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Physicist disappears on holiday without a mobile phone to escape inevitable rush of journalists seeking out prizewinner

The media spotlight has often been too harsh for Peter Higgs, the Edinburgh physicist, who disappeared off on holiday without a mobile phone this week to escape the inevitable rush of journalists that bears down on every winner of a Nobel prize.

The move was carefully calculated and profoundly successful. The Royal Swedish Academy made calls to the scientist’s phone but failed to make contact before – or after – announcing the winners of the 2013 prize in physics on Tuesday morning.

“He didn’t tell even me,” said Alan Walker, a close friend and fellow physicist at Edinburgh University, who was among a crowd of scientists who celebrated at the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics after watching the announcement from Stockholm online. “He’s not available, and good for him.”

Higgs, 84, shares the 8m Swedish kronor ( 775,000) prize – and no small measure of kudos – with the Belgian theorist, Fran ois Englert. Higgs had been favourite to win the award since researchers at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern near Geneva declared last July that they had discovered the particle he predicted, the elusive Higgs boson.

The particle was the smoking gun that scientists had hunted for decades on both sides of the Atlantic in the hope of proving – or disproving – the theory drawn up by Higgs, Englert and several other physicists in 1964.

Written in pencil on a pad of paper, Higgs’s theory described an invisible field that is all around us – and even within us. The field gives mass to the basic constituents of atoms and, in doing so, ensures that the universe is not an ocean of massless particles hurtling around at the speed of light.

Peter Higgs is portrayed as the reclusive genius but that is as flawed as any stereotype. He can be hard to get hold of, but a busy life and an aversion to modern technology are mostly to blame for that. He has no computer, and no email. He answers the phone only when he knows who is calling. To arrange an interview some years back took a written letter to his apartment in Edinburgh’s New Town followed by a wait of several months, after which a reply arrived – handwritten in ink – in an envelope sporting a stamp of the Crab Nebula.

The traditional mode of communication continued even when larger projects were involved. In the later stages of writing Massive, a book about Higgs and the hunt for his boson, the fact-checking was done by sending every chapter to Higgs – along with a bag of ballpoint pens with which to make corrections. For several months later, at irregular intervals, the chapters came back, each accompanied by an extensive list of comments and amendments. Each package landed heavy on the doormat – thump – and caused a rush of anxiety that would have made Pavlov proud.

Edinburgh University, Higgs’s academic home since 1960, released a statement in which the physicist said he was “overwhelmed” to receive the award. “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”

Congratulations and praise poured in for a scientist whose humility and reputation for thinking for himself have made him one of the most revered of living physicists. “A huge cheer went up,” said Walker, of the gathering in Edinburgh. “I have tears in my eyes.”

Ken Peach, an Oxford physicist who used to work with Higgs in Edinburgh said: “I am delighted that Peter’s work has been recognised by the Nobel committee and I hope that this goes on to inspire young people to study physics and to be able to appreciate the sheer beauty of what Peter imagined.”

David Cameron took to Twitter to offer his own congratulations.

Immediately after the big bang, the first particles that formed were entirely massless and zipped around the fledgling universe at the speed of light. But a trillionth of a second later, the field switched on and gave mass to scores of particles, including the quarks and electrons that make up atoms. Particles of light – photons – do not feel the field and remain massless.

Without the Higgs field, or something like it, the universe would look very different today. There would be no stars, planets, or life as we know it.

Higgs was at a conference in Sicily last June when he had a tip-off from John Ellis, a Cern veteran, that the discovery of the particle might be announced at a seminar planned for 4 July at the laboratory. Higgs was travelling with Alan Walker. On hearing the news, the two made arrangements to fly to Cern, a decision fraught with concerns over the cost of extending Higgs’s Saga travel insurance and their combined stocks of clean underpants.

The seminar, held on the morning of 4 July, revealed Cern had indeed discovered the Higgs boson. When the audience got to its feet – with thunderous applause – Higgs dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief. Watching a video of the moment weeks later, he explained his reaction. “I was about to burst into tears,” he said. “I was knocked over by the wave of the reaction of the audience. Up until then I was holding back emotionally, but when the audience reacted I couldn’t hold back any more. That’s the only way I can explain it.” He was tearful not because Cern had finally proved his theory right, but for what the discovery meant to those around him.

