Britain says likely that Russia’s Putin made decision for nerve agent attack

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses the media during a visit to a Battle of Britain bunker at RAF Northolt in Uxbridge, Britain, Mar. 16, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 16 March 2018
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Britain says likely that Russia’s Putin made decision for nerve agent attack

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday that it was overwhelmingly likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself made the decision to use a military-grade nerve toxin to strike down a former Russian agent on English soil.
“We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” Johnson told reporters at the Battle of Britain bunker from which World War Two fighter operations were controlled.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent who betrayed dozens of spies of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service, and his daughter.
May said that it was tragic that Putin, who is likely to coast to a fourth term in a Sunday presidential election, had chosen to act in such a way.
Soon after Johnson’s comments were reported, the Kremlin said accusations that President Putin was involved in the nerve agent attack were shocking, TASS news agency reported.
“Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behavior,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the agency.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said previously on Friday Russia will expel British diplomats in response to London’s decision to expel 23 staff at the Russian embassy in London.
Asked by a Reuters reporter, at a summit on Syria in the Kazakh capital, if Russia planned to expel British diplomats, Lavrov replied: “We will, of course.” He did not give any further details.
Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit, and even suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
Relations between Britain and Russia have been strained since the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006, a killing which a British inquiry said was probably approved by Putin.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing.


‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

Updated 25 May 2019
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‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

  • Promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans
  • South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country

PRETORIA: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged the country to pursue “an extraordinary feat of human endeavor” as he was sworn in for a five-year term with a delicate fight against government corruption ahead of him.
“The challenges our country face are huge and real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And I stand here today saying they are going to be solved,” Ramaphosa told some 30,000 people in the capital, Pretoria, with several African leaders in attendance.
He promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans instead of enriching themselves. He called for a state free from graft and “resources squandered,” and urged fellow citizens to end poverty in a generation. Both would be immense achievements: Corruption and mismanagement have consumed billions of rand, and South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country.
Ramaphosa’s inauguration followed his ruling African National Congress party’s 57.5% victory in this month’s election. It was the party’s weakest showing at the ballot box since the ANC took power at the end of the harsh system of racial apartheid in 1994, as voter turnout and confidence fell.
Ramaphosa first took office last year after former president Jacob Zuma was pressured to resign amid corruption scandals that badly damaged public faith in the ANC. A former protege of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa is seen by many as having the potential to clean up both the government and the ruling party’s reputation. Without him the ANC likely would have received just 40% of the vote, one party leader, Fikile Mbalula, has said.

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ROYAL CONGRATULATIONS

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent Ramaphosa a cable of congratulations on his swearing in. 
The crown prince expressed his sincere congratulations, best wishes for success and further progress for the people of South Africa

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There was no sign at Saturday’s ceremony of Zuma, who has insisted he did nothing wrong and that allegations are politically motivated. His allies within the ANC leadership pose a challenge to Ramaphosa as he pursues reforms.
Ahead of the election Ramaphosa apologized to South Africans for the political turmoil. He also vowed to continue the fight against graft that has hurt the country’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.
The president’s resolve to impose clean governance will be tested with the appointment of his new Cabinet in the coming days. He faces pressure from opposition parties and civil society to reduce the number of ministers — there are now 34 — and appoint ones who are scandal-free.
In a sign his efforts are working, former deputy president David Mabuza was not sworn in as a member of Parliament due to an incriminating report on him by the ANC’s integrity commission. For now, Ramaphosa is without a deputy.
In his speech on Saturday the president also addressed public frustration with joblessness, patchy delivery of basic services and the legacy of inequality. Unemployment is above 25% and much of the country’s wealth and private levers of power are held by the small white minority.
“Many South Africans still go to bed hungry,” Ramaphosa said. “Many live lives of intolerable deprivation. Too many of our people do not work, especially the youth.”
One challenge for the president in the years ahead is engaging potential voters in South Africa’s “Born Free” generation , who never experienced apartheid and unlike their parents see the ANC not as a party of liberation but one expected to deliver for the future.