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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nicola Slawson

First Thing: situation at Zaporizhzhia plant ‘perilous’, UN warns

Ukrainian rescuers at a residential building in Zaporizhzhia that was hit by Russian missiles yesterday.
Ukrainian rescuers at a residential building in Zaporizhzhia that was hit by Russian missiles yesterday. Photograph: Arsen Dzodzaiev/EPA

Good morning.

The UN nuclear agency’s chief said yesterday that the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) “remains perilous” after a Russian missile strike this month disconnected the plant from the grid.

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant needs a reliable electricity supply to operate pumps that circulate water to cool reactors and pools holding nuclear fuel. Since a Russian strike on 9 March, the plant has relied on a single backup power line that remains “disconnected and under repair”, according to Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Nuclear safety at the ZNPP remains in a precarious state,” Grossi said in a statement on Wednesday. “I once again call for a commitment from all sides to secure nuclear safety and security protection at the plant.”

The plant’s lack of access to the grid and necessary repair work on its last emergency power line could cause a complete loss of power, making it reliant on diesel generators for the seventh time since Russia captured it a year ago, Grossi said.

  • What else is happening? President Vladimir Putin’s ally Dmitry Medvedev has said this morning that any attempt to arrest Putin after the international criminal court (ICC) issued a warrant for him would amount to a declaration of war against Russia, directly threatening to attack the seat of any government that allowed it to happen.

US navy rejects China claim that warship ‘illegally’ entered part of South China Sea

Warship in dock.
The USS Milius guided-missile destroyer. China said the warship illegally intruded into its territorial waters in the South China Sea. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

The US has denied Chinese claims that a US destroyer was driven out from waters around the contested Paracel Islands after it “illegally” entered the area in the South China Sea.

In a statement on Thursday, the Chinese military said the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius illegally intruded into China’s territorial waters without the approval of the government, undermining peace and stability in the busy waterway.

The US navy, however, said this was false. “The USS Milius is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled. The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” a statement from the US Navy 7th Fleet said.

  • Where are the Paracel Islands? They are a disputed archipelago spread across about 7 sq km in the South China Sea. China has de facto control of the islands and has built installations and outposts, but Taiwan and Vietnam also claim ownership.

  • What did the US say? The US’s Indo-Pacific Command at the time said China’s statement was “false” and that the US ship was conducting a freedom of navigation operation (Fonop) in line with international law. The Fonop sought to challenge restrictions imposed by various parties – including China, Taiwan and Vietnam – on “innocent passage” through the disputed area, and to challenge China’s claim of straight baselines that enclose the Paracel Islands.

Trump lawyer ordered to hand over notes in Mar-a-Lago documents inquiry

Evan Corcoran sitting in car.
Evan Corcoran pictured in July last year. The ruling by the appeals court could mark a momentous point in the criminal investigation. Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s main lawyer – who was involved in turning over classified-marked documents at the Mar-a-Lago resort to the justice department last year – must provide his notes and audio transcripts to the criminal investigation into the former president after a federal appeals court rejected two efforts to block the order.

The US appeals court for the DC circuit rejected on Wednesday two separate appeals from the former president and his lawyer Evan Corcoran to stop a sealed order, piercing attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine protections issued in a court decision last week.

In losing the appeal – a major defeat for Trump – Corcoran must provide additional testimony and produce documents to the grand jury hearing evidence about Trump’s potential unauthorized retention of national security materials at Mar-a-Lago, and possible obstruction of justice.

The obstruction part of the investigation is centered on Trump’s incomplete compliance with a subpoena in May that demanded the return of any classified-marked documents in his possession. That was after documents he returned earlier to the National Archives included 200 that were classified.

  • What is happening in the Dominion case? The full trial in the case is scheduled to begin on 17 April but one side may have won already, argues Sam Levine. The core of Dominion’s $1.6bn case against Fox consists of words that came from the mouths of Fox’s employees. Regardless of what happens in the case, Dominion may have already won: the messages offer a significant historical record of how top officials at one of the country’s most powerful media organizations aired information they knew was false when US democracy was under attack.

