Climate Change? Birds Leave Refuge in Florida

After decades of clamorous nesting birds on Seahorse Key, a 150-acre mangrove island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, the birds have dramatically switched to another island, Snake Key, according to a University of Florida’s Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory website update.

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A biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vic Doig, also told the Associated Press that the birds that moved to Snake Key are only a fraction of those that would normally be on Seahorse Key, according to the Associated Press.

Scientists became aware of the severe quiet in May on Seahorse Key.

The birds that normally nest here–little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and others–were gone. Nests sat empty in trees, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

“It’s a dead zone now,” said Vic Doig, a USFWS biologist, according to the AP. “This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.”

Seahorse Key has traditionally been a way station for bird species and it is part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, near Crystal River, Florida. It’s accessible only by boat.

“It’s not uncommon for birds to abandon nests,” said Peter Frederick, a University of Florida wildlife biologist who has studied Florida’s birds for nearly 30 years, according to the AP. “But, in this case, what’s puzzling is that all of the species did it all at once.”

In reaction, biologists took action: They tested left-behind bird carcasses for disease or contaminants. Their test results were negative. They found no telltale signs of new predators. They noted an increase in night flights over the area by surveillance planes and helicopters used to combat drug runners–but they think that disruption from the planes’ noise is a longshot, says Doig, according to the AP.

Scientists are concerned about whether the abandonment could have a ripple effect: Is the island refuge lost? Will other animals on the key be affected by the birds’ departure, they asked, according to the AP. 

“Any rookery that’s persisted for decades as one of the largest colonies is incredibly important,” said Janell Brush, an avian researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to the AP. “It’s quite a large colony. There had to be some intense event that would drive all these birds away.”

Greece debt crisis: Greek voters reject bailout offer

With almost all the ballots counted, results from the Greek referendum show voters decisively rejecting the terms of an international bailout.

Figures published by the interior ministry showed 61% of those whose ballots had been counted voting “No”, against 39% voting “Yes”.

Greece’s governing Syriza party had campaigned for a “No”, saying the bailout terms were humiliating.

Their opponents warned that this could see Greece ejected from the eurozone.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said late on Sunday that Greeks had voted for a “Europe of solidarity and democracy”.

“As of tomorrow, Greece will go back to the negotiating table and our primary priority is to reinstate the financial stability of the country,” he said in a televised address.

“This time, the debt will be on the negotiating table,” he added, saying that an International Monetary Fund assessment published this week “confirms Greek views that restructuring the debt is necessary”.

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But some European officials had said that a “No” would be seen as an outright rejection of talks with creditors.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the eurozone’s group of finance ministers, said the referendum result was “very regrettable for the future of Greece”.

Germany’s Deputy Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said renewed negotiations with Greece were “difficult to imagine”.

Mr Tsipras and his government were taking the country down a path of “bitter abandonment and hopelessness”, he told the Tagesspiegel daily.

Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Athens

The partying by the “No” camp will go well into the night here and the government will be popping open the ouzo. Alexis Tsipras has called the eurozone’s bluff – and it appears to have gone his way.

But the triumphalism won’t last. There is still a sizeable chunk of the Greek nation deeply unhappy with what has happened. And the government will have to unite a divided country.

More than that, a deal with the eurozone has to be struck fast.

Greek banks are running critically low and will need another injection of emergency funds from the European Central Bank.

Given the bad blood of the past two weeks – Greece’s Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, calling the eurozone’s strategy “terrorism” – it will be hard to get back around the negotiating table. And with the banking crisis and tax revenues plummeting amidst the instability, Greece’s economy has weakened again, making a deal even harder to reach.

The eurozone’s tough rhetoric will continue. But Greece’s government will have its answer prepared: we put your demands to a democratic test – and they were rejected.

Greece had been locked in negotiations with its creditors for months when the Greek government unexpectedly called a referendum on the terms it was being offered.

Banks have been shut and capital controls in place since last Monday, after the European Central Bank declined to give Greece more emergency funding.

Withdrawals at cash machines have been limited to €60 per day. Greece’s latest bailout expired on Tuesday and Greece missed a €1.6bn (£1.1bn) payment to the IMF.

Robert Peston, BBC economics editor, Athens


Greek banks have stayed shut for a week

Greek banks are desperately in need of a lender of last resort to save them, and the Greek economy.

