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The Real Story

The Real Story

Global experts and decision makers discuss, debate and analyse a key news story.


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Getting ready for an older population

The population of the world has been rising for over 200 years but some time later this century it?s predicted to peak. Demographers don?t know exactly when that will happen but they do know that we are already experiencing a demographic transition. Fertility rates are falling world wide. Fertility in China and India is below replacement rate. In developed countries populations are ageing; since 2013, a quarter of Japan?s population has been over 65, and within the next five years Japan will be joined by Finland, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. It?s easy to see ageing as a problem. After all, how will working age people fund the pensions of so many old people? But could technology massively raise productivity? Could falling populations put less stress on the planet, and offer us a world with less competition and more leisure and space? And if an older population is a problem, how to solve it? Can we encourage people to have more children? Or should rich countries let in more people? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of experts:

Jack Goldstone - Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia, in the United States.

Elma Laguna - Associate Professor of Demography and Director of the Population Institute, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

Frank Swiaczny - Senior Researcher at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany and Executive Director of the German Society for Demography.

Image: An elderly man holding a walking stick. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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Is Senegal?s democracy under attack?

President Macky Sall of Senegal is facing mounting pressure after the decision to postpone the scheduled 25 February presidential election to December. The opposition says the move is a ?constitutional coup? but the president says more time is needed to resolve a dispute over who is eligible to stand as a presidential candidate after several opposition contenders were barred. Last week, three people were killed and hundreds arrested in protests against the delay of the election. Senegal has long been seen as one of the most stable democracies in West Africa. It is the only country in mainland West Africa that has never had a military coup. It has had three largely peaceful handovers of power and never delayed a presidential election. But is that about to change? And what will the consequences of any political, social and economic turmoil for a country with a young population? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of experts:

Borso Tall - Freelance journalist based in the Senegalese capital Dakar, recipient of the Chevening scholar with The University of Glasgow and member of The International Women's Media Foundation.

Paul Melly - Consulting fellow for the international affairs think tank Chatham House and a journalist specialising on development, politics and business issues in francophone Africa.

Aanu Adeoye - West Africa correspondent for the Financial Times.

Also in the programme:

Dr Ndongo Samba Sylla -An economist who served as an adviser in the president's office.

Image: Senegalese demonstrators protest against the postponement of the Feb. 25 presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal February 9, 2024. Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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Do green policies and farmers have to clash?

Europe has been swept by a wave of protests by farmers, many of whom blame environmental policies for increasing their hardship. In Germany, farmers are angry about the phasing out of tax breaks on agricultural diesel. A policy aimed at reducing pesticide use was one of many grievances fuelling demonstrations in France, Belgium and the Netherlands - prompting the EU to backtrack on the policy. But farmers are worried about more than just pesticide use. From measures to increase biodiversity and soil quality to increased competition from cheap imports, the agricultural sector across Europe - and the world - is feeling the strain. So, can farmers and the environment both prosper? If so, which policies will help encourage a green transition and who will pay for it? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of expert guests.

Natasha Foote - A journalist and podcaster focusing on European agriculture and farming policy

Paula Andrés ? Agriculture and food reporter for Politico Europe

Julia Bognar - Head of land use and climate at The Institute for European Environmental Policy think tank

Also featuring:

Christiane Lambert ? A pig farmer and President of the European farmers? lobby COPA-COGECA

Tom Vandenkendelaere - A Belgian member of the European Parliament for the Flemish Christian Democrat CD&V party / European People?s Party (EPP)

Bas Eickhout - A Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Greens / European Free Alliance

Producers: Zak Brophy and Paul Schuster

Image: A placard on a tractor reads 'No farmers, no food' during a protest by farmers in downtown Barcelona, Spain, 07 February 2024 - Credit: Enric Fontcuberta/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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China?s economy: How worried should we be?

China has tightened financial industry rules as it tries to halt a deepening sell-off in the world's second largest economy. Nearly $6tn has been wiped off Chinese and Hong Kong stocks over the past three years. Meanwhile a court in Hong Kong this week ordered the liquidation of debt-laden Chinese property giant Evergrande. Youth unemployment in China is thought to be around 20%. So, what?s the real state of China?s economy? Some analysts say a crackdown on commercial technology companies has harmed growth. Is it possible for the Chinese Communist Party to enjoy the benefits private enterprises can deliver, while still retaining the control it wants to have over the economy? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of experts.

Stewart Patterson - Co-founder of an investment management firm in Singapore, author of 'China trade and power: Why the West's Economic Engagement Has Failed' and research fellow at The Hinrich Foundation.

Nancy Qian - Professor of Economics at Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, Illinois

Yu Jie - Senior research fellow on China in the Asia-Pacific Programme at the independent policy institute, Chatham House

(Photo: A man sells food in his street booth in Shanghai. Credit: Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

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Will artificial intelligence erode our rights?

Artificial intelligence is increasingly impacting all of our lives. Proponents say the technology has the potential to cure diseases, reduce hunger and free up leisure time by improving productivity. But others worry it will destroy our privacy, undermine our democracies and increase inequality. So, how can we ensure AI delivers the maximum benefits while protecting our individual rights? The European Union is leading the way in attempts to regulate the emerging technology and hopes its AI Act will serve as a blueprint for others. What is the future of AI and how can we make sure it works for us, not against us?

Shaun Ley is joined by Scott Niekum, associate professor and director of SCALAR, the Safe, Confident, and Aligned Learning & Robotics Lab in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Karen Hao, a journalist and data scientist who writes about Artificial Intelligence for the US magazine, The Atlantic; Prof Philip Torr, a specialist on AI at the University of Oxford and a fellow of both the UK's national academy of sciences, The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Also in the programme: Drago? Tudorache, a member of the European Parliament involved in crafting the EU's AI Act.

(Photo: People attend the launch event of the first commercial application of artificial intelligence for the mining industry in Jinan, Shandong province, China, 18 July 2023. Credit: Mark R Cristino / EPA-EFE/ REX/Shutterstock)

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The changing face of Taiwan

Taiwan?s voters have chosen pro-sovereignty candidate William Lai as their next president, a result which has angered China. It means Mr Lai?s party has secured an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term at a time when the Taiwanese people are debating how best to deal with Beijing. China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled to the island as the Communists under Mao Zedong swept to power. So, what do the election results reveal about how the Taiwanese people view themselves in relation to their much larger neighbour? And do they make a conflict between China, Taiwan and its allies more or less likely? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of expert guests:

Amanda Hsiao - Senior Analyst with the International Crisis Group, based in Taiwan Hsin-I Sydney Yueh - Associate Teaching Professor, Director of Online Education and Internships at the University of Missouri Vickie Wang - Taiwanese writer, interpreter and stand-up comedian

Also in the programme:

Sean C.S. Hu - Owner of Taipei?s Double Square Art Gallery

Produced by Paul Schuster and Zak Brophy

Image: Honor guards lower down the flag of Taiwan in Liberty Square in Taipei, Taiwan, 16 January 2024. Credit: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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What will decide the 2024 US election?

On Monday voters in Iowa begin the nationwide process of deciding which candidates will be on the ballot in November?s US presidential election. Most expect it to once again be a competition between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and various state governments will also be decided. So, how is this year?s election cycle likely to unfold, which issues will dominate, and how will this election differ from those we?ve seen before?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Julia Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Julia Manchester, a reporter for The Hill John Prideaux, US Editor for The Economist

Produced by Paul Schuster and Max Horberry

(Photo: A voter casts her ballot at a polling station on Election Day in Falls Church, Virginia, U.S., November 7, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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Is the world losing faith in democracy?

2024 will be the world?s biggest election year ever. From the United States to the UK, Taiwan to India, South Africa to Mexico, it?s estimated countries representing nearly half the world?s population will head to the polls in some form of election this year. But how much faith do people around the world still have in democracy?

In South Africa this year?s election will be a defining one. 40 years since a post-Apartheid electorate voted in Nelson Mandela, the nation is dogged by corruption and voter apathy with less than half expected to turn out. So are South Africans seeking an alternative to democracy and what might that be?

Meanwhile in India there are some concerns the world?s largest democracy is slipping into authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi is a key player on the global stage with grand ambitions for India, but his premiership has been dogged by allegations of an anti-Muslim stance. So what does his continued popularity reveal about the state of democracy in a nation where over a billion people are eligible to vote in the general election?

