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.”


UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

Updated 5 sec ago
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UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

  • Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi
  • The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017

FONTAINEBLEAU: An exquisite 19th-century French theater outside Paris that fell into disuse for one and half centuries has been restored with the help of a 10 million euro donation from oil-rich Abu Dhabi.
The Napoleon III theater at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris was built between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of the nephew of emperor Napoleon I.
It opened in 1857 but was used only a dozen times, which has helped preserve its gilded adornments, before being abandoned in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III.
But during a state visit to France in 2007, Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was reportedly entranced by the abandoned theater and offered 10 million euros ($11.2 million) on the spot for its restoration.
After a project that has lasted 12 years the theater is now being reopened.
An official inauguration is expected soon, hosted by French Culture Minister Franck Riester and attended by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.
Cooperation is also strong in diplomacy and the military, with the French government under fire over the use of French weapons by the UAE and its main ally Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen.
For all its ornate beauty, the theater has hardly ever been used for its orginal purpose, hosting only a dozen performances between 1857 and 1868, each attended by around 400 people.
“While it had been forgotten, the theater was in an almost perfect state,” said the head of the Fontainebleau Palace, Jean-Francois Hebert.
“Let us not waste this jewel, and show this extraordinary place of decorative arts,” he added.
According to the palace, the theater is “probably the last in Europe to have kept almost all its original machinery, lighting and decor.”
Having such a theater was the desire of Napoleon III’s wife Eugenie. But after the defeat, his capture in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the declaration of France’s Third Republic, the theater fell into virtual oblivion.
Following the renovation, the theater will mainly be a place to visit and admire, rather than for regularly holding concerts.
“The aim is not to give the theater back to its first vocation” given its “very fragile structure,” said Hebert.
Short shows and recitals may be performed in exceptional cases, under the tightest security measures and fire regulations. But regular guided tours will allow visitors to discover the site, including the stage sets.
The restoration aimed to use as little new material as possible, with 80 percent of the original material preserved.
The opulent central chandelier — three meters high and 2.5 meters wide — has been restored to its original form.