And sad to say no banker or central banker to whom I have spoken believes the European Central Bank (ECB) can fulfil that function – because it is struggling to prove to itself that Greek banks have adequate assets to pledge to it as security for new loans.

There are only two options. The Bank of Greece could make unsecured loans to Greek banks without the ECB’s permission – which would provoke a furious reaction from Eurozone leaders and would be seen by most of them as tantamount to leaving the euro.

Or it can explicitly create a new currency, a new drachma, which it could then use to provide vital finance to Greek banks and the Greek economy.

Greece on verge of euro exit

Greek government officials have insisted that rejecting bailout terms would strengthen their hand, and that they could rapidly strike a deal for fresh funding in resumed negotiations.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that with a “No” vote, Greek banks would reopen on Tuesday.

He was due to meet senior Greek bankers late on Sunday. State Minister Nikos Pappas, a close ally of Mr Tsipras, said it was “absolutely necessary” to restore liquidity to the banks now the referendum was over.

Summit called

Some European officials sounded conciliatory.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni tweeted: “Now it is right to start trying for an agreement again. But there is no escape from the Greek labyrinth with a Europe that’s weak and isn’t growing.”

Belgium’s finance minister said the door remained open to restart talks with Greece “literally, within hours”.

Eurozone finance ministers could again discuss measures “that can put the Greek economy back on track and give the Greeks a perspective for the future,” he told the VRT network.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was consulting the leaders of eurozone member states, and would have a conference call with key EU officials and the ECB on Monday morning.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are scheduled to meet in Paris on Monday. A summit of eurozone heads of state has been called for Tuesday.

The European Commission – one of the “troika” of creditors along with the IMF and the ECB – wanted Athens to raise taxes and slash welfare spending to meet its debt obligations.

Greece’s Syriza-led government, which was elected in January on an anti-austerity platform, said creditors had presented it with an “ultimatum”, using fear to put pressure on Greeks.

The Greek government’s opponents and some Greek voters had complained that the question in Sunday’s referendum was unclear. EU officials said it applied to the terms of an offer that was no longer on the table.

The projected turnout in Sunday’s referendum was about 62%.

As the result became clear, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who had campaigned for a “Yes” vote in the referendum, resigned as leader of the centre-right New Democracy party.

Wooly Mammoth and Asian Elephants: Genetic Sequencing

Wooly mammoths, with their curly hair and presence in snow and ice, were quite different than current-day Asian elephants. In fact, there was likely a suite of genetic differences between the two, say scientists from Penn State, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the University of Chicago. Their findings were published recently in the journal Cell Reports.

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In looking at whole-genome sequences of two wooly mammoths and three modern Asian elephants, the researchers first predicted the function of genetic differences found only in the mammoths, then went a step further than many previous studies, to validate the predicted functions of genes that had been reconstructed in the lab, said a release.

“I’ve been trying for a long time to show that ancient genomes can be sequenced as accurately as extant genomes, and the woolly mammoth seemed like an ideal species for demonstrating this capability. The Asian elephant genomes were needed for comparison in the subsequent analyses,” said Project co-leader Stephen Schuster, formerly of Penn State and now at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, according to the Penn State release.

The study worked with the genes of two wooly mammoths that died about 20,000 and 60,000 years ago, respectively, the Penn State release said.

In order to weed out errors, the researchers read each letter in the mammoth’s genomic alphabet an average of 20 times, before comparing the sequenced genomes of the three Asian elephants and the more-distantly related African elephant, according to the release.  

Amid the intricate reading of letters, the research team found about 33 million places where the nucleotides (the letters) varied among the three species. They found 1.4 million genetic variants in which the two mammoths were the same for one variant and the Asian and African elephants shared a different, likely even more-ancient variant, according to the release.

Among the amino-acid variants shared between the two mammoths but not found in living elephants, the researchers found many changes in genes relating to hair development and how the body stores and processes fats, and how it senses temperature, according to a release.

In other words, the findings showed that wooly mammoths were adapted to endure cold, and even possibly relished it, said Vincent J. Lynch, of the University of Chicago, according to a release. 

The researchers would like to see further study of the mammoths and elephants continue in labs, and say that their report shows how to proceed with this, a release said. 

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales 

Attacks on Egyptian checkpoints signal escalation in Isis capabilities

Islamic State appears to have made small but unprecedented advances in Egypt, killing dozens of soldiers as it attacked multiple military checkpoints and attempted for the first time to control a small pocket of territory in the Sinai desert.