In some Western nations too, there is a palpable dissatisfaction with democracy. In the US, former President Trump?s refusal to accept the 2020 election result led to the deadly attack on Congress ? a sign for current leader Joe Biden that democracy is under threat, not just abroad but at home too.

So as we enter a record-breaking year for elections, is democracy itself on the line?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Ziyanda Stuurman, senior analyst for Africa at the Eurasia Group think-tank. Debasish Roy Chowdhury is a journalist and co-author of the book 'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism'.

Lilliana Mason is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and author of " Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity".

Also featuring:

Professor Steven Levitzsky from Harvard University in the US and author of 'How Democracies Die' Ben Ansell, Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions at Nuffield College, Oxford University

Photo: Pro-Trump protesters wave banners outside the Capitol, Washington, January 6, 2021 Credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Max Horberry

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Is time running out for Ukraine?

This week is crucial for the future of Ukraine. After promises of open-ended support, the US and the EU are now struggling to agree on new funding for the war effort. President Zelensky says Ukraine risks losing the war if new funding is not available.

So much so that President Zelensky is in Washington in an attempt to rescue a threatened US defence package to Kyiv worth billions of dollars. The aid has become embroiled in domestic, partisan politics.

Meanwhile in Europe, EU diplomats are locked in talks throughout the week in a bid to strike a deal on a financial package.

On the battleground, Ukraine's much-vaunted counter-offensive has stalled. Public support for Ukraine has declined sharply in the US since the invasion and a cost of living crisis is sweeping across Europe. The situation in the Middle East has only served to distract world leaders even more. Meanwhile in Russia, President Putin appears to be biding time. The Russian economy is holding together despite sanctions and he's standing for re-election next year.

So why is Western support wavering? Is time running out for Ukraine? What is Putin's plan? And what might victory look like for either side?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Washington DC

Iuliia Osmolovska, a former Ukrainian diplomat who heads Globsec, a think-tank in Kyiv

Gustav Gressel from the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin

Also featuring:

Sergey Markov, former advisor to President Putin

Matt Rosendale, US Republican Congressman

Photo: US President Joe Biden hosts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Washington, USA - 12 Dec 2023 Credit: Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Ellen Otzen

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Is COP failing?

The Paris climate agreement in 2015 aimed to limit global warming to 1.5C. But have politics and lobbying got in the way of urgently needed progress? Is it too late for some nations? There has been much scepticism among delegates at COP28 as to whether the hosts are honest brokers in this process and if the money pledged by the wealthiest nations is enough to mitigate this crisis.

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Rachel Kyte served as Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General, and is a long standing advocate for sustainable energy. She was vice president of the World Bank and is a visiting professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the UK.

Cassie Flynn, who's now global director of climate change at the UN Development Programme. Cassie Flynn was senior adviser to the Prime Minister of Fiji when he was presiding at COP23 in 2017.

Adil Najam, Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment at Boston University. He's originally from Pakistan. In the summer, Professor Najam became President of WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Also featuring:

Amos Wemanya, is senior advisor on climate and energy at Power Shift Africa, a pan African non governmental organisation from Kenya.

Vishal Prasad, campaign director of Pacific Islands' Students Fighting Climate Change from Fiji.

Produced by Rumella Dasgupta and Max Horberry.

(Photo: Activists protest to demand loss and damage payments by rich countries to poor countries affected by climate change at COP28, Dubai. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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What is driving right-wing populism in Europe?

Geert Wilders has been described as the Dutch Donald Trump. Earlier this month his far-right Freedom Party pulled off a surprise election victory in the Netherlands. Following Mr Wilder's win, we look at what is driving right-wing populism in Europe. Italy has a right-wing populist prime minister. In Hungary there is Viktor Orban, Prime Minister since 2010, with his particular brand of nationalist populism, and in Finland the far-right Finns party is now part of the governing coalition.

Are some of the factors that secured Geert Wilders? win also what is helping other right-wing populists in Europe? In a European context, does right-wing populism differ from far-rights politics?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Catherine Fieschi, a comparative political analyst specialising in populism, far right and authoritarian politics and a Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute in Florence; Stanley Pignal, The Economist's Brussels bureau chief and writes their Charlemagne column on Europe; Sanne van Oosten, a political scientist at the University of Oxford, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society.

Producer: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Dutch far-right politician and leader of the PVV party Geert Wilders meets the press after the PVV won the most seats in the elections, The Hague, Netherlands, 24 Nov, 2023. Credit: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

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Do any paths to peace still exist in the Middle East?

As the war in Gaza continues, it may seem the worst possible time to revisit the idea of a permanent political resolution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US President Joe Biden however, says a two-state solution is still possible. So how realistic is that aspiration? If not two states, what alternatives are there and which country, if any, is trusted by both sides to broker a deal? Amidst the violence, is there any reason to hope?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist based in Jerusalem who writes for the Economist and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz; Tahani Mustafa, who is British-Palestinian and a senior Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group; Dennis Ross, who was Middle East Envoy in Clinton administration and later served as Special Assistant to President Obama on his National Security Council.

Also featuring: Danny Danon, Israeli member of the Knesset for the Likud party Hiba Husseini, former Legal Adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and current chair of the Legal Committee to Final Status Negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Producer: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Olive tree outside Jerusalem's old city. Credit: Getty Images)

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How should we tackle the global obesity epidemic?

Over 1 billion people worldwide are obese, according to the World Health Organization. If current trends continue, half the world could be obese or overweight by 2035. The WHO refers to it as an epidemic. Recent data shows that over 40% of Americans are living with obesity. But obesity is not just a problem in Western countries: In China, rapid economic growth has been accompanied by an alarming rise in obesity. There have been major changes to lifestyle, diet and exercise habits. Recent data suggest that more than half of Chinese adults are now overweight or obese, with obesity rates likely to increase. In India, obesity is spreading and experts warn of a health emergency unless it?s tackled urgently.

Recently new injectable weight-loss drugs have emerged that show promising results: Wegovy is an obesity treatment that is taken once a week which tricks people into thinking that they are already full, so they end up eating less and losing weight. The drug was approved by regulators in the US in 2021. It was also approved for use in the UK on the national health service earlier this year after research suggested users could shed more than 10% of their body weight. But it?s an expensive drug and in trials, users often put weight back on after stopping treatment. If action is not taken, more than half the world's population will be classed as obese or overweight by 2035, the World Obesity Federation warns. More than four billion people will be affected, with rates rising fastest among children, its report says. Low or middle-income countries in Africa and Asia are expected to see the greatest rises.

What policies should governments put in place to curb obesity? What are the wider systemic factors that contribute to unhealthy eating and obesity? What can be done to tackle the global obesity epidemic?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Dr Binayak Sinha, an endocrinologist with a special interest in obesity and diabetes. Rachel Nugent is associate professor at the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington. Dr Fatima Cody Stanford studies obesity at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States.

Also featuring: Julianne Williams from the Europe and Central Asia regional office at The World Health Organisation. Grace Victory, blogger and body positivity activist. Stephanie Yeboah, body positivity campaigner; and Bethany Rutter, a writer who blogs about plus size fashion.

Produced by Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Getty)

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The future of work

The prospect of a world without work - that was the vision offered up by Elon Musk this month. The US tech billionaire has predicted that artificial intelligence will eventually mean that no one will have to work. Mr Musk suggested that society could reach a point where ?no job is needed? and ?you can do a job if you want a job, but the AI will do everything?.

Contrasting with the idea of the zero-hour working week, Indian software billionaire and Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy - says that young people should be ready to work 70 hours a week to help the country's development.

Since the pandemic, many companies allow their employees to work from home. Others have moved to a four-day working week, citing benefits such as increased productivity and significant financial savings for employees on transport and childcare. But some employers insist the shorter working week doesn?t work - saying employees ended up having more stressful workdays, and feeling exhausted once they reached their scheduled days off.

