Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Sunday rubbished claims that Russia poisoned a former spy in Britain, on the eve of international chemical weapons experts heading to the UK to probe the attack.
“It’s complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup,” Putin told supporters after winning a fourth term as president.
“We have destroyed all chemical weapons,” he added, rejecting Britain’s claim that only Moscow could be behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The poisoning in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 has led to a diplomatic crisis, with Britain expelling 23 Kremlin diplomats.
Technical experts from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will visit Britain on Monday to collect samples of the nerve agent used in the attack.
“These will then be despatched to highly-reputable international laboratories selected by the OPCW for testing with results expected to take a minimum of two weeks,” said a statement by Britain’s Foreign Office.
Putin said Russia is “ready to take part in the investigation,” although earlier on Sunday British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused the Russians of “smug sarcasm and denial” in response to the accusations.
Moscow’s “malign, disruptive behavior” internationally was the reason why allies were “inclined not to give Russia the benefit of the doubt,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Johnson also said Britain would target wealth linked to the Kremlin as a further measure following the spy poisoning.
“Where people have obtained wealth by corruption and where we can see a link with the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin, it may be possible to have unexplained wealth orders and other sanctions on those individuals,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the government was considering something similar to the US “Magnitsky Act” which was adopted in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
The act imposed a visa ban and froze the assets of Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a tax fraud whistleblower who died in Russian custody in 2009.
However, the minister faced awkward questions over a tennis match he played with the wife of former Kremlin minister Vladimir Chernukhin, in return for a £160,000 ($223,000, 181,500 euros) donation to his Conservative Party.
On Saturday, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Moscow “had nothing to do” with the attack, accusing Johnson of “acting in an inappropriate manner” by pointing the finger at Putin.
“Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992,” he told Marr, the day after Moscow expelled 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat measure.
But the Foreign Office dismissed the claim, saying it had “information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination.
“And part of this program has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of Novichok,” a statement said.
Chizhov also appeared to suggest that Britain itself may have been the source of the chemical agent.
“When you have a nerve agent, you check it against certain samples you have in your laboratories,” he said.
“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the UK that has been dealing with chemical weapons research — and it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”
Johnson called the accusation “satirical,” adding it was “not the response of a country that really believes itself it to be innocent.”


Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

Updated 23 May 2019
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Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

  • The vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month
  • Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque is a focal point for Muslims in the cosmopolitan city-state and the vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month of Ramadan when people from all walks of life flock to its bustling bazaars.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter” with a mix of Malay, South Asian and Middle Eastern elements. Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim, according to the latest official data.

Arab Street — an area that includes Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street — is a hub for hipsters, vivid murals, Persian rug stores, shisha bars, perfumeries and textile shops, as well as being home to the distinctive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque. There is even an ornate archway welcoming people to explore the neighborhood and its distinctive shophouses, buildings that were used for working and living in. 

“We are more like brothers and sisters, rather than businesses. I know most of the customers and they know me too,” a 36-year-old biryani hawker who gave his name as Nareza told Arab News as he served a line of hungry clients.

Nareza said his stall’s signature dish was mutton biryani, made from a family recipe handed down through generations from his late grandmother. 

FASTFACT

Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim

“Dum biryani is a process of mixing meat and rice together in one pot, so the rice has a bit of the masala taste while the meat has a bit of the basmati rice fragrance,” he said, adding that he sold more than 300 portions of biryani a day. “I learned to make biryani from my father, who used to do charity work in the mosque. We make our own spices, we do not buy them from outside vendors. That is why the taste is different.”

The bazaar is packed with places selling food, drinks, decorations and homeware. The fare reflects Singapore’s international status, with eateries and stores selling kebabs, sushi and local Malay goodies.

But Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a fast-paced lifestyle, leading some to focus on preserving culture and heritage for future generations.

“We want to create awareness about the significance of Sultan Mosque to the Muslim community,” juice stall owner Riduan told Arab News, saying all sale proceeds were donated to the Sultan Mosque. “Arab Street is unique because you see a lot of different races coming here and it is also a tourist attraction. This is where we demonstrate we are Singapore society. Singapore is not just limited to skyscrapers such as Marina Bay Sands.”