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Trafalgar Square Christmas tree: ‘Sparse’ spruce ridiculed

The Christmas Tree

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The tree is being decorated and lit at 18:00 GMT on Thursday

“Britain’s most famous Christmas tree” has been branded a turkey over its “sparse” foliage and “anaemic” appearance.

Since 1947, a Norwegian spruce has been installed every year in the centre of Trafalgar Square.

But some have been unimpressed by the 2019 offering, commenting on the festive favourite’s “droopy” look.

Westminster Council said the 69ft (21m) tree was “a generous gift from the people of Oslo to London”.

A spokesman said its height meant it wouldn’t look like smaller ones in people’s homes.

The British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood said: “This is what 90-year-old, 25m trees in the wild look like.

“It is important to consider the symbolism of the tree rather than simply how many branches it has.”

‘Thought that counts’

But those arguments haven’t stopped critics from needling the tree on Twitter.

Commenters dubbed it the “most anaemic tree possible”, saying it looked “very poorly and drab”.

One said it looked “sad” while another consoled with: “It’s the thought that counts”.

But some leapt to the tree’s defence, and said it was a gift for which the nation should be grateful.

One said: “It’s a present. You don’t deride a present. You just say thank you and enjoy it in the spirit it was given. Thank you Norway.”

Another pointed out that the decorations had yet to be added, and said the council could “bush it out” with tinsel, lights and Christmas cheer.

When some users said critics of the tree were “trolls”, the tree’s official Twitter account replied: “I thought I’d left them in Norway.”

After one woman called it “sparse”, the tree’s account said she might have meant “spruce”.

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Getty Images

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The tree (pictured in 2017) has been an annual gift from Norway since 1947

The tree is being decorated with the light switch on at 18:00 on Thursday.

It was planted in about 1929 in a forest near a small lake called Trollvann, which is Norwegian for “the water of the trolls”.

The spruce weighs about two tonnes and has been encouraged to grow by foresters talking to it and hugging it, Westminster Council said.

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Haakon Mosvold Larsen / Scanpix via Reuters

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The Mayor of Oslo Marianne Borgen and Lord Mayor of Westminster Ruth Bush sawed the Trafalgar Square tree in Norway

It was felled on 19 November at a special ceremony attended by the mayors of Oslo and Westminster before being shipped from Brevik to Immingham.

The first Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree was 48ft (14.6m) tall and was a thank you from King Haakon VII who was forced to flee Norway and seek sanctuary in Britain with his government as the Nazis invaded his homeland.



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Nuno Espirito Santo is a potential replacement if Arsenal sack Unai Emery

Unai Emery’s Arsenal are eight points adrift of the top four in the Premier League

Arsenal have identified Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as a potential replacement for Unai Emery if the Gunners decide to sack the Spaniard.

Head coach Emery is under pressure after a winless run of six matches across all competitions.

Arsenal have only won four of 13 Premier League games this season.

BBC Sport understands that if Emery is sacked and Nuno is allowed to speak to Arsenal, then the Portuguese would be a strong contender to take over.

Nuno said it would be “disrespectful” to talk about being linked with Arsenal when asked in a news conference before his side’s Europa League tie against Braga on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t ever mention an issue which is not a reality,” he said. “Speaking about a job which has a manager would be disrespectful and I will not do so.”

My focus is on today and tomorrow – Emery

Emery said he still has the full support of the club, having been warned results must improve while being offered public backing by the Arsenal hierarchy earlier this month.

“Really the club is supporting me,” he said. “I feel the club, everyone responsible in that area, is backing me. Really I appreciate it a lot.

“I feel strong with that support and know my responsibility to come back and change that situation.”

The former Sevilla and Paris St-Germain boss added he is only focused on “today and tomorrow” as he prepares for his side’s Europa League match at home to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.

“My job is to prepare for the match, to show the best performance in front of our supporters,” he said.

Arsenal go into Thursday’s game top of Group F, four points clear of both their German opponents and Standard Liege.

On Sunday, a number of Arsenal fan groups called for “urgent action” over the “state of things” at the club.

