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.”


Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

  • The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but a government spokesman said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.
  • After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue.

KABUL: The Afghan government is confident of holding peace talks with Taliban militants despite a recent surge of attacks by insurgents, a palace spokesman said.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi said the announcement last week of a brief truce by the Taliban over Eid, the increasing movement of extremists and some field commanders to government-held areas, and a call for peace by the Imam of Makkah and the Saudi monarch were the basis of the government’s optimism.

The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but Murtazawi said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.

“A new chapter has been opened and the broad support for a cease-fire and an end to the war are the causes for our optimism,” he told Arab News.

“The fact that Taliban announced a truce and their commanders came into towns and celebrated Eid with government officials are positive signs that the extremists will be ready for talks with the government.”

However, no contact has been established with leaders of the group since the militants called off their truce, Murtazawi said.

After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in a spate of attacks, including assaults on military bases where the insurgents joined government forces to celebrate Eid.

Some tribal chiefs and local officials are calling for “safe zones” where extremists can hold initial talks with the government, according to a local official who refused to be named.