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This is the global news podcast from the BBC World Service. Hello, I'm Oliver Conway. I'm recording this at 13 hours GMT on Tuesday, the 8th of September. Our main story is the president of Belarus, as he may have been in power for a little too long, but he won't step down. Meanwhile, the opposition activist who disappeared on Monday has been detained at the border after refusing to be deported. And the last two journalists working for Australian media in China have flown home after a diplomatic standoff.


Also in the podcast, people usually associate pyramids with Egypt.


But in fact, Sudan is home to far, far more pyramids than Egypt, hundreds of them.


The floods threatening Sudan's ancient ruins. Plus, why Senegal has been praised for its handling of the coronavirus.


We'll be following weeks of protests against the continuation of his 26 year rule, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has said maybe he's been in power a little too long in interviews with Russian media. He also said he didn't rule out early elections, but he refused to step down despite the vast crowds have been demonstrating every Sunday over his disputed re-election last month, the woman widely thought to have won that vote, Svetlana taken off Skya has today addressed the Council of Europe from her exile in Lithuania.


My country, my nation, my people now need help. We need international pressure on this regime, on this one individual desperately clinging onto power. The Belarusian people certainly refused to accept this front. Mr. Lukashenko does not represent Belarus anymore.


And Svetlana Tahan of SKYA also called for the authorities in Belarus to release all political prisoners.


They've been cracking down on the opposition and they've now confirmed that an activist who was reportedly bundled into a van on Monday in Minsk has been detained at the border with Ukraine. Maria Kolesnikov has said to have refused to be deported and even ripped up her passport to other protest leaders did cross into Ukraine. I heard more about that from our correspondent in Moscow, Sarah Rainsford. But first, I asked her what she made of President Lukashenko, hints of early elections.


Well, it's something that he's hinted at before. And I think this is his and perhaps also Moscow's attempts to map a way out of this crisis. And what Mr. Lukashenko was saying in an interview with four representatives of Russian state media who were flown in specially from Moscow to Minsk for the occasion, this two hour interview that they then held, Mr. Lukashenko said that he is ready to reform the Belarussian constitution and that after that, he doesn't rule out early presidential elections.


So it's actually running again for office, rerunning those disputed elections of August the 9th. Now, he has said that before. As I mentioned, it's something that the opposition have rejected. They say it's a delay tactic. They say it's it's not a genuine attempt to address the demands of the opposition and of those huge crowds you see in the streets now for four weeks in a row. And that demand, of course, it's for him to go and saying that the elections were utterly illegitimate and reforming the constitution now is not the way forward.


And at the same time as him saying, yes, maybe I overstayed my presence as president a bit. We're hearing that Russian and Serb military forces will be in Belarus later this week to take part in military exercises. So are we seeing a sort of a carrot and stick approach against the opposition?


Well, maybe I mean, those those military exercises happen every year, they just happen to coincide now, perhaps by a by coincidence, perhaps not. Its it's military exercises involving up to about 1000 servicemen from the three countries they took place last year in Serbia. I mean, I think there were some lines, though, from this interview that are interesting to reflect on. You know, this, I think was not Alexander Lukashenko offering concessions. He was very strong on the opposition.


In fact, he said he refused to talk to the Opposition Coordination Council, headed, of course, by Svetlana Karnofsky, who's now in Lithuania. He said there no opposition. And he said what they're proposing would be a catastrophe for Belarus. They want to break our ties with Russia. He said they want private health care. He claimed private education, and they want to destroy all our industry and destroy people's jobs. So it was a real attack on the opposition whilst at the same time saying that everything he has done for the last quarter of a century is all about building up Belarus.


And he said he won't abandon Belarus. In fact, he claimed if he did, then his supporters would all be slaughtered.


Yeah, that attack on the opposition has seen some leaders sent into exile. Do you have any update on what actually happened to Marechal? Yes, Nick. Over at that border with Ukraine?


Well, Alexander Lukashenko did confirm that she'd been detained. He said that she was detained for violating the rules on border crossing. Now, just a while before that, we'd heard from the deputy interior minister in Ukraine itself, Anton Anton, corruption. And he said that these three opposition activists, including including, of course, Maria, California governor, who's the one of the three key women who were at the heart, and the head of the opposition movement in Belarus for the past month, he said that they had been forcibly expelled from Belarus and he said this brave woman took action to prevent crossing the border.