This year was the earliest the prize could be awarded for the work, though it is exceptional for the honour to be given so swiftly.

Nobel prizes are often criticised for overlooking worthwhile winners and that was the case with the physics prize this year. The problem arises from the rule – regarded as outdated by many scientists – that prevents the prize from going to more than three people. The theory was first described by Fran ois Englert and Robert Brout, but Brout died in 2011. Higgs published second. But less than a month later, another team published the theory independently. Two US physicists, Gerry Guralnik and Dick Hagen, had worked with Tom Kibble at Imperial College, London, but delayed their paper to ensure it was complete.

“Faced with a choice between their rulebook and an even-handed judgment, the Swedes chose the rulebook,” Hagen told the Guardian.

Tom Kibble at Imperial College, said he was happy to see the Swedish academy recognise the work and offered congratulations to Higgs and Englert. “My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen, and I … contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published. It is therefore no surprise that the Swedish academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the prize cannot be shared by more than three people,” he said.

Ben Allanach, a theoretical physicist at Cambridge University, said: “This is the recognition of a triumph for fundamental physics that will stay in the history books for millennia to come. I am thrilled about the prize, and Englert and Higgs both deserve it well.”

“I cannot over-stress the importance of the discovery. The mass mechanism that the Higgs boson is a signal for has had a huge impact on particle physics over the last 50 years. I think many of us felt that it had to be correct, although we were willing to let data dissuade us,” he said.

Ian Sample, the Guardian’s science correspondent, is the author of Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle

London-based firm set up by chess-prodigy-turned-neuroscientist is Google’s biggest ever European acquisition

A two-year-old British technology company set up by a former child chess prodigy who became a groundbreaking neuroscientist has become Google’s largest European acquisition.

The search giant is spending 400m ($625m) on DeepMind Technologies, a London-based firm set up in 2012, which recently developed a computer system capable of understanding and playing an Atari computer game simply by looking at it on a screen as a human would.

The artificial intelligence (AI) firm was created by Demis Hassabis, 37. Described as “very brilliant” by his peers, he was a chess master by 13, completed his A-levels two years early and at 17 was lead programmer on the classic game Theme Park at the videogames company Bullfrog. In 1999, aged 23, he won the Mind Sports Olympiad – an annual international multi-disciplined competition for games of mental skill. He won it a record five times before retiring in 2003 from competitive play.

Born in north London, Hassabis also carried out research on brain-damaged patients which established that being able to imagine experiences is key to being able to remember past events.

DeepMind reportedly competed with Google and other AI companies for talent, and Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, is said to have led the deal himself after an earlier approach from Facebook was turned down.

Sources close to the purchase indicated that the technology would be built into Google’s search systems, rather than becoming part of its fast-expanding robotics division. Google has bought eight robotics companies, including Bot & Dolly which made the computer-controlled cameras used in the film “Gravity”.

“DeepMind was generally interested in reinforcement learning, and in deep learning, which is very useful in mining so called ‘big data’, something Google has a lot of and is interested in processing,” said Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London.

Google uses AI to understand search queries that have been written as spoken, as well as pattern recognition for image search. Its translation service also relies heavily on AI to understand the context of words and their meaning in different situations and sentences.

The broader question of whether AI technology could be misused or pose a threat to humans has led to the creation of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, which notes that “many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole”.

The DeepMind acquisition is conditional on Google setting up an internal ethics board, sources told The Information.

Google confirmed the deal but would not supply any details.

Google’s other recent acquisitions have included the $3.2bn purchase of the smart fire alarm company Nest, described by Google’s Eric Schmidt as “an important bet” which will lead to products that are “infinitely more intelligent”.

Hassabis got a double first in computer science at Cambridge University in 1997, and returned to games as lead AI programmer on the landmark game Black & White. He set up his own games business, Elixir Studios, in 1998, but in 2005 he left for academia, working on cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence, and publishing influential papers on memory and amnesia.

After attaining a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from University College London in 2009, Hassabis returned to business in 2012 to found DeepMind Technologies, alongside Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman.

Google acquired a string of robotics firms in 2013, culminating in the purchase of Boston Dynamics in December, the most high-profile purchase at the time and a company holding contracts with the US military.