“My focus is only today and tomorrow, to do all the things that we have worked on here at the training ground,” Emery added.

“We know our supporters were disappointed by the draw against Southampton, but we have the perfect chance to reconnect with our supporters.

“Our wish is that every supporter tomorrow helps the team, we need them.”

Arsenal are also eight points adrift of the top four and 19 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.

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General election 2019: ‘We’re just represented by white people’

Young people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds (BAME) have described how they feel the 2019 general election has failed so far to take on their views or represent them.

Students at London’s Westminster Kingsway College talked about the issues they care about and the changes they would like to see in politics.

Video by Jamie Moreland

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Seventeen arrested in human trafficking raids in London

Police raid

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Met Police

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Scotland Yard raided 16 addresses across east London on Thursday morning

Seventeen people have been arrested in early morning raids across east London in an international human trafficking investigation.

Officers went to 16 addresses after working with Romanian police, who simultaneously raided four addresses in Romania and arrested one man.

In London, police took 29 potential victims – women aged between 20 and 40 – to a “place of safety”.

The suspects – 14 men and three women – remain in custody in central London.

The 17 arrested people, who are aged between 17 and 50, are being held on suspicion of modern slavery, controlling prostitution, Class A drug offences and firearm offences.

‘One fell swoop’

Det Ch Insp Richard McDonagh, from the Metropolitan Police, said: “The Met recognises the seriousness of modern slavery and the devastation it brings to people’s lives.

“Today’s synchronised operational activity [had] the aim of, in one fell swoop, dismantling an organised crime network and providing support to the victims.”

The London raids were carried out in Redbridge, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Brentwood and Tower Hamlets.

A spokesman for Romanian police in the UK said: “Romanian police officers working shoulder to shoulder with our British partners is a great achievement, a proof of our mutual permanent support and a great professional reward.

“The Romanian police is committed to continue its efforts in combating all forms of criminality together with the Metropolitan Police.”

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Mbwana Samatta: Newcastle and West Ham target Genk striker

Mbwana Samatta joined Genk from Congolese side TP Mazembe in 2016

Newcastle and West Ham are both interested in signing Genk striker Mbwana Samatta.

The 26-year-old, who scored against Liverpool in his side’s 2-1 Champions League defeat on Tuesday, has a release clause in his contract reported to be about £10m.

Samatta was the top scorer in the Belgian league last season with 25 goals as Genk were crowned champions.

The Tanzanian has six goals from 13 league games this campaign.

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Camden Music Walk of Fame: Roger Taylor among those on committee

Paul Oakenfold / Roger Taylor / Carl Barât

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EPA/PA Media/BBC

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Paul Oakenfold, Roger Taylor and Carl Barât (l-r) are among those who will decide who will be commemorated on the walk

Queen drummer Roger Taylor and DJ Paul Oakenfold are among those who will oversee a new Music Walk of Fame, its organisers have announced.

The project will see the biggest musicians in the world being commemorated with flagstones along a walk in Camden Town, north London.

It will follow the style of the famous Hollywood Walk Of Fame, with the first plaque being unveiled on 19 November.

Rapper Kurtis Blow and The Libertines’ Carl Barât are also on the committee.

Others who will also decide which stars will feature include rock photographer Jill Furmanovsky, Food Records label boss Andy Ross and Chris McCormack of Camden Rocks.

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PA Media

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The first stone will be unveiled at the Britannia Junction in Camden on 19 November

Music promoter Lee Bennett, who previously spoke about the idea in 2013, said he was “overjoyed” to see it coming to fruition.

“We see this as a seminal moment for the music industry,” he said.

London’s deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries, Justine Simons, said “Camden’s legendary venues” meant it was an ideal place “to celebrate the musicians who have such an impact on all our lives”.

Organisers plan to unveil over 500 commemorative stones over the next two decades.

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Zoe Orton: Deptford murder inquiry after body find

McMillan Street

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Google

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Police officers were called to Zoe Orton’s home on McMillan Street on Monday

A murder investigation has been launched after the discovery of a woman’s body in south-east London.

