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.


Outcry grows in France after police filmed beating music producer

Updated 1 min 44 sec ago

Outcry grows in France after police filmed beating music producer

  • Online news site Loopsider published security camera images showing three officers punching, kicking and using their truncheons on the producer, identified as Michel
  • The beating lasted around five minutes, during which Michel said he was repeatedly subjected to racist abuse, before he was dragged out of a building in Paris’ 17th district

PARIS: A video of police beating a black music producer in Paris triggered outrage and condemnation on Thursday, leading to the suspension of several officers and a public backlash that drew in French World Cup football stars.
The incident comes after a string of high-profile probes into police violence and as concern grows over new legislation proposed by the government that would restrict the right of citizens to film and publish images of police on duty.
Online news site Loopsider published security camera images on Thursday showing three officers punching, kicking and using their truncheons on the producer, identified as Michel, as he entered his studio in the French capital late on Saturday.
The beating lasted around five minutes, during which Michel said he was repeatedly subjected to racist abuse, before he was dragged out of the building in the northwestern 17th district of the capital.
He was initially arrested for violence and failure to obey the police. But prosecutors threw out the probe and instead opened an investigation against the police officers themselves for committing violence while in a position of authority.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French television that the officers “had soiled the uniform of the republic” and that he would press for their dismissal.
Police sources said four officers had been suspended in total.
As the hashtag #Michel trended on French social media, politicians and footballers who played on France’s 2018 World Cup winning team denounced the latest evidence which comes amid a wider debate in France about police methods.
The death in US police custody of George Floyd in May has also reverberated in France where allegations of brutality against police officers are commonplace, particularly in poor and ethnically diverse areas in the country’s major cities.
“People who should have been protecting me attacked me. I did nothing to deserve this. I just want these three people to be punished because we have a good justice system in France,” Michel told journalists on Thursday.
“I was lucky to have videos which protect me, unlike a lot of others, otherwise I would not be here with you today,” he added.
Michel’s lawyer, Hafida El Ali, told AFP that his client had been detained for 48 hours after the beating on the basis of “lies by the police who had outrageously attacked him.”
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told AFP that he had asked France’s National Police General Inspectorate (IGPN) to shed light on what happened “as quickly as possible.”
Loopsider, which has exposed several episodes of police violence in recent months, said that the images “had to be seen to understand the full extent of the problem.”
Michel told the site he was in the street not wearing a face mask on Saturday, but went inside his studio when police arrived.
The beating took place in the hallway of the building, with the violence captured on CCTV.
Paris’ Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo said she was “profoundly shocked” “by an intolerable act... that is exceptionally serious.”
Football stars on the 2018 squad such as Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti and Kylian Mbappe all denounced the images.
“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappe wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer. “Say no to racism.”
There has already been virulent criticism of the police this week after they used tear gas late Monday to remove migrants from a camp set up in central Paris.
Prosecutors have opened probes into that operation after videos showed a journalist being assaulted and an officer tripping a migrant as he runs away from the scene.
The beating of the producer has piled new pressure on Paris police chief Didier Lallement who has faced criticism over the dispersal of the migrant camp, as well as on hard-line Interior Minister Darmanin.
The outcry comes after the lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening gave initial approval to a security bill which would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces.
Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses, as well as stopping social media users from posting incriminating footage.
A protest against the law has been called for Saturday in Paris.
In a sign that the government was possibly preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced late Thursday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24 of the law that would restrict images of the police.
In a reminder of a previous police operation that caused outrage, three officers accused of severely injuring a man named Theodore Luhaka outside Paris in February 2017 are to face trial on charges of involuntary violence, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Luhaka was severely wounded in the area of his rectum by a blow from a truncheon. The judge has followed advice of prosecutors and the officers will not be tried for rape.
President Emmanuel Macron swept to power in 2017 as a centrist who rallied support from across the political spectrum. But with the new security law, critics and even some supporters accuse him of tilting to the right as he seeks re-election in 2022.