Wilayat Sinai, a jihadi group that declared allegiance to Isis last autumn, attacked the town of Sheikh Zuwaid, a few miles from Egypt’s borders with Gaza and Israel, on Wednesday morning.

It overran several army checkpoints and by local accounts had taken control of several buildings. By midday the group said it had surrounded Sheikh Zuwaid’s police station, a move reportedly confirmed by the station’s commander in a phonecall with a local newspaper.

Officials tried to downplay the number of military casualties, admitting only that 10 soldiers had died. But several local newspapers quoted far higher numbers, with the main state news website, al-Ahram, reporting at least 20 dead, and news agencies placing the total at nearly 40.

Isis also claimed it had seized other parts of the town, releasing a statement that read: “We have total control of many sites, and have seized what was in them.”

If true, even for a brief period, the move marks an escalation in the group’s strategy and capabilities in Sinai.

Isis has previously launched several bloody attacks on the Egyptian army in the north-eastern part of the peninsular – most notably this January and last October. But after those assaults, Isis quickly retreated – whereas after Wednesday’s attack the group appeared to try to advance.

Asked by the Guardian about the situation in Sheikh Zuwaid, an army spokesman would not comment.

A health official at a local hospital said his colleagues had treated at least 30 civilian casualties. He added that survivors had described the scene as a full-scale battle. Militants were “firing weapons from the rooftops,” the source said. “We’re hearing that it’s street warfare.”

To what extent Isis had succeeded in holding territory is unclear, said Zack Gold, a Sinai-focused analyst, particularly as reporters have long been prevented from entering this area of Sinai, which lies far from the peninsular’s southern tourist resorts.

But any control of physical space would be significant, said Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “The invading of a city, taking over buildings – that is a new development, and it’s similar to the over-running of cities that we’ve seen in Iraq and Syria,” said Gold.

“It would be different to the January events when there were multiple simultaneous attacks – but then [the militants] disappeared.”

Jihadis in north-eastern Sinai have attacked Egyptian forces for years, but the scale and frequency of the violence rose markedly after the army ousted Egypt’s first elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013.

An extremist group that had been active before Morsi’s overthrow, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, began claiming responsibility for more attacks – and just over a year later it declared allegiance to Isis, and changed its name to Wilayat Sinai.

Apart from a string of major attacks in the winter of 2013-14 on the Egyptian mainland, the group’s activity has been largely limited to north-eastern Sinai. But on Monday unknown militants assassinated Egypt’s chief prosecutor in Cairo, and no one has yet claimed responsibility for his death.

Additional reporting: Manu Abdo

World stock markets tumble as Greece crisis deepens

Share prices slumped across Europe on Monday as Greece shuttered its banks for a week following a fateful weekend that has shaken Europe’s single currency.

The Greek government decided on Sunday night it had no option but to close the nation’s banks the following day after the European Central Bank (ECB) raised the stakes by freezing the liquidity lifeline that has kept them afloat during a six-month run on deposits.

In London the FTSE 100 tumbled by 150 points – more than 2% – when trading began at 8am BST. There were even sharper falls across Europe, with the French and German markets both tumbling by 4%. European banking shares were the hardest hit, suffering losses of up to 10%.

Overnight in Tokyo the Nikkei index had fallen almost 3% and in Hong Kong shares slid 2.5%.

“The Greek butterfly looks set to cause a tornado in financial markets,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC Markets UK. “In the process we could well also find out if this event turns out to be the equivalent of the butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico, going on to cause a hurricane in China.”

The Athens Stock Exchange will not reopen on Monday.. The dramatic move, after 48 hours of sensational developments in Greece’s long-running battles with creditors, was sparked by the call on Friday night by country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras , for a referendum on its creditors’ demands. That prompted finance ministers of the eurozone to effectively put an end to his country’s five-year bailout by the International Monetary Fund, the ECB and the European commission.

In a brief, televised address to the nation, Tsipras threw the blame on to the leaders of the eurozone. But he did not say how long the banks would remain shut, nor did he give details of how much individuals and companies would be allowed to withdraw once they reopened.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Tsipras published a decree in the official government gazette setting out the capital controls to be imposed on the country.

The decree – entitled ‘Bank Holiday break’ – was signed by Tsipras and the Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

It said all banks would be kept shut until after the referendum on 5 July and withdrawals from cash machines would be limited to €60 – about £40. Cash machines were not expected to reopen until later on Monday.

