Episodes

  • Stories from China, Iraq, Pakistan and Russia and the cost of breaking bones in America. Healthcare is a very hot issue in the US race for the Democratic presidential nominee. Bernie Sanders is promising to roll out government-run health insurance for everyone. When Laura Trevelyan broke her wrist, she found navigating the US insurance system both pricey and confusing.

    Health concerns of a different kind are making headlines this week as the Coronavirus spreads to more countries and claims more lives. Determined to cut the number of new infections, China has confined hundreds of millions of people to their homes. Kerry Allen from BBC Monitoring has immersed herself in Chinese cyberspace to gauge the national mood and the authorities response to the crisis.

    In Iraq, despite pleas from the Ministry of Health to remain at home, earlier this week demonstrators were still in the streets. Protests have rocked the country since October in response to widespread corruption, poor infrastructure and perceived Iranian intervention in Iraq's internal affairs. Colin Freeman who first visited Iraq 17 years ago has been back to meet an old friend.

    In the Pakistani city of Lahore, a building where nationalists once staged meetings against British rule, is slowly crumbling away. Andrew Whitehead recently managed to make his way in to the decaying Bradlaugh Hall and caught an echo of Lahore’s tempestuous past and at times troubled present.

    Wrangel Island was one of the last refuges for woolly mammoths. Today the Russian island is home to Arctic foxes, polar bears, and is visited by more than a hundred species of migratory birds. Scientists flock there too but why honeymooners asks Juliet Rix?

  • Stories from the West Bank, Germany, Brazil, the US and the heart of the European Union. President Trump’s plan for peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories would allow Israel to apply its sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements as well as swathes of strategic land in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright saying it would create a "Swiss cheese state". Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman spent time on two sides of a fence that separates an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian family with its own checkpoint.

    Regional elections take place tomorrow in Hamburg at one of the most worrying times in recent Germany history. After this week’s right-wing terror attack in Hanau, near Frankfurt, John Kampfner says many are wondering whether the security forces and indeed the constitution are strong enough to cope.

    Carnival in Brazil is one of the world's biggest, brashest parties. Millions will flock to the streets this week to dance, strut their stuff and watch the parades. But under Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, there has been increase in police raids in poor neighbourhoods adding a tinge of bitterness to the party spirit.

    The average American made ten trips to a library in 2019, about twice as many times as they went to the movies. The Front Row presenter Kirsty Lang recently moved to the home of American cinema and was surprised to find that Los Angeles has a much loved and well-funded library system.

    Shortly after Britain voted to leave the EU, the Polish chair of the European parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, was categorical. “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English”, she told a news conference. But perhaps it’s not that clear cut says Kevin Connolly.

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  • Stories from Kenya, Italy, Russia, Syria and Portugal. For the past few months, swarms of desert locusts have been eating their way across the Middle East and Africa. As Joe Inwood finds, stopping the swarms has so far proved nigh on impossible for people in the region - with many resorting to yelling, blowing whistles or even firing guns at them.

    Italy’s anti-mafia police do their best to catch the big shots in clans like the Camorra. Dominic Casciani spent an evening with battle-hardened officers in unmarked patrol cars tackling organised crime in Naples.

    In the southern Russian city of Rostov on Don, Anastasia Shevchenko is facing six years in prison for political activism. Several human rights groups have declared the activist a prisoner of conscience and now the Russian authorities have eased the conditions of her detention in her small flat. Sarah Rainsford witnessed Anastasia’s first taste of freedom.

    Last October President Trump abruptly withdrew US forces from North East Syria, abandoning the Kurds, who had been a key American ally in the defeat of so-called Islamic State. Turkey took advantage of the power vacuum by launching an air and ground offensive to occupy Kurdish territory. An estimated 300,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Since then, some have tried to go back but as Nick Sturdee discovered with dire consequences.

    In the early 16th century, Jews made up a fifth of the population of Portugal - most of whom were forcibly converted. Margaret Bradley finds a remote Jewish community which, against all the odds, remained secretly faithful to their religion.

