Strolling the ancient hillforts of southern England

The western ramparts of Maiden Castle, Dorchester, Dorset.

They stand in a clear line along the Wiltshire Downs facing north: perhaps facing an enemy whose identity we do not know. In the bright sunshine of late spring, I could see the hillforts stretching away along the escarpment – Barbury, then Liddington, and finally Uffington, with its famous chalk white horse. They may have been begun in the bronze age, but reached their apogee in the iron age, in the first millennium BC.

As a nation, we’re not very good at appreciating our prehistory. We can just about take in Stonehenge, but prefer our history to start with the Romans – more manageable and all written down.

Perhaps it’s the time I spent in Peru exploring its pre-Columbian past that led to my fascination with Britain’s iron age hillforts. But until now, it has not been shared. On the long walks I’ve done in the past few years – 400 miles across southern England from Dorset to Norfolk and, more recently, 200 miles across the north – almost all the hillforts were completely empty. The only people who used them regularly seemed to be dog walkers – perhaps because there’s usually a car park and they make a perfect constitutional canine circuit: once round the earthworks and no need to scoop.

But that may be about to change. This summer sees the launch of a new website dedicated to finding and exploring the UK’s numerous hillforts, coordinated by the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. With the help of the public, they have created a database of over 4,000 hillforts across Britain and Ireland, which will make these sites far more accessible.

Some have survived better than others. Barbury is one of the best-preserved, with impressive ditches and double ramparts. Their purpose seems clear: defensively sited on the northern slopes of the downs, the better to aim slingshots at enemies, and with space inside for an entire village to shelter.

It is far from clear that “hillforts” were all primarily military: some, like Maiden Castle in Dorset, are too large and may also have been places of congregation and prestige. More may have been like iron age “community centres” – although that doesn’t sound so exciting.

Long after its use (or not) as a fort, Barbury was the location of one of the most significant (yet forgotten) battles in British history. In 556AD, Cynric, leader of the West Saxons, fought a decisive engagement with the Britons at Barbury Castle. The Britons were defeated and the Saxons went on to create Wessex, enslaving many of the remaining Britons.

It is almost too cinematic to be true, given that the hillfort had probably been built a good 1,000 years before the battle – as if a climactic episode of the second world war took place at Agincourt, or a machine-gun battle inside Rome’s Colosseum.

I arrived on a beautiful, crisp morning. The trackway from Avebury curled around the hills, lined with cranesbill and elderflower. There was a wind in the trees. Just walking round the earthworks took a while: they enclose some 13 acres. The line of the downs turns here from north to east, and in doing so opens up views in every direction; Barbury Castle is on the precise point of the turn.

I became conscious of the incessant calling of rooks from the stand of trees beside the castle. Iron age man was obsessed with these birds. Archaeologists have often found rooks and ravens, the largest of the corvids, buried at hillforts alongside humans.

What made them so fascinating to prehistoric man? The raven has always been a creature of myth, for its intelligence, longevity (living 25-40 years, Tennyson’s “many-winter’d crow” had the life expectancy of any human in the iron age) and capacity to mimic or follow human behaviour. But not necessarily for its loyalty – a raven is not like a dog. Corvids are cunning, and capable of stealing from an iron age camp.

In ancient Europe, from Greece to Celtic Britain, raven calls were thought to be messages from the underworld. One can see how: that “caw” has the rasp of death – and prophecy. Apollo is said to have listened to the utterances of a raven. The Celtic raven god, Lugh, was told by his fellow ravens when enemies approached. In Celtic mythology, ravens were one of the creatures thought to be used by shape-shifters, themselves often old women dressed in black rags, known as Morríghan or harridans. Some ravens may have been domesticated by their Druid handlers, like the ravens at the Tower of London today. It would be an arresting sight, the priest with a large raven on his shoulder; for they are large birds, bigger than buzzards.

