Britain accuses Russia of secretly stockpiling deadly nerve agent used in attack

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is seen speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show in this photograph received via the BBC in London on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Britain accuses Russia of secretly stockpiling deadly nerve agent used in attack

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Sunday that Russia has been stockpiling the deadly nerve agent used to poison a Russian former double agent in England and has been investigating how such weapons can be used in assassinations.
Britain has said Russia used the Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok to attack Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the first known offensive use of such a weapon on European soil since World War II. Russia has denied any involvement.
“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” Johnson told the BBC.
The identification of Novichok as the weapon has become the central pillar of Britain’s case for Russia’s culpability in the poisoning. Britain and Russia have each expelled 23 diplomats over the attack as relations between the two countries reach a post-Cold War low.
Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain, and his daughter are fighting for their lives after they were found collapsed on a bench in the city of Salisbury two weeks ago.
Officials from the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will arrive in Britain on Monday to investigate the samples used in the attack and the results should be known in about two weeks, Britain’s Foreign Ministry said.
The Foreign Ministry said that if Russia has been stockpiling nerve agents this would amount to a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Moscow is a signatory.
Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, told the same program that his country has destroyed its reserves of such substances and a British research laboratory could be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack.
Johnson dismissed those claims and said Russia’s reaction “was not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent.”
“Their response has been a mix of smug sarcasm and denial and obfuscation,” he said.
Skripal and his daughter may have been exposed to the nerve agent used in their attempted assassination through his car ventilation system, intelligence sources told the US television channel ABC news.
The sources said the toxin was used in a “dust-like powdered form” and that it circulated through the vents of the car, the channel said. Johnson said Britain’s National Security Council will meet later this week to decide “what further measures, if any” may be taken, and that the government may decide to target Russian wealth in Britain.
The British capital has been dubbed “Londongrad” due to the large quantities of Russian money that have poured in since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Some British lawmakers have urged Prime Minister Theresa May to freeze the private assets of senior members in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s circle.


Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

Updated 7 min 45 sec ago
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Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

TOKYO: Japan’s education minister apologized Wednesday for using an official car to visit a yoga studio, but denied claims that the facility was offering “sexy private yoga.”
The row is the latest headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which is already under fire after two cronyism scandals and sexual harassment claims against a top finance ministry bureaucrat.
The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine on Wednesday reported that Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited a yoga studio in the hip Ebisu district in Tokyo using a state car and took private lessons there.
“I apologize for creating confusion amid a tense parliamentary situation,” Hayashi told reporters.
“As the government is facing severe rebuke and criticism, I will serve the public in a more disciplined manner,” he said, in an apparent reference to various scandals involving the cabinet in recent weeks.
“I should have drawn a line between the public and the private, even though this case was in line with rules,” he added.
Ministers are permitted to use government vehicles for private use in between public engagements, local media said.
The magazine described the yoga studio as a “sexy private yoga” studio run by a former porn actress that offers private lessons and oil massages.
But Hayashi said he was simply taking “regular yoga lessons and massages with finger pressure” for better health.
The president of the yoga studio has denied that she was ever a porn actress and is demanding a correction and an apology from the magazine.
“I firmly deny the article which presents an indecent image and is completely different from the facts,” she said.
The studio’s website says it offers private lessons for men or couples.
Support for Abe’s government has flagged due to two cronyism scandals and criticism of the way the finance ministry has handled claims that its top bureaucrat sexually harassed female reporters.
Around half of voters now disapprove of Abe’s administration, and a similar number want his Finance Minister Taro Aso to step down, polls published Monday found.
The polls bode ill for Abe’s bid to be reelected party chief in September in a vote he was once expected to win easily.