Now, it's not clear what exactly that means, although we have heard reports that she ripped up her passport and refused to be deported essentially from the country. As I say, she has been detained. It's not clear where she is. Her supporters are still trying to figure that out at the moment.


Sarah Rainsford in Moscow. As the dominant regional power, China is of huge interest to people in Australia. But as of Tuesday, Australian media organisations have no correspondents in China for the first time since the 1970s. The last two. Bill Birtles of the ABC and Mike Smith from the Australian Financial Review left following a diplomatic standoff before being allowed to depart. They were questioned about Cheng Li, a detained Australian journalist working for Chinese state media who has today been accused of endangering national security in China shortly after he arrived back in Australia.


Bill Birtles spoke to my colleague Sally Boondock last Monday.


I got a call advising me that I needed to leave China immediately. This was the Australian officials, and they'd receive some sort of warning or advice. They never specified what but they set out our advice is for you to get out quick, smart, which is not easy during covid. Anyway, I was preparing to act on their advice, although I had some serious questions about it for the first two days. And then sure enough, at midnight on the Wednesday, six state security police plus a translator were at my door in Beijing not to detain me, but to inform me that I'm involved in a national security investigation, that there's an exit ban placed on me and I'm not allowed to leave the country.


But curiously, they said, we'll give you a call tomorrow afternoon to talk about it. So they didn't seem to be the urgency that you might expect if they're turning up at your door at midnight and the next morning sought advice from the Australian embassy. What do you think? They took it very seriously and said, we think you need to stay in the embassy while we sort this out, because obviously it's not a great deal of trust with China at the moment about how safe I would have been if initially by myself I went and did that meeting.


Now, you were questioned, weren't you, by the Chinese officials? What did they want to know? Yes.


So eventually, after a bit of to and fro between Australia and China about this, there was very much a demand from the Chinese side that I submit to the interview. All right. Fair enough. But the Australians wanted to make sure there were some safeguards. And in the end, I agreed that, yes, alright, I will do that interview. It wasn't as specific as you would think it is. It was an interview about the young lady case, an Australian anchor for Chinese state media who was detained last month.


And she is under investigation for national security offences. But I don't know. I know her, but not particularly well. It didn't really seem like I would be the most logical person to interrogate if you wanted evidence about her case. So they did ask me about that. They also asked me about Hong Kong national security law. And when I report on that, what sort of channels do I go to to get my information? There was also a bit of back and forth about the general Australia China relationship.


But my take away. At all, Sally, is that there wasn't any real rigorous effort to extract any evidence or anything that could be really used in any case, whether it was channelize or any other particular thing that they were looking at.


I mean, you mentioned Ken Lay, as you say, she's a respected business journalist, Australian citizen based in Beijing that is now missing. Were you concerned at all about what might happen to you?


I was less concerned for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you have six or seven state security people at your door at midnight, that's probably when you're most likely to be detained. And I wasn't. The other thing is, too, I thought, unfortunately for Chang, she does work for Chinese government media, whereas it would be more of a diplomatic escalation if you actually detained a foreign media journalist. So I thought it was unlikely that this unprecedented step would take place and it didn't.


I wasn't detained. But even the act of putting an exit ban on a foreign journalist demanding that a foreign journalist submit to an interview with Ministry of State Security officials, that, too, is unprecedented. And even though I'm sure China in the coming days, the government will say, well, we didn't kick you out, we didn't detain you. That is all true. One does wonder if if I were to stay there and continue working, if there would be more instances like this of harassment or whether this would have been the end of it.


Bill Birtles of the ABC. The South African economy has shrunk by more than half following one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. With Marnie McKenzie reports from Johannesburg.


A contraction was expected, but these numbers are staggering. With the exception of agriculture, all sectors of the economy saw big declines with industries such as aviation, tourism and hospitality coming to a virtual standstill. The controversial ban on alcohol and cigarettes saw consumer spending on these items fall by a massive 92 per cent. So South Africa is paying a heavy price for its early and aggressive lockdown. The strategy is credited for controlling the spread of the pandemic, but an economy already in stagnation has been hit hard.