Google’s robotics division was put under the leadership of the father of Android, Andy Rubin, in December, combining seven technology companies to foster a self-described “moonshot” robotics vision.

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, told the Guardian last week that the company was aiming to be the world’s best personal assistant, and said the only limitation was the capability of the technology itself.

“We haven’t held back because people aren’t ready – we have held back because the technology doesn’t work yet,” he said. “It’s very hard to do. But we want it to be the best it can be – with opt in, full permission – to help me get through the day, figure out my questions and suggest questions I should ask people.” He added: “People are doing research into how computers discover knowledge instead of reporting what they figured out – many people are on the edge of that, so it’s maybe five years away.”

Hope is tempered by caution both among Iranians and in the west, where some see an opportunity to repair relations

A young Iranian couple, Masoud Bastani and Mahsa Amr-Abadi, both journalists and both imprisoned on account of their writing, have seen very little of each other for the past four years. Like many Iranian prisoners they were granted occasional temporary releases, but officials always made sure they were not allowed out at the same time.

“The authorities wanted to make life yet more miserable for the two, like an extra punishment,” said one of their friends. Their convictions were for colluding and spreading propaganda against the state, a frequent charge against dissidents and independent journalists. This month, however, Bastani and Amr-Abadi were reunited at their house in Tehran, and pictures on Facebook showing the smiling couple embracing one another delighted their friends and followers.

Their newfound happiness is one of a number of small signs of change after the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani, a veteran pragmatist who ran on an ambitiously reformist platform. With a week until Rouhani’s inauguration, such signs have fuelled hope that a peaceful “Iranian spring” could be on the way, reversing the intensifying repression of the last eight years under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet those hopes are tempered by bitter experience. Green shoots of civic freedoms and human rights were even more apparent under the last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, and at the peak of the 2009 opposition Green movement, only to be emphatically quashed by conservatives in the regime and security forces.

There is even greater caution in the west about the possibility of a better relationship with Tehran and perhaps even a deal to defuse the long and dangerous standoff over Iran’s nuclear aspirations. National security and the nuclear programme in particular are very much the preserve of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. But optimists hope that the intense economic pressures on Iran – amplified by severe US and European sanctions – that helped carry Rouhani to victory will drive the regime towards a historic compromise.

Rouhani has not yet formed a government, so the hopes and doubts swirling around his presidency are based mostly on speculation. However, Iranians report that since the election there has been a distinct thaw in the air.

Bastani and Amr-Abadi are not alone. More temporary releases have been handed out and a handful of the political prisoners recently granted leave have been told they need not return to jail provided they stay out of trouble. Others have been told they will be released on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday next month marking the end of Ramadan. Those on trial for political offences say they have been promised acquittal or light sentences. One recently released activist said his interrogators had been noticeably more polite, as if sensing the winds of change.

The new mood has been apparent among the police on the street. As millions of jubilant Iranians poured on to the streets to celebrate Iran’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup days after the election, the police tolerated public music, dancing and slogans chanted in favour of imprisoned opposition leaders, which would have been suppressed only days before.

Last week 25 independent Iranian documentary film-makers accused of working clandestinely inside the country for the BBC’s Persian service were all acquitted, even though at least 10 of them had previously been found guilty. The film-makers were alleged to have supplied the BBC with information, footage, news and reports misrepresenting Iran, leading to fears some would be charged with espionage. However, the country’s cinema organisation, affiliated to the powerful ministry for culture and Islamic guidance, surprised many by ruling that “none of the works was found to be propaganda against the ruling system and none contained anti-revolution material”.

At the same time, local media appear to be pushing back previously rigid boundaries. The semi-official Isna news agency broke a taboo by printing the names of opposition leaders under house arrest.

Summing up the popular mood, the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was blocked from standing in the election, said on Thursday: “The election’s result has brought hope, peace and rationality to our country.”

Even as they celebrate, many Iranians acknowledge they may be suffering from over-exuberance in view of the limited real changes to date and their extreme fragility. On Facebook and Twitter, the two-word post-election chant “Rouhani Mochakerim” (Rouhani thank you!), is increasingly used ironically as universal expression of gratitude for everyday occurrences (“My brother just passed his exams – Rouhani thank you!”).

The past few weeks have not just been a series of prisoner releases. There have been occasional political arrests too, such as that of the journalist Fariba Pajouh.