Police were called to an address on McMillan Street in Deptford on Monday morning after concerns were raised about the welfare of a resident.

The body of Zoe Orton, 46, was found by officers.

A post-mortem examination which was held on Tuesday found the cause of Ms Orton’s death was “neck compression”, according to police.

Her next-of-kin have been informed.

No arrests have been made as yet and police are appealing for witnesses.

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Extinction Rebellion protesters dragged from Tube train roof

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Media captionOne eyewitness captured the moment a climate protester was dragged from top of Tube train (ITV Footage)

Commuters have dragged climate change protesters from the roof of a London Underground train.

Extinction Rebellion activists climbed on top of trains at Stratford, Canning Town and Shadwell during Thursday’s rush hour.

The Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway were earlier partially suspended. Minor delays are still reported on the lines.

Four protesters have been arrested, British Transport Police (BTP) said.

Extinction Rebellion said the disruption was “necessary to highlight the emergency”.

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Extinction Rebellion

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Protesters climbed to the top of a train carriage at Shadwell station

In the footage shared on social media from Canning Town station, a passenger waiting for a train is seen climbing on the carriage to get to one of the protesters.

The activist is grabbed by the knees and dragged down, falling to the platform where he appears to then be kicked and hit by angry commuters on the platform.

Others can be heard shouting and swearing at the protesters.

One shouts: “I have to get to work too – I have to feed my kids.”

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@CharWilkoo

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Extinction Rebellion protesters climb on to a Jubilee line at Canning Town station

A second protester was chased along the top of the train carriage by a commuter before being dragged off.

A third Extinction Rebellion activist, who was broadcasting the protest on the group’s social media accounts, said he was also attacked and “kicked in the head”.

In a statement BTP said: “We continue to urge protesters to not target the London Underground network. This is dangerous, not only for protesters but for commuters.

“We have increased our patrols on the London Underground and at other rail hubs throughout London.”


Analysis

By Tom Edwards, BBC London transport correspondent

Even from within Extinction Rebellion there has been disagreement on targeting public transport – particularly London’s Tube and DLR which are pretty efficient, very well-used and low carbon.

Many think public transport is part of the solution to achieving net zero-carbon transport systems.

By targeting the transport network, protesters are confusing their messages.

However, you have to remember Extinction Rebellion is a decentralised umbrella term for lots and lots of smaller groups and as such they have differing methods – some more radical than others – and can operate independently.

And – ultimately – what they want is publicity for the cause.


Extinction Rebellion co-founder Clare Farrell defended the Tube action, saying “the public, I don’t think, realise quite how serious this situation is”.

Speaking to the BBC she added: “Someone has been hurt today. We understand that putting ourselves in these positions is potentially dangerous for us.

“But what else can we do?”

At Shadwell station several activists glued themselves to trains, including 83-year-old Phil Kingston,

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said in a statement: “I strongly condemn the Extinction Rebellion protesters who have targeted the London Underground and DLR this morning.

“This illegal action is extremely dangerous, counterproductive and is causing unacceptable disruption to Londoners who use public transport to get to work.”

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Extinction Rebellion

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At Shadwell station, one of the protesters who had glued themselves to trains was 83-year-old Phil Kingston

Train drivers’ union Aslef said the Tube and other public transport services were “part of the solution to climate change, not the problem”.

Extinction Rebellion should “stick to protesting against those who create the problem – not our industry, members and hard-working commuters”, the union added.

A public order ban has been put in place on Extinction Rebellion activities in London since Monday.

In response, Extinction Rebellion called on “all London rebels and friends” to defy the ban.


Were you at one of the affected stations? Share your experiences by emailing

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British IS fighters taken into US custody, says Trump

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Media captionThe Islamic State ‘Beatles’ duo were interviewed by the BBC in August 2018

Two of the so-called “IS Beatles” have been taken out of Syria to “a secure location controlled by the US”, President Donald Trump has said.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are accused of being part of an Islamic State group cell which kidnapped and murdered Western hostages in Syria.