The contraction means for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1993, South Africa's economy has seen four consecutive quarters of decline, further deepening the country's economic slump.


Domani Mxy to North Africa now and Libya, where the coronavirus is spreading fast 15000 cases and rising. Despite efforts to impose curfews, Libya has been torn apart by years of fighting, making health care difficult to deliver, as Mike Thompson reports.


A shaky ceasefire agreed last month is sparing Libya for now, at least from a long running conflict between forces supporting the UN and recognized Jeanny government in Tripoli and those of the eastern rebel warlord Khalifa Haftar, who until recently were attacking the city's southern suburbs. The fighting put a wrecking ball through Libya's health services. Then covid-19 marched in. Where I work is shut down because they don't have money or have gown, they don't have the basic stuff that we use every day.


Dr. Woolsheds Sabry, whose only recently recovered from the coronavirus herself, is a disease control expert in southern Tripoli.


The health care workers are not deterred. They are not treating the other one who's been asking why no one knows anything about the ABC or Prevention and Control.


I understand that several thousand doctors haven't been paid either, so motivation is important.


I haven't seen my whole salary since last year. Dr Ayman Saiful Nasser, who chairs the health committee in Libya's Tripoli parliament, blames the failure to pay doctors on the seizure of the country's oil fields by eastern LNA forces. And he fears that the official figure of coronavirus cases may be a big underestimate.


The number of deaths are not enough to show you the real situation, and epidemiology of fear is no might reach 800 cases.


The staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross prepare to hand out leaflets on how best to avoid covid-19. It is hard to get people to guard against an invisible enemy when they're already victims of a very visible one war. Patrick Yusuf, ICDs, regional director for Africa, has been visiting the country.


The destruction is really massive in the southern part of Tripoli, as well as the city center of Benghazi. We're dealing with a lot of displaced populations, people who have basically lost everything they had, and it's just really heartbreaking.


ICRC continues to bring in much needed medical supplies. But in a country with two governments on top of ongoing insecurity and corruption, coordinating help is challenging. But Patrick Youssouf insists that despite the global pandemic, the international community simply can't afford to turn its back.


We're all living in a global village, so whatever happens in Libya has certainly an effect all over the world. And the pandemic has shown us that we cannot solve the problems only in our small corner.


Patrick Yusuf of the International Committee of the Red Cross ending that report on covid-19 in Libya by Mike Thompson, the world's most prestigious bike race.


The Tour de France, is the latest sporting event to feel the effects of the coronavirus. The race director, Christian Prudhomme and four support staff from different teams have tested positive and they will have to self isolate. All the cyclists were negative and were able to start the day stage. Big crowds have been lining the route despite the recent surge in coronavirus cases in France. I heard more from Nigel Atalay. Everybody's OK.


In terms of the cyclist, there were five tests in total, the race director, Christian Prud'homme, and four support staff. So they aren't directly involved in the race. The regulations from the Tour de France say should two members of a team test positive, then the whole squad are excluded. But that's not the case at the moment. One team had four positive tests just before the race, but the cyclists were allowed to take part in the opening stage.


And interestingly, the French prime minister, Jean Casodex, travelled with Christian Prud'homme during Saturday's stage and he will now undergo a test himself.


Interesting. We've seen quite big crowds, particularly on the mountain stage, is getting very close to the right, is almost in their faces, even as we're seeing this big surge in infections in France.


Yeah, the riders unions have now made a very public appeal for fans to wear masks at all times because we've seen big sporting events, football and tennis used these biosecure bubbles to try and get the games played. And, of course, the cyclists operate in those sort of conditions when they're not riding. But you can't hold an event behind closed doors when it's out on the side of a mountain. And there have been real concerns that the crowds are simply too close.


In the Pyrenees on Sunday, we had fans jumping out into the middle of the road to take selfies with the riders behind them, running alongside them a very close quarters, not wearing the masks. And while they are very effectively managing the crowds in the time trials, in the latter stages, there are problems in the more dramatic parts of the race.


Yeah, I guess being out in the open is slightly safer. Well, other sports be looking on with envy.


I think the fans may well be looking on with envy. Certainly football fans and tennis fans who've seen the Champions League and also the the U.S. Open tennis carry on without supporters. But the reality is. Those areas and those conditions are the safest way of getting the games played at the moment, the Tour de France may have to revisit how they're doing things.