But above all, iron age man practised what modern Parsees call “sky burials” and archaeologists, more ponderously, “excarnation”: the exposure of a corpse on a platform or hill so that the bones can be picked clean by scavenging birds, of which the raven would be the largest and most predominant. Only then would the bones be buried, sometimes with some of the birds. There has been academic speculation that at the time of death the Druids may even have summoned the ravens with a special call, much as vultures are summoned by Parsee priests.

As I stood on Barbury Castle, whose own bones have been picked clean by time to reveal the bare stones of ditch and rampart, and with the ravens calling in my ears, I reflected on how rich and strange the iron age hillforts are. And how little, until now, we have appreciated them.

Welcome to Gwyneth’s Goop ‘mudroom’. But does it sell rose quartz vaginal eggs?

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Once upon a time, Joe, this was the easiest of peasiest questions. Oh sure, there are plenty of trendy boutiques in the world – Dover Street Market in London, 10 Corso Como in Milan – but the queen of ’em all for the past 20 years has been Colette in Paris. Colette is what fashion people call “a concept store”, which means in English “a store where hardly anyone ever buys anything”. I have been in Colette dozens of times and I have never, not once, seen anyone buy clothes. To be honest, I’m pretty impressed Colette lasted six months, let alone 20 years.

When I lived in Paris, shortly after Colette opened, I was such a naive young thing that I didn’t understand about stores where you don’t buy anything. So when I went to visit this store I had read so much about – I almost certainly dressed up for the occasion – I bought the only things I could afford: a scented candle and one of Colette’s weird mix CDs. What a rube I was! It wasn’t until I was working on the fashion desk of this paper that I realised what I should have done was walk around in a circle, occasionally looking at a Prada skirt, and then walk out the door.

But now Colette is shutting up shop, which leaves two questions: first, where will fashion journalists walk around in circles in between fashion shows in Paris? Second, where’s the essential store now?

The first question remains unanswered, but the second has, thankfully, been resolved by a woman who is either a modern-day saviour or a satire on the modern day. I speak, of course, of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Now, making fun of Paltrow is so easy it’s not so much shooting fish in a barrel as taking an AK-47 to a goldfish in a tea cup, and, because this column has never shied away from the obvious, Paltrow has featured here two or 17 million times before. This makes me sadder than you might think because Paltrow, the actor, was a concept I could always get behind. Remember how delightful she was in Emma? How fabulous in The Royal Tenenbaums? How sweet in Shakespeare in Love? Admittedly, all those films are about two decades old, but, damn, Gwyneth, why you decided to give all that up to flog vaginal steaming is a mystery at least as puzzling as the survival of concept stores.

Anyway, Paltrow doubtless foresaw the need for a new store in some $350 rock she flogs on her reliably absurd website, Goop, because this summer she has opened a Goop store in the Hamptons, New York – but just for the summer, because pop-up stores are the new concept stores. Thrillingly, Architectural Digest has done an article on this new essential retail experience for those of us who are not blond and therefore banned from the ritzy preppy-haven.

“When I first talked with Gwyneth, she wanted me to bring the farm aesthetic of Cornwall to the Hamptons,” says the store’s designer, Vicky Charles. “The village store there sells everything from a stamp to an ice cream.” Well, this is exciting – has Gwyneth set up a Spar to the Hamptons? Or a Londis? Or even – be still my beating heart – a Europa? My God, I’m so excited about the idea of a Gwyneth-designed Europa (ahhh, those yellow and black signs!), I might have to bleach my hair, buy some white shoes and make a trip to the Hamptons for this.

“My hometown in England only has one store, so it made sense for me. You get used to that vibe,” Charles says. Yes, because there is nothing more aspirational than the vibe of rural degeneration. But pray, continue.

“This particular space was inspired by a room in an English cottage where you can just kick off your wellies and store your gardening tools,” says Brittany Pattner, Goop’s creative director. Yes, Brittany, I believe that “space” is called a shed, although Paltrow seems to insist on calling it “the mudroom”. Do English people have rooms for just mud? Did Paltrow ever leave her own house and visit other people’s even once in the decade she lived in this country? Yet more questions that must, for the moment, remain unanswered.