How many hours should a person work in a week? Is a world without work desirable? If AI will be capable of doing many jobs, should employees be fearing the future - or take advantage of these changes, and strive for new ways of working? What?s the future of work?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Andrew Palmer, who writes The Economist's Bartleby column, which explores management and the world of work Brendan Burchell, professor in social sciences at the University of Cambridge. He's done a lot of work on the way labour markets affect individuals Anat Lechner, clinical professor of management and organisations at New York University

Also featuring:

Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Elliot Keck, Head of Campaigns at the Taxpayers' Alliance Gary Conroy, CEO of Five Squirrels, a company in the skincare industry which operates on a four-day working week

Produced by Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Getty)

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Why world leaders fear an escalation of Israel-Gaza war

The Israel-Gaza war has caused reverberations around the world and diplomatic efforts are intensifying to stop the conflict from escalating. Iran has warned Israel that the Middle East could spiral out of control if it does not stop strikes on Gaza. It says the US is also "to blame" for providing military support to Israel. Top US officials are warning the conflict could spread. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has talked about a "likelihood of escalation" from Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah or Hamas, and said the US was "taking every measure" to ensure it can defend" Israelis and US citizens. How high is the risk of the conflict escalating across the region? What are countries doing to prevent an escalation? Is there a real danger of a general war in the Middle East that could pull in Iran, the US and even Saudi Arabia?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mirette Mabrouk , Senior Fellow and Director of the Egypt and the Horn of Africa program at the Middle East Institute Sanam Vakil, Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House

Also featuring:

Dr Seyed Mohammed Marandi, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran

Producer: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: An Israeli artillery unit fires during a military drill in the annexed Golan Heights, 02 Nov, 2023. Credit: Ayal Margolin/EPA)

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Argentina at a crossroads

Argentina?s economy minister has won more than 36% of the vote in Sunday?s presidential elections, defying expectations. The election has been shaken by the emergence of anti-establishment populist and self-styled "libertarian" Javier Milei. Mr Milei is an outspoken right-wing economist whose "shock-jock" style and aggressive social media campaigning have appealed to younger voters. No candidate received the necessary 45% of votes needed to win outright, so there will be a second round on 19 November. The election comes amid a severe economic crisis - inflation is nearing 140% - 40% are living below the poverty line. Argentina is one of Latin America?s most stable democracies - but it remains the world's single biggest debtor to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), owing $46bn (£38bn). Three-quarters of young Argentinians want to leave the country to look for better opportunities. What needs to happen to improve the country's prospects? And will the economic mess damage Argentina?s democracy?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Natalie Alcoba, an Argentinean-Canadian journalist Ignacio Labaqui, senior analyst with Medley Global Advisors, which offers advice to clients on political risk Christopher Sabatini. he's Senior Research Fellow for Latin America, US and the Americas Programme at the Chatham House thinktank

Also featuring: Marcela Pagano a newly elected member of the Argentine Congress for Javier Milei's La Libertad Avanza Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, Sergio Massa's principal foreign policy advisor and the Ambassador to Switzerland. Pau Bressi, a university student in Buenos Aires

Produced by: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Presidential candidate Javier Milei speaks after first round results, Buenos Aires, Argentina - 23 Oct 2023. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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Is Indian democracy being undermined?

Earlier this month police in Delhi raided the homes of several prominent journalists in connection with an investigation into the funding of news website NewsClick. Officials are reportedly investigating allegations that NewsClick got illegal funds from China - a charge it denies, the case is currently in the Indian supreme court. Are the raids an attempt by the government to "muzzle" free speech, as some activists say - or simply a straightforward police investigation into the funding of news website Newsclick? Critics say the harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organisations, and other government critics has increased significantly under the current administration. In addition to this, Prime Minister Modi?s premiership has been dogged by persistent allegations over his political party?s anti-Muslim stance. Has Modi?s re-definition of India as a Hindu nation intensified discrimination against minorities? India is known as the world?s largest democracy - over one billion people are eligible to vote in its general election in 2024. But is democracy now under threat in India?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Lisa Mitchell - Professor of anthropology & history in the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Author of a recent book: 'Hailing the State: Indian Democracy between Elections'. Debasish Roy Chowdhury - journalist and co-author of the book 'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism'. Tripurdaman Singh - a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

Also featuring: Swapan Dasgupta - national executive member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Hartosh Singh Bal - the Executive editor of Caravan News Magazine

Produced by : Rumella Dasgupta & Ellen Otzen

This programme has been edited since originally broadcast

(Photo : Journalists protesting in Delhi this week, Credit : Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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China?s BRI: Development or Debt?

It has been a decade since Chinese President Xi Jinping's launched the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious plan to connect Asia with Africa and Europe through a series of land and sea networks via investments in local infrastructure. But ten years on has it been - as some claim - a debt trap for some developing economies, a road to nowhere? Or has the sweeping infrastructure project - which has funded trains, roads and ports in many countries - successfully expanded global trade links and helped the economic development of countries in Africa and Asia?

Shaun Ley is joined by Eyck Freymann, economic historian and China specialist, currently a Hoover Fellow at Stanford University; Niva Yau, political scientist from Hong Kong and a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council?s Global China Hub; Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King's College, London.

Also featuring: Pakistan Senator Afnan Khan, Pakistan Muslim League, Victor Gao of the Beijing based Centre for China and Globalisation, a think tank with links to the governing Chinese Communist Party and Nicola Procaccini, Member of the European Parliament from the Fratelli d'Italia party

(Photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to children upon arrival at Islamabad airport in Islamabad, 20 April, 2015. Credit: Pakistan Presidency Press Information Department /Getty Images)

Producer: Rumella Dasgupta and Ellen Otzen

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How do we stop rapid insect decline?

As human activities rapidly transform the planet, the global insect population is declining at an unprecedented rate. In the UK, a recent survey suggested the number of flying insects have fallen by almost 60% in less than 20 years. Some are calling it an impending 'insect apocalypse'. Their disappearance matters because insects are the most diverse group of organisms on the planet and the foundation of every freshwater and land based ecosystem. They provide food for birds, bats and small mammals; they pollinate around 75% of the crops in the world; they replenish soils and keep pest numbers in check. You may not always like insects in your personal space but you certainly need them to survive. Insect population collapses could mean significant crop failures, collapsing food webs, bird extinctions, disease outbreaks and more. We're going to explore why it's happening and what can be done to mitigate it.

Shaun Ley is joined by: Dr Erica McAlister - Principal curator of fleas and flies at the Natural History Museum in London and an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society.

Dr David Wagner - Professor of ecology and evolutionary behaviour at the University of Connecticut where he specialises in caterpillars, butterflies, moths, insect conservation and global insect decline.

Oliver Milman - US environment correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and author of The Insect Crisis.

Also in the programme: Dr Kendra Klein - senior staff scientist with Friends of the Earth in the United States.

Julian Little - a plant biochemist with 35 years of experience in the agricultural industry including time as head of communications for Bayer in the UK.

(Image: A butterfly rests at the Butterfly Garden in Konya, Turkey. Credit: Serhat Cetinkaya/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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How a flood exposed Libya?s broken state

Earlier this month two dams collapsed after torrential rain in eastern Libya. Whole neighbourhoods in the city of Derna were swept into the sea. More than 15,000 Libyans are dead or missing and the full death toll may never been known. Since the ousting of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been riven by power struggles and currently has two governments - a UN-recognised one based in Tripoli, and another in the country's east backed by General Khalifa Haftar. He has been calling the flooding a natural disaster but many Libyans disagree, saying the eastern government had neglected the dams despite prior warnings about their fragile condition. There have been protests in Derna against the leadership in the region but anger is also being expressed across the country. The anguish and anger across Libya have now developed into demands for an investigation. But who will conduct this investigation? Libya is rich in oil wealth but the country's infrastructure is crumbling and the elites are increasingly accused of rampant corruption. Could this be a reset moment for Libya?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Mary Fitzgerald - A writer and researcher focused on Libya and non-resident scholar for the Middle East Institute think tank. Tarek Megerisi - Senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Elham Saudi - Co-founder and Director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, an NGO focusing on accountability, human rights and the rule of law in Libya.

Also in the programme: Othman Abdul Jalil - Minister for health for the Eastern Libyan government. Noura El-Jerbi - A Libyan journalist from Derna but now living in Turkey.

Produced by Ellen Otzen and Zak Brophy

Image: A view from the area as search and rescue efforts continuing in disaster zones after the floods in Derna. Credit: Hamza Al Ahmar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

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Is Biden too old to run in 2024?

