unaffordable by the day.”I am too scared to go to sleep sometimes, because I know the next morning prices will have gone up,” she says with a faint smile and eyes full of pain.The latest official figures show that Egypt’s inflation rate in October was 38.5%, a slight fall from the record 40.3% reported the previous month. These numbers are unheard of in the Arab world’s most populous country, and the real inflation rate experienced by ordinary people is often much worse than the government’s figure. ‘We are forgotten’But as prices have risen, Nadia’s income has dropped. More than a decade ago, she used to sell nearly 200 newspapers a day, but today it is barely 20. Nadia says today cooking a meal costs between 300 and 500 Egyptian pounds (£7.70-£13; $9.70-16.20), but a few years ago it was about a sixth of the price.”Even fruit is too expensive,” she tells me. Image source, ReutersIn the past nine months, the Egyptian pound has lost more than 50% of its value against the US dollar. With the Egyptian economy heavily dependent on imports, the prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed beyond the reach of many households and a black market for foreign currency has flourished.Nadia does not have much hope and is obviously apprehensive. “No-one thinks of the poor. It’s as if we are invisible,” she says, adding with a sigh: “We are forgotten.”Promises of prosperitySince Mr Sisi became president in 2014 – a year after he led the military’s overthrow of his Islamist predecessor, Mohammed Morsi – huge sums of money have been spent on huge infrastructure projects.Roads have been expanded and flyovers built, and a new capital costing billions of dollars has been constructed near Cairo that is barely inhabited.Critics say this “financial imprudence” has drained much of the country’s economic resources and created unprecedented levels of debt that have crippled the economy. The president’s supporters believe the urban expansion has made people’s lives easier and will help attract much needed foreign investment, eventually ushering in more prosperous times.Walid Gaballah, an economist and a member of Egyptian Society for Political Economy, Statistics and Legislation, believes these projects have created jobs and succeeded in making a significant impact in addressing Egypt’s unemployment problem.He also believes part of the blame for the current economic meltdown lies with global forces. “All the savings created by the government’s reform programmes were eaten up by the coronavirus pandemic. Then came the Ukraine war that drove many foreign investors to withdraw their money from Egyptian banks,” he says.Image source, Getty ImagesThe government has repeatedly drawn attention to its investment in social welfare programmes that provide a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable Egyptians. But people still complain about their living conditions going from bad to worse.Official figures show that nearly 30% of Egypt’s 100 million population lives below the poverty line. Since 2016, the government has borrowed more than $20bn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to support its budget.At the same time, government austerity measures, deemed necessary for “an economic overhaul” of the country, have been imposed. Subsidies have been removed from many key goods, like fuel, pushing prices up. One-horse raceDespite the widespread discontent, Egyptians have not got much choice in this election, seen by many as a one-horse race. Opposition groups complain that they cannot operate effectively due to a constant crackdown on dissent.Although three low-profile politicians are running against the president, many people believe the outcome of the vote is not in question – Mr Sisi will easily win a new six-year term in office.Image source, ReutersOne potential frontrunner in the election was former MP Ahmed Tantawy, but he dropped out of the race after failing to gather the required number of endorsements from members of the public. In October, he accused the authorities of arresting nearly 100 members of his campaign, to discourage him from running.Mr Tantawy is now on trial, facing charges of printing and circulating election papers without an authorisation.Fears of going homeLike opposition politicians, human rights campaigners are also complaining about tight security restrictions. They say it is increasingly difficult to document alleged abuses. “Human rights is a dangerous business in Egypt,” says Mina Thabet, an activist who has been living in a self-imposed exile in the UK for nearly six years, tells me via Zoom.He still recalls the painful memories of the month he spent detained in Egypt in 2016 after he was accused of a range of charges, including belonging to a banned group and spreading false news, which are often levelled at opponents of the government.”I have been blindfolded and handcuffed. An officer has physically assaulted me and threatened to strip me naked and torture me.”Mr Thabet went to the UK to study a year after his release. He decided not to go back home as he was worried he might be sent back to jail at any moment. “The first night I had a good sleep was after I left Egypt,” he says.He sees the election as nothing but an extension of Mr Sisi’s heavy-handed policies, which he says have no tolerance for opposition.”Many of my fellow human rights defenders in Egypt are either having their assets frozen, or their names put on a travel ban list. You can’t do your job, without the fear of getting prosecuted or persecuted.”Mr Thabet tells me he will only go back to Egypt when he feels safe to work and express his views without any potential government retaliation.The authorities have long dismissed such criticism as politicised. They have set up a committee that has granted presidential pardons to dozens of political detainees, and have promised to do more to improve the country’s human rights record.But local and international human rights groups speak of tens of thousands of political prisoners locked up behind bars – a figure the government disputes. Banners bearing photos of Mr Sisi hang on every street corner in Cairo.His campaign is trying to convince voters that better days lie ahead. But many people here wonder if his re-election would really change anything.