“We wanted to create a holistic experience of not only curating products, but also providing the right context for those items,” Pattner says. And in that sentence, which I would bet my vaginal jade egg will appear in next week’s Pseud’s Corner, you see why Gwyneth’s Hamptons store is the new Colette: this is not about selling stuff. Good heavens, how common! This is about “curating” products and telling people who visit your store how much cooler you are than them.

I have just enough space left to tell you that Gwyneth is currently quarrelling with an obstetrician and gynaecologist called Dr Jennifer Gunter, who has queried the soundness of Goop’s frequent advice about what women should and shouldn’t stick up their vaginas. “When they go low, we go high,” Paltrow tweeted, and by “low” she means “argue against our nuttiness with inconvenient facts” and “high” she means “up the nuttiness with personal attacks”. I urge you to read Gunter’s blog about this, perhaps on the Hampton Jitney on your way to her store. It might save you some money and stop you buying a rose-quartz vaginal egg – or better yet, stop you buying anything at all. It’s the fashionable way, Gwyneth.

Faf du Plessis critical of Vernon Philander’s overall fitness and absence

 

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Faf du Plessis delivered a withering assessment of Vernon Philander’s overall fitness following South Africa’s series defeat in England and told the wider public it is time to move on from the prospect of AB de Villiers ever returning to Test cricket.

Speaking after the 3-1 loss, the Proteas captain was simply asked about the frustration of the back spasms suffered by Philander that ruled him out a final Test that could have levelled the series and opted to make a point about his conditioning.

“Vern needs to work on his fitness. It’s happened too often he doesn’t play a full series and I have spoken to him about that and he’s accepted the challenge that he needs to improve,” said Du Plessis, who was denied a senior bowler he described as the world’s best in seaming conditions, having dominated England’s top order with 10 wickets in the first three Tests.

In the last of those, a 239-run defeat at The Oval, Philander struggled throughout after suffering from a stomach virus that had him spend one night in hospital on a drip. Nevetheless Du Plessis expected the 32-year-old to be ready for Old Trafford once clear of this illness only for a niggle the captain considered minor to crop up.

Graeme Smith, South Africa’s former captain, was first to query this early in the 177-run defeat that followed and, when asked if it was justified, Du Plessis replied: “It’s fair that you need to play a lot of cricket for your country and be available for selection. I think Vern will agree with that.

“Too many times the team has gasped ‘Vern could be injured again’. So he understands from a fitness point of view with important series coming up, Australia and India at home, he needs to be fit to get through all eight Tests.”

In Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj South Africa had two bowlers who stepped up across the duration of the tour’s Test leg, claiming 19 and 17 wickets respectively (the former was named their player of the series by England). But a glass-jawed top six that returned only one century from Dean Elgar and a single batsman averaging over 40 in Hashim Amla, was culpable.

The continuing absence of De Villiers was felt. Unquestionably one of the greatest batsmen South Africa has produced, the 33-year-old remains the limited overs captain and a Twenty20 freelancer but is currently taking an indefinite sabbatical from playing the Test arena that has now run 18 months and appears only a statement away from official retirement.

Talks between De Villiers and Cricket South Africa about his future are due to come soon, offering a glimmer of hope that he may be coaxed into the challenge of two upcoming marquee home summer series against India and Australia. But Du Plessis, among his closest friends from schoolboy to professional cricket, is doubtful.

He added: “We all know how good AB is and we missed him but we’ve spent too much time talking about, ‘When is AB going to come back?’

“The hope of him coming back is something I think we need to move past … and we need to find someone else who can fulfil those roles. Obviously you don’t just replace those players. If AB comes back, it’s a huge bonus. But I don’t expect it.”