The top brass of the Democrat party in the US have all rallied behind Joe Biden with their eyes on the 2024 presidential election. But they have a problem. Repeated polls suggest support for the incumbent president is stagnant at best. Dangerously low at worst. A repeated concern among doubting voters is his age and health. If Biden wins a second term next year, and completes four years in power, he will be 86 when he steps down. Much of the electorate simply don?t think he has it in him. Republican front runner Donald Trump has long dubbed the president as Sleepy Joe. It?s a taunt that increasingly rattles the nerves of the Democratic Party faithful. As the president?s voice noticeably weakens and his gait stiffens there is a fear he just sounds and looks too old for the job. But is his physical and mental capacity being distorted by his adversaries to undermine his achievements? His team point to major policies he?s passed including his infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and his chips and science act. He?s also recently returned from the G20 summit in India and before that he travelled by planes, trains and car into war-torn Ukraine. And Joe Biden is not alone in the very upper echelons of American politics. Donald Trump is 77 years old, the oldest senator is 90 years old and the Republican senate minority leader is 81 years old and ailing. Does America have a problem with the gerontocracy not making way for new blood and what does it mean for the coming 2024 election?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Christy Setzer - a Democrat strategist who was spokesperson for vice president Al Gore's presidential campaign. Scott Jennings - a Republican strategist who was special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008 James Politi - Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times

Also in the programme: Jay Olshansky - Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Amanda Litman - co-founder and co-executive director of the organisation 'Run For Something', which recruits and supports young progressives trying to win office.

Produced by Ellen Otzen and Zak Brophy

Image: US President Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly Leader's Reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on September 19, 2023.Credit: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

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Ukraine?s offensive: Too slow to triumph?

America's top general has warned that Ukraine?s counter offensive is running out of time. Speaking to the BBC, Mark Milley admitted the offensive had gone more slowly than expected. With just one month of fighting before winter weather sets in, does the pace of the push back against Russian forces suggest that Nato needs to rethink?

The United States has been the largest provider of military assistance since the war began - more than 43 billion dollars worth, so far. With polls suggesting many Americans oppose any more, is the West in danger of willing the ends without delivering the means? If the will to resist Putin does begin to falter among his allies, President Zelensky says he is ready to make the case to Ukrainians for why a long war of attrition is preferable to negotiating with Russia. But with doubtful allies, might they soon not have much choice?

Shaun Ley is joined by Sir Laurie Bristow, UK?s Ambassador to Russia 2016-2020, and Deputy Ambassador to Russia 2007-2010; Alissa de Carbonnel - deputy program director, Europe and Central Asia for the International Crisis Group; Daniel L. Davis, senior fellow for think tank Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army.

Also featuring: Paul Adams, BBC diplomatic correspondent in Kiev; Alexander Rodnyansky, Adviser to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

(Photo: Ukrainian soldiers place a Ukrainian flag at a building, during an operation that claims to liberate the first village amid a counter-offensive, in a location given as Blahodatne, Donetsk Region, Ukraine,11 June, 2023. Credit: Reuters)

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Iran, a year on from the death of Mahsa Amini

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained by Iran's so-called ?morality police? - enforcers of Iran?s Islamic dress code - sparked widespread anti-government protests across the country. Thousands of mostly young Iranians took to the streets. Women burned their headscarves in a defiant act of resistance and cut their hair in solidarity.

Next week marks a year since the death of Ms Amini, who allegedly had hair visible under her headscarf when she was arrested in Tehran on the 13 September. She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at a detention centre, and died three days later in hospital. The force denies reports officers beat her head with a baton and banged it against one of their vehicles.

Despite the protests, the Iranian parliament are currently debating a Hijab and Chastity Bill that could impose a raft of new punishments on women who fail to wear the headscarf. At the same time, President Ebrahim Raisi is under mounting domestic pressure to deal with Iran?s economy dogged by ongoing sanctions, spiralling living costs and rampant inflation.

So, a year on, what has changed? What do the protests reveal about the complexity of Iranian society? How much of a factor is Iran?s economic troubles? Despite the unrest, many still support Iran?s conservative government so what are their views on the situation?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Azadeh Moaveni, director of global journalism at New York University Sanam Vakil, director, Middle East and North Africa programme, Chatham House

Haleh Esfandiari, director emerita, Middle East programme, Wilson Center

Also featuring:

Dr Seyed Mohammed Marandi, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran

An anonymous teacher in Tehran who attended the protests

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group

Photo: Iranian women walk past a cleric in a street in Tehran, Iran, 19 September 2022. Credit: ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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Why is it still so hard for whistleblowers?

Lucy Letby worked on a neonatal unit in England. Dr Stephen Brearey - the lead consultant on the unit - raised concerns in October 2015. Whilst no one knew she was killing some of the babies in her care, Dr Brearey hoped his concerns, and those of - in the end - seven of his fellow senior doctors, would be taken seriously. Instead, senior managers at the Countess of Chester Hospital seemed to him to be focused on potential reputational damage to the organisation and were, for some time, reluctant to involve the police.

At her trial Letby was found guilty of seven murders and six more attempted murders. Worse still has been the realisation that two of the victims may not have died if the concerns had not been ignored.

This isn?t the first time the UK?s National Health Service has been accused of not listening to whistleblowers but as an organisation it is by no means alone. From international banks to car makers to health tech start-ups, whistleblowing is not always welcomed with open arms.

So why is whistleblowing - the act of disclosing information about wrongdoing in an organisation - still so difficult to do? What?s at stake for those who choose to speak out and is there enough protection? Historically, organisations appear resistant to whistleblowers - but should they instead be actively encouraged?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Anna Myers, director of Whistleblowing International Network

Kyle Welch, assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Business

And Narinder Kapur, Professor of Neuropsycholgy at University College London

Also featuring:

Dr Stephen Brearey, lead consultant on the neonatal unit where Lucy Letby worked

Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the United States' electronic espionage service

Photo: American economist and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg addresses the media during a recess in his trial at the Federal Courtroom in Los Angeles, California, 10th May 1973. Ellsberg was accused of illegally copying and distributing the Pentagon papers relating to the Vietnam war. Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Max Horberry

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Ecuador's spiralling drug violence

Ecuador has until recently been a relatively peaceful country. But in the course of a few years it has become a place dominated by violence and drug trafficking.

After Colombia struck a peace deal in 2016, Ecuador?s role in the drug supply chains has continued to grow in importance and its now being used as a transit route for cocaine smuggled from neighbouring Peru and Colombia. The powerful Mexican drug cartels are also said to operate through local gangs. Ecuador's murder rate has surged as local gangs have forged alliances with international crime cartels and the killings of politicians have rocked the country ahead of the snap poll on August 20.

Earlier this month, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot dead while leaving a political rally in the capital Quito. He'd been one of the few candidates in this month's presidential elections to allege links between organised crime and government officials in Ecuador.

So why has the drug trafficking industry become so powerful in Ecuador? Will a new president make any difference? If the cartels are eventually pushed out of Ecuador, will they simply move to another South American country?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Arianna Tanca, Ecuadorian political scientist at The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Guayaquil

Will Freeman, Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think-tank specialising in US foreign policy and international relations   Glaeldys Gonzalez, Fellow for the Latin America and Caribbean Program with the International Crisis Group

Also featuring:

Ecuadorian journalist, Isabela Ponce

Produced by Ellen Otzen and Pandita Lorenz

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How should the world engage with the Taliban?

Two years ago the Taliban swept into Kabul and took control of Afghanistan, almost exactly twenty years after they were ousted by the US-led invasion after 9/11. The West has since deployed sanctions to put pressure on the regime - but to no visible effect, beyond worsening the number of people struggling to afford to eat.

As the Taliban have consolidated their control of the country, they have dramatically reversed many of the rights and opportunities Afghan women have enjoyed. Can the world engage with the Taliban while also keeping up the pressure on it to reverse what the UN calls its ?gender apartheid??

Is isolation the way to convince a group which craves global recognition that its attitude to women is costing Afghanistan dearly?

Shaun Ley is joined by: Michael Keating, Executive Director at the European Institute of Peace, a conflict resolution organisation based in Brussels that works with the European Union and civil society. He is the former UN deputy envoy and humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan. Orzala Nemat, Afghan scholar and Research Associate at SOAS University, and the former director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a think tank in Afghanistan Sahar Fetrat, researcher in the Women?s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.

Also featuring:

BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid Produced by Alba Morgade and Neggeen Sadid.

(Photo: Taliban celebrate second anniversary of taking over Afghanistan, Kandahar, Afghanistan- 15 August 2023. Credit: EPA).

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China, US and the fight for Taiwan

China has released a new documentary about its army?s preparations to attack Taiwan - the film includes interviews with Chinese soldiers who swear they'll give up their lives if needed in a potential invasion of the island.

Tensions have been building for some time: Recently Taiwan?s ruling administration, led by the Democratic Progressive Party, has increased its weapons purchases from the US, while China has increased air and naval encroachments on the island. This week on the Real Story, we explore how real the risk of conflict is, why Taiwan is so important to China and the US, what Taiwan's strategy is and what an invasion might look like.

