Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Stellar cast of UK luminaries urges Scots to vote 'no'

Sir Bruce Forsyth and Dame Judi Dench signed an open letter campaigning for a no vote
Sir Bruce Forsyth and Dame Judi Dench signed an open letter campaigning for a no vote

More than 200 celebrities and public figures have urged Scotland to stay part of the UK ahead of the country's historic vote on independence.

Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Dame Judi Dench, Simon Cowell and Professor Stephen Hawking are among the famous names to sign an open letter to "voters of Scotland" in the build-up to next month's referendum.

The letter says: "The decision on whether to leave our shared country is, of course, absolutely yours alone. Nevertheless, that decision will have a huge effect on all of us in the rest of the United Kingdom. We want to let you know how very much we value our bonds of citizenship with you, and to express our hope that you will vote to renew them.

"What unites us is much greater than what divides us. Let's stay together."

The list of famous names, which includes Oscar and Grammy winners, Olympic medallists and a Nobel prize recipient, represents "the best of British talent and intellect" according to the Let's Stay Together campaign.

Olympic stars Sir Ben Ainslie, Tom Daley and Sir Steve Redgrave have added their signatures along with broadcasters Sir David Attenborough and Sir Michael Parkinson and Hollywood stars Helena Bonham Carter, Sir Patrick Stewart and Michael Douglas.

Lord Lloyd-Webber, Sting and Sir Cliff Richard are on the list, as are comedians David Walliams, Steve Coogan, Ronnie Corbett and Eddie Izzard.

Baroness Lawrence, whose teenage son Stephen was murdered by racists in 1993, has also backed the campaign. All of the celebrities who have signed the letter are unable to vote in the referendum.

Famous Scots who have added their signatures include Corbett, former rugby star Kenny Logan, actress Louise Linton and TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher.

A spokesman for pro-independence campaign group Yes Scotland said: "It's great to know that Scotland has so many friends and admirers, and we know they will all continue to be our friends and admirers after we vote Yes on September 18."

A spokesman for pro-union campaigners Better Together said: "It's great to have the support of so many well-known faces."

The letter was organised by TV historians Tom Holland and Dan Snow ahead of the referendum on September 18.

Militants in control of Iraqi dam

Iraq: Sunni militants from the Islamic State group have seized Iraq's largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources.

Militants have also overrun a cluster of Christian villages alongside the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, clergymen say. It sent civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area.

Bishop Joseph Tomas said the village of Qaraqoush and at least four other predominantly Christian hamlets are in the hands of the Islamic State.

After a week of attempts, the armed gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living nearby said.

Islamic State posted a statement online confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions”. It added that it would not give up the “great Caliphate project”.

The al-Qaida breakaway group has imposed its idea of an Islamic state in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, including its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the militants with little apparent success.

Blockade must be lifted: Hamas

Gaza: A senior Hamas official has told supporters at a rally that the war with Israel will not be over until the group's demands for a lifting of the Gaza blockade are met.

“Our fingers are on the trigger and our rockets are trained at Tel Aviv,” Mushir al-Masri said at a Gaza City event.

It comes as Egypt struggles to broker a lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, with an Egyptian official saying that Gaza-based militants were refusing to compromise. Cairo is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on extending a 72-hour ceasefire that expires today.

Hamas has demanded the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed on the coastal territory after the Islamic militant group seized power in 2007.

“The war is not over yet. Our men are still in the field, manning forward positions, our fingers are on the trigger, and our rockets are trained on Tel Aviv, and Lod and beyond,” al-Masri told thousands of supporters.

Israel has said the militants must disarm first.

Whistleblower allowed to stay in Russia for three years

Moscow: Edward Snowden has been granted permission to stay in Russia for three more years, his lawyer says.

The NSA whistleblower was last year granted temporary asylum of one year, but that ran out on August 1.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, was quoted by Russian news agencies saying Mr Snowden has been granted residency for three more years.

And Mr Kucherena said Mr Snowden had not been granted political asylum.

Mr Snowden was stranded in a Moscow airport last year en route from Hong Kong to Cuba, shortly after he released extensive documentation about the National Security Agency's surveillance programmes.

Liberia seals off capital in bid to contain Ebola

West Africa: Soldiers are clamping down on people trying to travel to Liberia's capital from rural areas hard-hit by the Ebola virus after the president declared a national state of emergency.

Reports have emerged of families hiding sick relatives at home and of abandoned bodies being left in the streets.

While the outbreak has now reached four countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60% of the 932 deaths so far, according to the World Health Organisation.

Toddler lifts loaded gun from grandmother’s bag

Vermont: A toddler found a loaded handgun in her nappy bag at a daycare centre, US police have said. The grandmother of the 17-month-old girl forgot the weapon was in the bag when she dropped the youngster off at the unit in Beebe Plain, officers said.

The centre's owner told authorities the child found the gun in the bag, took it out and started walking around with it. Staff notified her parents and the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

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