First Thing: Rishi Sunak becomes UK’s PM after meeting the

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Rishi Sunak formally became prime minister on Tuesday despite losing the Conservative leadership contest to Liz Truss only six weeks ago.

The former chancellor, who resigned from Boris Johnson’s government in July, has become the third Conservative prime minister in less than two months and the fifth in six years.

Sunak takes on the role at a time of deep economic crisis and is expected to make tough decisions on taxation and public spending that may prove unpopular.

Yesterday Sunak told the Conservatives it was time to “unite or die” as he prepared to enter No 10 as the first person of colour to become UK prime minister.

He has also made history as the first practising Hindu to lead the country and, at the age of 42, the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years.

  • What else should we know about Sunak’s background? He was educated at the prestigious boarding school Winchester college, followed by Oxford University and then had a career in finance. His business background is more California tech bro than City pinstripe, though after he took an MBA at Stanford. He is the richest MP with a fortune worth an estimated £730m.

  • Will Rishi Sunak find the fractured Tory party is ungovernable? Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary and one of Johnson’s most diehard allies, said Sunak had “no mandate” to govern and predicted it would be “impossible” to avoid calling a snap general election.

Chinese spy duo charged in Huawei case as US condemns ‘egregious’ interference

Merrick Garland with FBI chief Chris Wray
Merrick Garland with the FBI chief Chris Wray. ‘This was an egregious attempt by PRC intelligence officers to shield a PRC-based company from accountability,’ Garland said. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Two Chinese intelligence officers tried to bribe a US law enforcement official as part of an effort to obtain inside information about a criminal case against the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment unsealed yesterday.

The announcement of charges against the two alleged agents came as the attorney general, Merrick Garland, detailed two other cases in which Chinese intelligence operatives harassed dissidents inside the US and put pressure on US academics to work for them.

Garland said that the cases showed that China “sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights.

“The justice department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based,” he said.

Progressive Democrats urge Joe Biden to shift strategy and directly engage with Russia

Pramila Jayapal
Pramila Jayapal was among the signatories of the letter, which called on Joe Biden to consider direct engagement with Russia to end the Ukraine war. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A group of US congressional Democrats have urged Joe Biden to pursue direct engagement with Russia to end the war in Ukraine, while still maintaining current military and economic commitments to Kyiv.

“Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we … believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict,” the 30 Democratic members wrote in the letter to the president.

“For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire”.

Among the 30 signatories to the letter are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, from the most progressive wing of the party, collectively known as “the Squad”.

  • How much has the US pledged to Ukraine? Washington has committed about $66bn for Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February, providing Kyiv with weapons and other military assistance, humanitarian aid and economic support.

  • What else is happening in Ukraine? Here is everything we know on day 244 of the invasion. Here is our live coverage as Ukraine invites UN nuclear inspectors after Russia’a discredited “dirty bomb” claim.

In other news …

Kanye West smiles during a meeting with Donald Trump in October 2018
Kanye West smiles during a meeting with Donald Trump in October 2018. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
  • Kanye West is facing a growing backlash among California political leaders and members of the Jewish community – who have called on Adidas to cut ties with the star – following several antisemitic incidents in Los Angeles that came after the artist made bigoted comments about Jewish people.

  • In a private meeting in 2005, Samuel Alito, who would become the US supreme court justice who wrote the ruling removing the federal right to abortion, assured Ted Kennedy of his respect for Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision which made the procedure legal in the US.

  • Crews fully excavated a car that police said was buried in the back yard of a northern California mansion 30 years ago and found no human remains, authorities said. The convertible Mercedes-Benz filled with bags of unused concrete was discovered last week by landscapers in Atherton in Silicon Valley.

  • The actor Leslie Jordan has died after a car crash in Los Angeles on Monday at the age of 67. Law enforcement sources told TMZ and then the Los Angeles Times that they suspected the actor suffered a medical emergency before crashing his BMW into the side of a building in Hollywood.

  • James Corden has said he was “ungracious” during an incident at a New York restaurant that led to the TV presenter being banned from the venue. On the latest episode of The Late Late Show, the 44-year-old comedian said his comments had been “in the heat of the moment”.

Stat of the day: Mike Lindell’s influence grows as he spends tens of millions to expose unproven electoral fraud

Mike Lindell
Mike Lindell’s powerful and growing influence with a certain contingent of US voters demonstrates how deeply election lies have taken root in the Republican party. Composite: Guardian/Reuters

Mike Lindell is the chief executive of MyPillow and one of the most devoted promoters of the lie that Democrats stole the 2020 election through widespread fraud. Lindell has become a target of scorn and mockery among Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and late-night hosts, but he has found a home at the rallies where the former president’s diehard fans gather to lament that Biden “illegally” resides in the White House. He has now dedicated tens of millions of dollars to exposing the supposedly massive electoral fraud that he cannot prove.

Don’t miss this: Just Stop Oil’s Van Gogh soup stunt is the latest streak of radical art protest by women

Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 Please include the credit line: Copyright © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy
The power of a popular image … Guerrilla Girls superimposed a gorilla mask on Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque. Photograph: © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy

“You can get another picture, but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs Pankhurst.” These were the words of Mary Richardson who, on 10 March 1914 walked into London’s National Gallery and slashed, with a meat chopper, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus (1647-51) in protest at the re-arrest of the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. This type of protest – and Richardson’s words – resonated this month when Anna Holland and Phoebe Plummer, part of the Just Stop Oil protest group, made headlines across the world by throwing a tin of soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888), writes Katy Hessel.

… or this: Bob Woodward to publish Trump interviews detailing his ‘effort to destroy democracy’

The investigative journalist’s new audiobook, The Trump Tapes, digs deep into the threat the former president poses to democracy. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Explaining his decision to publish tapes of his 20 interviews with Donald Trump, the journalist Bob Woodward said he had finally recognized the “unparalleled danger” the former president posed to American democracy. His three books on the Trump presidency, Woodward said, “didn’t go far enough”. By Woodward’s own admission, those books exercised reportorial caution when it came to passing judgment, even as they chronicled four chaotic years. The veteran reporter will release an audiobook, The Trump Tapes, today.

Climate check: Russia and China must ‘get on side with conservation’, US tells Antarctic commission meeting

Krill fishing boat between icebergs
US assistant secretary of state says two countries have stopped the creation of new protected areas in Antarctica ‘for too long’. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

The US has urged China and Russia to “get on side with conservation” and stop blocking nearly 4m sq km in new marine protected areas around Antarctica. Speaking at a big international meeting on Antarctic conservation in Hobart, the US assistant secretary of state, Monica Medina, said the two countries had prevented the creation of three new protected areas in Antarctic waters “for too long” and it was time to “shake up the system”. Medina said the declaration of protected areas had been recommended by scientists – but China and Russia were standing in the way.

Last Thing: San Franciscans flushed with anger over $1.7m public toilet

A woman wears a mask because of coronavirus concerns while crossing 24th Street in Noe Valley in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The toilet was planned for the town square in the city’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

Controversy is swirling around a proposed public lavatory in San Francisco after a city newspaper exposed the project’s eye-watering price tag of $1.7m. That sum would have covered a 150-sq-ft restroom with just one toilet. The pricey plans were moving ahead until the San Francisco Chronicle lifted the lid on how much taxpayer money would go down the drain, prompting backlash and ridicule. The costs involved have provoked an uproar, even from the state official who obtained the funding. Adding to the frustrations, the project is not expected to be completed until 2025.

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