West Indies v England: Third ODI, BarbadosEngland 206-9 (40 overs): Duckett 71 (73), Livingstone 45 (56); Forde 3-29West Indies 191-6 (31.4 overs): Carty 50 (58), Athanaze 45 (51); Jacks 3-22West Indies won by four wickets (DLS method)ScorecardWest Indies got over the line in a nervy chase to beat England by four wickets on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method in a rain-shortened third one-day international in Barbados.When play began two hours later than scheduled, seamer Matthew Forde quickly took three wickets on his international debut as England collapsed to 49-5.Ben Duckett made 71 to help England recover and post 206-9 from 40 overs after another rain delay.A further downpour left West Indies with a revised target of 188 from 34 overs and they looked on course for a comfortable victory thanks to a composed half-century from Keacy Carty.However, England hit back to set up a tense finale with Will Jacks taking 3-22 as the spinners did the damage.The game looked to be going down to the wire but one expensive over from the previously impressive Gus Atkinson swung the game decisively in West Indies’ favour and Romario Shepherd, who finished unbeaten on 41 from 28 balls, sealed the win with 14 balls to spare.West Indies took the ODI series 2-1 and can celebrate a first home series win over England in the format since 1998.The two sides will now prepare for the five-match T20 series that begins on Tuesday, also in Barbados.Duckett makes case to become ODI mainstayEngland went into this series with a much-changed side following their World Cup disappointment and with Jos Buttler’s team not scheduled to play another 50-over match until September 2024, this was the last chance for many of the new-look team to impress for quite some time.But while the rest of the top order came unstuck as West Indies made the most of friendly bowling conditions early on, Duckett made his pitch for a regular berth in the one-day team.The left-hander gritted it out early on as the wickets fell around him, seeing off Forde and co with the new ball before going about building a much-needed partnership with Liam Livingstone.Duckett got his tempo just right, even holding back on playing his favoured sweep shots against the spinners to eliminate as much risk as possible with England in a precarious position.When the ball was there to be hit, he did so, and the only frustration was that having done all the hard work, he fell in relatively tame fashion just when he might have hoped to kick on.A series defeat is not the way England wanted to start their new era in ODI cricket and they still have plenty of work to do to get back to the heights of 2019, but in Duckett they have a player capable of moving them in the right direction again.Young West Indies team gives hope for the futureWhile England are looking to bounce back after a dreadful World Cup, West Indies’ rebuild is starting from an even lower base after they failed to even qualify for the tournament in India.They have looked to a new generation of players and a first ODI series win over England since 2007 – and a first at home this century – is a very promising start.Forde will take the plaudits and the 21-year-old was impressive on debut, moving the ball through the air and off the seam while consistently hitting a probing line and length to unsettle the England batters.With the bat, opener Alick Athanaze played with great fluency for his 45 while Carty grew into his innings and showed some remarkable timing once he got into his stride.It was left to Shepherd, now one of the elder statesmen of the team, to finish the job and secure West Indies’ first ODI series win over a full member nation since March 2021.That statistic in itself shows the work that still needs to be done and there have been plenty of false dawns before for West Indies cricket but the early signs are encouraging for this new side.’Build around Salt and Brook’ – what they saidEx-England captain Sir Alastair Cook on TNT Sports: “I think there are a lot of positives. Phil Salt needs a run in the white-ball set-up. He has a strike-rate of 140 at the top of the order.”I like the fact you have someone who is that dynamic. How good can he be? It’s going to intriguing to see if he can do it against top-quality bowlers.”Harry Brook, after a strange World Cup, where he was in the squad then wasn’t, he should just bat at number five and get experience in the team of leading the reboot. Players like that are potential match-winners and World Cup winners. They have that much talent.”England captain Jos Buttler: “This is the start of a long journey for this side. There are some young guys who have got their first taste of ODI cricket and have hopefully learned a lot and we can build something for the future.”Player of the match, West Indies bowler Matthew Forde: “Obviously getting a victory is a dream come true on debut. It was special for me. I am 21 and I’m living the dream.”