Nigel Athalie.


And still to come in the podcast, we embedded artificial intelligence that is culturally competent to provide meaningful conversations with older adults about things that they value.


How robots can help care for the elderly.


Now to some good news in efforts to control the spread of covid-19 from a country with limited resources, in a recent survey by Foreign Policy magazine about how various nations had handled the coronavirus, Senegal came second behind New Zealand.


The West African country has a fragile health care system and a lack of hospital beds. But according to the magazine, the Senegalese now have tests with results within 24 hours, temperature checks at stores and hotels that have been turned into quarantine units. Claire McDonnell spoke to one of those involved, the director of Senegal's Health Emergency Operation Center, Dr. Abdullah Booza.


Yes, he was very, I can say, happy to see this as studies from foreign policy. And what I can say is here in Senegal, we will start very early to to try to fight against this outbreak since the WTO declares a public health emergency for international control. And also we we took some lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in 2014. We had just only one case. But after that, we tried to reorganize our health system. And and for me now is regarding this current outbreak is mainly organization because we saw that many big country with the high economy has difficult to to to to manage this outbreak.


And and it's why for our country, the organization are very important. And I think it's some some element like Senegal has now a good result regarding this outbreak.


Are you really have had a great result? I mean, tell us about then which everybody is looking to, to see how they can turn this around more quickly, testing capacity, because you created mobile labs that can return tests within 24 hours or as quickly as two hours in some cases.


How did you do that?


Yes, you know, at the beginning, we only have just one lab which have the capacity to to do the test. Is that in the laboratory and has, you know, at the beginning of this outbreak in Africa, in all the continent, only two lab had this capacity is in parts of Dakar and one in South Africa and in Senegal. What we did is we work closely with Enterpriser to try to have mobile lab in the country because we have 40 in Britain and we see that it's very important to have quickly as a result to to be able to isolate rapidly, to be able to treat rapidly, to be able to do the contact tracing rapidly.


And it's why at the beginning, only Dukkha have this capacity had this capacity. And after we move on to other in the in the in the south east of Dakar and also in the in the center of Senegal, in India also, I just think what's very interesting, but every person who tested positive was promised a treatment, but whether they had symptoms or not.


So that meant patients stayed away from home where they might transmit the virus to family members. That sounds like an expensive policy, but one that worked clearly.


Yes. Yes. It's what we did at the beginning. It was very expensive because we start to have all patients in the in the treatment center, in hospital and also to quarantine all contact the government, run some some hotel, and we use those hotel to to quarantine people. Now we see the impact because during this period of May or June, the reproductive percentage of the virus was around four. It's been like one person can contaminate four people, but now we are under one.


The director of Senegal's Health Emergency Operations Center, Dr. Abdulai Bueso. Two thousand years ago, it was a royal city that included nearly 200 pyramids.


But now the UNESCO World Heritage site north of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, is under threat from severe floods. The rains are usually welcomed by farmers along the Nile, but the historic site has never been so badly affected by the rising waters of Africa. Editor Mary Harper told me more about the archaeological ruins and how at risk there people usually associate pyramids with Egypt.


But in fact, Sudan is home to far, far more pyramids than Egypt. Hundreds of them. They're smaller and steeper than the ones in Egypt, but they were built by the civilization known as the Marrawah civilization thousands of years ago, which govern that rich area around the River Nile for hundreds of years. And so they are of incredible archaeological history.


Oracle significance, but very little is known about them compared to their bigger brothers and sisters in Egypt, and in fact, lots of these pyramids have had their tops, the pointy bit at the top cut off, removed by an Italian explorer who wanted to get inside and plunder the gold and other treasures that were buried alongside the kings and queens of the Merera civilization.


And so the waters are approaching. What are people trying to do to protect them? It's really difficult because they're in a very remote part of Sudan, in a deserted area with just a few villagers living around there and people are desperately trying to pump the water out and put sandbags up. But it's a very big area with lots and lots of pyramids in an inaccessible area. So it's really challenging for them to try to save these these beautiful building, some of which have got wonderful carvings and other lovely structures of lions and other creatures.