Faraz Sanei, of Human Rights Watch, said it was too early to declare a new Iranian spring on the basis of a few rays of sunshine. “Rouhani’s win was certainly a surprise to most analysts, but it is not an indication that reformists will have the upper hand during the next four years,” he said.

Rouhani’s impact on Iran’s relations with the rest of the world is even harder to predict. Khamenei set the tone for national security and foreign policy in the Ahmadinejad era and made clear during the election campaign that he did not intend to change under the new president.

There are signs that the regime intends to use Rouhani’s softer image to try to win more friends abroad. The government has broken with previous practice to invite foreign leaders – with the exceptions of US and Israel – to the inauguration next Sunday.

The foreign ministry even mounted something of a charm offensive in the direction of the UK, seen in ruling circles as Iran’s third worst adversary. On the occasion of the birth of Prince George, the ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi, a UK-educated fluent English speaker, offered congratulations to the Queen and the Prince of Wales.

The conservative backlash to those comments, however, served to underline the scale of the challenge facing the new government in attempting a rapprochement with the west. Araghchi was fiercely criticised by parliamentary rightwingers, and state TV broadcast a furious diatribe describing the Queen as an “iron-fisted dictator” who chose members of parliament and filled key positions by appointment. “England has one of the most reactionary and medieval forms of governments,” the report from London declared.

Ali Ansari, professor of modern history at Saint Andrews University, said the regime would ultimately have to resolve its contradictory views on dealing with the west. “The conservatives seem to think that Rouhani’s election will change international perceptions overnight,” Ansari said. “But if they think that a smiling Rouhani will get sanctions lifted and everything will be hunky dory without giving something substantial to the west, they may be surprised.”

The mixed messages emanating from Tehran have deepened divisions in the west over how to respond to the dawning of the Rouhani age. The UK government has opted not to send officials to the inauguration, arguing that to do so would be to break with the common EU position that only local ambassadors should attend. (The UK has not had a diplomatic presence in Tehran since its embassy was stormed by a mob in November 2011.)

That decision was quickly condemned by the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, as “a misjudgment and a missed opportunity”. Ben Wallace, Conservative chairman of the British-Iran parliamentary group, also voiced concern that western mis-steps could undermine the new president. “Rouhani has a real task ahead. He has to balance the politics inside Iran while at the same time trying to bring Iran into the mainstream of the international community,” Wallace said. “The danger for him and for peace is if the US and the UK move the goalposts

and are seen to be hypocritical in support of repressive Sunni regimes yet tough on the Shia nation of Iran.”

The uncertainty over how to respond to Rouhani’s rise is even more pronounced across the Atlantic. According to the New York Times, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, passed a message purportedly from Rouhani to the White House, saying that the new president was interested in direct negotiations. As an apparent sweetener to encourage such sentiments, Washington has tweaked its draconian sanctions to allow the transfer of more medical equipment. At the same time, however, the Republican-run House of Representatives is preparing to vote on the imposition of even more stringent sanctions before going on its August recess. A joint letter by two retired senior US officers, General Joseph Hoar and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, and Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, published on The Hill’s congressional blog said: “Rouhani’s election represents what could be the last best hope for serious negotiations with Iran to produce a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute. . “The House must not snuff out hopes for Iranian moderation before Rouhani even gets a chance.”

LGBT activists target brands including Stolichnaya and Russian Standard in response to ban on ‘gay propaganda’

There’s nothing more Russian than vodka, so when gay and lesbian activists decided to protest against the country’s persecution of homosexuals it made sense to target its most famous drink.

The US sex writer Dan Savage, famous for his online campaign against the homophobic senator Rick Santorum, called for a vodka boycott to draw attention to new laws allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual or “pro-gay”.

“To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Vladimir Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka,” Savage wrote on his blog, He singled out the brands Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli for the campaign, which has been backed by Queer Nation and the Russian-American group Rusa LGBT.

Savage said attacks on LGBT people in Russia were escalating, and criticised the state for banning gay pride marches in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Six bars in Chicago announced they would stop selling Russian products, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times, a Chicago LGBT newspaper.

The campaign seemed to have an instant success when the manufacturers of Stolichnaya criticised Russia’s record on lesbian and gay rights.