Published1 hour agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesBy Ido Vock in London & Jovana Georgievski in BelgradeBBC NewsAleksandar Vucic has dominated Serbian politics for the past decade, first as prime minister and later as president. To supporters he is a pragmatic leader who overcame Serbia’s deep divides and presided over sustained economic growth. Critics complain he consolidated power in his own hands and undermined democratic norms. He is now more than a year into the second and final five-year presidential term he is allowed to serve.Last month he called early parliamentary and local elections for next Sunday, amid mass protests at home and international demands to resolve Serbia’s longstanding conflict with Kosovo.The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) he led for more than 10 years until this year looks set to be returned to power.But a united opposition aims to make gains, targeting the mayoralty of the capital Belgrade, home to nearly a third of the population.That kind of victory could irrevocably dent Mr Vucic’s authority. For Zorana Mihajlovic, who has fallen out with him since serving as deputy prime minister, he is “a populist on the way to becoming a dictator”. The watchdog Freedom House today ranks the country he leads as only “partly free”. Image source, KOCA SULEJMANOVIC/AFPAleksandar Vucic was born in Belgrade in 1970, when Serbia was still a part of Yugoslavia, a socialist federation in the Western Balkans. He recounts how his family left Bosnia after suffering persecution from Croatian fascists during World War Two. For a time in the 1980s he lived in the UK, where he learned English. With the money he earned working in a hardware store he bought a small radio, which he took home.”My parents were delighted when they saw it,” he later recalled in a speech to the London School of Economics. It was when Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s that the brutal Balkans wars began. Serbia and Montenegro were all that was left in the rump Yugoslavia – along with Kosovo, a breakaway region of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian majority population. Balkans wars: A brief guideInfluenced by Serbian ultra-nationalism and football hooliganism, Mr Vucic joined the far-right Radical Party aged 23. The Radicals sought a Greater Serbia by taking land from neighbouring countries. “You kill one Serb and we will kill 100 Muslims,” he infamously said days after the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces. In 1998, Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic made Mr Vucic his information minister. In government, Mr Vucic was responsible for implementing some of Europe’s most restrictive laws on freedom of speech. It was an era “marked by ethnic cleansing, hatred towards Croats and Muslims, sanctions and wars”, says Zorana Mihajlovic.Image source, Getty ImagesIn 1999, Nato forces began bombing Yugoslavia in a bid to bring an end to violence against ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Soon Mr Vucic and his colleagues were out of power. In 2008 he and other former members of the Radicals founded the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). He underwent a public change of heart, renouncing his previous ultra-nationalism and pledging to take Serbia into the European Union. That year, Kosovo declared independence, a move never recognised by Serbia. Mr Vucic’s progress up the ranks of Serbian politics was swift:In 2012, the SNS won parliamentary elections, going into coalition with the Socialist partyMr Vucic was appointed deputy prime minister, then prime minister in 2014In 2017, he was elected president with a majority in the first round of voting. Having risen to the top, Mr Vucic consolidated his rule. Opponents say he did so by eroding democratic institutions in a manner reminiscent of the authoritarianism of the 1990s. Ms Mihajlovic believes Serbia “has been distancing itself from the EU and democracy”. “The government is in nearly complete control of all levels of public institutions and the media,” says Florian Bieber, an expert on Serbian nationalism at the University of Graz. Vucic supporters reject that characterisation, seeing his domination of Serbian politics as down to successful governance.They point to the Vucic era as one of unprecedented growth, of a post-communist country overshadowed