Putin ‘Ultimately’ Responsible For Spy Poisoning, UK Claims

Putin 'Ultimately' Responsible For Spy Poisoning, UK Claims
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint press conference with his French counterpart following their talks at the Konstantin Palace in Strelna, outside Saint Petersburg, on May 24, 2018.
Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

Britain said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “ultimate” responsibility for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in England, as it prepared to brief the UN Security Council.

London has accused two members of Russian military intelligence of using Novichok to try to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southwestern city of Salisbury.

Security Minister Ben Wallace said  Putin bore ultimate responsibility for the poisoning.

“Ultimately he does in so far as he is the president of the Russian Federation and it is his government that controls, funds and directs the military intelligence, the GRU, via his ministry of defence.”

He told BBC radio: “I don’t think anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isn’t in control of his state…. And the GRU is without doubt not rogue.

“It is led, linked to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defence minister, and through that into the Kremlin and the president’s office.”

Britain has previously pointed the finger at Moscow for the March 4 attack, sparking furious denials.

In the aftermath, Britain and its allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, prompting Russian to respond in kind. The United States also imposed fresh sanctions over the attack.

Britain will brief the UN Security Council later Thursday on its latest findings, with the meeting due to open around 11:30 am (1530 GMT).

Moscow on Wednesday again denied involvement in the case, accusing Britain of “unfounded accusations”.

“Instead of conducting an independent, objective and transparent investigation… London continues to engage in anti-Russian megaphone diplomacy, continuing its propaganda show,” the foreign ministry said.

– Cyber-war? –

The US ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, and the Australian government have offered their support for Britain’s stance against Russia.

Wallace said his government would seek to “maintain the pressure” on Russia “to say that the behaviour we’ve seen is totally unacceptable”.

Options include “more sanctions — we are obviously taking it today to the UN to present our case”.

However he noted that Russia would be there and would likely use its veto on any statement that might arise.

Amid reports that Britain was planning a response in cyber-space, Wallace said the Russians were the main operators behind attacks on British networks.

“We retaliate in our way… within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way, that they know the cost of what they do,” he said.

The Skripals survived the poisoning but remnants of Novichok found in a fake perfume bottle were picked up by a local man weeks later.

Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who later died.

British prosecutors said Wednesday they had enough evidence to charge the two men identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov with conspiracy to murder Skripal, attempted murder and the use of a banned chemical weapon.

They said they would not formally demand their extradition, as Russia does not extradite its citizens, but have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for the pair.

UK Opposition Labour Proposes Tax On Tech Giants In Media Shake-Up

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party

 

A Labour government would aim to shake up Britain’s media by levying a tax on big tech firms like Google and Facebook to help fund public interest journalism, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Thursday.

The tax would also help fund the introduction of a digital BBC license fee to supplement the current fee and reduce the cost for poorer households.

Without major changes to Britain’s media sector a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate,” Corbyn told the Edinburgh TV Festival.

He appealed for bold thinking to address what he called a public crisis of trust in media in the era of “fake news”.

“A digital license fee, supplementing the existing license fee, collected from tech giants and internet service providers, who extract huge wealth from our shared digital space, could allow a democratized and more plural BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook,” he said.

At the moment, the BBC is funded by an annual fee, currently, 150.50 pounds ($192) which everyone watching or recording live TV programs has to pay. Last year it brought in around 3.7 billion pounds.

Corbyn said better funding for the media would help to support public investigative journalism without the pressure of big business interests.

His proposals come after France and Germany have pushed for U.S. technology giants to pay more tax in the European Union.

But in July, EU lawmakers opted not to take a tough line on an EU copyright overhaul aimed at making tech giants share revenues with publishers, broadcasters and artists after a corporate lobbying drive.

Corbyn has steered Britain’s main opposition party to the left and he has had a difficult relationship with its mainstream print media, much of which leans toward the political right.

10 People Injured In Manchester Shooting

Police officers stand guard at the scene of a shooting at Claremont Road in the Moss Side neighbourhood of Manchester, on August 12, 2018. OLI SCARFF / AFP

 

Ten people, including two children, were taken to hospital on Sunday with pellet-type wounds after reports of a shooting in Manchester in northern England, police said.

Officers were called at around at 2:30 am (0130 GMT) to the Moss Side neighbourhood of the city, where a party had been held following a Caribbean Carnival nearby.

“Nine people went to the hospital, including two children, with pellet-type wounds that are not believed to be serious,” a statement from Greater Manchester Police said.

“A tenth person — a man — remains in a stable but serious condition in hospital with injuries to his legs.”