Laura Muir refuses to enter Caster Semenya debate after heartbreak

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Laura Muir was close to tears after missing out on a world championship 1500m medal by seven hundredths of a second to South Africa’s Caster Semenya.

Muir had led for much of the race but ran out of gas down the home straight and was beaten to bronze by Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion. South Africa’s Semenya later attempted to shut down debate over hyperandrogenism, the medical condition she has which is characterised by excessive levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone.

Athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, is putting together a case to convince the court of arbitration for sport that Semenya’s condition gives her an unfair advantage over her rivals. Semenya could be forced to undergo hormone replacement therapy or face being unable to compete in the future.

“I really don’t have time for nonsense,” she said. “I do not think about something that might happen in eight months. I don’t focus on the IAAF. It’s not my business. My business is to train hard and see what I come up with in competition.”

Muir refused to be drawn into the complex debate round Semenya’s participation in these championships. “I’ve not got anything to say about that,” she said.

The race was won by Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon in 4min 02.59sec while experience proved valuable for the 30-year-old American Jenny Simpson who ran an exquisitely judged race to take silver.

London 2017 organisers have ordered a floor in one of the hotels used by competitors to be quarantined after an outbreak of gastroenteritis.

Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, a medal prospect in the 400m, was given medical dispensation to withdraw from the 200m heats after throwing up in the call room.

A number of other athletes staying at the same hotel also have gastroenteritis, including the Ireland 400m hurdler Thomas Barr. “I’m gutted to have to withdraw from the semi-final. My whole year has been focused on the world championships. To not be able to go out and compete for Ireland is beyond disappointing.”

An organisers’ statement read: “Those affected have been supported by both team and local organising committee medical staff. In addition we have been working with Public Health England to ensure the situation is managed and contained.

“As a result, further advice and guidelines have been issued to team doctors and support staff – standard procedure for such an occurrence where a number of teams are occupying championship accommodation.”

Kenyans queue for hours to vote amid fears of post-election violence

 

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Result of tight contest between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga could be known by Wednesday morning.

Long queues formed outside polling stations across Kenya on Tuesday morning as fiercely contested presidential elections got under way following last-minute calls for calm from officials and politicians.

Many voters had waited for hours in the rain to choose between the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been in power since 2013, or the veteran opposition politician Raila Odinga. The most recent polls did not indicate a clear winner.

An estimated 180,000 police officers and members of the security forces have been deployed amid fears of violence after the result is announced, which may be as early as Wednesday morning.

The campaign was marred by hundreds of violent incidents – including the murder of a high-profile election official – issues with new voting technology and widespread concerns about fraud.

More than 1,100 people died after the losers rejected the election result in 2007.

In recent days bus stations have been busy as many Kenyans have left major cities for provincial areas which are seen as safer. Others have stockpiled groceries, phone cards and other essentials.

Election officials have circulated short videos on social media calling on voters to accept that in a “healthy democracy there are winners and losers”.

Kenyatta, 55, addressed the nation on Monday night, urging citizens to vote “in peace” while the former US president Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, led international calls for a violence-free election.

“I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people,” Obama said in a statement.

There are more than 19 million registered voters in the nation of 48 million. Half are aged under 35. They will vote in 40,000 polling stations.

Pamela Mwande, 33, said she had voted for Kenyatta in the upscale Lavington area of Nairobi.

“[The president] has been a good leader. We should not have change and disruption and fuss,” she said.

Observers see the election as the last showdown of a dynastic rivalry between the families of Kenyatta and Odinga, 72, that has lasted more than half a century.

The presidential candidates’ fathers – Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – fought together for independence from Britain in 1963 before becoming bitter rivals.

Odinga is making his fourth attempt to gain power. He claims that elections in 2007 and 2013 were stolen from him.

The men belong to two of the country’s main ethnic groups, Kenyatta from the Kikuyu, the largest, and Odinga from the Luo.

Both have built coalitions with other influential communities in a country where voting still takes place largely along ethnic lines.

