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From Our Own Correspondent

From Our Own Correspondent

Podcast From Our Own Correspondent
Podcast From Our Own Correspondent

From Our Own Correspondent

Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines.
Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines.

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5 of 300
  • Eric Zemmour: France's new right wing contender
    The French political scene has a new kid on the block, or one might say, a new veteran. Eric Zemmour is his name, not one familiar in the UK, but Zemmour has long been well known in his own country as a right-wing television presenter. His controversial pronouncements on race, religion and immigration have in the past got him into legal trouble, but now he appears to be flirting with the idea of standing to be president. Until now, the French far-right scene has been dominated by one political party – indeed you might say, by one family. The Front National was founded nearly fifty years ago by Jean-Marie Le Pen. His daughter Marine then took over its leadership, though she changed the party’s name to “National Rally.” Ms Le Pen had been seen as a serious challenger for the French presidency, in elections to be held next year. Yet some think she’s now being eclipsed by Mr Zemmour. Lucy Williamson went to see him in action: It looks like Joseph Biden will not be allowed to forget the way US troops departed from Afghanistan, leaving the country to fall quickly into Taliban hands again. Rightly or wrongly, it’s likely to be a millstone round the president’s neck, should Mr Biden seek re-election in three years’ time. That is a very different state of affairs to the way Afghanistan is talked about in Russia these days, or rather not talked about. Military parades there tend to focus on the Soviet Union’s victory in World War Two, while some politicians like to boast about more a more recent conflict, Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea in 2014. Far less is said about how Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, only for troops to pull out a decade later, defeated and demoralised. And this silence has proved hard for those Russians who served in Afghanistan, or who lost friends and family there. Now, a new exhibition is allowing veterans of the conflict to express through art the trauma they suffered. Francis Scarr went along to see it: As a health correspondent for the BBC, Tulip Mazumdar has reported on medical problems around the world, and one she has seen plenty of is women suffering miscarriages. It is a loss whose seriousness is often not recognised, with many women suffering a form of grief every bit as serious as when a living person dies. And it’s a common problem too; in the UK, it has been estimated that a quarter of pregnancies are lost. However, knowing all this, and having reported on it for many years, could not have prepared Tulip for the many miscarriages she herself went on to suffer, and which she frankly admits, she is still struggling to come to terms with. People do sometimes hold funerals for babies who are miscarried or still-born. But whether for a child or an adult, funerals serve many purposes: they allow people to express publicly their grief, in the company of friends and families who are there to support them. They may be an opportunity to look back on the life of the person who died, and to recall what they meant to those who knew them. What you do not expect is for funerals to provide the chance for a quick buck to be made, and yet that’s exactly what happens in parts of eastern Nigeria. And it’s not just funerals, weddings too may be targeted by extortionists, unwilling to allow the proceedings to go ahead, unless they are paid off. It is something Olivia Ndubuisi has seen for herself: We all need a break now and then, and that might involve a holiday. But is that something you would grant to prisoners? That is exactly what happens in parts of Brazil, where occupants of the country’s jails are given occasional home leave. You might think this sounds absurdly indulgent, the sign of a country that has gone soft on those who break the law. In fact, Brazil’s prisons are notoriously harsh, with assault and murder common. The actual purpose of giving prisoners a break from their sentence is to encourage them not to end up back there, after they’re released, as Andrew Downie discovered. For details of organisations which offer advice and support with pregnancy related issues, go online to
  • Nostalgia For Gaddafi
    Libya has been marking an anniversary of sorts this week: ten years since the dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was killed, having been toppled from power as part of the Arab Spring. Since then, elections have been held, and a much-delayed election for a new President is due at the end of this year. But few have much faith in this process. Whole swathes of Libya are beyond the control of the national government in Tripoli. So it’s perhaps not surprising in these circumstances that some Libyans are nostalgic for the days of Gaddafi’s rule, despite the human rights abuses which took place. Among those who remain loyal is the man who was once Gaddafi’s advisor, and sometime interpreter. Tim Whewell has been talking to him. Democracy in Libya may be very much a work in progress, but here in Europe, there are some who feel that long-standing democracies are also being threatened. The murder in Britain of the MP, David Amess was described by many as an attack on democracy itself. And that suggestion had echoes from a recent killing in the Peter De Vries was famous as an investigative reporter in the Netherlands. He ignored repeated threats to his life, while he bravely uncovered the power