Police said they hoped the less seriously injured victims would begin to leave the hospital during the course of the day.

“This was a reckless act that could have had devastating consequences with families and friends losing loved ones,” Chief Superintendent Wasim Chaudhry said.

In a message to the local community, he added: “Guns have no place on our streets and we want to assure you we are doing everything we can to find the person or people responsible.”

AFP

Taliban Bomb-Maker Jailed For 40 years For Plotting Attack On UK Parliament

Firearms officers from the British police detain Khalid Mohammed Omar Ali, on Whitehall near the Houses of Parliament in central London… on April 27, 2017. Photo: Niklas HALLE’N / AFP

 

A 28-year-old man was sentenced on Friday to a minimum of 40 years in jail for making explosives for the Taliban and for plotting a knife attack at the Houses of Parliament in London.

Khalid Ali, from north London, was dramatically arrested by armed police on a street outside parliament in April 2017 with three blades tucked into his clothes.

He was moments from launching an attack on police, politicians or the military, England’s Old Bailey central criminal court in London heard during his trial last month.

The plumber was on Tuesday found guilty of preparing terrorist acts in Britain and two charges of possessing explosive substances with intent abroad.

On Friday, Judge Nicholas Hilliard handed Ali three life sentences, to run concurrently: one for each charge.

He gave a minimum of 40 years for making improvised explosive devices for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan in 2012 and 25 years for the plot to kill in Britain.

“I am absolutely sure you were in Afghanistan. You were a valued member of a team making IEDs that were detonated in combat before January and July 2012,” Hilliard said.

The judge said the plotted attack in London was designed to attract “maximum publicity and instil terror”.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that there is a very considerable risk of your committing offences of violence in the future and cause death or serious injury as a result.”

During the trial, prosecutor Brian Altman told jurors that Ali, who had returned to Britain from Afghanistan in late 2016, planned a “deadly terror attack at the very heart of this country’s democracy”.

Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon said he was “an incredibly dangerous individual”.

He had returned from a training camp in Afghanistan “with a determination to kill,” he added.

In police interviews, Ali said he wanted to deliver a “message” to British authorities.

“Jihad is what we do,” he told officers.

During his trial, the court heard Ali admitted involvement in making explosives in Afghanistan, even bragging he detonated more than 300 devices.

In November 2016, he was stopped at Heathrow Airport, interviewed by police and his fingerprints and DNA samples were taken.

The FBI in the United States subsequently matched his fingerprints to caches of explosives recovered by Afghan forces in 2012, and Ali was placed under surveillance in Britain.

The Old Bailey heard he was seen conducting reconnaissance at various sites around London in March and April last year, before making several purchases of knives.

Police moved in to arrest Ali on April 27 not far from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street office.

AFP

Brexit Bill Becomes Law, Allowing UK To Leave The EU

An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves a Union flag alongside a European Union flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London on March 28, 2018. Photo: Tolga AKMEN / AFP

 

A bill enacting Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has become law after months of debate, the House of Commons speaker announced Tuesday, to cheers from eurosceptic lawmakers.

Speaker John Bercow said the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which repeals the 1972 European Communities Act through which Britain became a member of the bloc, had been given the formal royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II.

The bill transfers decades of European law onto British statute books, and also enshrines Brexit day in British law as March 29, 2019 at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) — midnight Brussels time.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the approval was a “historic moment for our country, and a significant step towards delivering on the will of the British people”, who had voted in a June 2016 referendum to exit the EU.

The bill has undergone more than 250 hours of acrimonious debate in the Houses of Parliament since it was introduced in July 2017.

Eurosceptics celebrated the passing of the bill through parliament last week as proof that, despite continuing uncertainty in the negotiations with Brussels, Brexit was happening.

“Lest anyone is in any doubt, the chances of Britain not leaving the EU are now zero,” International Trade Minister Liam Fox said.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a staunch Brexit supporter, said: “The legal position is now so much stronger for a clean Brexit.

“Crucially this makes the prime minister’s negotiating hand much stronger.”

Another eurosceptic, Conservative MP Dominic Raab, said May would go to an EU summit later this week “with the wind in her sails”.

The government had a tough time getting the bill through parliament and was forced to concede some power to lawmakers over the final Brexit deal agreed with Brussels.

The Brexit ministry said in a statement the new law would ensure “a smooth and orderly exit” by giving the government temporary powers to make changes to legislation.

The ministry said additional laws “will deliver the more significant policy changes needed as a result of our exit”.

Further battles are expected in the House of Commons in the coming weeks, when MPs debate two bills on trade — with pro-Europeans seeking to force the government to keep close ties with the bloc.