Kenyatta’s first term saw a massive infrastructure drive and steady economic growth of more than 5%, making Kenya one of the best performing economies in Africa.

However his record has been undermined by soaring food prices, ongoing high unemployment and major corruption scandals.

 

A river-swimmer’s paradise in the heart of England

Jenny stands by the banks of the river Nene in Northamptonshire.

Preconceptions about places we’ve never been are formed in a multitude of ways: what we read, watch or hear about it, and sometimes even the people who are from there – whether we like them or not. Occasionally, there are areas we have no idea about. For me, that was a section in the heart of England: the south Midlands. Then I went to swim there.

“What’s this area called?” I had asked Bryn Dymott, my swimming guide for the day. Bryn had met me off the train in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, and had rapidly transported us into … well, just where had he taken us?

“Swimmer’s paradise,” he said. “Or rather, river-swimmer’s paradise. We don’t have the sea.”

His answer didn’t have the geographical exactitude I was after but it was heartfelt. And, after a double-dipping day with Bryn, I saw what he meant.

Bryn likes bridges. “I’m that tragic person,” he said, “who drives over a bridge and thinks, could I swim that?”

So our first stop – which I established was in Northamptonshire – was a bridge with a special jumping-in spot where, when it’s full, the river Nene pushes out of a narrow pipe into a churning maelstrom. “You might think we don’t have that mad, tumbling water here,” Bryn said, of this pretty flat area, “but there’s still lots of fun to be had.”

On this visit, the water was too low to provide such fun, so we carried on to a spot further down the Nene, near Oundle, where the pontoon of a rowing club provided a handy place to get in and out. The river was thick, flat green and we swam from village church to village church. A man in a tractor in a riverside field had no idea we were there, this was pastoral by stealth. Bryn, like an aquatic pied piper, led me carefully past a pair of swans. “They could break my arm,” I joked. “That’s a myth,” he said. “What they do is force you under with their wings, then get you with their huge swan claws.” There’s always a dark side to these pied piper types.

As we returned to the pontoon, a couple of narrowboats chugged up (this is a navigable river, so wear a bright cap and swim on the right) and we stopped to make sure they’d seen us, low in the water. “Are you wild swimming?” yelled an old fellow from one. “Open-water swimming,” Bryn yelled back, and indicated around us. “It’s not exactly ‘wild’ is it?”. We waved them off and for a moment, it felt a bit Mike Leigh.

Our second swim was replete with geographical exactitude. We were 12 miles equidistant from Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, right by the rec’ in Olney, Buckinghamshire. “You know what a rec’ is?” Bryn asked as we walked across a wide mown field with room enough for plenty of picnickers. Of course I knew, (it means recreation ground) and we chatted about our swimming origins; how the outdoor pools of our childhoods were extant and how he’d come to open-water swimming.

“Waterlog,” Bryn answered. He’d picked up Roger Deakin’s book on holiday, read the first four chapters and that was it: he was hooked. They say nothing matches the zeal of a convert and Bryn is also an enthusiast, an encourager, an enabler – and a breaststroker, at that. You don’t see many of those around, do you?

Bryn’s zeal took me to the River Great Ouse at Olney, a fantastic swim spot he was keen to show off. There’s every variation of green: newly mown, the lime zing of twisting willow leaves, the boiled blue-green of stiff reeds and the dull felt of the deeper water. Where the river makes a small swoop, the council have added wide steps for an easy entry point, contradicting the nearby sign that says Swimming Not Recommended. Bryn explained how that sign read No Swimming for a while, but local people complained, as swimming here has tradition. As if to prove the point, as we got out, a gang of teenage boys launched themselves in with the abandonment of young people who have just finished an exam.

Someone sat smoking on the steps as we got in. “It’s dangerous round that corner,” she said. “It’s really not” said Bryn, and we set off into “danger” – swimming against a slight current, a few long weeds occasionally stroking our legs. A dog being walked along the bank caught sight of us and stood, staring, bemused. No swans, no boats, just an abundant edging of wild flowers, our two heads on the look out for kingfisher and voles, and warm water doing a slow dance.