of international criminals. This week, two men went on trial in Amsterdam, accused of murdering him. It was an act the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said was “an attack on the free journalism so essential for our democracy". But then Mr Rutte has himself had to change his habit of cycling alone through Holland’s streets, because he too has received death threats. Anna Holligan reports. During its twenty year presence in Afghanistan, American troops brought in billions of dollars’ worth of gear, and quite a lot of it seems to have found its way into the hands of smugglers, who brought it across the border to neighbouring Pakistan. Some of it is still sold furtively in small towns, but one Lahore shopkeeper is making a good living by selling very openly this stolen US Army equipment. Ironically, he considers himself an implacable enemy of all things American, and a supporter of the Taleban. Ali Kazmi went to meet him. With just days to go until the COP26 summit on climate change, there’s ever more pressure being applied to countries to explain how they propose to get to net zero or in other words, how to reach the point where they do not contribute any net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They’re being encouraged both to set targets, and to outline what measures they will introduce to reach them. But there’s an island in Denmark which has already gone one stage further and become “carbon positive.” Ritula Shah went to Samsoe to find out how they've done it. When you think of ancient mummies, you might think of Egypt, with its famously preserved pharoes and other leading lights of that ancient civilisation. In fact, the oldest mummies in the world were discovered in Chile. They were discovered in 1917 by a German archaeologist, but it took decades for the mummies to be correctly dated, and identified as part of the Chinchorro civilisation. And they’re still not on the tourist map, the way that the pyramids and their long dead occupants are. Jane Chambers travelled into the heart of what was once Chinchorro country, to see the mummies for herself.
  • Disillusion in Iraq
    When western troops overthrew Saddam Hussein, the argument was that this would turn Iraq from a dictatorship into a democracy. And they have indeed held elections there; the latest vote for a new Iraqi parliament took place last Sunday. Yet when it comes to actually voting, tribal and religious affiliation appear to have trumped any ideological leanings, and with a heavy dose of apathy and disillusionment thrown in, says Lizzie Porter. As with Iraq, Japan also faces much disillusionment with democratic politics. The last election saw only a little over half the voting population turn out, and it’s not hard to see why: in almost every single contest, the same party has won. Now, the Liberal Democrat Party has chosen a new leader, and he automatically became interim prime minister, pending a general election later this month. It is an election nobody expects him to lose, but was the country’s new leader welcomed with great excitement and fanfare? Hardly, says Rupert Wingfield-Hayes: According to mythology, Rome was founded by a pair of twins who had been raised by wolves. But Romulus and Remus might have been surprised to know that in the early Twenty First Century, the “eternal city” would have wild wolves spotted near its airport. Meanwhile wild boars and other animals have been stalking the streets, feasting on the rubbish that sits uncollected. It’s all just one sign of the extent to which Rome has not been particularly well run in recent years, maladministration and the mafia making easy bedfellows. Tomorrow, Romans will have the chance to choose a new mayor, hoping they save the city from this plight. Italian politics is, of course, often rather colourful, and the two remaining candidates in this contest are a radio star with links to the far right, and a former Economics Minister, who has attempted to seduce voters by serenading them with a bit of bosa nova guitar. Watching this spectacle is long-term Rome resident, Joanna Robertson. Someone once said that when it came to British politics, there had only been three issues in recent elections: Brexit, Brexit and Brexit. This was not a subject that other countries necessarily wanted to focus on, most governments having enough challenges of their own to think about. Yet, for the Republic of Ireland, the UK’s rows over Europe were always going to make their mark; the country has so much trade with Britain, as well as an open border with Northern Ireland. Emma Vardy says that the latest developments in the Brexit saga, have left Irish people exasperated, and also rather sad. It was the writer William Faulkner who famously said “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That’s something which another writer, Colin Freeman, discovered, when he visited Ukraine this month. He was there to hear about a new memorial and museum for the “Babi Yar” massacre, an atrocity which took place in 1941. German Nazi occupiers shot dead more than thirty thousand Jews there, and later, would use the same site to kill gay people, prisoners of war, and the mentally ill - some of the worst mass shootings in human history. Plans for a new museum about the massacres have been underway for some time, but it’s a development, which Colin Freeman say,s tells us much about present day Ukraine, as well as about the moment in history being commemorated.
  • A Haitian Odyssey Across The Americas