May has yet to set out her plans for customs arrangements after Brexit, which have become a major stumbling block in talks with Brussels.

She will gather her top ministers after the EU summit, which starts on Thursday, to thrash out their differences with the aim of publishing a Brexit blueprint shortly after.

AFP

Only President Buhari Has The Right To Reveal Details About His Health, Says Adesina

Mr Femi Adesina on Tuesday said President Muhammadu Buhari is the only person who can reveal his ailment or details about his health.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity during a phone-in-interview on Channels Television Breakfast Programme, Sunrise Daily said this while reacting to question about the President’s ailment deserving another trip to London, United Kingdom.

According to him, details about the President’s health is private and personal.

“That is something private and personal. The fact that a man is a President does not remove his right and privileges to privacy. So, unless Mr President comes out voluntarily and willingly to tell the country that ‘this is what I have suffered from, this is what I have been treated for’…even the medical doctor does not have the right to say it.

“It is in the Hippocratic oath that the medical doctors take. They cannot disclose the ailment of the patient without the permission of that patient,” he explained.

Senior Special Assistant to the President, Garba Shehu announced on Monday that President Buhari will on Tuesday embark on a four-day trip to the United Kingdom to see his doctor.

This has generated mixed reaction with many making references to President Buhari ‘technical stopover’ in London during his recent US-trip.

The recently announced UK trip is coming barely nine months after he returned from a medical vacation on August 19, 2017, spending more than 100 days.

Adesina in the interview on Tuesday, however, allayed fears, saying there is no cause for alarm.

“There is no cause for alarm because he (the President) is up and about and doing his duties. What he is going for is a review. We all need that from time to time. There is nobody that is 100% healthy. He is just going for a review. I want to believe that he will come back on Saturday as planned,” he said.

Giving itinerary of Buhari’s trip, the Presidential spokesperson said Buhari after his return from the UK will visit Jigawa State.

“The President is going to receive some letters of credence from some new ambassadors posted to the country, that will last till about early afternoon. After that, he will get set to go to London just for a medical review. He will be away for four days. He will back in the country on Saturday by the grace of God.

“On Monday and Tuesday, he will visit Jigawa State.”

When questioned of the guaranty if the President will not exceed four days in the UK, Adesina said, “When you talk of guarantee, man cannot guarantee. Nobody can guarantee anything.”

Nigeria, Others Need Competitive Exports To Develop – UK Ambassador

British High-Commissioner, Mr Paul Arkwright

 

The United Kingdom has advised the Nigerian government and other developing countries to engage in competitive exports to attain the ‘developed’ status.

British High-Commissioner, Mr Paul Arkwright, made the recommendation on Friday during his appearance on a special programme on Channels Television.

READ ALSONot One Nigerian Town Is Under Boko Haram Control – Adesina

The programme, which also featured the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, and two others, aimed at reviewing the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which held recently in London.

“The fact is if you talk to any economist who understands the way developing counties emerge from poverty into a state where they are no longer developing but developed countries, the one key thing that turns them from developing to developed countries is competitive exports,” Mr Arkwright said.

He said while the Commonwealth tries to reduce the barriers faced by developing countries in the area of trade, it does not mean that they would be flooded with cheap goods from other countries.

The British High-Commissioner stressed that the developing nations have no other option than to trade in a global world.

He noted that leaders of the 53 Commonwealth nations who attended CHOGM 2018 made very important and relevant commitments.

Arkwright added that the organisation would continue to be more relevant, as CHOGM was about increasing intra-commonwealth trade by facilitating trade among member-countries.

According to him, the world trade has increased enormously and the trade between two Commonwealth countries is 20 per cent cheaper, compared with the trade with non-commonwealth countries.

The British Envoy added that there has been a massive trade among the member-countries, pointing out that the trade between the United Kingdom and Nigeria is huge.

On the gains of CHOGM 2018, he said the commonwealth is not just about the UK but it is a family of nations and every member-nation stands the chance of equal benefit.

UK Government To Give Nigeria Counter-IED Kit Worth £1m

 

The fight against insurgency in Nigeria has been boosted with the United Kingdom promising to provide counter-IED kit worth £1m.

The United Kingdom’s Minister of Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, revealed this when he met with Nigeria’s Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, in London on the sidelines of the concluded Commonwealth meeting.

The gift is part of the collaboration between the two nations to combat terrorism.
“It’s in both the UK and Nigeria’s interest that we tackle the issue of terrorism in Nigeria,” Lancaster said.

Both men are hopeful that the kit would be helpful in foiling bomb attack by Boko Haram on innocent Nigerians.