We swam up to where a cable crossed above us, about 1km there and back. Bryn wasn’t keen to go further, it gets weedy he said, and he didn’t want his charge, me, to get swimmer’s itch. He explained it was a parasite from snails that gets under your skin. Oh god, I thought, it’s swan claws all over again. The realities of nature spoiling a lovely nature trip.

Swimming back, we saw someone ahead of us. Bryn was chuffed: it’s rare enough for him to meet another swimmer in the water, let alone one he doesn’t know. We three chatted while the sun dried us. Turned out, Andy and Bryn had swim friends in common, and Andy and I had pools in common – he was headed to Brockwell Lido in south London the next day. This happens with swimmers, we find community.

I got back on the train at Saint Neots, with a much clearer idea of where I had been, and why it offers so much. It really is a river-swimmer’s paradise – just watch out for swans and itching.

Google reportedly fires author of anti-diversity memo

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CEO Sundar Pichai says internal document that criticised efforts to promote women and under-represented minorities is ‘contrary to our basic values’

Google reportedly fired a software engineer on Monday after a document he wrote criticising the company’s diversity efforts and attributing the tech industry’s gender imbalance to biological differences between men and women went viral.

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to [Google’s] work is offensive and not OK,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a memo to employees. “It is contrary to our basic values and our code of conduct.”

The firing of the memo’s author, who identified himself as James Damore in an email to the Guardian, was first reported by Bloomberg. Google declined to comment on an individual employee’s case, but tweeted a link to further comments by Pichai: “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive’, showing ‘lower stress tolerance’ or being ‘neurotic’.”

The 10-page “manifesto” was initially published internally, but was leaked to the press on Saturday after prompting a firestorm within the company. The document, entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, takes aim at Google’s “diversity and inclusion” initiatives, such as implicit bias training and programs to promote women and under-represented minorities, and argues that the company is intolerant of conservative political views.

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” the author wrote.

The author also made questionable claims about supposedly innate differences between men and women to account for the extreme gender disparity in Google’s workforce.

Like most of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies, Google is overwhelmingly male, white and Asian. Women make up just 20% of the technical workforce, and African Americans just 1%, according to Google’s most recent diversity report.

Google is also engaged in a legal battle with the US Department of Labor, which is investigating the company for wage discrimination. A DOL lawyer told the Guardian in April that its analysis of wage data showed “that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry”.

“At this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters,” the attorney said.

Google denies the charges.

The internal document sparked a heated debate within Google and the tech industry at large, with many Google employees expressing anger and dismay about its contents on Twitter. Many called for the author’s firing, arguing that his opinions created a hostile work environment, while others raised concerns about sacking an employee for expressing unpopular views.

Rightwing news site Breitbart covered the controversy extensively, focusing on the perceived culture of “political correctness” in the tech industry, and casting the memo’s author as a victim of a “witch hunt” by “social justice warriors”.

In his memo, Pichai acknowledged concerns over freedom of expression, adding: “Many points raised in the memo – such as the portions criticising Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all – are important topics.

“The author had a right to express their views on those topics – we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.”

The CEO told staff he would be returning from a vacation early in order to hold a town hall meeting to discuss “how we create a more inclusive environment for all”.

Google is the latest company to face issues of sexism, discrimination and harassment this year. The Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigned in June and an additional 20 employees were fired amid the fallout from allegations of widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the company.

The tech industry has also been rocked by accusations that a number of high-profile venture capitalists have harassed female startup entrepreneurs.

 

China-India border spat casts shadow ahead of BRICS summit

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China is taking an increasingly tough line on a border row with India amid a rising crescendo of nationalism in state media, and President Xi Jinping looks set for an awkward encounter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a multilateral summit next month.