Foreign transfers out of Greece are prohibited, although online transactions between Greek bank accounts are to continue as normal. Tsipras insisted pensions and wages would be unaffected by the controls.

Greece’s finance ministry later announced that the strict ATM withdrawal limits would not apply to holders of credit or debit cards issued in foreign countries. This was seen as a necessary move after worries that tourists were seen joining locals in front of ATMs on Sunday. Any similar restriction would hurt tourism, Greece’s one thriving industry, which accounts for at least a fifth of economic activity.

The prime minister said that Saturday’s move by the eurozone’s finance ministers to halt Greece’s bailout programme was unprecedented. He called it “a denial of the Greek public’s right to reach a democratic decision”.

Tsipras added that the finance ministers’ initiative had prompted the ECB to curb its assistance, forcing the government to take the steps that it had. He said he had once again appealed for an extension of the bailout until after the referendum, on 5 July, sending his proposal to the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, the leaders of the 18 member states of the single currency, the commission and the ECB.

As fears spread through Sunday that capital controls would need to be put in place, growing numbers of depositors lined up at ATMs, even in affluent city areas, to withdraw what cash they could.

Drivers also flocked to gas stations across Greece, prompting the country’s largest refiner to issue a statement reassuring there are enough reserves. Refiner Hellenic Petroleum said: “We maintain fuel reserves for several months. The supply of our refineries with crude oil is also assured.”

The country’s plight deteriorated sharply on Friday night when Tsipras put his country’s future in the balance by suddenly calling a referendum and arguing robustly for a rejection of the price set by his creditors for saving Greece, at least for a few more months. This Sunday’s vote will ask Greeks whether they approve or disapprove of the last offer tabled by the creditors before the negotiations broke down.

But during a marathon parliamentary debate that ended in the early hours of Sunday morning, opposition leaders argued that it was, in fact, a vote on whether Greeks wished any longer to be part of the eurozone. It will be Greece’s first referendum since the country voted to abolish its monarchy in 1974.

The European commission said on Sunday for the first time in the crisis that it wanted to offer Greece debt relief, Tsipras’s central demand during the five months of stalemated talks. Reports from Berlin said that Angela Merkel and François Hollande shared that view.

But the potential concession appeared to come too late to prevent growing chaos in Greece – and sparked concerns across the Atlantic. Barack Obama was said to have called Merkel, the German chancellor, to urge her to take action. Jack Lew, the US Treasury secretary, urged creditors to offer debt relief to Greece.

Financial analysts will be watching the impact on the markets, which have not yet had the chance to react to the events of the last 48 hours. Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, tightened the screws somewhat on the country.

The governing council of the ECB decided to freeze emergency liquidity assistance to the Greek banks, the lifeline that is keeping the national financial system functioning. The ELA was capped at last Friday’s level of €89bn. It meant that the banks could continue to function, but the draining of money as people flocked to the ATMs to retrieve their savings also meant they would run out of money that could not be replenished by the central bank.

“We continue to work closely with the Bank of Greece,” Draghi said.

Greece’s financial stability committee, which includes the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and the central bank governor, Yannis Stournaras, met on Sunday evening to discuss Greece’s rapidly shrinking options. The high-level political confrontations on Friday and Saturday produced the greatest uncertainty over Greece and in the eurozone in the five-year debt saga.

The fallout from the collapse of negotiations and the calling of the referendum brought recrimination on all sides and predictions of gloom.

The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said he was “perplexed and depressed” by developments. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the committee of eurozone finance ministers, said that with his referendum call, Tsipras was thrusting the country into a mess from which it would struggle to recover.

“We are millimetres away from the total collapse of the Greek financial system,” warned Herman Van Rompuy, until last year the president of the European council and heavily involved in years of Greek rescue negotiations. “It’s actually suicide that’s taking place in Greece right now.”

The restrictions being imposed are anathema to Tsipras’s radical left-led government – all the more so since it desperately needs to keep public opinion on its side ahead of the referendum.

Varoufakis told the BBC in a Sunday interview: “Capital controls within a monetary union are a contradiction in terms.” But he was party to Sunday night’s decision.

In the early hours of Sunday, parliament voted 178 to 120 in favour of holding the referendum. Embarrassingly for the government, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement joined Tsipras’s Syriza party and its populist rightwing coalition partner, ANEL, in backing the proposal.

