Denials of British attack ‘increasingly absurd’ — Johnson

Police don protective coveralls with breathing equipment on the grounds of a cement plant in the village of Durrington, near Salisbury, southern England on Monday, as investigations in connection with an apparent nerve agent attack in the city on March 4 continue. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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Denials of British attack ‘increasingly absurd’ — Johnson

BRUSSEL: Britain’s foreign minister said on Monday that Russian denials of responsibility over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in England were “increasingly absurd.”
Boris Johnson, who briefed fellow European Union ministers in Brussels on Monday, also won renewed support from the bloc, though diplomats cautioned there was no immediate prospect of fresh economic sanctions on Russia.
“The Russian denial is increasingly absurd,” Johnson told reporters as he arrived for the regular monthly meeting, which came a day after Vladimir Putin was re-elected for another six-year term as Russia’s president.
“This is a classic Russian strategy ... They’re not fooling anybody anymore,” Johnson said.
“There is scarcely a country around the table here in Brussels that has not been affected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behavior.”
Russia denies any involvement in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in what was the first known offensive use of nerve gas in Europe since World War Two.
Moscow on Saturday announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s decision last week to expel the same number of Russian diplomats from London.
On Sunday, Johnson accused Russia of stockpiling the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok used to poison the Skripals, a charge Moscow denies. They were found unconscious on a bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain in a critical condition in hospital.
On arrival at the Brussels meeting on Monday, Germany’s new foreign minister, Heiko Maas, expressed his support for Britain. Later, all 28 EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement on the attack, expressing “unqualified solidarity.”
“The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible,” the statement said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom rejected an allegation by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the nerve agent used in Salisbury might have come from Sweden.
“This is just ridiculous and totally unfounded,” Wallstrom said. “I think they are trying to divert the real issues here.”
While there is no prospect of further sanctions on Russia being agreed on Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May will have an opportunity to present her case for any such measures at an EU summit on Thursday, or call for others to expel diplomats.
“We need to put pressure on Russia to take part in a real enquiry about the attack,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.


Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

Updated 21 March 2019
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Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

  • Philippines being investigated for extrajudicial killings
  • Anti-drug campaign signature policy of president

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he wanted to finish his war on drugs in three years, defying an international probe into his controversial and deadly campaign to rid the country of narcotics.
Duterte, who came to power in 2016, has made a ‘war on drugs’ the hallmark of his administration. 
But it has been reported that 20,000 people have been killed in what rights groups call a wave of “state-sanctioned violence.”
The firebrand president remains unfazed by the condemnation, and the cases filed against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his crackdown.
He insisted he would assume full responsibility for any consequences due to his decision to enforce the law, telling a military audience his goals.
“I’d like to finish this war, both (with the) Abu Sayyaf (a militant group) and also the communists, and the drug problem in about three years … we'd be able (to) ... reduce the activities of the illegal trade and fighting to the barest minimum.
“I’m not saying I am the only one capable (of achieving these goals) ... I assume full responsibility for all that would happen as a consequence of enforcing the law — whether against the criminals, the drug traffickers or the rebels who’d want to destroy government.”
Earlier this month, the Philippines withdrew from the ICC, citing the global body's interference in how the country was run as the reason.
On Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines would continue despite its exit.
But the government has said it will not cooperate with the ICC, and has even warned its personnel about entering the country for the investigation.
There are Filipinos who support Duterte’s campaign, however, and believe it works. Among them is former policeman Eric Advincula.
He said there had been an improvement in the situation since Duterte came to power. 
“For one, the peace and order situation has improved, like for example in villages near our place where there used to be rampant drug peddling,” he told Arab News. 
“The price of illegal drugs is now higher, an indication that the supply also went down. Also, it was easy to catch drug peddlers before because they were doing their trade openly. But now they are more careful, you can't easily locate them.”
Official data from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in February indicated that 5,176 ‘drug personalities’ were killed in the anti-drugs war between July 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2019.
More than 170,000 drug suspects have been arrested during a total of 119,841 anti-narcotics operations in the last two and a half years.