    Presenter: Kate Adie
    Producer: Lucy Ash

  • In the latest programme of the monthly series, Mishal Husain introduces dispatches from journalists and writers around the United Kingdom reflecting the range of contemporary life in the country.

    Emma Jane Kirby, in Birmingham, reports on the seeds of magic sown by teachers there in schools serving deprived neighbourhoods - but also on the sometimes shocking realities of daily life at home for a number of the pupils.

    In Carmarthenshire, David Baker explores the wide range of renewable energy projects being pioneered locally amidst a rich range of Welsh natural resources - and also witnesses a minor drama on his visit to a wind turbine. But who caused it?

    Nearly thirty years after her aunt took her own life after living with depression for decades, Sima Kotecha reflects on daily life for those living with mental illness and those relatives and friends who witness it. She also considers how hard it remains for those in some South Asian communities to open up about their conditions and what the prospects are for that to change.

    With buses seemingly now back in political favour across Britain, Christine Finn returns to the Channel Islands to discover how well-connected bus services are on her native Jersey - and embarks on an ambitious journey round the island to find out if she can circumnavigate it entirely on public transport in one day.

    And Shaun Ley describes what it was like to be greeted by an unwelcome rodent in his home and the steps taken to deal with the visitor. But why are there seemingly more rats in our midst and why have they become bigger and bolder? The local rat catcher has some thought-provoking ideas...

    Producer: Simon Coates

  • French prosecutors announced this week that say they have started an investigation into the business activities of the Maltese magnate charged with complicity to murder the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. It’s just the latest development in a scandal that shocked Europe and led to the resignation of Malta’s prime minister last month. The inquiry in Paris is a response to allegations by the reporter’s family that, Jorgen Fenech, one of the island richest businessmen, used cash from property deals and racehorses in France to bribe Maltese officials. Juliet Rix is a frequent visitor to Malta. She reflects on how the European Union’s smallest country has changed …and not for the better.

    The coronavirus epidemic is adding to tensions in Hong Kong, a city already riven by seven months of anti government protests. As the number of infections rise, many are clamouring for the territory to seal itself off from the Chinese mainland. Last week, public hospital employees went on strike to try and force the authorities to close all border crossings. Some Mandarin speaking mainlanders feel unwelcome and relations with Hong Kongers are increasingly strained as Vincent Ni discovered at a delicious but difficult dinner party.

    India’s once tigerish economy is flagging. And there’ve been suggestions that growth figures were over-estimated for years, hiding what’s been called by one leading economist ‘the great slowdown.’ But the government of Narendra Modi’s BJP party remains relentlessly optimistic. Lesley Curwen who’s just back from Delhi and Hyderabad has been testing the water.

    Pope Francis dampened hopes among reformist Catholics that he was on the point of relaxing the centuries-old celibacy rule for the clergy – despite a shortage of priests in many parts of the world including the Amazon. There was even speculation that he might allow women to celebrate Mass. But there was no mention of such changes in the papal document. It seems, says David Willey, that Pope Francis has opted to focus not on the internal issue of celibacy but the external challenge of climate change.

    There has been much soul searching about how smartphones have killed the art of conversation. The texting culture, the argument goes, is making us lazier, shallower and less literate. But sooner or later slang ends up in the Oxford English Dictionary. Andrew Harding grudgingly admits that language evolves and that common usage eventually becomes correct usage unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool pedant.

  • The residents of an ordinary Moscow apartment block were recently tricked into showing what they really think of their president by a prankster who installed a massive portrait of Vladimir Putin in their lift. Some of the reactions were incredulous, some angry and a few unprintable ..and they had the whole country in stitches. Yet many Russians are confused rather than amused about proposed changes to their constitution. When President Putin dropped his bombshell announcement last month about rearranging Russia's power structure, some wondered if he was looking for a smooth exit or rather that he wanted to stay in charge of his country for life. Steve Rosenberg has been to Russia’s industrial heartland to canvass opinions.

    Yesterday the left wing senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary contest. He declared the night “the beginning of the end” of Donald Trump but it is just one stage in the race to unseat the President and win the White House in November. Away from the campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire voters in New Jersey tend towards the centre ground of American politics. And they’re a savvy bunch in the Garden State. Sandra Kanthal says the best place to hear about the twists and turns of the 2020 US elections is over the countertop of the venerable diner in her home town.