By Sunday evening, however, it had not received the necessary endorsement of Greece’s president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

According to two polls published on Sunday, Tsipras faces an uphill battle to secure the rejection he has indicated that he favours. One in the right-leaning tabloid Proto Thema found 57% of those interviewed favoured acceptance of the creditors’ latest offer. Another in the centre-left To Vima put support at 47%.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras calls referendum on bailout terms

In a dramatic move that will put Europe on tenterhooks, the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras told his fellow citizens last night he would call a referendum on the bailout accord that international creditors have proposed to keep the debt-stricken country afloat.

Following an emergency meeting of his cabinet, Tsipras said his leftist-led government had decided a package of austerity measures proposed by the country’s creditors – made in a last-ditch effort to avert default – would be put to popular vote. The referendum will take place on Sunday 5 July.

“After five months of hard negotiations our partners, unfortunately, ended up making a proposal that was an ultimatum towards Greek democracy and the Greek people,” he said in a national address, “an ultimatum at odds with the founding principles and values of Europe, the values of our common European construction.”

The leader, who only hours earlier had rejected the proposed reforms after several days of high-stakes talks in Brussels, said Greeks now faced a “historic responsibility” to respond to the ultimatum.

He said the reforms were “blackmail for the acceptance on our part of severe and humiliating austerity without end and without the prospect of ever prospering socially and economically”.

Describing the vote as a “historic decision”, Tsipras said he had informed the leaders of France, Germany and Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank about the decision. “I asked them to extend our current bailout by a few days so this democratic process could take place,” he said.

Greeks would be asked whether they wanted to accept or reject excoriating tax hikes and pension cuts that the EU, ECB and International Monetary Fund have set as a condition to release desperately needed bailout funds. Greece’s current rescue programme, already extended once, expires on 30 June.

Panic-stricken depositors, worried that capital controls may only be hours away, rushed to ATMs to withdraw savings. Queues quickly formed outside banks around the capital.

Prompted by the response, the government spokesman, Gavriel Sakellarides, insisted the plebiscite would not endanger Greece’s place in Europe. “The question is not whether we will remain in the eurozone. The Greek people should not be afraid,” he said in the early hours.

But Tsipras, whose radical-left Syriza party was catapulted into power five months ago on a platform of eradicating austerity, did not hide his own feelings for the accord.

Greeks, he said, were being subjected to “humiliation and blackmail”. “These proposals, which clearly violate the European rules and the basic rights to work, equality and dignity, show the purpose of some of the partners and institutions was not a viable agreement for all parties, but possibly the humiliation of an entire people,” he said.

“But I personally pledge that I will respect the result of your democratic choice, whatever that may be.” The Greek parliament, in an emergency step, would convene on Saturday so that the referendum could be called in line with the constitution. Several ministers emerging from the cabinet session said they would not support the “barbaric measures” being demanded of Athens by foreign lenders.

The energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads Syriza’s militant wing known as the Left Platform, said he would support a no vote against measures that had resulted in the widespread “misery and pillaging” of the country since its debt crisis exploded five years ago.

The recipient of €240bn in bailout funds – the biggest rescue programme in global financial history – Greece has seen its economy contract by more than a quarter, unemployment soar and poverty levels rise precipitously under the weight of draconian budget cuts and tax increased demanded by creditors.

“It is a democratic decision and the Greek people are being called to give a democratic answer. And that answer is going to be a resounding no,” Lafazanis told Kontra TV.

“If the Greek people say a big no, it is going to be impossible for those who wield power not to take note unless democracy no longer exists.”

Echoing that sentiment, the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, tweeted: “Democracy deserved a boost in euro-related matters. We just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds!).”

Konstantinos Chrysogonos, a Syriza MEP, told BBC 2’s Newsnight: “It’s obvious that the deal creditors are proposing to the Greek government is beyond the popular mandate this government has.”

He added: “There was probably no other way but to submit the demands of the creditors to a referendum.”

Chrysogonos said it was not clear yet what recommendation the government would make in the runup to the vote. “I don’t know what the suggestion of the government will be, whether it will be to accept or to withdraw or to refuse the demands of the creditors. This remains to be seen. It remains to be seen what the verdict of the Greek people will be.”

‘ABC World News Tonight’ Wins Week As NBC Names Lester Holt To Anchor …

ABC had the most watched evening newscast last week, as NBC announced it was sending Brian Williams to MSNBC to atone for his fabrication, and named Lester Holt permanent Nightly News anchor. ABC bested NBC’s newscast for the week by its largest margin in seven years.