Diplomats say Beijing would like to resolve the border issue before a summit of the BRICS nations – that also groups Brazil, Russia and South Africa – in the Chinese city of Xiamen in early September, and ensure nothing dampens what China wants to be a show of cooperation and friendship among developing countries.

But that could be tough. On Wednesday, China ramped up the rhetoric, accusing India of “concocting” excuses over the illegal entry of the South Asian nation’s military into Chinese territory.

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate and lawful rights and interests,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The two sides’ troops are confronting each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.

Responding, India reiterated an earlier line that work by a Chinese road crew in the sensitive frontier area would have changed the status quo and urging “utmost restraint” by all sides.

“India considers that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas is an important pre-requisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China,” New Delhi’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

Most previous standoffs, such as one in 2014 just ahead of a rare trip to India for Xi, were resolved with both sides withdrawing their forces. There has been no shooting since a brief border war in 1962.

Talks are happening behind the scenes, but with little apparent progress. Meantime, Chinese and India media have been taking a strident approach, with a Chinese state-run newspaper last week saying China could use force.

An Indian magazine’s front cover last month showing a map of China shorn of Tibet and self-ruled Taiwan also ignited public anger on Chinese social media with thousands of angry posts.

“The problem is the media on both sides are whipping things up. This makes it hard for China or India to back down,” said a Beijing-based source who is familiar with the discussions between the two sides.

The Indian government has asked political parties to refrain from politicising the issue and allow diplomacy to work.

“Show What We Are Made of”

China’s defence ministry last week also warned India not to harbour any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory.

A source with ties to the military, who spoke recently to a senior Chinese officer involved in the stand off, said China has no appetite for conflict with India but could not be seen to be weak.

“Nobody wants to fight about this, but if India keeps making trouble then we’ll have to show them what we’re made of,” the source said, citing the conversation with the senior officer.

China has repeatedly called on India to withdraw its forces.

An Indian government source closely tracking the standoff said there was no change in the ground situation in Doklam, with the two sides remaining in a standoff.

Indian military expert Nitin Gokhale said India was prepared for a long haul.

“The decision is to stay resolute on the ground and reasonable in diplomacy,” Gokhale said.

China has been briefing foreign diplomats on the stand off, saying it wants a resolution but that its patience won’t last for ever.

“There’s no easy solution,” said an Asian diplomat, who attended a briefing, referring to both sides’ insistence that they are in the right.

For the time being, China looks ready to keep things calm, said another Asian diplomat, familiar with China’s thinking on the issue.

“China really wants to resolve this ahead of the BRICS summit. It doesn’t want anything to affect the atmosphere,” the diplomat said. “The gloves could come off after the summit though.”

China and India have long been suspicious of each other, a legacy of the 1962 border war, India’s playing host to exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and China’s close relations with India’s regional rival Pakistan.India has privately raised objections to Chinese firm Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group’s proposed $1.3 billion takeover of Indian drugmaker Gland Pharma, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, visited Beijing last week for a BRICS security meeting, and had bilateral talks with his Chinese opposite number, top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister.

A Chinese government statement on that meeting did not mention the border issue.

China and India are already suspicious of each other because of China’s massive investments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, including Chinese-invested ports in both countries India fears could one day become Chinese military bases, another senior Asian diplomatic source said.

“Nobody wants to get caught in the middle of this,” the diplomat said, pointing to the prospect for the border tensions worsening and becoming a wider Asian security issue dragging in other countries.

World stocks slip as tech shares crumble after Dow breaks 22,000

Image result for World stocks slip as tech shares crumble after Dow breaks 22,000

World stock markets fell on Thursday, led by a tumble in tech shares as investors locked in recent gains after Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average broke the 22,000 barrier for the first time in its 121-year history.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.7 percent, with South Korea’s tech-heavy Kospi index slumping 1.7 percent to its lowest level in over three weeks. Seoul shares took an additional hit from President Moon Jae-in’s new tax plan.