    This week China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has drawn comparisons with the way in which the Soviet authorities handled the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Had the USSR sounded the alarm sooner, the global ramifications of the accident would perhaps not have been so severe. When Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan first tried to warn of the outbreak of the coronavirus in December, he was investigated by police and accused of scaremongering. Now he has been killed by the virus which has been declared a global health emergency. Many foreigners have left China on specially chartered flights but Andy Bostock has stayed behind in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai.

    Mali may have a reputation for armed Islamic extremists, bombs, kidnapping and violence between Fulani herdsmen and sedentary farmers. But the country is also known for its photographers and one of Africa's largest photography festivals, Bamako Encounters, which is held in the capital every two years. Now celebrating its 25th birthday, the festival is at a turning point says Fleur Macdonald with work shown not only in museums and galleries but also in people's homes.

    Life in Ladakh, a region administered by India in the Western Himalayas is often harsh. Remote villages lack transport links communication and many other basic facilities. Getting an education has long been a challenge, especially if your parents are nomadic goat herders. But Andrew Eames has been to visit a boarding school determined to boost the life chances of its young Ladakhi pupils.

  • South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has been charged with a string of crimes including corruption, racketeering and money-laundering. He denies all allegations of wrongdoing and earlier this week didn’t attend his trial saying he was too sick. But photos posted on social media suggest otherwise and Andrew Harding says its South Africans who are really sick - sick of Zuma’s excuses.

    A self-described ''Asian man who's good at math”, Andrew Yang is a very long-shot for the White House. But self deprecating humour aside, the Chinese American entrepreneur and candidate for the Democratic party has lasted longer in the contest than many expected. He broke down in tears last week in Iowa, saying that campaigning for the last two years had been “the journey of my life.” Among the audience were some curious students from mainland China. Some 360,000 Chinese students now study in the US but what are they learning about the American way of voting, asked Zhaoyin Feng, the BBC’s Mandarin correspondent in Washington.

    In celebration of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution next Tuesday, there will be mass rallies across the country and fiery speeches about the Great Satan – the demonising epithet for the United States. This year long simmering tensions with America reached boiling point after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. But this hostility isn’t just between countries. The government in Tehran has plenty of Iranian critics as well, both inside and outside the country. And some of them didn’t just live through the revolution – they once longed for it to happen. - Supported its aims. - Even took part in it themselves. Sadeq Sabah who was head of the BBC Persian service for some years, has his own memories of dangerous days in 1979 and afterwards.

    The flow of grisly headlines coming from Mexico has been almost constant in recent weeks. A group of Mormon mothers and children were murdered at the end of last year, this week four boys were shot dead in an amusement arcade and the bodies of two conservationists were found in a Monarch butterfly sanctuary in the west of the country. But many simply vanish in Mexico’s violent drug war. With no body or any clear sign as to what happened to them, families are left desperate for information. Will Grant was reminded of meeting one such family following a different breed of criminal abduction.

    Will Grant. In the early 1990s there were newspaper headlines comparing Sicily’s capital Palermo to Beirut. Following the killings of two high profile anti mafia judges in 1992, the government dispatched the army to contain what by that point had become an all-out war against the Italian state. The buildings in Palermo fared little better than residents. Palaces and villas were neglected while the mafia built concrete tower blocks in the suburbs. But recently the historic centre was declared a world heritage site and one man has helped to bring Palermo back from the brink says Dany Mitzman.

  • In Brittany there’s been some concern about how the UK’s long goodbye to the European Union will affect it’s fishing fleets. Last weekend France reminded Britain that the UK exports most of its fish production to EU countries. Post-Brexit negotiations about fishing rights, security arrangements and a host of other issues promise to be far from straight forward. But Julia Langdon finds many people in the historic port of St Malo are not that bothered about what’s just happened on the other side of the channel. They have – as it were - other fish to fry.

