EU nations mull expelling Russian diplomats after spy attack

Britain’s Prime minister Theresa May (L) arrives at the European Council headquarter on the second day of a summit of European Union (EU) leaders on March 23, 2018, in Brussels. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2018
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EU nations mull expelling Russian diplomats after spy attack

BRUSSELS: The leaders of several EU countries said they are mulling whether to expel Russian diplomats or take other steps to support Britain following a nerve agent attack on a former spy.
European Union leaders returned to summit talks on Friday after uniting behind British Prime Minister Theresa May in blaming Russia for the attack in England, and agreeing to recall the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow for consultations.
Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats they said were spies, and has been pressing EU allies to follow suit despite Moscow’s warning against confrontational steps.
The leaders of former communist member states the Czech Republic and Lithuania as well as Denmark and Ireland said they were considering further unilateral steps, including expelling diplomats.
“I think national measures will be applied already starting from next week... from a lot of countries,” Lithuania’s outspoken President Dalia Grybauskaite said before joining the second and last day of the summit in Brussels.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told the CTK news agency that Prague may expel several Russian diplomats over the poisoining of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
“Yes, we will probably move in this direction,” Babis said, adding he will discuss expulsions with his cabinet members on Monday.
Ireland’s Prime Minisster Leo Varadkar said his government would decide early next week whether to expel diplomats following a security assessment.
“We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats,” Varadkar told reporters.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said his government heard the “strong signal” from the bloc’s leaders who agreed with Britain’s assessment that Russia was to blame for the attack.
He said he would hold consultations with members of his government.
“My government will then in the next coming days very seriously consider to take further steps,” Rasmussen said.
A French presidency source said Thursday that Paris was also ready to act.
The poisoning has heightened worries across Europe about Russian meddling — from repeated cyberattacks to what the EU has called an “orchestrated strategy” of disinformation aimed at destabilising the bloc.
During a visit to Hanoi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that British officials “are feverishly trying to force allies to take confrontational steps.”
Lavrov, quoted by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, said London was trying to make the “crisis as deep as possible.”


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 46 sec ago
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.