Japan’s blue-chip Nikkei stock index closed down 0.3 percent.

European stock markets opened broadly lower, Germany’s DAX slipping 0.6 percent and France’s CAC 0.4 percent lower. Britain’s FTSE was down 0.2 percent.

“We haven’t seen a major correction in tech shares so far this year so they may be hitting a speed bump,” said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, chief strategist at Mizuho Securities.

In New York overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped the 22,000 mark for the first time on the strength in Apple shares following its earnings.

But as the positive impact faded, investors were encouraged to take profits.

Samsung Electronics, which last Friday posted its biggest daily fall since October, slid 2.5 percent, giving up the gains made so far this week. SK Hynix dropped more than 3 percent.

Technology stocks in Europe slipped 0.3 percent.

“I don’t see too much in the way of downside for European stocks because economic data is strong – take a look at the Italian data today,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Data on Thursday showed Italy’s service sector posted its fastest growth for a decade in July, boosting prospects for economic output in the euro zone’s third-largest economy.

Dollar Edges Up

In currency markets, the dollar inched away from a 15-month low versus a basket of currencies, but was still looking wobbly due to doubts about whether there will be another U.S. interest rate rise this year.

U.S. inflation has been contained even as the labor market appears to be in its best shape in many years, with the jobless rate staying near a 17-year low.

Friday’s closely watched government employment report could provide more clues on the economic outlook.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s value against a basket of six major currencies, rose about 0.12 percent to 92.951. On Wednesday, it slid to 92.548, its weakest level since May 2016.

The euro was a touch weaker at $1.1841, after rising to around $1.1911 on Wednesday, its highest level since January 2015.

Britain’s pound held near Wednesday’s 11-month high of $1.3250 ahead of a Bank of England interest rate decision. The central bank will also release its latest inflation report.

The BoE is expected to keep interest rates at a record low. When they last met in June, rate-setters voted by a narrow 5-3 margin to keep Bank Rate at 0.25 percent.

The surprisingly close decision pushed up sterling and British government bond yields as investors pulled forward their expectations of a rate hike.

Oil prices dipped as a rally that pushed up prices by almost 10 percent since early last week lost its momentum, despite renewed signs of a gradually tightening U.S. market.

Brent crude futures slipped 0.8 percent to $51.94 per barrel, not far from Wednesday’s high of $52.93, its highest level in 10 weeks.

Euro zone business activity lost some momentum in July, still strong: PMI

Image result for Euro zone business activity lost some momentum in July, still strong: PMI

Euro zone businesses started the second half of 2017 with robust growth although the pace slowed slightly from June as a loss of momentum in Germany and France dragged on activity, a survey showed on Thursday.

IHS Markit’s final composite Purchasing Managers’ Index for the euro zone was 55.7 in July, down from June’s 56.3 and a flash estimate of 55.8. It has been above the 50 mark that divides growth from contraction since mid-2013.

“The surveys indicated a slight cooling in the pace of growth in July, but this is still an encouragingly upbeat picture of business conditions,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at survey compiler IHS Markit.

Williamson said the data pointed to a 0.6 percent economic growth rate, matching official preliminary estimates for the second quarter that were released on Tuesday. A Reuters poll last month predicted a 0.4 percent pace.

Signaling the positive readings could continue into August, new orders rose, backlogs of work were built up and firms increased headcount. The employment sub-index held steady at June’s 54.4, one of the highest readings in the last 10 years.

Activity in Germany’s services sector slowed to a 10-month low, however, and France’s private sector grew more slowly in July than in the previous month, earlier figures showed. Spain’s services PMI dipped last month.

“Of the four largest euro members, only Italy recorded faster growth in July,” noted Williamson.

A PMI covering the bloc’s dominant service industry held at June’s 55.4, matching the flash estimate. Tuesday’s manufacturing PMI dipped from the previous month.

New business for services firms came in at a faster rate last month. The sub-index nudged up to 55.2 from 55.1 in June.