    Two guards who worked at a prison in Yaroslavl, north east of Moscow, were jailed last month for abusing an inmate. Despite official claims that Russian penitentiaries are cleaning up their act, prisoners, their relatives and human rights activists tell a very different story. Oleg Boldyrev investigated another recent case.

    The Naga, a Tibeto-Burman people made up of dozens of different tribes, inhabit the mountainous borderlands of India and Myanmar. Administered by the British from the middle of the 19th century until after WW2, at least 200,000 Naga have since died fighting for an independent homeland. Although an official ceasefire was signed in 1997, there’s still sporadic fighting between the Indian Army and Naga rebel groups. Antonia Bolingbroke Kent sensed the tension in a remote village straddling the Indo-Myanmar border.

    In a small village in western Cameroon a martial arts academy has become a Mecca for local youth. With a judo area, boxing ring and top quality instructors it is a hive of activity in an otherwise sleepy rural community. Zak Brophy was made to sweat for the story when he visited but as a reward his boxing coach took him to meet his dad.

    A spate of deadly bear attacks in Romania has raised fears that the number of Europe's largest protected carnivore is getting out of hand. Fatal encounters between bears and humans have become disturbingly common. Many believe the steep increase in the bear population is down to a 2016 ban on trophy hunting by environmentalists. But Jeremy Bristow discovered that the bears are far from the only danger in Romania’s forests.

  • Much thought this week on borders, on nationality and how we get on with our neighbours even at the commemorations to mark the liberation of Auschwitz. The Nazis murdered 1.1 million people at the death camp - ninety per cent of them Jews, but also Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, and people from the Roma and Sinti minorities. Two hundred survivors and world leaders from 60 countries. United in remembering but, 75 years on says Adam Easton, the anniversary was overshadowed by disagreements between Russia and Poland about their respective roles in World War II.

    The bushfires , fuelled in a large part by the relentless drought, have brought the climate change debate to the fore in Australia. But the prime minister – a big supporter of the fossil fuel industry – has refused to make any changes to the government’s climate policy. This week the state of New South Wales said it would open an independent inquiry into the on-going fires to examine both the causes and how the state responded to them. Shaimaa Khalil met people from a once thriving tourist town on the coast which went up in flames on New Year’s Eve.

    Politicians in Ireland are making their final pitches before voters head to the polls next Thursday. For generations two centrist parties - Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil - have dominated the country’s politics and, in recent years, the two have been in an uneasy alliance. Fine Gael’s leader Leo Varadkar, of Indian heritage and openly gay, has been something of a poster boy for the new Ireland. While his government has won plaudits from some corners overseas, particularly for its handling of Brexit, it is facing growing criticism at home. Ireland’s political scene is fast fragmenting, says Kieran Cooke.

    Many think of Antarctica as a vast empty expanse of snow and ice, punctuated by the odd penguin or polar explorer. But actually the world’s southernmost continent is home to 75 research stations run by 30 countries. Justin Rowlatt was there for tow months with a team of British and American scientists reporting on the most complex scientific field project in Antarctic history. But thanks to a storm, he spent a bit longer than planned at the US research station, McMurdo and discovered the delights and the drawbacks of life in the world’s coldest town.

    Jordan has one of the highest levels of water scarcity in the world. A warming planet and population growth are making the problem worse. But increasing numbers of women there are picking up pliers, spanners and drain rods and taking matters into their own hands. In the capital Amman, Charlie Faulkner met the country’s first female plumber.

  • Hundreds of foreign nationals are being evacuated from Wuhan, the centre of China's coronavirus outbreak, as more deaths and cases are confirmed. British citizens being flown back to the UK from the city will be put in quarantine for two weeks. Stephen McDonnell was recently in Hubei province where the disease was first identified and is now back in Beijing. He too has been told to stay at home for a fortnight and he reflects on how even the Chinese capital feels eerily deserted.

    This month, Colombia’s war crimes tribunal, the court which was created as part of the 2016 peace deal between the government and the left wing guerrillas known as the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began hearing testimony about the illegal recruitment of children and teenagers. The FARC denies that it ever forced underage soldiers to fight. But the Prosecutor General’s office says the guerrillas recruited more than 5,000 minors during the decades long conflict. Matthew Charles visited one of the worst affected communities in the eastern province of Vaupes .