In an open letter published this week, Val Mendeleev, the head of the SPI group, condemned the Russian government for “limiting the rights of the LGBT community” and noted that the Russian state has no ownership or control of the brand, which is produced in Latvia.

On its Facebook page, the company posted a multicoloured banner reading: “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government.”

Stolichnaya, with its distinctive red-and-white label, was produced by the state in Soviet times and was reportedly the favourite vodka of Boris Yeltsin. After an attempt by the Russian state to regain the brand name in the 2000s, SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg, has produced Stolichnaya in Latvia using Russian ingredients. Meanwhile, the state-owned Soyuzplodimport produces a nearly identical vodka in Russia.

Russia’s leading gay rights activist said the boycott was misguided.

“They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn’t Russian,” said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organising committee.

“This is all good for attracting attention to the situation in Russia, like any other action, such as boycott of the Olympics, but it will not drastically change anything,” he added.

Unlike Stolichnaya, Russian Standard vodka is produced in Russia and is owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

In June Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a law banning the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors, prompting calls for other countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, and to distribute material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners. Four Dutch activists were charged in Murmansk this week under the law.

This is not Savage’s first controversial LGBT campaign: in 2003, he held a contest to create a definition for “santorum” after Santorum made comments critical of gay marriage. The new word was defined as “the frothy mixture of lube and faecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”.

More details emerge of Francisco Garz n, 52, as he recovers in hospital after train crash that left at least 78 dead

The focus of the investigation into Spain’s worst rail accident for 40 years remains on the train’s driver, Francisco Garz n, who has been under arrest in hospital since Thursday evening.

Garz n has so far refused to answer police questions, the Press Association reported. He was now expected to questioned by a judge, it said.

At least 78 people died in the accident in which the high-speed Alvia 151 train careered into a sharp curve at more than twice the permitted speed before hurtling off the tracks. By Friday night, 31 were critically ill in hospital, some of them in comas.

Antonio del Amo, head of the Spanish national police’s central forensic unit, said six of the bodies recovered from the wreckage had yet to be identified.

On Friday, more reports of Garz n’s actions leading up to the crash began to emerge. The daily El Pa s reported that the experienced 52-year-old driver had received an order to reduce speed just seconds before the crash and had acknowledged it by pressing a button in the driver’s cab. It remained unclear whether he had been unable or unwilling to apply the brakes on the train, which was running five minutes behind schedule.

A stream of leaked extracts from recorded conversations immediately following the disaster suggested that Garz n held himself responsible for what had happened.

While still trapped in the cockpit of his train, he was reported to have told the emergency service of the state-owned train operator, Renfe: “I hope there are no dead, because they will be on my conscience.” He added: “I should have been going at 80 [kph] and I am going at 190.” Garzon also reportedly said over and again: “We’re human, we’re human.”

The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that during the same conversation the driver had said: “I’ve fucked it. I want to die.”

Contacted by telephone in hospital by the regional newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, Garz n refused to comment beyond saying, “You imagine how I am.”

Details also began to emerge of Garz n’s life. He is a lifelong railwayman and native of Galicia, living in the city of A Coru a with his widowed mother, who lost her other son in a car accident. But he was born in Monforte, an important regional rail centre, and has a flat there.

The son of a railway worker, Garz n was brought up in housing built for railway workers and went to a school run by Renfe. It was in Monforte, 70 miles inland from Santiago de Compostela, that he began working for the company in his early 20s.

He had 10 years’ experience as a driver and Renfe’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n had worked on the Ourense to Santiago line, where the accident took place, for more than a year.

Before returning to his native Galicia, he had worked on the line between Madrid and Barcelona, which is served by so-called AVE trains that can reach speeds of 310kph (193mph).

Julia Morais, a friend of his own age in his home town of Monforte de Lemos, told Reuters: “He was sensible and very good at his job. We don’t know what could have happened.”

Garz n’s professionalism appeared to have been compromised by the discovery of a photograph he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200kph. However, as a driver of high-speed trains he may have been on a stretch of the network where such a speed is permitted. The photograph was posted on 8 March 2012. It nevertheless surprised Garzon’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.”

Garz n is suspected of criminal recklessness, but has not yet been charged. Spanish rail experts have argued that mere negligence cannot explain the crash: that the “black boxes” recovered from the train will show that a technical fault was partly – or perhaps entirely – to blame for what happened. Garz n reportedly tested negative for alcohol following the crash.