(Photo: Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points from Taiwan, on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled island. Credit Hector RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images)

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Amanda Hsiao, Senior Analyst for China with the International Crisis Group's office in Taipei

David Sacks, fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC

Rick Waters, formerly the US State Department's top policy official on China, managing director on China for Eurasia Group in Washington DC

Also featuring:

Mark Ho, a member of Taiwan's parliament for the Democratic Progressive Party

Henry Wang from the Centre for China and Globalisation in Beijing, which has links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Produced by Ellen Otzen and Usman Azad.

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The coup in Niger: Why does it matter?

Soldiers in the West African country of Niger announced a coup on national TV last week, saying they had dissolved the constitution, suspended all institutions and closed all borders. The coup was widely condemned, including by France, the UN and West African regional body ECOWAS.

Niger was seen as the last solid ally of the West in the Sahel region. It?s also a country seen as vital to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Africa. There are concerns that the security situation in Niger and across the Sahel could deteriorate further. President Bazoum's government has been a partner to European countries trying to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea, agreeing to take back hundreds of migrants from detention centres in Libya. He has also cracked down on human traffickers in what had been a key transit point between other countries in West Africa and those further north.

On the programme this week, we look at why Niger matters and how the coup could be making a troubled region even more fragile. Why did the presidential guards turn on the man they were hired to protect? How did France squander its historic advantage in a Francophone country? Will this coup make the citizens of Niger safer ? or are the only winners the armed groups who roam the Sahel? Could the crisis in Niger spread into a wider regional conflict?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Paul Melly, consulting fellow at the Africa programme at Chatham house Idayat Hassan, senior associate for the Africa program of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and director of the Centre for Democracy and Development

Ebenezer Obadare, senior fellow of African studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

Also featuring:

Rama Yade, director of the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council

Chris Ogunmodede, editor of the pan-African international affairs publication The Republic

Photo: Supporters of General Abdourahamane Tchiani rally in Niamey, Niger - 30 Jul 2023. Credit: ISSIFOU DJIBO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Produced by Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen

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How close are we to ending Alzheimer's?

A new drug, Donanemab, has been hailed as a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer's after a global trial confirms it slows cognitive decline.

One trial was shown to have ?significantly slowed? the progression of the disease?by 35%.

Earlier this year, Lecanemab, the first drug to slow the destruction of the brain in Alzheimer's, received regulatory approval in America. Lecanemab was shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline by 27% in an 18 month study involving participants in the early stages of Alzheimer?s.

Although not a cure, charities say the results in the journal JAMA mark a new era where Alzheimer's can be treated. The drug works in Alzheimer's disease, not in other types of dementia, such as vascular dementia.

But the new drugs are not risk-free treatments. Brain swelling was a common side-effect in up to a third of patients in the Donanemab trial.

The World Health Organisation forecasts more than 150m people around the world will be living with dementia by 2050. Until recently, we?ve been told that there are currently no approaches that have been proven to prevent Alzheimer?s disease and related dementias.

But are we beginning to see a future where we can make dementia a chronic condition, one you live with and die with but don?t die from? Are we inching closer towards a treatment for dementia? Can we ultimately prevent or cure the disease? In the battle against dementia, is the end in sight?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Reisa Sperling - Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Alzheimer's Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women?s Hospital.

Dr Sandeep Jauhar - cardiologist and the author of "My Father's Brain", a memoir of his relationship with his father as he succumbed to dementia.

Sir John Hardy - Professor of Neurodegenerative Disease at University College London.

Also featuring:

Paola Barbarino - chief executive of Alzheimer's Disease International.

(Photo: Caregiver Nadia Chebil (L) helps Alzheimer's patient Jean-Marie (R) at "Les Papillons de Marcelle" house, in Arles, southeastern France, on May 9, 2023. Credit: Clement Mahoudeau/AFP via Getty Images)

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Surviving extreme heat

Heatwaves are growing in frequency and intensity around the world due to climate change. Extreme heat is now gripping three continents - Europe, the US and Asia - and there is more to come. Temperatures are breaking records, driving wildfires and prompting serious health warnings and evacuations.

Europe may see its hottest week ever. Islands off the South of Italy - Sicily and Sardinia - recorded temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius according to the European Space Agency and at least 2,000 people have been evacuated due to wildfires on the Spanish island of La Palma.

In the US, a third of Americans are under extreme heat advisories.

Japan has issued heatstroke warnings for millions. Meanwhile South Korea?s president has vowed to ?completely overhaul? the country?s approach to extreme weather from climate change as at least 40 people die from flooding and landslides.

So, what does extreme heat do to our bodies? How can countries and people adapt now - and in the future - to better deal with a hotter world? And are governments doing enough to deal with the effects of global warming and, if not, what more needs to be done?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Dr Chandni Singh, senior researcher at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and the lead author for Asia in the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report

Jeff Goodell, journalist and author of 'The Heat Will Kill You First'

Dr Eleni Myrivili, Global Chief Heat Officer to UN Habitat and senior advisor for resilience and sustainability to the city authorities in Athens, the capital of Greece

Also featuring:

Dr Sharmistha Sarangi, an Internal Medicine Specialist in India

Photo: A child uses a fan as she and her mother wait at the entrance to the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, Spain, July 18, 2023 Credit: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Rumella Desgupta

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Deep-sea mining: Curse or cure?

The deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean have been largely unexplored for centuries. But now the ecosystem thousands of metres beneath the surface is under threat - from companies wanting to mine the seabed for rare metals and minerals.

The proposals to allow deep-sea mining are centre-stage at global talks by the International Seabed Authority - the UN body in charge of regulation - and its members in Jamaica in the coming weeks. It comes after a two-year ban on the practice expired when countries failed to reach an agreement on new rules.

Scientists fear a "goldrush" for precious metals beneath the oceans could have devastating consequences for marine life.

But supporters argue that these metals are needed if the world is to meet the demand for green technologies - such as electric car batteries - that will be key in the fight against climate change.

So is this a necessary step in the journey towards cleaner, greener technologies? Does climate change pose a bigger risk to our oceans overall? And what impact might mining have on this rare and delicate ecosystem?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Pierre Josso, mineral geoscientist at the British Geological Survey

Helen Czerski, physicist and oceanographer at University College London and author of 'Blue Machine: How the ocean shapes our world'

Toby Fisher, environment lawyer who has negotiated with the International Seabed Authority

Also featuring: Gerard Barron, CEO of The Metals Company

Photo: An animal from the deep Pacific Ocean known as a 'gummy squirrel'. Credit: SMARTEX Project, Natural Environment Research Council, UK

Producer: Sarah Passmore and Pandita Lorenz

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Understanding the unrest in France

French cities have been engulfed by almost a week of intense riots, following the death of a teenager. Nahel M was shot at point blank range by police after he refused to stop for a traffic check in his hometown of Nanterre, a north-west Parisian suburb. The unrest led to more than 3,000 arrests and the deployment of tens of thousands of police around France. The riots have exposed deep divisions in French society. On The Real Story this week: why has France again been rocked by violent unrest? What makes so many of those who live in the suburbs of France?s major cities feel neglected by the state and politicians? And what are the government and opposition parties proposing as solutions?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

- Rim-Sarah Alouane, a French legal scholar and commentator at the University Toulouse-Capitole in France

- Professor Philippe Marlière, Professor of French and European Politics at University College London

- Laetitia Strauch-Bonart, French writer and Editor at the French news magazine L'Express

Also featuring:

- Natalia Pouzyreff, an MP from President Emmanuel Macron?s Renaissance party

- Inès Seddiki, founder of GHETT?UP, an organisation which works with young people in France?s suburbs

(Photo: The French interior minister has asked regions to ban the sale of fireworks, petrol cans and flammable products. Credit: Getty Images)

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Wagner's 24-hour mutiny

Wagner is a private military company of mercenaries that has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has for months been involved in a feud with the Russian defence ministry, but he denies trying to overthrow Mr Putin's regime. The short-lived rebellion, which saw Wagner fighters seize a major Russian city before heading north towards Moscow in a column of military vehicles, was a response to government plans to take direct control of Wagner, Prigozhin claims. This week on the Real Story we are focusing on the implications for Russia's military of the mutiny by a man who was once President Putin's caterer.