ABC World News Tonight logged 7.9 million viewers, to Nightly News’s 7.5 million and CBS Evening Newss 6.9 million. ABC also won in the news demo with 1.954 million viewers aged 25-54, to NBC’s 1.875 million and CBS’s 1.577 million.

Savannah Guthrie anchored Nightly News last week while Holt took vacation time. Brian Williams showed up on Friday’s newscast, in a repeat of his pre-taped Today interview with Matt Lauer about his suspension and his new duties at MSNBC.

French teens unable to ‘cope with’ baccalaureate English question

Thousands of disgruntled French teenagers have signed a petition claiming that a question about Ian McEwan’s Atonement in their baccalaureate English paper was “impossible” and calling on the education minister to instruct examiners not to count the marks, or lack thereof.

Pupils were instructed to read a passage from Atonement and complete two questions about how a character copes with being accused of rape. Arthur, a 17-year-old French student behind the petition, told BFMTV: “Many people didn’t understand the word ‘coping’; it’s not a very common word.”

The petition complained: “The majority of students in the bac were not able to answer question M because they found it too difficult, with words only someone bilingual or with an excellent level in English could answer.

“It is totally inadmissible to propose a bac subject with incomprehensible questions that are impossible to answer.”

Atonement was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2001 and is on Time magazine’s list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923. The Observer listed it as one of the 100 greatest novels ever written.

Complaining about the bac, which is taken at the end of high school, has become almost a rite of passage for French youngsters, even though almost nine out of 10 pass.

Students who sat the French (language and literature) paper this year complained that they thought the “tiger” referred to in Tigre Bleu de l’Euphrate – a play by Laurent Gaudé, who won the Goncourt prize in 2004 – was an animal, when in fact it refers to a river.

There have also been complaints about the English question on the baccalauréat 2015 en France Facebook page. But others students have counter-attacked, suggesting those who could not answer the question should stop moaning.

Hugo Travers, 18, said on Twitter that it was lamentable and “totally wrong” to sign a petition because the question seemed too hard. Besides, Travers pointed out, the petition was “full of errors” in French.

A video to support the petition was described as risible by many students. One pointed out that “coping” was hardly in the same league of difficult English words as “comeuppance”.

“You should be ashamed of yourself. If you don’t know what ‘coping with’ means that’s your problem. Go revise your pathetic English instead of whining like old goats,” wrote another student.

UK anti-austerity demonstrations – as it happened

Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in central London today for the biggest anti-austerity march yet this year.

The protest, called by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, will gather outside the Bank of England at midday before marching through central London to a rally in Parliament Square.

Police have closed roads and are expecting “substantial numbers of people” along the route, which runs from Queen Victoria Street and along New Bridge Street, Fleet Street, The Strand and Whitehall.

Protesters will be venting their anger at big spending cuts and privatisations planned by the Conservative government. They fear a plan to bring the national budget into surplus will have devastating effects on public services.

The government’s proposed measures are expected to include £12bn in cuts to welfare, a dismantling of human rights laws, limits on strike action and pro-business reform of public services including schools and healthcare.

The leftwinger and Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn is to make a keynote address, but the party’s other contenders – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – have indicated they do not plan to attend.

Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof ‘wanted to ignite civil war’

The 21-year-old accused of killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, had been “planning something like that for six months”, his roommate has revealed, as friends recalled Dylann Roof’s tirades against African Americans “taking over the world” and his desire to ignite “a civil war”.

The killings have sent shockwaves across the US, as the nation confronts a breaking point over race and gun violence following yet another mass shooting. Hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects outside the Emanuel AME Church – the scene of the shooting – on Thursday evening, with more prayer services held throughout Charleston.

A day after the massacre – labelled a “hate crime” by South Carolina police – a portrait of Roof as an apparently committed racist is building from interviews with associates of the young man, shown in Facebook photos wearing a jacket bearing the flags of the former white-racist regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia.

Joseph Meek Jr, a childhood friend who saw Roof the morning of the shooting, said the pair had never discussed race growing up. But when they recently reconnected, Roof told him “blacks were taking over the world [and] someone needed to do something about it for the white race”, he told the Associated Press.

“He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be.’ But he kept talking about it.”

Meek said that when he woke up on Wednesday morning Roof was at his house, sleeping in his car outside – its license plate bearing the confederate flag.

