Britain says likely that Russia’s Putin made decision for nerve agent attack

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses the media during a visit to a Battle of Britain bunker at RAF Northolt in Uxbridge, Britain, Mar. 16, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 16 March 2018
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Britain says likely that Russia’s Putin made decision for nerve agent attack

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday that it was overwhelmingly likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself made the decision to use a military-grade nerve toxin to strike down a former Russian agent on English soil.
“We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” Johnson told reporters at the Battle of Britain bunker from which World War Two fighter operations were controlled.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent who betrayed dozens of spies of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service, and his daughter.
May said that it was tragic that Putin, who is likely to coast to a fourth term in a Sunday presidential election, had chosen to act in such a way.
Soon after Johnson’s comments were reported, the Kremlin said accusations that President Putin was involved in the nerve agent attack were shocking, TASS news agency reported.
“Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behavior,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the agency.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said previously on Friday Russia will expel British diplomats in response to London’s decision to expel 23 staff at the Russian embassy in London.
Asked by a Reuters reporter, at a summit on Syria in the Kazakh capital, if Russia planned to expel British diplomats, Lavrov replied: “We will, of course.” He did not give any further details.
Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit, and even suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
Relations between Britain and Russia have been strained since the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006, a killing which a British inquiry said was probably approved by Putin.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing.


Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

Updated 45 min 31 sec ago

Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

  • Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the Malay-Muslim population
  • Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states

BANGKOK: A Thai Muslim student group Wednesday called for police to drop an order requesting universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in the Buddhist-majority state.
Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states, which since 2004 have been in the grip of a conflict between Malay-Muslim separatist rebels and Thai authorities.
Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the majority Malay-Muslim population in that region — which is under martial law.
Last week the Special Branch Bureau issued a nationwide order to universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in school, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP Tuesday, citing “security” concerns.
The news sparked immediate outrage from the community, and the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand on Wednesday called for parliament to “cancel” the request.
The Special Branch’s order “is also a form of discrimination that breaches the constitution,” president Ashraf Awae said, speaking outside parliament.
Such “groundless accusations... could create divisions among the Muslim students and others in the university and society,” he said.
He added the federation had already heard of police requesting information on Muslim student groups from at least three major universities.
Junta chief-turned-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday defended the Special Branch, and denied creating a “database” would be a violation of people’s rights.
“We can’t arrest anyone if they don’t do anything wrong,” he told reporters.
Prayut’s backing shows an “alarming trend of growing Islamophobia in Thailand,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk.
“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” he told AFP, adding that the Thai constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination toward different religions and ethnic groups.
“It could feed into radicalization of Muslims in the deep south and worsen the conflict,” Sunai said.
The ex-general had masterminded a coup in 2014, leading a five-year junta regime before elections in March formally installed him as a civilian premier thanks to a new constitution tilted to the military.
Under Prayut’s tenure as junta head, police had rounded up at least 50 Thai Muslims, mostly university students, in a dragnet operation in October 2016 that authorities justified was necessary to stop a suspected car bomb plot.