UK queen visits Novichok lab in first outing since COVID-19 lockdown

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) and Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (R) arrive with Dstl Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead (L) at the Energetics Analysis Centre as they visit the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down science park near Salisbury, southern England, on October 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) speaks with Dstl Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead (L) as she arrives at the Energetics Analysis Centre as they visit the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down science park near Salisbury, southern England, on October 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visits the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down science park near Salisbury, southern England, on October 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Dstl Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead (R) speaks as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) and Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, (L) prepare to unveil a plaque to officially open the new Energetics Analysis Centre at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down science park near Salisbury, southern England, on October 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2020

UK queen visits Novichok lab in first outing since COVID-19 lockdown

  • For her first public outing, Queen Elizabeth she was joined by her grandson Prince William
  • The top secret Defense Science and Technology Laboratory identified the nerve agent used to attack Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth on Thursday was carrying out her first major engagement since a coronavirus lockdown in March, visiting the Porton Down military research facility which was involved in dealing with a 2018 Novichok nerve agent attack.
The 94-year-old monarch, who spent Britain’s national lockdown at Windsor Castle, has carried out her official duties remotely by video or telephone, or at her palace, since social restrictions were introduced. For her first public outing, she was joined by her grandson Prince William.
The top secret Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, in Porton Down in southwest England, identified the nerve agent used to attack Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the nearby town of Salisbury two years ago.
Britain has accused two Russian agents backed by Moscow of carrying out the attack, a charge the Kremlin has rejected.
During their trip, the royals were due to meet the Porton Down staff and other military personnel who were involved in the Novichok clear-up operation along with scientists helping the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The formal purpose of the trip was to open the lab’s new Energetics Analysis Center, where the queen and the prince will be given a demonstration of a forensics explosives investigation.
They were also due to tour the lab’s Energetic Enclosure to see a display of weaponry and tactics used in counter intelligence.
Porton Down was founded in 1916 as Britain’s chemical and biological weapons laboratory, where defense ministry scientists carried out secret experiments involving some 20,000 servicemen, leading to the death of one from exposure to sarin nerve gas.
Since the 1960s, it has focused on developing countermeasures and defense and security technology, although its secret structure has always led to speculation about its activities.
“No aliens, either alive or dead have ever been taken to Porton Down,” the government’s website says.
Since March, the monarch’s only public appearances have been at Windsor for a military ceremony in June to mark her birthday, and for a ceremony to knight record-breaking charity fundraiser, 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore.
She has also paid private visits to Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Sandringham in eastern England, her private residences.


Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

Updated 57 min 20 sec ago

Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

NAIROBI, Kenya: Ethiopia’s prime minister says the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray capital after his 72-hour ultimatum for Tigray leaders to surrender ended, and he warns residents to “stay indoors.”
The statement Thursday by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office means tanks and other weaponry can now close in on the city of some half-million people. His government has warned of “no mercy” if residents don’t move away from the Tigray leaders in time.
The new statement asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” it says.
Communications remain severed to Tigray, making it difficult to verify claims.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below:
The United Nations says shortages have become “very critical” in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region as its population of 6 million remains sealed off and its capital is under threat of attack by Ethiopian forces seeking to arrest the regional leaders.
Fuel and cash are running out, more than 1 million people are now estimated to be displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released overnight. And more than 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations haven’t received them this month.
Travel blockages are so dire that even within the Tigray capital, Mekele, the UN World Food Program cannot obtain access to transport food from its warehouses there.
Communications and travel links remain severed with the Tigray region since the deadly conflict broke out on Nov. 4, and now Human Rights Watch is warning that “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 72-hour ultimatum for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front leaders to surrender ended Wednesday night. His government has said Mekele is surrounded.
The UN has reported people fleeing the city. Abiy’s government had warned them of “no mercy” if residents didn’t move away from the TPLF leaders who are accused of hiding among the population.
But with communications cut, it’s not clear how many people in Mekele received the warnings. The alarmed international community is calling for immediate de-escalation, dialogue and humanitarian access.
Abiy on Wednesday, however, rejected international “interference.”