    In recent weeks, images of thousands of Haitian migrants living in squalid conditions in a temporary camp in Texas have caused widespread shock and anger in the United States. US Border patrol agents on horseback forced many of them back across the Rio Grande into Mexico. Thousands more were deported back to Haiti, which is in the grip of its deepest economic and political crisis for years. The US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned last month in protest at the Biden Administration’s deportations policy, which he described as “inhumane” and “counterproductive”. Some of the migrants say it was also arbitrary, with no clarity about the process deciding who made it into the US and who was sent home. Will Grant met two families, at the US-Mexico border and in Haiti, whose journeys north came to very different ends: Last year, Thailand was rocked by student-led protests, which for the first time broke a taboo on criticising the monarchy. But the Thai government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha fought back, using a raft of repressive laws to prosecute the protest leaders. Together with a rapid rise in Covid infections, that appeared to put a stop to the street rallies. The protest gatherings have now resumed but on a smaller scale. As Jonathan Head has been finding out, the heady optimism of the students last year has been replaced by a harder-edged realism over just how long it might take to reform Thailand’s politics. Last weekend, thousands of people from 150 towns and cities across Brazil joined street protests against its President, Jair Bolsonaro. Many of them were angry about his handling of the pandemic which has killed at least 600,000 Brazilians so far. Not all the criticism is centred on Covid, though. Some of his former supporters are now calling for his resignation too – and their concerns are more ideological. The President is as combative as ever – and he still has control of Congress, though his public support has slumped to its lowest level yet in opinion polls. Katy Watson reports from Sao Paulo. Questions about the future of coal have caused some of the deepest divisions in modern Australia. The debate may soon get even sharper as COP26 and other climate-change summits try to push rich nations to set a faster pace in giving up fossil fuels. Australia still uses coal to generate about 70% of its electricity, making it the most carbon-polluting nation per person in the world. As Phil Mercer explains, the country’s vast natural resources help fuel its domestic politics, as well as its power stations. And the BBC’s new Middle East correspondent Anna Foster offers some personal first impressions of settling in to her posting to the Lebanese capital, Beirut - and of the extraordinary resilience which keeps the city's people going. Producer: Polly Hope
  • Bumps in the road for the Czech Republic
    The Czech election this week will decide whether embattled billionaire businessman Andrej Babis gets another four-year term as Prime Minister. He’s under pressure from new revelations in the Pandora papers – seeming to show that he was involved in the purchase of 16 properties on the French Riviera using offshore companies. Mr Babis has denied any wrongdoing: “I don’t own any property in France,” he said. “It’s nasty, false accusations that are meant to influence the election.” He has always governed in coalition – but he now faces a tough challenge from the centre-right opposition and also has the far-right nipping at his heels. So which way are the Czechs heading? Rob Cameron reports from Prague. Over the past two months – like many international organisations - the BBC has been busy organising a way out of Afghanistan for many of its staff in the country and trying to get them to places of safety – in the UK and elsewhere. Karim Haidari was one of them. After a nerve-wracking three days spent waiting at Kabul airport, he and his family managed to fly out. They are now safe in Britain – but there’s a lot for him to think about as they try to start their lives again. How can we feed the world – on a planet with finite resources and a growing number of people? Moreover, more of those people are eating more meat and fish – and those animals in turn need feeding, and protein, to grow. At the moment, soy and fishmeal are the main sources of protein for animal feed – but the demand for soy has been linked to deforestation in South America, while the fishmeal trade helps drive over-fishing in the oceans. So now manufacturers are looking for alternative sources of protein. The use of insects has been permitted in fish feed for years, but the European Union recently decided to allow them in poultry and pig feed too. Emilie Filou went to visit an ultra-modern bug farm in France where the animals they raise might be tiny, but the plans and the ambition are very big indeed. The Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea have been settled for over seven thousand years –they’re full of Neolithic remains, showing how their earliest inhabitants hunted seals and birds there. But the islands have changed hands many times since then over their history – sometimes being treated as little more than bargaining chips by their larger neighbours. These days they enjoy a quirky – and carefully negotiated – sort of independence. Mark Stratton asked some of the islanders who they feel closest to in today’s Europe. Smell and taste are the most intimate and evocative of the senses – with a startling power to transport us to other times and places. Reha Kansara recently explored some of her family history in Kenya – and part of her quest centred on a childhood favourite - the delicious potato fritter known as the Maru Bhajia. Would it taste as good in its birthplace in Nairobi? And what else was on the menu during her journeys into Kenya's past?

About From Our Own Correspondent

BBC Radio 4's Podcast "From Our Own Correspondent" offers insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines.

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