    It’s been a year since a dam at a mine in Brazil collapsed, killing 270 people. The dam, near Brumadinho in the province of Minas Gerais was owned by the mining company Vale - and just last week 11 of its employees, including its former President, were charged with murder over the incident. While investigations into how it collapsed and who’s to blame continue, the community next to the iron ore mine is struggling to pick up the pieces. Katy Watson returned to speak to survivors.

    The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has just moved from Germany to the UK. In 2015 he was released from house arrest and to much fanfare arrived in Berlin. Berliners were thrilled to give refuge to such a global star. And Ai Weiwei said he loved Germany. But since then the mutual admiration has faded: Ai Weiwei has given a series of interviews in which he’s said he’s leaving Berlin in part because Germans are rude, racist and authoritarian. In Germany that has sparked outrage and some soul searching. Damien McGuinness wonders whether Germans really are impolite or simply misunderstood.

    New York's health care system is often accused of being expensive and labyrinthine. Yet a visit to two hospitals in Brooklyn and Manhattan left Laura Trevelyan feeling curiously uplifted, despite the physical pain, and the bureaucracy of US healthcare. On her odyssey through the emergency rooms, she made some new friends while guided by an old one.

  • The anti-nationalist protesters in Italy and the man they are trying to stop - Mark Lowen meets members of the Sardines as well the hard-line politician Matteo Salvini who is hoping to become Prime Minister.

    Kate Adie introduces this and other stories:

    In Cape Verde, Colin Freeman finds out why Europe’s drug problem is also a problem for the Atlantic islands.

    In Greece, Tulip Mazumdar visits the Lesbos migrant camp built for 2,000 people and now home to more than 18,000.

    In China, Yvonne Murray gets to know her new neighbours - rats. According to the Chinese zodiac, they are thought to be ambitious and clever, hard-working and imaginative but she finds them a little less appealing.

    And Fergal Keane reflects on heroism, compassion and the remarkable story of a woman who sheltered a man who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler.

  • Isabel dos Santos is the billionaire daughter of the former president of Angola and Africa’s richest woman. She claims to be a self-made businesswoman. But more than 700,000 documents, recently leaked from her business empire, suggest otherwise. The emails, charts, contracts, audits, and accounts in the so-called Luanda Leaks have put her under intense scrutiny by her bank and the Angolan government. But in an interview with Andrew Harding she batted aside allegations of corruption and nepotism.

    Escalating violence in Libya has encouraged a growing number of its citizens to flee and risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Sally Hayden has been on board a rescue boat off the Libyan coast.

    The 18 year Afghan conflict has killed tens of thousands of Afghans, more than 2,400 American troops and cost the US around $900 billion. President Donald Trump has often said he wants to remove the estimated 13,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan. That would leave more of the fight against the Taliban to the Afghan security forces. But in Helmand Province Nanna Muus Steffesen found that Afghan soldiers and police are already suffering devastating casualties.

    Famed for its traditional shoulder-shaking iskista dancing, mesinko-playing minstrels and live bands playing Ethio-Jazz, the Addis Ababa music scene has always drawn on a vibrant past. Now a new generation of producers and DJs are mixing Ethiopia's tribal, religious and jazz sounds with thumping garage beats to create a new form known locally as Ethiopian Electronic. James Jeffrey hit the dance floor.

    World leaders gathered in Jerusalem this week to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp - where more than a million people, most of them Jews, were murdered by the Nazis. The French President Emmanuel Macron warned that seventy-five years on, the shadow of anti-Semitism was expanding. Just fifteen years ago, the French Riviera city of Nice was home to over 20,000 Jews. That’s now dwindled to three thousand. During the Second World War, Nice witnessed one of the most vicious round-ups of Jews in Western Europe. Next week, it will unveil a memorial wall of Holocaust victims. One of the names engraved on it is that of Edith (Ay-deet) Mueller. But her teenage daughter Huguette had a narrow escape - as Rosie Whitehouse discovered.