by war becoming an advanced, European economy. Marko Cadez, head of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, credits his economic policies with doubling Serbia’s GDP over the past decade. “Aleksandar Vucic knows the art of politics,” he says. “He conducted reforms that weren’t easy or pleasant.” Mr Vucic also argues he should be given credit for managing stable relations with Kosovo. In September, a flare-up of violence in majority-Serb northern Kosovo left four people dead, reviving fears of regional instability. But the Serbian leader has recently signalled he is willing to formally normalise relations with Kosovo. That has led political opponents to accuse him of treason. Mr Vucic has cultivated good relations with rival geopolitical powers.He says he wants Serbia to join the EU, which accounts for over half of Serbia’s trade. But at the same time he has championed friendly relations with Russia and opened Serbia up to Chinese investment.Image source, Getty ImagesIn October, he signed a free-trade deal with China after a decade of increasingly close economic ties.Chinese companies have been chosen to build roads and railways in Serbia, making the Balkan country one of the focal points of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative in Europe. A Chinese company already runs a large copper and gold mine in eastern Serbia. “For Serbia, co-operating with all global actors is a very good thing,” says Katarina Zakic, head of the Belt and Road Regional Centre at Belgrade’s Institute of International Politics and Economics.Shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, Mr Vucic infamously said he would not oppose Kremlin policies, as “85% of Serbians will always side with Russia whatever happens”. It was an exaggeration, but he kept his word. Serbia has refused to back EU sanctions against Moscow, despite holding EU candidate status. Russia has consistently backed Serbia by voting against international recognition of Kosovo.His government has even been accused of facilitating the re-export of sanctioned “dual-use” technology to Russia. Image source, Getty ImagesZorana Mihajlovic believes he is not instinctively pro-Russia, but purely pragmatic: “The more isolated Serbia is, the stronger his grip on power.” His biggest test in 17 December elections will come from Belgrade, after opposition parties harnessed anger over two mass shootings last May in which 19 people were killed. One was at a Belgrade primary school. A coalition called Serbia Against Violence (SPN) is riding high in the polls.But Mr Vucic is confident of victory and accuses his rivals of being fixated on removing him from power: “We will see who will be laughing after the elections.” More on this storySerbia’s dominant leader performs balancing actPublished3 April 2022Why is violence flaring again in Kosovo?Published2 OctoberA scientist determined to name Srebrenica’s deadPublished11 September
Published1 hour agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingWe asked our readers to send in their best pictures on the theme of “autumn colours”. Here is a selection of the photographs we received from around the world.Image source, Alan BrownImage source, Cris KatchImage source, Sean IcetonImage source, Mike WrightImage source, Tim JonesImage source, Mark O’BrienImage source, Angus DobbieImage source, Stephanie DavisImage source, Stewart CookeImage source, Matthew Logan:Image source, Diana WalkerImage source, Linda St LouisImage source, Ray GotImage source, Henry Matthiessen IIIImage source, Diane LangfordImage source, Mireille BerthoudImage source, Miles AstrayImage source, Tom ReynoldsImage source, Graham WoollvenImage source, Mark SewellImage source, Alice JohnsonImage source, Joshua DrakeImage source, Dave TarvitImage source, Piero PruneriImage source, Donald TaylorImage source, Shane SandsThe next theme is “bright lights” and the deadline for entries is 19 December 2023. The pictures will be published later that week and you will be able to find them, along with other galleries, on the In Pictures section of the BBC News website.You can upload your entries on this page or email them to [email protected] and conditions apply. Further details and themes are at: We set the theme, you take the pictures.All photographs subject to copyright.More on this storyWe set the theme, you take the picturesPublished17 January