Russian FM: Russia 'not guilty' in spy poisoning case

A picture taken on March 6, 2018 shows the United Kingdom flag flying in the wind outside its embassy, with a Stalin-era skyscraper seen in the background, in Moscow. The Kremlin said on March 6, 2018 it had no information on a former Russian double agent who fell ill in Britain after exposure to an unknown substance, calling the incident "tragic." (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Russian FM: Russia 'not guilty' in spy poisoning case

MOSCOW: Moscow on Tuesday denied it was behind the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain as a midnight deadline loomed to explain how a suspected Russian-made nerve agent was used in the attack.
"Russia is not guilty," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4.
The United States, NATO and the European Union have all backed Britain in the deepening diplomatic crisis.
Lavrov said Russia was "ready to cooperate", but complained Britain had rejected its requests for "access" to the nerve agent samples.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also said on Tuesday that any Russian connection to the poisoning in Britain of a former double agent would be a “very serious matter.”
“We stand in solidarity on this issue with our British friends and are in close contact with the British government,” Gabriel said in a statement after speaking with his counterpart Boris Johnson.

“It is clear, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. If it should be confirmed that Russia is behind it, it would be a very serious matter.”
Meanwhile, British police investigating the poisoning will not at this stage name any potential suspects as their enquiries continue, a senior police officer said on Tuesday.
“At this stage, we are not declaring a person of interest or a suspect at this time,” Neil Basu, Senior National Co-ordinator for counter terrorism policing, told reporters.
Police say investigation into nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy will continue for many weeks.
However, Moscow has called Britain’s accusations of its involvement in the poisoning of a former double agent an attempt to “discredit” Russia and vowed to retaliate against any sanctions.
“The incident is yet another dirty attempt by British authorities to discredit Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that threats of sanctions “will not be left without a response.”


Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

Updated 16 December 2018
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Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

  • Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign
  • Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes

PARIS: A month of “yellow vest” protests have taken a further toll on the popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron, a new poll showed Sunday, with analysts saying he will be forced to change his style of governing.
Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday on the fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over diesel taxes last month.
The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, suggesting momentum was waning and the most acute political crisis of Macron’s 19-month presidency was coming to an end.
“It is calming down, but what remains of it all is a strong feeling of hatred toward Macron,” said veteran sociologist Herve Le Bras from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS).
A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron’s approval had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23 percent.
The proportion of people who declared themselves “very dissatisfied” by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 percent.
Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign or targeting his background as an investment banker and alleged elitism.
A different poll by Ipsos on Wednesday last week showed that a mere 20 percent of respondents were happy with his presidency, a fall of six points to its lowest ever level.
Le Bras said the protests had underlined the depth of dislike for Macron’s personality and style of governing, which critics see as arrogant and too distant.
“Even by being more humble, it’s going to be complicated,” he added.

Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into a wider opposition front against Macron.
In a bid to end the standoff, he announced a package of measures for low-income workers on Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
The 40-year-old also acknowledged widespread animosity toward him and came close to apologizing for a series of verbal gaffes seen as dismissive of the poor or jobless.
Two polls published last Tuesday — in the wake of Macron’s concessions — suggested the country was now broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue.
“It’s a movement that has succeeded in forcing back what looked like a strong government,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, a public opinion expert at the Pollingvox group, told AFP.
“People have confidence in themselves now, so things won’t return to how they were on November 15” before the protests started, he said.
“The context in which Emmanuel Macron holds power has changed,” he added.
The former investment banker had until now styled himself as a determined pro-business reformer who would not yield to pressure from protests like his predecessors.
“Macron has given an indication that he is more open to dialogue,” Jean-Daniel Levy from the Harris Interactiv polling group told AFP.
The government has announced a six-month consultation with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the “yellow vests” to discuss tax and other economic reforms.
Hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, as well as tougher emissions controls on old vehicles — justified on the grounds of environmental protection — were what sparked the “yellow vest” movement.
Macron “won’t necessarily change the overall course of his reforms, rather the way he carries them out,” Levy added.

In Paris on Saturday, the more than 8,000 police on duty easily outnumbered the 2,200 protesters counted by local authorities.
There were 168 arrests by early evening, far fewer than the 1,000 or so of last Saturday.
Tear gas was occasionally fired, but only a fraction compared with the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.
Richard Ferrand, the head of the National Assembly, welcomed the “necessary” weakening of “yellow vest” rallies on Saturday, adding that “there had been a massive response to their demands.”
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also called on protesters to halt their blockades across the country which have seen traffic and businesses disrupted.
“Everyone’s safety has to become the rule again,” he said in a tweet.
“Dialogue now needs to unite all those who want to transform France.”
He said eight people had died since the start of the movement.
Around 69,000 security forces were mobilized across France on Saturday, down from 89,000 the weekend before when 2,000 people were detained.