And how bad is the flooding in general? People have been killed. They have, yes, about 100 people have been killed. Sudan's actually declared a state of emergency because the floods are so bad, at least half a million people have been affected. And it's happening all over the country. I mean, even the residence of the prime minister, Abdullah Handlock was was flooded. So it's affecting pretty much everybody in the country. And so it's not just it's not just the archaeological sites that are under threat.


It's the population as well.


Our Africa editor, Mary Harper. Many Zambians are mourning the death of a giant fish that lived in a pond at one of the country's biggest universities, the Copperbelt University. As Richard Hamilton reports, the creature known as Fisheye has been remembered affectionately by students as well as some high profile political figures.


Students mourning the death of Mafiosi on Monday night. They lit candles and walked around the edge of the pond, showing visible signs of distress. In the past, the giant fish, which had been living there for more than a decade, was seen as a stress reliever for students. They would also pay their respects to Mafiosi before taking an exam, believing it would bring them. Good luck, Murphy. She has been trending on Twitter in Zambia and both the president at Lungu and the leader of the opposition, Hakim de Hitcher, Leymah, have been tweeting about their aquatic friend, Mr.


Hitcher. Laima wrote, We stand with the student community past and present over the death of their iconic Pratima Fisheye. And the president even quoted Mahatma Gandhi saying the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. The Students Alumni Association sent its condolences, adding may his fins rest in peace.


Richard Hamilton reporting. Finally, the largest ever study of so-called intelligent robots in care homes has found they can improve the mental health of residents. The study was led by the University of Genoa in Italy, which developed the robots artificial intelligence. It also involved researchers at the University of Bedfordshire, including Dr Chris Papadopoulos.


He spoke to Lawrence Pallot. The robot is actually the pepper robot, which is developed by Softbank in Japan. So it's a pre-existing piece of hard hardware, looks very artificial, quite pleasing and cute. It's about four foot tall. And if you Google image it, you can see it. But it's really it's really the software and artificial intelligence that our project really, you know, made the difference in that we embedded artificial intelligence that is culturally competent, as you say, to bring it alive, to provide meaningful conversations with older adults about things that they value, to try and engage them in conversation, improve their cognitive health and ultimately their mental health and wellbeing aimed at all elderly or elderly suffering from a particular case like does this work for dementia sufferers?


Does it work for for for people who don't have dementia?


In the trial? We tested it on people with a good level of cognitive competence and good levels of physical health. So we didn't want to, for ethical reasons, test it on very, very frail people or people really, really reliant on complex.


Interesting. So these are people who know that they're talking to a robot. Are they happy with the technology? Because many elderly people, it's generally thought would be slightly uncomfortable with it's a bit new. You know, they'd expect to be talking to a person then they have a robot is the cleverness of the algorithm. And the cute face of pepper is the cleverness that it's taken on board by the people that it was helping.


Yeah, that's a really good question and something that we were keen to explore because, yes, we tested it on English participants as well as Indian and Japanese, and we were particularly keen to see whether it would be accepted by the English older adults because we're quite well known for our cynicism. But yes, there was initially quite a significant amount of scepticism and negative attitudes about it. But these participants willingly consented, of course, and gave it a try and to explore it, they were very sort of open to the possibility that it might help.


And one of the main findings of the trial was actually that negative attitudes significantly reduced over the two weeks that they spent time with the robot. I think in part because they realized these robots can't possibly replace human care.


Dr Chris Papadopoulos from the University of Bedfordshire here in the UK.


And that is all from us for now. There'll be an updated version of the Global News podcast later. I'm Oliver Conaway. Until next time, goodbye.


Canadians versus the news, I'm Jeff Solomon and Aimee Mann al-Hussaini, where do you stand up comedians not afraid to go toe to toe with the headline, but we're not doing it alone. Joined by fellow comedians from around the world, we look at some of the funniest and wildest stories that hit the headlines each week. So in a pandemic, this shop decided we'd rather have drunk people than sanitize people. This was the most popular hand sanitizer place in the whole country.


You're sanitizing on the inside. Excellent point. Join us for our brand new show. We'll be finding the funny in everything from protests to the pandemic. Mexico is using clowns on the subway to dispense hand sanitizer and remind everyone there's something more terrifying than committed clowns. Comedians. First, the news and brandnew podcast from the BBC World Service. Just search for comedians versus the news wherever you get your podcast.