Shaun Ley is joined by: Catrina Doxsee - From the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. Pjotr Sauer - Russian affairs reporter for The Guardian newspaper. Samir Puri - author of Russia?s Road to War with Ukraine: Invasion amidst the ashes of empires. Also featuring: Professor Sergei Markov - Director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow.

Produced by: Imogen Wallace, Ellen Otzen, Alex Hacillo & Rumella Dasgupta

(Photo: Armored vehicles and fighters of Wagner on the streets of Rostov-on-Don, Russia; Credit: Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Saudi Arabia?s thirst for sporting success

A surprise deal between golf?s two main tours and Saudi Arabia?s Public Investment Fund sent shockwaves through the world of men?s professional golf at the start of June. It came as increasing numbers of players move to Saudi Arabia's football league, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kante. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has become a more visual presence on the sporting scene, hosting Formula 1 races and high-profile world title boxing bouts. The controversial purchase of Newcastle United was further evidence of a growing interest in using sport to project Saudi Arabia to a wider audience. But human rights campaigners say Saudi Arabia is trying to sports-wash its poor human rights record.

On the Real Story this week, we examine the reasons behind Saudi Arabia's increasingly prominent presence on the international sporting scene. How does it link to the domestic and geopolitical ambitions of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? And what impact could it have on international sport going forward?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Dina Esfandiary, advisor to Crisis Group?s Middle East and North Africa Program on research, analysis, policy prescription and advocacy.

Matt Slater, a senior football news reporter with the sports website and podcast, The Athletic.

Aziz Alghashian, a Saudi foreign policy analyst and a fellow at the Sectarianism, Proxies and De-Sectarianisation project at Lancaster University.

Also featuring:

Dan Roan, BBC sports editor.

Lina al-Hathloul, Saudi activist and head of monitoring and communications for ALQST, a non-profit organization promoting human rights in Saudi Arabia.

(Photo: Al-Ittihad officially present Karim Benzema as their new player, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - 08 Jun 2023. Credit: EPA)

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What do Trump?s legal challenges mean for the 2024 US election?

This week Donald Trump appeared at a federal court in Miami and pleaded not guilty to historic charges relating to his alleged mishandling of sensitive documents. Trump is the most high-profile person ever to face criminal charges under the Espionage Act. It's also the first time that a current or former US president has been charged with a federal crime. Leading Republicans dismiss it as a political prosecution, but some legal experts insist the indictment sets out a strong case. Mr Trump remains the frontrunner to become the Republican nominee in next year's presidential election, but at least ten other high-profile candidates are chasing the nomination.

On The Real Story this week we ask: is Trump's indictment so damaging that Republicans in Milwaukee next year will plump for another nominee to face off against Biden? Or does the crowded field help clear the way for a Trump presidential run? If Trump does seize the nomination, will his legal challenges galvanise or deter voters in the 2024 election?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who was special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

John McCormick, national political reporter for the Wall Street Journal who has covered every presidential campaign since 2000.

Jill Wine-Banks, a former prosecutor at the US Justice Department during the Watergate scandal. She was the first woman to serve as US General Counsel of the Army under President Jimmy Carter.

Also featuring:

Lisa Kern Griffin, Professor at Duke University School of Law in North Carolina and a former federal prosecutor.

Brian Lanza, former Communications Director for the Trump transition team.

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Why have tensions flared in Kosovo?

NATO reinforcements started arriving in Kosovo this week, following violent clashes in majority-Serb north Kosovo in late May. Outbreaks of violence erupted following disputed local elections, which Kosovo Serbs boycotted, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of councils in northern Kosovo. The unrest comes after an apparent breakthrough in March when Kosovo and Serbia agreed to an EU-backed plan aimed at normalising ties. On the Real Story this week we?ll ask whether the latest crisis endangers those negotiations, and what needs to happen to defuse tensions in both the short and long-term. How do people living and working in North Kosovo deal with the complex issues of ethnic identity that have shaped the region for decades? What is the role of outside players like the United States and European Union? And how has Russia?s invasion of Ukraine changed the West?s approach to the Balkans?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Misha Glenny, Rector of the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna and a former BBC Central Europe Correspondent.

Dr Gezim Visoka, Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

Dr Helena Ivanov, visiting fellow in the international relations department at the LSE and an Associate Research Fellow with The Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that advocates the spread of liberal democracy.

Also featuring: Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of Kosovo Nemanja Starovi?, State Secretary, Serbia?s Ministry of Defence Jovana Radosavljevic, Executive Director at the New Social Initiative, a civil society organization based in North Mitrovica Guy Delauney, the BBC?s Balkans Correspondent

Image: Members of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) stand guard in Zvecan, Kosovo, May 31, 2023. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Produced by Imogen Wallace and Rozita Riazati

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Do we want to live without plastic?

Plastic is the dominant material of modern life, used in everything from furniture to cars to packaging to medical equipment. In most parts of the world it?s hard to live a single day without coming into contact with plastic. But as its use has exploded over the past century, so have the problems associated with it. Plastic pollution has created huge islands of waste in our oceans; microplastics have been found in freshly fallen Antarctic snow, and even in human blood. This week delegates from nearly 200 countries have been in Paris for UN-sponsored talks aimed at developing a landmark treaty to end plastic pollution. But how could such a treaty work? What could other solutions to the scourge of plastic pollution - or 'stupid plastic' - look like? And does the world really want to live without plastic?

Joining Shaun Ley are panellists - David Azoulay, environmental lawyer and a director at the Centre for International Environmental Law based in Geneva, Switzerland. Sherri Mason, Director of Sustainability and Professor of Chemistry at Penn State University, Lake Erie campus. Shahriar Hossain from the Environment and Social Development Organisation based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Also featuring - Ambassador Ilana Seid who represents the Pacific nation of Palau at the United Nations, and chairs the Pacific Small Islands Developing States Group. Joshua Baca is Vice President of Plastics at the American Chemistry Council.

Produced by - Imogen Wallace and Rumella Dasgupta

(Photo: Plastic bag drifting in the Botnia Gulf,Finland; Credit: Olivier Morin/AFP)

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Bola Tinubu: Can Nigeria?s new president unite his country?

The winner of Nigeria?s presidential election, Bola Tinubu is due to be inaugurated on 29 May but the opposition are challenging the results.

Only 27 percent of voters participated in the election, the lowest turnout in the country?s history. And a recent BBC investigation has found evidence suggesting some results from the February election may have been manipulated.

As well as the contested election results, the incoming president faces huge challenges governing Nigeria: the country is struggling with high inflation and an array of security threats ? jihadist insurgencies in the north east, kidnapping and banditry especially in the north west, herder-farmer violence, and separatist violence in the south-west. It has huge oil wealth, but its oil industry has a documented history of corruption.

President-elect Tinubu says he'll hit the ground running by cracking down on those trying to split the country. But can this veteran politician who proclaimed "it's my turn" unite it?

Shaun Ley in conversation with:

Nnamdi Obasi - senior Nigeria adviser with the International Crisis Group.

Fidelis Mbah - a freelance journalist based in Abuja

Idayat Hassan - director of the Center for Democracy and Development, a Nigerian think tank.

also featuring:

Katch Ononuju - special adviser to the Nigerian Labour party 's Peter Obi. Rinsola Abiola - an activist in the ruling All Progressives Congress Party, APC, and a supporter of Mr Tinubu.

Produced by Alba Morgade and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: Nigeria's President-elect Bola Tinubu sits at the International Centre waiting to receive his certificate of return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja on March 1, 2023. Credit: Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Why can?t America contain the fentanyl crisis?

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, is now the main driver of drug overdose deaths in America. The US Drug Enforcement Administration says 67% of the 107,375 US deaths from drug overdoses or poisonings in 2021 were linked to fentanyl or similar opioids. US authorities blame Mexican drug gangs for supplying fentanyl to users across the US. Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says his country has proof that illegal shipments of the powerful opioid drug fentanyl are arriving from China; while China's foreign ministry has denied that there is illegal trafficking of fentanyl between China and Mexico. The US government is deploying law enforcement to crack down on fentanyl dealers and also taking steps to prevent and treat substance use and the harms it produces. But why is it still struggling to contain the fentanyl epidemic? Would stronger US cooperation with Chinese and Mexican authorities make a difference? What should President Joe Biden's administration do going forward to tackle the fentanyl crisis?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Regina LaBelle, who served as acting director in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in the White House when Joe Biden became president in 2021. She now directs the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O'Neill Institute at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, Director of the Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington.

