UK police: Russian ex-spy was attacked with nerve gas, Moscow suspected

Photo showing Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd arrives in Downing street Mar 6, 2018, for the weekly meeting of Cabinet. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
0

UK police: Russian ex-spy was attacked with nerve gas, Moscow suspected

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday said it was sure that the Russian ex-spy was attacked with nerve gas, as Moscow accused politicians and journalists of whipping up anti-Russian sentiment. Earlier, 
Interior Minister Amber Rudd said police “know more about the substance” after chairing an emergency government meeting to discuss the case of Sergei Skripal, but did not release any details of what progress had been made.
She also called for “cool heads” over the poisoning, which is already being linked with Russia by British politicians and media.
The 66-year-old Russian, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is in a critical condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping center in the southwestern English city of Salisbury on Sunday.
“We need to keep a cool head,” said Rudd, adding that investigators would respond to “evidence, not to rumor.”
Police say they are keeping an open mind about what happened, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday pointed the finger at Russia.
He noted the “echoes” with the 2006 poisoning in London of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, which Britain has blamed on Moscow.
The Kremlin hit back on Wednesday, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling reporters the story “was straight away used to boost an anti-Russian campaign in the media.”
Zakharova earlier said Johnson’s comments were “wild.”
National counter-terrorism police have taken control of the case, citing the “unusual circumstances,” and opened a new crime scene on Wednesday in the nearby town of Amesbury.
“The focus at this time is to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill,” said the head of the unit, assistant commissioner Mark Rowley.


Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter had lunch at a nearby restaurant before walking to the shopping center, where witnesses said they appeared “out of it.”
Experts said the circumstances appeared to rule out radiation poisoning, as in Litvinenko’s case.
“Radiation poisoning tends to take tens of hours to several days to show symptoms after exposure,” said Professor Malcolm Sperrin, a medical physics expert with the state-run National Health Service.
“This may have been chemical, but we can’t be sure.”
Some emergency services personnel who treated the pair required medical treatment, and The Sun tabloid reported that two police officers had itchy eyes, wheezing and rashes.
The BBC reported that without knowing the cause, the hospital treating Skripal and his daughter could only treat their symptoms, citing one source as saying that he “is not in a good way at all.”


Prime Minister Theresa May was updated on the case at a meeting of her national security council on Tuesday, but has declined to publicly comment on the ongoing investigation.
However, she confirmed the government might consider an official-level boycott of the 2018 football World Cup in Russia if it were found to have been involved.
“Depending on what comes out in relation to the investigation... it might be appropriate for the government to look at whether ministers and other dignitaries should attend the World Cup in Russia,” she said Wednesday.
The possible boycott — which would not include players — was first raised by Johnson on Tuesday, when he told MPs that he was not pointing fingers for Skripal’s collapse but made several references to Russia.
He warned Britain would respond “appropriately and robustly” if a government was found responsible.
Skripal was a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who was jailed in his country for betraying agents to Britain’s MI6 secret service.
He was pardoned before being flown to Britain as part of a high-profile spy swap involving Russia and the United States in 2010, and has kept a low profile since.
The Times newspaper reported that police would look into the 2012 death of Skripal’s wife from cancer, and that of his 44-year-old son last year in St. Petersburg, reportedly from liver problems.


London climate protesters seek talks with government

Updated 35 min 38 sec ago
0

London climate protesters seek talks with government

  • Some 831 arrests have been made and 42 people charged in connection with the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests

LONDON: Climate change protesters who have brought parts of London to a standstill said Sunday they were prepared to call a halt if the British government will discuss their demands.
Some 831 arrests have been made and 42 people charged in connection with the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests.
On the seventh day of demonstrations that have occupied key spots in the British capital, organizers said they were willing to switch tactics from disruption to dialogue.
“We are prepared to pause, should the government come to the negotiating table,” Extinction Rebellion spokesman James Fox told AFP.
“What the pause looks like is us stopping an escalation.
“We can discuss leaving if they are willing to discuss our demands.
“At the moment, we haven’t received a response from the government... so we’re waiting on that.”
Extinction Rebellion was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.
Campaigners want governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice.
“We’re giving them an opportunity now to come and speak to us,” Fox told AFP.
“If they don’t take that opportunity, and if they refuse to come and negotiate with us, then this is going to continue and this is going to escalate in different, diverse and very creative ways.”
Police said they had managed to clear the Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus junctions of protesters, who remain in place on Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square.
“We remain in frequent contact with the organizers to ensure that the serious disruption to Londoners is brought to a close as soon as possible and that only lawful and peaceful protests continue,” the police said in a statement.
Calling for an end to the protests, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said more than 9,000 police officers had been responding to the demonstrations, which had left the force as a whole overstretched.
“This is now taking a real toll on our city — our communities, businesses and police. This is counter-productive to the cause and our city,” he said.
“I’m extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer. It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk.
“You must now let London return to business as usual.”
In the blazing sunshine on Waterloo Bridge, police lifted protesters and carried them off to waiting police vans.
“I’m genuinely terrified. I think about it all the time. I’m so scared for the world. I feel like there is going to be calamity in my lifetime,” student Amber Gray told AFP.
“I don’t even feel comfortable bringing children into this world knowing that that is coming.
“And I don’t want people in the future to say to me, ‘why didn’t you do anything?’“
Retiree Kathy Hayman said politicians were “ignoring and denying.”
“I’m amazed really at the lack of consciousness that they have and the lack of responsibility.”