  • In the latest programme of the monthly series, Mishal Husain introduces dispatches from:

    Vincent Ni on a Chinese man who, like him, has come to Britain and is in his mid-thirties - but there the similarities abruptly end. What does living here undocumented mean in practical terms and why does he do it?

    With the approach of Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Adam Shaw reflects on the striking contemporary relevance of his own father's refugee status and escape from Nazi persecution in places as varied as a country estate in Northumberland and a "Lord of the Flies"-like "school" in Scotland. In a letter addressed to his father's grandchildren, he reveals how this child refugee managed to survive largely alone and ponders whether this story is as remote from our experience as we might first imagine.

    Emilie Filou visits Pembrokeshire to meet the bug champions of St Davids and how an entomologist's start-up, created with her chef husband, is trying to influence how children think about what they eat. Can their bold ideas wreak a revolution in the city of the country's patron saint?

    In Kent petrol-head Martin Gurdon ponders the reasons for - and implications of - today's teenagers not driving as much as previous generations.

    And in Middlesbrough, Martin Vennard finds that while the town is proud of its explorer son 250 years on from James Cook's exploration of the Antipodes, it doesn't necessarily know a great deal about him. And that matters, he says, because Cook's life has significant contemporary relevance for today's Tees-siders.

    Producer: Simon Coates

  • When Carlos Ghosn skipped bail in Tokyo last month the world was flabbergasted. Despite being under intense surveillance while out on bail, with undercover agents tailing him whenever he left his house, the ex-Nissan boss somehow hot-footed it onto a private jet and made it to Lebanon. Now that the dust has settled, the spotlight has been turned onto what some call, Japan’s "hostage justice" system. The country has an enviably low crime rate which is often attributed to a small income gap and full employment, but Rupert Wingfield Hayes says many people are just terrified of being arrested.

    Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn’s temporary bolt hole, is a country often caught up in all manner of international rows and intrigues. It is also one of the many countries in the Middle East where Iran determinedly exerts its influence. The Iranian general Qassem Soleimani helped to spread that influence through the Shia Islamist political party and militant group , Hezbollah. So in the wake of Soleimani’s killing in a US drone strike, Hezbollah has been determined to mourn him. Lizzie Porter attends one such memorial event in the south of the country.

    In India there have been violent demonstrations against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA. The new law gives amnesty to illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries, but excludes followers of Islam. So Indian Muslims whose family might have lived in the same spot for generations, but don’t have the paperwork to prove it, could suddenly find themselves stateless. Protesters, including students and Bollywood stars, say the law serves the ruling BJP party’s goal of remaking India as a Hindu homeland and Yogita Limaye says many citizens are troubled – including non Muslims.

    China has also been under the spotlight for its treatment of a mostly-Muslim sector of its society; the Turkic-speaking ethnic minorities in its far west. The Chinese state has detained an estimated one million people in high-security prison camps across Xinjiang since 2017 – most of them ethnic Uighurs. Beijing says that these are vocational or re-education camps. But has China’s state control reached new levels of persecution and is it being extended beyond its borders? Claire Press met with several Kazakhs north of Almaty who’d been imprisoned in China.

    It may be a global leader in solar and wind power, and last year sold more electric cars than the rest of the world combined. But China is also the planet’s biggest consumer and producer of coal. It has to cut back drastically to bring carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and fulfil a pledge made as part of the 2015 Paris agreement. However Beijing is still approving new coal-fired plants as the economy slows. On a trip to Inner Mongolia Robin Brant discover that people are not always keen to make the transition to cleaner alternatives.

  • The Iranian government held an official funeral on Tuesday for General Qassem Soleimani killed by a US airstrike in Baghdad. There were emotional speeches in the general’s home town of Kerman in southeast Iran and so many mourners turned out that at least 50 were killed in the crush. On Twitter the Iranian Foreign Minister had a message for President Donald Trump: "Have you seen such a sea of humanity in your life?... Do you still think you can break the will of a great nation and its people?" But were the huge crowds really a sign of national unity? Lois Pryce who wrote a book about crossing Iran on a motorbike and who has friends both inside the country and across the 2 million strong Iranian diaspora finds public opinion far from unanimous.

