UK’s May urges EU unity against Russia as Kremlin slams UK

Theresa May arrives for a EU summit in Brussels, where she sought unified condemnation of Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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UK’s May urges EU unity against Russia as Kremlin slams UK

BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May urged European Union leaders on Thursday to unite and condemn Russia for not respecting international rules or borders, while Moscow slammed the UK as untrustworthy in its investigation of the poisoning of a former spy.
Amid heated words and frosty relations between London and Moscow, May accused Russia of staging “a brazen and reckless attack against the United Kingdom” by attacking Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.
“I will be raising this issue with my counterparts today because it is clear that the Russian threat doesn’t respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors, from the western Balkans to the Near East,” May said as she arrived an EU summit in Brussels.
Britain blames Moscow for the attack with a military-grade nerve agent and has called Russia a growing threat to Western democracies. Russia has fiercely denied the accusations.
Both nations have expelled 23 of each other’s diplomats in a feud that shows no signs of cooling.
Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, hit back Thursday, saying his country “can’t take British words for granted,” and accusing the UK of having a “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community.”
 

It is clear that the Russian threat doesn’t respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors, from the western Balkans to the Near East.

Theresa May


“History shows that British statements must be verified,” he told reporters in London. “We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia” and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Britain says it is complying with the international chemical-weapons watchdog over the March 4 attack on Skripal — a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for the UK — and his daughter.
Experts from the OPCW have come to Britain to take samples of the nerve agent that has left the Skripals in critical condition.
May wants nations at the EU summit in Brussels to make a strong statement against Russian President Vladimir Putin. EU foreign ministers have already expressed their “unqualified solidarity” with Britain, but May will try to swing the 27 other EU leaders behind a more strongly worded statement that explicitly condemns Russia.
European politicians and leaders vary in how far they are willing to go in blaming Putin’s Kremlin.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose former Soviet state shares a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, offered her full backing to Britain and said she was weighing whether to expel Russian diplomats from her country over the Salisbury attack.
German politician Manfred Weber, leader of the biggest group in the European Parliament, said Putin “wants to destabilize the European idea, European cooperation, and that’s why we don’t have to be naive, we have to be strong.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsiprias was more cautious. He said “we have to express our solidarity to the UK, to the British people, but at the same time we need to investigate.”
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, a former criminal lawyer, said he wanted to hear what May had to say.
“I have the principle that first I listen, and then I take a decision,” he said.
EU Council President Donald Tusk is seen by the UK as supportive, saying this week that Europe must “reinforce our preparedness for future attacks.”
But British officials are irked that another EU chief, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, congratulated Putin on his victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Russia. Election monitors say the Russian vote did not take place on a level playing field since state media gave so much coverage to Putin.
The Salisbury attack has sent relations between London and Moscow to Cold War-style lows.
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “emetic” — vomit-inducing — that Putin is rejoicing over hosting the World Cup soccer tournament this summer. Russia responded that Johnson was “poisoned with venom of malice and hate.”
Johnson also said Russia’s hosting of the June 14-July 15 tournament could be compared to the 1936 Olympics, which was used as propaganda exercise by Nazi Germany.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the comparison an “utterly disgusting statement which is unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” He called Johnson’s words “insulting and unacceptable.”


Thai Islamic leaders tighten rules on child marriage

Updated 10 min ago
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Thai Islamic leaders tighten rules on child marriage

BANGKOK: Islam’s guiding council in Thailand has introduced new regulations requiring that marriages of children under age 17 be approved by a religious committee.
The action follows an uproar earlier this year over an 11-year-old Thai girl who married a 41-year-old Malaysian man, triggering calls in both countries for stronger laws against child marriage. The girl was reportedly sent back to Thailand from Malaysia and put under the care of Thai social welfare workers.
A senior member of the Central Islamic Council of Thailand, Wisut Binlateh, said Friday that Muslim children of any age in Thailand previously could get married with permission from their parents, but now children under age 17 must also seek approval from an Islamic committee which would consider whether the marriage is appropriate.
Wisut said the measure took effect Dec. 4, when the Sheikhul Islam, the senior Thai Muslim leader, signed his approval.
Human rights activist Angkhana Neelaphaijit said the regulation does not carry the weight of law, and holds no punishment for those who fail to abide by it.
Islamic law is observed for Muslims in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces for family matters and inheritance, but does not set a minimum age for marriage. Three of the four provinces are the only ones with Muslim majorities in the Buddhist-dominated country, while the fourth has a substantial Muslim community.
According to Thai law, which applies to the rest of the country, the minimum legal age for marriage is 17, though courts may allow the marriage of younger individuals if there is an appropriate reason. The reasons, however, are not defined in the law.
Angkhana said the new measure by Thailand’s Islamic leaders is a step in the right direction, but requires further work to protect people’s rights.
“It is a good thing that the Sheikhul Islam Office has introduced this measure, but we have to also try to reach an understanding with the religious leaders that if there are violators, what can we do to punish them,” she said.
Angkhana also said because Thailand’s four southern provinces use Islamic law for family matters, a legal loophole has allowed a surge in Malaysian men coming to southern Thailand for second or third marriages, because there is little oversight compared to what they face at home.
“The problem is in Malaysia, if a man wants to have a second or third wife, he needs to ask permission from a court. But in Thailand, there is no such law regulating this or also anyone checking whether a man is wealthy enough to care for a family,” she said.