Garz n was led from the scene of the tragedy with his face covered in blood and given nine stitches to a head wound, but appeared otherwise uninjured.

Meanwhile, in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, a shrine to the victims of the rail disaster was forming spontaneously at the entrance to the great cathedral of St James on Friday evening.

Friday was the feast of St James and the day many of the pilgrims to the traditional site of his tomb in the cathedral aim to complete their journeys. Some tied little bunches of flowers to the railings at the entrance. Others placed candles and notes on the ledges below. Nearby, a stack of pilgrims’ staffs leant against the wall.

A day for the ending of journeys was appropriate for remembering those who on Wednesday failed to complete theirs. In many cases it was sheer chance that some of the passengers aboard the Alvia 151 lived and others died.

Carmen Quiroga from A Coru a had switched to a later train because she stood a better chance of dining aboard in peace. As soon as her son heard of the accident, he rang her mobile, but it was out of range. “When I eventually spoke to him, he began to weep: he thought I was there,” she told La Voz de Galicia.

Benito Est vez changed his plans after learning from his parents that a relative had been taken to hospital, seriously ill. “I feared that I’d never see him again,” he said.

Others were as unlucky as Quiroga and Estevez were fortunate. A young man at the scene of the accident who declined to be named said he had swapped seats on the way up from Madrid with a woman who was killed when the train derailed.

Father Ricardo V zquez, the spiritual director of the seminary in Santiago, was among those on hand to provide comfort at the centre where relatives of the victims learned of their loved ones’ fate. Among the “devastated human beings” he attended was a man who “was crying out that he wanted to die because he felt responsible for the death of his daughter whom he had persuaded to come and visit him”.

Manuel Su rez, a sales representative from near Santiago, often travelled to Madrid for his work, but never by rail. “He always went by car or plane,” said a cousin. “But on this occasion, he said: ‘This time, I’ll go by train.'”

Deposed president alleged to have helped Palestinian Islamists murder Egyptian police during 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak

The overthrown Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, is under investigation for conspiring with Hamas during Egypt’s 2011 revolution, state media reported on Friday, in the first official update on his status since he was forced from office and detained by the Egyptian army on 3 July.

After the announcement, Morsi was moved from a secret military facility to Cairo’s Tora prison, where his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, is also being held.

The news heightened tensions on a day when supporters of Egypt’s two main factions formed rival mass protests across the country in what was billed as a showdown between people backing the army and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. By the evening, nine people had been killed, most in Alexandria, and at least 200 injured in clashes in five cities, according to the MENA state news agency.

Morsi is under investigation for colluding with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. The charges allege that Morsi and other senior Muslim Brothers were rescued from jail during the revolution with Hamas’s assistance, and then helped Hamas to attack Egyptian police facilities and murder policemen during the ousting of Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood says the fugitives left with the help of locals and that Hamas had no role in the uprising.

“It’s laughable,” said Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. “It’s every crime that you would think of if you were looking at the 25 January revolution [the 2011 uprising] through the eyes of Hosni Mubarak. It’s retaliation from the Mubarak state.”

Haddad’s argument spoke to the belief that Morsi’s overthrow has enabled the return to influence of Mubarak-era officials and institutions who were sidelined by the 2011 revolution.

The police – a target of the 2011 uprising – have seen their popularity rise again following the anti-Morsi protests on 30 June, and they have been quick to capitalise. On Friday, police gave Egyptian flags to pro-army protesters in a show of unity.

The decision by the new government to focus first on allegations relating to events before Morsi’s presidency, rather than on human rights violations that occurred during the presidency itself, indicates that it may be wary of implicating state institutions such as the police – who were also complicit in the torture and killing of protesters under Morsi.

Resurgent support for the police, who publicly backed Morsi’s removal, was apparent among pro-army protesters, even from the most unlikely sources.

“The interior ministry [who run the police] have been purified of the blood of the past,” said 66-year-old Magdy Iskandar Assad, whose son was killed by police officers during protests following Mubarak’s fall. “There’s a reconciliation now between the people and institutions like state security.”