Uttam Dhillon served during Donald Trump?s presidency as acting head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA, from 2018 to 2020. He now works for law firm Michael Best and Friedrich and its consultancy, which provides advice on drug policy to clients including healthcare companies. Uttam is on the board or advises several companies involved in tackling the opioid crisis.

Also featuring: Dr Rahul Gupta, President Joe Biden's 'Drug Czar' as Director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy

Gustavo Mohar, head of Mexico´s national security intelligence agency from 2007 to 2011

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne

FILE PHOTO: Plastic bags of Fentanyl are displayed on a table at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area at the International Mail Facility at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

Produced by Ellen Otzen and Imogen Wallace

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What's gone wrong in Haiti?

In recent weeks, vigilante groups in Haiti?s capital Port-au-Prince have beaten and burned to death gang members. The country has been plunged into increasing lawlessness following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Haiti has been led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry for almost two years, but he has failed to rein in the gang violence. One former US envoy to Haiti says the Biden administration has ?betrayed? Haitians by turning its back on the country and not pushing for democratic elections. Other have called for an intervention by foreign forces to tackle the gang violence. But is deploying international forces the answer? Should there be a Haitian-led solution? What needs to happen to prevent Haiti from complete collapse?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Jacqueline Charles, Caribbean Correspondent for the Miami Herald

Robert Fatton, Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia

Pamela White, former US Ambassador to Haiti under President Obama

Also featuring:

Dave Fils-Aimé, Founder & Executive Director of the nonprofit organisation Baskètbòl pou Ankadre Lajenès in Port-au-Prince

Daniel Foote, former US special envoy for Haiti from July 2021 - September 2021

Image: Police patrol the streets after gang members tried to attack a police station in Port-au-Prince on April 25, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

Produced by Imogen Wallace and Ellen Otzen

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The rehabilitation of Syria?s President Assad

This week a meeting of Arab foreign ministers - including Syria's - took place in Jordan's capital, Amman. Officials have been discussing Syria's potential return to the Arab League, after 12 years of civil war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are dead, millions are refugees abroad, and a political settlement to the conflict remains elusive. But some of Syria?s neighbours are now keen to build closer relations with the Syrian regime.

A tentative normalisation of relations with President Assad has been years in the making. So what is driving it? What might a change in international relations mean for ordinary Syrians? And what does this diplomacy reveal about politics and power in the region?

Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of expert guests:

Rime Allaf - a Syrian-born writer and a former fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London. She is also a Board Member of the Syrian civil society organization The Day After

Steven Simon - served on the US National Security Council in the Obama administration as senior director for Middle Eastern Affairs from 2011 to 2012. He's now a Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of ?Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East?

Ismaeel Naar - Arab Affairs Editor for The National, a newspaper owned by the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates who is also a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi.

Also featuring:

Jawad Anani, an economist and Jordan's former foreign minister and deputy prime minister

Joel Rayburn, President Trump's special Envoy for Syria from 2018 to 2021

Photo: Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia meets Bashar al-Assad on April 18, 2023 in Damascus, Syria. (Credit: Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Tunisia?s democracy on the brink

Tunisia in North Africa was the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a wave of popular uprisings that shook or toppled authoritarian regimes in the region. But, after a decade of fragile democracy, in 2019 a new strongman, President Kais Saied, swept to power. He directed his campaign at young Tunisians, promising an end to corruption.

There was optimism but the Covid pandemic had battered the economy and exposed - as it did in many other countries - the weaknesses of the health system. Mr Saied insisted Tunisia's democratic system was not working so he used emergency powers to sack the prime minister, close the National Assembly and suspend the constitution - essentially paving the way to rule by decree.

Last week one of Tunisia?s most prominent opposition leaders, Rached Ghannouchi, who is also the leader of Tunisia?s largest political party, was imprisoned. He's the latest in a long line of critics jailed by the president. So, is this the final nail in the coffin for Tunisia?s fledgling democracy? What is President?s Saied?s vision? And what, if anything, can the world do to prevent the Arab Spring's one success story joining its long list of failures?

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Nadia Marzouki, a political scientist and tenured researcher at Sciences Po in Paris

Ghazi Ben Ahmed, a Tunisian economist and the founder of the Brussels-based think-tank Mediterranean Development Initiative

Monica Marks, assistant professor of Middle East politics at New York University in Abu Dhabi

Also featuring:

Yusra Ghannouchi, the daughter of Rached Ghannouchi

Nabil Ammar, the Tunisian Foreign Minister

Elizia Volkmann, journalist in Tunis

Photo: The 67th anniversary of Tunisia's Independence, Tunis - 20 Mar 2023 Credit: MOHAMED MESSARA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Rumella Dasgupta

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A bloody crisis in Sudan

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in fierce fighting between army troops and paramilitary forces in Sudan this week. The fighting that has erupted in the capital Khartoum and elsewhere in the country is a direct result of a vicious power struggle within the country's military leadership. Aid agencies say it's nearly impossible to provide humanitarian assistance to people and the health system is close to collapse.

So what's led to this crisis? Who controls the country at the moment? And who are the key international players who can exert influence?

Shaun Ley is joined by :

Dame Rosalind Marsden, associate fellow at the Chatham House International Affairs think tank in London, a former EU Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan and also Britain's former Ambassador to Sudan.

Murithi Mutiga, project director, Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Mohanad Hashim, BBC journalist and expert on Sudan

Also featuring :

Cameron Hudson, director of the US State Department's Africa Bureau in George W. Bush's administration. He also served as chief of staff to successive presidential envoys during the Darfur insurgency and the secession of what become South Sudan in 2011.

Tagreed Abdin, an architect who lives with her family in Khartoum.

James Copnall, BBC's correspondent in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum from 2009-2012.

Producers : Rumella Dasgupta and Ellen Otzen

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What is hostage diplomacy and why is it on the rise?

Russia's arrest of the American journalist Evan Gershkovich for spying has shone a spotlight on what the US calls 'hostage diplomacy', a practice which involves imprisoning a foreign national, usually on spurious or exaggerated charges in order to extract concessions from that person?s government.

The increase of hostage diplomacy?by China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea?recently prompted President Biden to declare it a national emergency.

This week the US announced that Mr Gershkovich is being held in Russia as ?wrongfully detained?, a finding that means the American government sees him as a political hostage.

As the number of detentions has increased, the US has become more willing to strike deals with foreign governments to free US nationals. Last year?s high-profile prisoner swap of US basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was hailed by some as a diplomatic success story. But critics say it sets a dangerous precedent, arguing that prisoner exchanges simply encourage hostile powers to arbitrarily arrest more foreign nationals.

Meanwhile, another US citizen accused of spying remains in a Russian prison. Former US marine Paul Whelan was given a 16-year jail sentence in 2020 after being arrested in Moscow in 2018.

So what determines who is selected for prisoner swaps? Are prisoner swaps a good solution to a painful dilemma, or do they mean that authoritarian states simply will detain more foreigners seeking a trade-off from western countries?

Photo:Evan Gershkovich, US reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Credit: Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

Shaun Ley is joined by:

Dr Danielle Gilbert, fellow in US foreign policy and International security at Dartmouth college in New Hampshire

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was detained on a visit to Iran where she was held for two years. She's now a visiting fellow in security studies at Sydney University, Australia.

Professor Colleen Graffy was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy travelling around 40 countries in Europe and Eurasia, making America's case on behalf of George W.Bush's Administration. She is a law professor at Pepperdine Caruso Law School.

also featuring:

US diplomat Bill Richardson, director the Richardson Center which helps negotiate the release of US political prisoners and hostages held overseas. He's a former governor of the US state of New Mexico.

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Labour Party politician, barrister, and human rights activist in the UK.

Producers: Ellen Otzen and Rumella Dasgupta.

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Can we control Artificial Intelligence?

Last month a company in San Francisco called OpenAi released an artificial intelligence system called GPT-4 - a successor to its hugely popular AI chatbot ChatGPT. The latest version can respond to images, write captions and descriptions - processing up to 25,000 words at a time. Researchers claim GPT-4 shows ?sparks of artificial general intelligence? - in other words it can match or exceed human capabilities in tasks a person can do.

But there are concerns this latest technology could be used to spread disinformation alongside worries over privacy, jobs and even society itself if more rules aren?t quickly introduced. Key figures in the tech industry - including Tesla?s CEO, Elon Musk, and Apple?s co-founder Steve Wozniak - have signed an open letter asking for a pause on ?giant AI experiments? so that policymakers can catch up.