    Ever since independence from the USSR almost three decades ago, there’s never been an Uzbek election which outsiders were willing to call free or fair. But this time was meant to be different. On the 22nd of December, Uzbekistan ran its first elections to the parliament and local councils since the country’s long-running authoritarian president Islam Karimov died three years ago. Uzbekistan has long been one of the world’s most repressive countries and under Karimov voting was more of a ritual than an exercise of choice. But some hoped that the man who took over, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, (Meer-zee Yoi -yev) might allow some real reform. A record 25 million dollars were earmarked to run the elections, and Ibrat Safo found a real buzz in the air but wondered what lay beneath.

    Germany has long been considered a leader in renewable energy – a model even for others to follow with its subsidies for wind and solar. But its so-called “Energiewende” (Ener - GEE -vender ) or energy transition” from fossil fuels to renewables has stalled and it still relies on coal for 40 per cent of electricity generation. That will be phased out within the next eighteen years and nuclear energy will end too by 2022 and some worry whether there will be enough energy to heat homes and keep the lights on. Caroline Bayley has been to one former coal town in the industrial Ruhr region which is under-going its own energy transition.

    The gargantuan Palace of the Parliament built by Romania’s communist-era dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, still looms over the centre of Bucharest. About one-fifth of the capital was bulldozed to make way for the so-called House of the People, its satellite buildings, and the grand avenue leading up to it which was supposed to be a longer, wider version of Champs-Élysee in Paris. Forty thousand residents were forcibly rehoused. The building was long reviled as an evil fortress, a symbol of oppression but it now houses the country’s parliament and Romanians are learning to love it and put it in their Instagram feeds says Tessa Dunlop.

    More and more tourists are travelling to the Amazon rainforest to drink – and later vomit - a foul tasting liquid containing a natural hallucinogen called Ayahuasca [a-ya-wass-ka]. Indigenous people have been brewing the concoction for thousands of years, mostly for religious or spiritual purposes. It’s considered a medicine, a way to heal internal wounds and reconnect with nature. But, as Simon Maybin’s been finding out in a remote part of Peru, not all the plant’s traditional users are happy about the wave of Westerners in search of a slice of the psychedelic action.

  • The assassination in a US air strike of the senior Iranian general Qasem Soleimani raises the prospect of a response from Teheran that few can predict. Jim Muir reports on the significance of the US target and what might happen next.

    Thirty years ago the United States acted to remove another foreign threat, this time closer to home. Following the US invasion of Panama shortly before Christmas, the country's military leader General Manuel Noriega surrendered to US troops on January the 3rd, 1990. David Adams was there.

    In Ireland it used to be common for unmarried mothers to be confined in state-funded institutions. Often their babies, once born, were taken without their consent and given up for adoption. Deirdre Finnerty has met one of the thousands of women who were sent to these mother and baby homes.

    Air travel in the Democratic Republic of Congo matters because there are few reliable roads. But there are serious concerns about the safety of flying and many people can't afford it anyway. Most Congolese who need to cover long distances do so - precariously - by boat. Olivia Acland has been aboard.

    Maximum Irritability is a little known but nonetheless debilitating condition sometimes encountered high in the mountains on Pakistan’s border with India, as David Baillie discovered when he took a trip in a helicopter courtesy of the Pakistani army.

  • Until recently, a small, independent and politically neutral Syrian radio station was broadcasting in exile from Istanbul. But Radio Alwan was forced to close when the Trump administration made the decision last year to pull $200m of funding for Syria’s stabilisation projects, knocking the station off air. Some of the station’s staff are scattered across Europe and those who have remained in Turkey say they now feel vulnerable following the Turkish offensive in NE Syria and what they see as a hardening of the country’s position on refugees. So where do you belong if your adopted country no longer welcomes you and the door to your own country is closed? Emma Jane Kirby met ex Radio Alwan broadcasters in Istanbul to try understand why the word “home” no longer has any meaning for them.

    Across Latin America millions have left their homes to better their families' lives. These have been years of huge outward migration from Venezuela, Central America and Cuba. Will Grant has now spent more than a decade living in countries which many of their own citizens feel forced to leave.