The pair – who are from London – are in the custody of the American military, according to US media reports.

In a tweet, Mr Trump described them as “the worst of the worst”.

He said the decision to remove them from Syria had been taken “in case the Kurds or Turkey lose control”.

The New York Times and Washington Post say the pair have been removed from a prison run by Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

The announcement comes after the US withdrew its forces from the region this week.

On Wednesday President Trump told reporters the US had transferred “some of the most dangerous IS fighters” amid fears they could escape custody as Turkish troops invade Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The Kurds – who helped defeat IS in Syria and were key US allies in that fight – guard thousands of IS fighters and their relatives in prisons and camps in areas under their control. It is unclear whether they will continue to do so if fighting breaks out.

Other members of the IS cell – dubbed “The Beatles” because of their British accents – included Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015, and Aine Davis, who has been jailed in Turkey.

Emwazi is thought to have killed US journalist James Foley in 2014.

All four were radicalised in the UK before travelling to Syria. Elsheikh and Kotey have since been stripped of their British citizenship.

The pair are designated as terrorists by the US State Department, which links them to the group’s executions and “exceptionally cruel torture methods” including electric shocks, waterboarding and mock executions.

They were said to have been captured by Kurdish forces in January 2018.

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unknown/HO via Met Police, Kotey, Handout

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Mohammed Emwazi, Aine Davis, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (l to r)

The New York Times reports the US is planning to take Elsheikh and Kotey to Virginia – one of the few states that still carries out the death penalty – where they will be put on trial.

However, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said they should “come home to face justice”.

A Home Office spokesperson said “it would be inappropriate to comment whilst legal proceedings are ongoing”.

It remains to be seen whether the evidence against the pair amassed by British investigators will be handed over in full to US authorities.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary in 2015, told Washington the UK would only hand over evidence after receiving a categorical guarantee that neither man would be executed.

The UK has long sought and obtained such a death penalty assurance from the US.

That position was reiterated by Mrs May’s successor, Amber Rudd, but then reversed after Sajid Javid entered the Home Office in April 2018.

Mr Javid decided to hand over 600 witness statements, without seeking any kind of guarantee that Elsheikh and Kotey would not be put to death.

Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli challenged the decision but, in January, lost that case in the High Court.

The issue is currently being decided by the UK Supreme Court.


Do you have any questions about Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria, its implications, or the circumstances which brought it about?

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Hillingdon Tube stabbing: Murder victim ‘was going to Arsenal match’

Hillingdon station

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Anne Robinson/Twitter/PA Wire

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Emergency services were called to Hillingdon Underground station at shortly before 16:00 BST

A man stabbed to death at a London Underground station was a football fan on his way to a match, the BBC has been told.

The Arsenal supporter was killed in an “unprovoked attack” on the platform at Hillingdon station on Tuesday.

He had been on his way to the Emirates Stadium to see the Gunners face Nottingham Forest in the third round of the Carabao Cup, a source said.

It is the third murder investigation on the Tube network this year.

No arrests have been made over the attack, which Det Supt Gary Richardson described as “a shocking act of violence”.

He said the British Transport Police (BTP) investigation was in its “early stages”.

“We believe a group of young men were involved in an altercation on the platform before one of the men received a fatal stab wound,” he said.

Police were called to the station in west London shortly before 16:00 BST and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Mike Quinn/Geograph

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The man was pronounced dead at the scene at Hillingdon station

Danielle Foster, who was driving past Hillingdon station at the time of the stabbing, said upon “hearing so many sirens, I knew something terrible had happened”.

“Lots of people were being turned away from the station as it had been closed,” she said, adding: “Then the police helicopter began circling the scene.”

Hillingdon station was closed by Transport for London (TfL) while police searched the area.

The station has since reopened.

So far in 2019 more than 110 murder investigations have been launched across London by the Metropolitan Police and BTP.

The other two murder investigations carried out by BTP happened after killings at Queensbury Tube station in March and Elephant and Castle Tube station at the start of this month.

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