In other news …

Rich Kuntz, also known as Gidget, reads to children during Drag Queen Story Hour in Orlando, Florida.
Rich Kuntz, also known as Gidget, reads to children during Drag Queen Story Hour in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Orlando Sentinel/TNS
  • Drag story hours face protests and threats of violence amid a push to erode LGBTQ+ rights in state legislatures across the US. “The far right and conspiracy theorists have just pivoted their focus,” said Mia Bloom, author of Pastels and Paedophiles, a book on the far-right QAnon conspiracy movement.

  • The start of spring offered little reprieve for California as another atmospheric river doused the saturated state with more rain and snow. Five deaths have been linked to the storm across the Bay area, after thrashing winds toppled trees and branches and thousands were left in the dark.

  • A Chinese startup has invented a long-distance kissing machine that transmits users’ kiss data collected through motion sensors hidden in silicon lips, which simultaneously move when replaying kisses received. Mua – named after the sound people commonly make when blowing a kiss – also captures and replays sounds and warms up slightly during kissing.

  • The chief executive of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, faces a grilling from US lawmakers today as the political storm surrounding the China-owned social media platform intensifies, with the Biden administration threatening to ban the app in the US.

Stat of the day: US Federal Reserve raises interest rates a quarter-point amid banking turmoil

Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair.
Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair. The latest increase was smaller than the half-point increase expected by some before a series of bank collapses shook global markets. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Facing the worst banking crisis since 2008 and the highest inflation rate in a generation, the Federal Reserve chose to keep fighting price rises and announced another hike in interest rates. The US central bank announced yesterday that its benchmark interest rate would rise another quarter of a percentage point to a range of 4.75% to 5% – its ninth consecutive rate rise and the highest rate since 2007. A year ago interest rates were close to zero. The latest increase was smaller than the half-point increase that some had expected before a series of bank collapses shook global markets. In a statement, the Fed said the impact of the banking crisis was “uncertain” but that inflation “remains elevated”.

Don’t miss this: ‘You’ve never eaten a banana?!’ Ten writers face their fiercest – and strangest – food fears

Arwa Mahdawi - First time eating a banana
‘It took me a few days to work up the courage’ … Arwa with the dreaded fruit. Photograph: Courtesy of Arwa Mahdawi

Whether it is the smell, the texture or the emotional associations, something has kept our guinea pigs away from everyday dishes such as hard-boiled eggs and shepherd’s pie. How traumatic will those first mouthfuls be?

It should be perfectly obvious to everyone that bananas are repulsive, writes Arwa Mahdawi. They’re mushy, they’re musty, they’re alarmingly yellow. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have bananaphobia (a rare but real condition), but for a long time I was so nauseated by the fruit that you couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to touch one. Now, however, I have accepted a far smaller sum to try one. Is this personal growth, or an abandonment of personal dignity?

Climate check: new climate paper calls big US oil firms to be charged with homicide

‘Culpable mental state causing harm is criminal conduct, and if they kill anybody, that’s homicide,’ said co-author Donald Braman. Composite: The Guardian/Getty Images

Oil companies have come under increasing legal scrutiny and face allegations of defrauding investors, racketeering and a wave of other lawsuits. But a new paper argues there’s another way to hold big oil accountable for climate damage: trying companies for homicide. The striking and seemingly radical legal theory is laid out in a paper accepted for publication in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. In it, the authors argue fossil fuel companies “have not simply been lying to the public, they have been killing members of the public at an accelerating rate, and prosecutors should bring that crime to the public’s attention”. “What’s on their ledger in terms of harm … there’s nothing like it in human history,” said David Arkush, one of the paper’s authors.

Last Thing: Virginia prisoners who used toothbrush to escape caught at pancake restaurant

John Garza, 37, and Arley Nemo, 43, were quickly caught after being spotted by members of the public at a Newport News branch of Ihop. Photograph: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

Two prisoners in Virginia managed to escape their cell by digging a hole through a wall with the aid of a toothbrush, but were apprehended within a few hours after being tempted to visit a pancake restaurant. In a statement, the Newport News sheriff’s office said two inmates were reported missing after a routine head count at about 7pm on Monday at the Newport News jail. Staff discovered that John Garza, 37, and Arley Nemo, 43, had dug a hole through a jail wall using “primitive-made tools” fashioned from a toothbrush and metal objects. They then scaled a high prison wall and made their escape. However, the two men were quickly found after being spotted by members of the public at an Ihop, a branch of the pancake chain whose name is short for International House of Pancakes.

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