    In the municipality of Has, in the rural mountainous north of Albania, it’s estimated that one in five people has left over the past ten years. It used to mainly be men, but now even primary age children are making perilous journeys into richer parts of Europe including the UK. Jessica Bateman asked one teacher how it feels to watch your school slowly disappear.

    If you are forced to leave home, the word evokes a sense of loss. In the early 1970s, the dictator who ruled Uganda, Idi Amin, suddenly decided that the country’s long-standing community of Asians – mostly small business people of Indian origin – should be kicked out. He argued they put ethnic Ugandans at a disadvantage. Reha Kansara grew up with her mother's memories of life in her "East African paradise" and has just made her first visit to Uganda to see the country for herself.

    The story of the nativity often inspires people to show compassion to the homeless around Christmas. Pregnant women and new mothers are particularly vulnerable. But the challenges of new life don’t end with finding a safe place to stay. On the occupied West Bank, Jeremy Bristow recently travelled with a group of female medics to visit the minority Arab Bedouin population.

  • Recent events in Hong Kong have made many people in Taiwan jumpy. Duncan Hewitt talks to a Taiwanese hacker and activist turned government minister who is full of ideas about how to improve life on the island. He finds an increasingly pluralistic and confident society, now more inclined to stand up to China.

    Our main focus this week is on the natural world and we begin at the South Pole where Justin Rowlatt is holed up in a research station eating chips and patiently waiting for a change in the weather.

    At the opposite pole, we trek around Greenland. Some are calling this Artic country the Saudi Arabia of the Green future because it is so rich in rare earth metals. Horatio Clare reflects on exploitation in the wilderness.

    There are fears of plunder too in the Cayman Islands where the tourism industry is threatening to rip up great swathes of coral for the convenience of cruise ship passengers.

  • India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a zero tolerance policy towards violence against women when he took office. But Rajini Vaidyanathan says that for many victims his promises ring hollow. According to the latest figures from India's National Crime Records Bureau there were 33,658 female rape victims in 2017 which means one woman was raped every 15 minutes - and those are just the official figures.

    Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been defending her government from accusations of genocide at the United Nation's top court in the Hague this week but Anna Holligan finds the former Nobel Peace Prize winner tight lipped when it comes to two words - rape and Rohingya.

    Viktor Orban's government has stopped funding for gender studies, calling them 'an ideology not a science'. The move has sent a chill down the spines of Hungarian academics says Angela Saini.

    In Haiti Thomas Rees tunes into the intimate and intense relationship between music, politics and protest

    And from the archive a memorable dispatch from the late Alex Duval Smith .... if you are worried whether your Christmas cards will arrive in time, spare a thought for Mali's most dedicated mailman who has to make deliveries in a city without postcodes.

  • When Russian forces took over parts of Ukraine in spring 2014, much of the world held its breath. Would Western countries side with Ukraine, and could the fighting spread further into Eastern Europe? While that kind of escalation did not happen, life in Eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebel forces and Ukraine’s army are still facing off, still looks something like wartime. As Jonah Fisher recently found, in this terrain, politicians, as well as soldiers, have to tread carefully.

    This week Democratic members of Congress accelerated their push to impeach Donald Trump. Anthony Zurcher has been watching the hearings. He has had a front-row seat as history is written, but sometimes he wonders what history might make of it.

    Since the early Nineties, the United Nations has held an annual conference to bring the world together to tackle the threat of climate change. This year's event in Madrid is meant to persuade the biggest polluters to rein in their emissions. But, as David Shukman reports, progress is as slow as ever.

    A Norwegian pensioner convicted of spying in Moscow recently returned home in a spy swap. Frode Berg’s arrest caused controversy in Norway, with criticism of the use of civilians in espionage. Sarah Rainsford met Mr Berg in Oslo, soon after his release.

    Prince William has just made his first visit to Kuwait. He will have found it to be a different place to what it was nearly three decades ago, when thousands died during Iraq's invasion and occupation of the country. Sumaya Bakhsh has recently visited Kuwait and discovered that, for some, a sense of loss still lingers.

    Presenter: Kate Adie
    Producer: Neil Koenig