Later that day, Meek said he and some friends had gone to a nearby lake but Roof stayed behind, deciding he’d rather see a movie. The next time he saw Roof was in surveillance-camera photos distributed by police in the aftermath of the killing. “I knew it was him,” Meek said.

A roommate, Dalton Tyler, said Roof had been “planning something like that for six months”.

An undated handout photo of Dylann Roof wearing flags of white-racist regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia. Photograph: Berkeley County/Handout/EPA

“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler told ABC News. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

He said Roof had been “on and off” with his parents, but they had previously bought him a gun. He hadn’t been allowed to take it with him until this week, Tyler said.

Roof’s uncle Carson Cowles said the gun, a .45-caliber pistol, had been a gift for the introverted young man’s 21st birthday.

“I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn’t have a job, a driver’s license or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time,” Cowles said. “I don’t have any words for it. Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming.”

A high school contemporary, John Mullins, told the Daily Beast: “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.” But now, he said, it seemed that “the things he said were kind of not joking”.

Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Roof was not known to his organisation, which tracks hate crimes across the US, but based on his Facebook page he appeared to be a “disaffected white supremacist”.

Others expressed surprise at Roof’s crimes. “I never thought he’d do something like this,” a high school friend, Antonio Metze, told AP. “He had black friends.”

Meek’s mother, Kimberly Konzny, described him as a “sweet kid”. “He was quiet. He only had a few friends,” she said.

Though police say Roof lived in Columbia, South Carolina, he apparently had ties to the nearby Lexington area. Roof had a mixed educational record in the Lexington school district, attending White Knoll high school in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

Roof previously had at least two run-ins with the law. The Lexington county district attorney’s office confirmed that Roof had been charged with possession of a controlled substance in March but the circumstances surrounding that arrest remain unclear.

He was also arrested in April for misdemeanour trespassing in Lexington county.

On Thursday, police released Roof’s mugshot and moved him from police custody in North Carolina on his way back to face charges in South Carolina.

Reuters reports that Roof had lived with his older sister Amber and their father part-time until his father and stepmother divorced. A profile on TheKnot.com shows that Amber Roof is scheduled to be married on Sunday in Lexington, South Carolina, according to Reuters.

After his capture in Shelby, North Carolina, on Thursday morning – after a florist spotted and tailed his car – Roof was extradited to Charleston, where he is being held in isolation at a detention centre facing nine counts of murder, according to Live5 news.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the White House, expressing heartache at the killings and saying American communities have had to endure such tragedies too many times.

Obama on Charleston: shootings have happened ‘too many times’

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency – and it is in our power to do something about it.”

The Charleston mayor, Joseph P Riley Jr, said at a press conference: “In America, you know, we don’t let bad people like this get away with these dastardly deeds.”

The streets outside of Emanuel church were crowded with people on Thursday night who wished to pay their respects to the dead: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Clementa Pickney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons, 74; Sharonda Singleton, 45, and Myra Thompson, 59.

“It’s just mind-boggling, I don’t have the right words to say it. Just shock,” said Marymargaret Givens, a 60-year-old housekeeper who works a few blocks away. “The way it happened. They were just innocent people. They were godly people.” She gazed back towards the church, said a prayer for the dead and then walked away.

Members of Congress hold a prayer circle in front of the US Capitol to honour those gunned down at the Emanuel church. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

“It was an evil that was incomprehensible,” said Pastor Cress Darwin, who had earlier led a prayer session at the Second Presbyterian Church next door to Emanuel AME. As throngs of worshippers poured out on to the streets, many in tears, Darwin continued: “But this community is coming together. Because of it we will be more vigilant in terms of our security. But because of who we serve, we will not stop welcoming in the stranger, because death is not the last word.”

Fifty-seven-year-old Marilyn Martin had attended school with Myra Thompson and had known Tywanza Sanders. She described Sanders as a “strong man with a good head on his shoulders”. The 26-year-old, she said, had just graduated college and “couldn’t wait to be a productive citizen”.

Charleston residents mourn shooting victims at Emanuel AME church – video

Vigils were also held across the US, including in Nebraska, New York and Florida.

The African American community in Charleston and throughout the US is still reeling from the murder just 10 weeks earlier of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot dead by a North Charleston police officer just miles away from the site of Wednesday’s shooting.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church traces its roots to 1816 and is one of the largest black congregations south of Baltimore. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr addressed the church in 1962.