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Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigns over child abuse pardon scandal

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Hungarian President Katalin Novak announced her resignation in a live television address
Hungarian President Katalin Novak announced her resignation in a live television address

It was revealed last week Katalin Novak had given clemency to a man jailed for forcing children to retract sexual abuse claims against a director of a state-run children’s home.

Protests calling for her to step down had been growing in Hungary.

Ms Novak apologised and said she made “a mistake” in granting the pardon.

Judit Varga, the former minister of justice who approved the pardon, has also resigned from her new role leading the European elections campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

The controversy which led to the resignations came after the names of 25 people pardoned by Ms Novak in April last year, as part of a visit to Hungary by Pope Francis, were made public by Hungarian media last week.

On the list of convicts was the deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, who had been jailed for three years after forcing children to retract claims of abuse against the director of the home.

The director had himself been jailed for eight years over abusing children at the government-run facility.

Hungarian opposition parties and protesters had been demanding her resignation, but Ms Novak’s decision to do so was as sudden as it was unexpected.

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Ms Novak is a popular figure in Fidesz and a rare female politician in a male-dominated country. She is a key ally of Hungarian Mr Orban and previously worked as his family minister.

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In 2022, she became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president.

The case has unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for Hungary’s long-serving nationalist government.

In particular, it caused deep embarrassment for Fidesz, which has made traditional family values the cornerstone of its social policy.

Speaking in an address live on television, Ms Novak said she granted the pardon in the belief the convicted man “did not exploit the vulnerability of the children under his oversight”.

She apologised to victims who “might have felt that I did not stand up for them”.

“I made a mistake, as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were conducive to triggering doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to paedophilia,” Ms Novak added.

In addition to the resignation of Ms Novak, another leading female politician from Fidesz has also resigned over the same case.

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Judit Varga, who was minister of justice at the time of the pardon, countersigned the clemency decision.

The double resignation of its two most prominent female politicians is a serious setback for Mr Orban and his party, with Ms Varga due to head the Fidesz list in the European elections in June.

BBC

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International

43 reported dead, scores injured as fire guts high-rise building in Dhaka

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43 reported dead, scores injured as fire guts high-rise building in Dhaka
•Firefighters battle a fire raging on a building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Xinhua)
At least 43 people were killed Thursday night after a devastating fire tore through a high-rise building in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

Minister of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh Samanta Lal Sen told Xinhua early Friday that they had confirmed the deaths.

The minister said 33 bodies were brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and 10 others to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka.

Anwarul Islam, an inspector of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Headquarters in Dhaka, earlier told Xinhua that around 75 people, including 42 in an unconscious state, were rescued from the “Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall” and were rushed to several hospitals.

Islam said rescuers were working at the site. He said they sent the firefighters after receiving information about the fire around 9:30 p.m. Thursday local time. At least 12 firefighting units rushed to the spot and doused the fire at about 11:30 p.m.

The official said the seven-storyed building houses a restaurant, an outlet and several other shops.

The death toll in the devastating inferno is likely to rise, warned another fire official, who did not want to be named.

TV reports early Friday showed fires were still raging in some parts of the building. The cause of the fire could not be known immediately. (Xinhua)

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Nigerian student’s enrollment drops by 70% as UK varsities hit by fall in overseas admission

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Nigerian students drop by 70% as UK varsities hit by fall in overseas admission
The number of international students taking up postgraduate places at UK universities has fallen sharply, according to commercial data that sparked further warnings about the financial health of the higher education sector.
The figures from Enroly, used to manage one in three offers to overseas students, showed a 37 per cent drop in the number of international offers for UK postgraduate courses in January 2024 compared with January last year.University leaders warned that the findings, based on Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) documents issued by universities to support visa applications for about 40,000 students, sounded an alarm bell for the sector.

The data offered the first broad statistical snapshot of postgraduate enrollments since a recent toughening of government migration policy.

Last year Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a ban on masters students bringing family members to the UK following concerns that the system was being abused by some education institutions.

Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, which represents more than 140 universities, said the Enroly data painted a “stark and concerning” picture for the wider sector.

“Its findings are further confirmation that policy changes by the government are already having a significant impact on international student demand — and we are now at serious risk of an overcorrection,” she said.

The sector is also facing other headwinds to international recruitment, including a currency crisis in Nigeria and increased competition from rival markets such as Canada, the US and Australia that have bounced back strongly after Covid-19 shutdowns.

In 2019 the government’s International Education Strategy set a target of attracting 600,000 international students and delivering annual educational exports of £35bn.

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The number of international students studying in the UK grew from 500,000 in 2018-19 to 680,000 in 2021-22, the last year for which there was complete data.

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The Department for Education said that since applications continued to September it was too early to draw conclusions about enrolment numbers for the 2024-25 academic year.

The Enroly data pointed towards a divergence between postgraduate and undergraduate international applicants.

In January, the number of CAS issued for undergraduate courses was 23 per cent higher than at this point last year, according to Enroly data.

Similarly, earlier this month, data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showed undergraduate international applications were 0.7 per cent higher than the previous year as of January — though most undergraduate applications from overseas students come later in the year.

UK universities are increasingly reliant on international students to make ends meet. Non-EU overseas student fees accounted for a fifth of total university income in 2022, data from Higher Education Statistics Agency showed. Most overseas students come to the UK for postgraduate courses.

Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group of elite universities, said the early data suggested that the government’s policies were affecting the UK’s attractiveness as a study destination.

“This is a shame as the UK is a fantastic place for international students to study. There will be knock-on consequences for university finances too,” he added.

CAS numbers were 70 per cent lower for Nigerian students and 33 per cent lower for Indian students across all levels of study when compared with January 2023, according to Enroly. Those countries had been both strong growth markets since 2018.

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Rachel Hewitt, the head of MillionPlus, which represents former vocational colleges and polytechnics that became universities in 1992, said the drop in deposits on such a scale had “serious implications” for all tiers of UK universities leading to losses that would further stretch university budgets.The education department said the higher education sector had received financial support of nearly £6bn a year in addition to £10bn a year in tuition fee loans for domestic students.
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“We are fully focused on striking the right balance between acting decisively to tackle net migration, which we are clear is far too high, and attracting the brightest students to study at our universities,” it added.

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At least 15 Catholic worshippers killed in an attack during service in Burkina Faso

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At least 15 Catholic worshippers killed in an attack during service in Burkina Faso
• Burkinabe soldiers

At least 15 Catholic worshippers were killed in a Burkina Faso village on Sunday when gunmen attacked a community as they gathered for prayers in the country’s conflict-hit northern region, church officials said.

The violence in the village of Essakane was a “terrorist attack” that left 12 of the Catholic faithful dead at the scene, while three others died later as they were being treated for their wounds, according to a statement issued by Abbot Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, vicar-general of the Catholic Diocese of Dori, where the attack happened.

No further details were provided about the attack, which no group claimed responsibility for. But suspicion fell on jihadis who have frequently attacked remote communities and security forces, especially in the northern region.

“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for the rest in God for those who have died in faith, for the healing of the wounded and … for the conversion of those who continue to sow death and desolation in our country,” Sawadogo said in a statement.

About half of Burkina Faso is outside government control as jihadi groups have ravaged the country for years. Fighters have killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people, further threatening the stability of the country that had two coups in 2022.

The country’s junta has struggled to restore peace in violence hot spots since the first coup in January 2022, the number of people killed by jihadis has nearly tripled compared with the 18 previous months, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in August.

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In addition to the junta’s limited capacity, the security situation also has been worsened by the country’s porous borders with Mali and Niger, both of which are also run by juntas and which also struggle with security crises.

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