Assad was one of hundreds of thousands demonstrating in support of the army chief, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who asked on Wednesday for Egyptians to give him a mandate to deal with what he termed terrorism. His speech was seen by sceptics as a thinly veiled attempt to win popular support for a violent crackdown on Morsi supporters. Much of the Egyptian media has spent the past month depicting the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies as terrorists. At least seven channels suspended normal programming to encourage their audience to go out to support Sisi, and thousands heeded the call – in particular in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the atmosphere was of a military pageant.

Many wore photographs of Sisi around their neck. Military helicopters flew overhead to loud cheers from the crowd. Smiling protesters had their pictures taken with the soldiers who were securing the entrances to the square, some of them sitting on large armoured personnel carriers.

“My message to General Sisi is: what you did on 30 June was greater than what Egypt did in the 1973 war [against Israel],” said Walid Hedra, 38, a one-time Islamist who grew disillusioned with Morsi after he used dictatorial powers to force through a controversial new constitution last November.

“The armed forces are reborn again thanks to Sisi, the successor to Gamal Abdel Nasser,” said Assad, referring to Egypt’s much-loved dictator during the 50s and 60s. “Sisi is a courageous man who is working for the good of the country.”

Egypt’s pro-Sisi demonstrations also coincided with counter-demonstrations by Morsi’s supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood organised 35 marches across the capital, raising fears of serious factional fighting after nightfall. By the evening, 37 had already been injured in clashes in northern Cairo – but clashes were fiercest in Alexandria, where the health ministry reported at least 100 injured.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohamed Badie, had earlier stoked tensions by calling Sisi’s overthrow of Morsi a more heinous crime than the destruction of Islam’s most sacred shrine.

Many marching in Morsi’s name were afraid of what Sisi’s campaign against terrorism might entail. “It doesn’t make sense for a defence minister to ask people to give him authority to fight terrorism,” said Abdallah Hatem, a 19-year-old student from Cairo. “So his speech was a pretext for something else – a pretext to fight peaceful protesters who want Morsi to come back.”

“None of us here are terrorists,” added Mohamed Mostafa, a street vendor from southern Egypt, struggling nearby under the weight of a Morsi banner. “You can see that for yourself.”

But not everyone on the streets accepted the binary choice of the army or the Brotherhood. A small group of Egyptians, calling themselves the Third Square, gathered in a square in west Cairo to object to the authoritarianism of both groups.

Since Morsi’s overthrow, parts of Egypt have been hit regularly by violent protests and counter-protests by those supportive and opposed to his tenure. More than 200 Egyptians have already died in clashes between Morsi’s supporters, opponents and security forces since protests against the ex-president began in late June.

Contrary to local media reports, which blame the Brotherhood almost entirely for the unrest, all sides have been party to violence – not least the state. On 8 July, police and soldiers massacred 51 pro-Morsi supporters at a protest outside a military compound in east Cairo. In turn, Morsi’s opponents claim his armed supporters have started other fatal fights – in particular while marching provocatively through neighbourhoods south of Tahrir Square, the cradle of anti-Morsi dissent.

The fighting accompanies a surge in militancy in Sinai – long considered a hotbed of extremism – and a rise in sectarian attacks on Christians in southern Egypt.

Sisi’s callout this week is considered an attempt to get the Brotherhood to leave the streets. But the movement’s leaders are frightened of doing so because they fear an escalation in the current crackdown against senior figures within their group, as exemplified by Friday’s charges against Morsi. Leaving the streets without securing Morsi’s return to presidency – the Brotherhood’s core and delusional demand – would also see them lose significant credibility among their supporters.

“It means doing the thing that the Brotherhood can’t and won’t do right now – giving up their claims to legitimacy,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha centre, and an expert on political Islam. “They’ve been telling their supporters that legitimacy is something worth dying for. They can’t just change their minds overnight.”

Asked whether he would accept anything less that Morsi’s reinstatement, 19-year-old Morsi-backer Abdallah Hatem said: “It’s impossible.”

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad

This may be the year the pop landscape is overrun with Scandinavian singers of the female variety, so we present six of the best


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M , AKA Karen Marie rsted, first plonked Pilgrim online last October, causing certain music bloggers to contort into spasms of pure wonder. By channelling elements of the dreaded ‘indie-pop’ sound – there are nods to the likes of Purity Ring in the eerie, cut-up vocals – and bolting on a huge chorus (“holla, holla, holla”), M and producer Ronni Vindahl have managed to utilise elements of something boring and dry and turn it into something uniquely heartfelt and unshakeably catchy. She’s also just released a Denmark-only single called Glass which features the line, “Oh dear one turn the lights off, so our horny souls can have some private time”. You can’t say fairer than that, really.