There are potentially wide-ranging benefits to these advances. In recently published guidance on the responsible use of AI, the UK government described it as one of the "technologies of tomorrow? contributing £3.7bn ($5.6bn) to the UK economy last year alone.

So what might the social impact of these increasingly powerful AI systems be? If greater regulation is needed, who is responsible? And, if we don?t control it, is there a chance that one day these machines will outsmart and replace us?

Celia Hatton is joined by:

Prof Yoshua Bengio - professor at the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research at the Université de Montréal

Boaz Barak - the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University

Lindsay Gorman - a former advisor to the Biden administration on tech strategy. She's currently a Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies at the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington DC

Also featuring:

Greg Clark ? a Conservative MP and chair of the UK government?s science and technology committee Stuart Russell - Professor of Computer Science at the University of California

Photo: Ai-Da Robot poses for pictures with a self portrait in the Houses of Parliament in London before making history as the first robot to speak at the House of Lords / Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Produced by Pandita Lorenz and Ellen Otzen

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Who will run the world in 20 years?

At the end of a friendly meeting in Moscow, President Xi of China told President Putin of Russia that they are driving changes in the world the likes of which have not been seen for a century.

Meanwhile this week President Biden kicked off a Summit for Democracy with $690m funding pledge to democracies all over the world and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, called on Europe to reassess its diplomatic and economic relations with China before a visit to Beijing next week.

So what changes are President Xi talking about? Who will be running the world in 20 years time? Is conflict between rival powers inevitable? And is the model of western liberal democracy in decline?

Owen Bennett-Jones is joined by:

Evelyn Farkas - an American national security advisor, author, and foreign policy analyst. She is the current Executive Director of the McCain Institute, a nonprofit organisation focused on democracy, human rights, and leadership. Evelyn served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under President Obama

Martin Wolf - chief economics commentator at the Financial Times and author of The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

Professor Steve Tsang - political scientist and historian and Director of the China Institute at the SOAS University of London

Also featuring:

Henry Wang - founder and director of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a think tank with links to the Chinese Communist Party

Nathalie Tocci - director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali and an honorary professor at the University of Tübingen

Photo: Russia's Putin holds talks with China's Xi in the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023 / Credit: Reuters

Produced by Rumella Dasgupta and Pandita Lorenz

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Imran Khan and Pakistan's political turmoil

Clashes this week between police and supporters of former cricketer-turned-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, show once again the deep divisions within Pakistani politics.

Mr Khan was ousted as prime minister last April in a no-confidence vote but has kept up pressure on his successor, Mr Sharif, with demonstrations calling for early elections and blaming him for an assassination attempt - an accusation the government denies. Mr Khan faces multiple court cases, including terrorism charges, but has cited a variety of reasons for not showing up to hearings.

Meanwhile Pakistan is in the middle of one of the worst economic crises ever seen. The country is awaiting a much-needed bailout package of $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund - a loan that has been delayed over issues related to fiscal policy. The security situation is also deteriorating with a spate of deadly attacks on police, linked to the Pakistan Taliban.

So what, if anything, might resolve the political stand-off? What impact does ongoing instability have on Pakistan?s economic situation and could this all play into the hands of Pakistan?s Taliban? How much support does Imran Khan really have from the military - or could the army?s longstanding hold on Pakistan finally be challenged?

Owen Bennett-Jones is joined by:

General Muhammad Haroon Aslam, a retired army general. He was a Corps Commander in the Pakistani army and served in the military for 40 years Hammad Azhar, a former finance minister for Imran Khan's party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Atika Rehman, London correspondent for Dawn newspaper

Also featuring:

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, senator for the The Pakistan Muslim League, part of the ruling coalition, and a former prime minister Shuja Nawaz, Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington Khurram Husain, business and economy journalist based in Karachi Ahmed Rashid, journalist and author of Descent into Chaos and Pakistan on the Brink

(Photo: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with Reuters during an interview in Lahore, Pakistan 17 March, 2023. Credit: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

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Is the asylum system broken?

Millions of people around the world are on the move today in search of a safe and better life. It?s estimated over 100 million people were displaced last year. Over 30 million are refugees and 5 million are asylum seekers. The UN body for refugees says 72% of the refugees originate from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan. These refugees are often fleeing persecution, conflict, violence, natural disasters and human rights violations. They make the dangerous journey across land and sea to seek asylum in other countries. Over the years, thousands have died or gone missing in the the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. While, with help from the UNHCR and host countries, many get legal status and are settled, thousands are held in processing centres and camps, often for years. We discuss problems with the current international asylum system and ask what would a fair global asylum system could look like?

Owen Bennett Jones is joined by:

Gerald Knaus - the founding chairman of German think tank The European Stability Initiative.

Jeff Crisp - former head of policy development and evaluation at the UNHCR.

Dr Ashwini Vasanthakumar - author of The Ethics of Exile: A Political Theory of Diaspora. She writes on the ethics and politics of migration.

Also featuring: Ahmed - a migrant, an asylum seeker and a refugee, who fled Syria in 2015 and is now settled in the UK>

Alexander Downer - Australia's former foreign minister.

Ylenja Lucaselli - A member of the Italian Parliament for Fratelli d'Italia.

(Photo: The number of people crossing the English Channel has risen in recent years. Credit: PA)

Producer: Rozita Riazati and Rumella Dasgupta.

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Will the Windsor Framework finally get Brexit done?

A new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland has been announced. The Windsor Framework replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol - that was deemed unworkable, but does this new deal solve Northern Ireland's trading arrangements?

In his speech in Windsor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his new framework agreement had "removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea". It is true that Northern Ireland consumers should certainly have no sense of a border when it comes to buying food, plants and medicines or taking their dog on the ferry to Scotland. But it will still be a trade border of sorts. Moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland remains conditional: it will require signing up to trusted trader schemes, providing information on what goods are moving and having the correct labelling.

But given the constraints the UK set itself back in 2017 - a hard Brexit with no land border on the island of Ireland - that may be as good as it gets. Rishi Sunak and EU chief, Ursula von der Leyen, seemed comfortable together in Windsor but it?s still unclear whether the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland will back the agreement and bring back the power-sharing government. So, is the Windsor Framework a feasible solution? How did Mr Sunak make such progress where his predecessors failed to? If the DUP do reject it, does this mean Brexit can never truly be ?done?? And what would be the implications for Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the EU if the wrangling over the border continues indefinitely?

Chris Morris is joined by:

Raoul Ruparel, special advisor on Europe to former UK Prime Minister Theresa May from 2018-19.

Tony Connolly, Europe Editor for Ireland's national broadcaster RTE. He is the author of Brexit & Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response.

Professor Danuta Hübner, a Polish MEP and a member of the European Parliament?s UK Contact Group .

Also featuring:

Sammy Wilson, Democratic Unionist Party MP for East Antrim and DUP chief whip

Image: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during a press conference at the Guildhall in Windsor, Berkshire, following the announcement that they have struck a deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Credit: PA

Producers: Imogen Wallace and Pandita Lorenz

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What will China?s declining population mean for the world?

Last year China's population fell for the first time in 60 years with the national birth rate hitting a record low. China's birth rate has in fact been declining for years but an older population will pose a real challenge for China economically, politically and strategically. So, what will the consequences be for China and the rest of the world if this vast economy - the second largest in the world ? of a waning workforce and an ageing population? The ruling Communist Party is introducing a range of policies to try to encourage couples to have more babies. But it was only seven years ago that the Chinese government scrapped the controversial one-child policy, replacing it with the two-child policy in 2016 and the three-child policy in 2021. The government is also offering tax breaks and better maternal healthcare, among other incentives, in an effort to reverse, or at least slow, the falling birth rate. Nothing so far has worked. So how concerning is population decline for China and the rest of the world? How much of an issue is gender inequality and the cost of raising a child? What will an older, frailer population do to the Chinese economy? And, as climate change intensifies, is population decline really a problem? Chris Morris is joined by: Yun Zhou - a social demographer, family sociologist and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. Isabel Hilton ? a journalist and founder of the bilingual website China Dialogue - an organisation dedicated to promoting a common understanding of China?s environmental challenges. Yasheng Huang - professor of global economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the forthcoming book on China, The Rise and the Fall of the EAST. Also featuring: Victor Gao - Vice President of the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation, a think tank with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Producer: Pandita Lorenz and Ellen Otzen

(Photo: China's Sichuan province shifts birth control policies, Shanghai, 31 Jan 2023. Credit: Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

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