Cry/dance factor: 56/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 78. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 79. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 65. Average BPM: 50.

Frida Sundemo

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Perhaps Scandi-pop’s biggest asset of late has been its ability to make people dance like idiots while rivulets of tears and dollops of snot pour over creased cheeks and ugly grimaces. Sad lyrics packaged in happy melodies is nothing new in pop, of course, but it’s an art form the Swedes especially have started to dominate, and Gothenburg resident and former medical school graduate Frida Sundemo has two proper cry-at-the-disco anthems up her sleeve. While the bittersweet Indigo encases an entreaty about not giving up in a souffle of sparky synths and pogoing beats, the gorgeously melancholic Snow finds Sundemo wishing the winter would frankly just piss off: “Goodbye Mr Cold, I’m begging you to go”.

Cry/dance factor: 92/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 75. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 41. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 83. Average BPM: 140.


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“I’m like a finger up your ass, now why not give it to me?” muses mysterious Swede Elliphant on the clattering Ciant Hear It, a song that seems to have been built around an old rave siren, a dog barking and a disintegrating Commodore 64. Elsewhere on her recently released self-titled EP she channels Arular-era MIA on the frantic TeKKno Scene, the sound of a panic attack on Make It Juicy and Swedish reggae on Down On Life (opening line: “We are waking up in a pile of shit”). While Frida Sundemo can act like a soothing balm to life’s woes, Elliphant’s skull-rattling agit-pop – which has much in common with Icona Pop’s shoutier material – is a pretty good way of kicking bullshit into touch before it all gets out of hand.

Cry/dance factor: 6/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 36. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 83. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 0. Average BPM: 90.

Margaret Berger

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In 2004 Berger auditioned for the second series of Norwegian Idol (or Idol: Jakten p en superstjerne to be precise) only to be dumped before the live shows. Luckily, one of the judges brought her back as a wildcard (she finished second), and her 2006 album Pretty Scary Silver Fairy explored electropop (think a lighter R yksopp or the Knife). She’s been quiet for a couple of years, but recently won Melodi Grand Prix (the Norwegian version of Your Country Needs You) and will represent Norway at Eurovision. Her song, I Feed You My Love, is spectacular – all big farting synths and dark lyrics like, “You put a knife against my back and you dare me to face the attack”. Jade Ewen this ain’t.

Cry/dance factor: 66/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 68. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 32. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 59. Average BPM: 95.


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When it’s really yes, yes, yes? Formed in Stockholm, NONONO, AKA singer Stina W ppling and production duo Astma & Rocwell, make the kind of percussion-heavy, gloom-tinged pop Niki & The Dove brought to the ‘masses’ last year. While Astma & Rocwell have previous, having worked with Icona Pop and Beatrice Eli (whose 2012 single The Conqueror is a glowering synth-ballad), it’s Stina – who’s just finished a three-year psychology course, education fans – that steals the show. While their debut Like The Wind ticks all the right boxes, production-wise (rattling percussion, spidery guitars similar to the xx, delicate synth flourishes), it’s all anchored by Stina’s vocal, which boosts it all with genuine character. Check out the “wha ah ah ah” bits if you don’t believe us.

Cry/dance factor: 44/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 49. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 63. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 51. Average BPM: 80.


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As a teenager, Stockholm-born Fanny Hamlin (no sniggering at the back) was in the Swedish girl band Play alongside Rosanna Munter (please, guys, concentrate) and two other singers with less interesting names. Play released the excellent single Waterfall in 2010, and at one point toured with Destiny’s Child, with Beyonc imparting her vast amount of wisdom to Fanny by suggesting she steer clear of the music industry altogether. Thankfully she didn’t listen. The newly christened Faye recently set about making the kind of elegantly poised electropop torch songs that make you clutch at your chest in overdramatic anguish. Her first single, Water Against The Rocks, was one of 2012’s best music moments.

Cry/dance factor: 89/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 71. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 57. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 85. Average BPM: 50.