UK To Give Nigeria Counter-IED Kit
UK Armed Forces Minister, Mark Lancaster, and Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali in London

 

The Defence Minister said talks were held about terrorism, training of the Nigerian military and other global security issues.

Apart from security issues, Nigeria is also said to be receiving positive responses from prospective investors regarding doing business in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Ambassador to the UK, George Oguntade, told Channels Television that the recent feed back from investors were encouraging.

The Ambassador also said the process of obtaining Nigerian Visa has been made more effective.

He said visas could now be processed in only a matter of days as the delays that characterised the process in the past have been eliminated.

Oguntade said, “We had a list of applicants that ran into thousands and that created a bad feeling between applicants for passports and the High Commission. So much so that they were almost throwing stones at us here.

“But we immediately took control of the problems, ascertained what the problems were and set to work to eliminate them and thank God we have succeeded.”

UK, US Govts Warn Of Russia’s ‘Malicious Cyber Activity’

(File) British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and United States President, Donald Trump

 

Britain and the United States on Monday released a rare joint statement warning of “malicious cyber activity” carried out by the Russian state.

The technical alert was issued by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security.

“The targets of this malicious cyber activity are primarily government and private-sector organisations, critical infrastructure providers and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) supporting these sectors,” the statement said.

It warned everyone from internet service providers to home office customers to heed the warning, after the government agencies found cyber attacks targetting devices such as internet routers.

“Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations,” the UK and US warned.

They cited cyber security research organisations and other governments as providing evidence of such attacks, without providing details of their timing or scale.

“The current state of US and UK network devices, coupled with a Russian government campaign to exploit these devices, threatens our respective safety, security, and economic well-being,” the technical alert said.

The joint statement comes amid worsening relations between the two countries and Moscow, after Washington and London launched coordinated strikes against Russia’s ally Syria.

Britain and the US have also blamed Russia for the poisoning of a former double agent in the UK, prompting a global diplomatic crisis.

AFP

Kremlin Slams UK’s Absence To Meet Over Spy Poisoning

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on March 21, 2018, as she heads to the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons./ AFP

 

The Kremlin said on Wednesday the absence of the British ambassador from a Moscow meeting over the poisoning of a Russian double agent in the UK showed London’s unwillingness to “hear answers”.

“Perhaps this is another eloquent demonstration of the absurdity of the situation when questions are being asked but the unwillingness to hear some answers is being shown,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The British embassy said earlier that its ambassador will not attend the meeting called by the Russian foreign ministry to explain Moscow’s view on the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this month.

UK Passports To Change From Burgundy To Blue After Brexit

UK Passports To Change From Burgundy To Blue After Brexit
Pro-European Union, (EU), anti-Brexit demonstrators hold Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on December 21, 2017. Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Britain will return to a blue and gold passport design after the country leaves the European Union in 2019 “to restore our national identity”, its interior ministry announced on Friday.

The country will phase out the current burgundy colour travel document — used across the EU — following Brexit when it will no longer be required to conform to the bloc’s rules.

“Leaving the EU gives us a unique opportunity to restore our national identity and forge a new path for ourselves in the world,” immigration minister Brandon Lewis said in a statement.

He added the new passports would be “one of the most secure travel documents in the world” and feature a raft of updated security measures to protect against fraud and forgery.

The current paper-based picture page will be replaced with a new, super-strength plastic polycarbonate material that will be more difficult to alter, according to the ministry.

The new blue and gold design — a return to the colours Britain used for decades following its adoption in 1921 — will be issued from October 2019, when a new contract for passport provision begins.

The existing burgundy passport, in use since 1988, will initially continue to be handed out without references to the EU after Brexit, which is set for March 29, 2019.

Britain’s pro-Brexit tabloid The Sun led a campaign “to scrap the EU’s burgundy model forced on the nation”, demanding a return to the “iconic” dark blue passport.

It hailed the decision as “a stunning campaign victory”, with Lewis penning a column for the right-wing newspaper proclaiming the move.

Eurosceptic lawmakers also celebrated the change.

“A great Christmas present for those who care about our national identity — the fanatical remainers hate it, but the restoration of our own British passport is a powerful symbol that Britain is back!” Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative MP, wrote on Twitter.

Others appeared less enthusiastic.

“People are more concerned with their jobs, their rights and the economy than the colour of their passport. Plus, why have blue when you can have red?” opposition Labour lawmaker Danielle Rowley tweeted.

AFP

UK Foreign Minister In Iran To Push For Briton’s Release

Britain's Johnson To Visit Iran, Seek Prisoner's Release
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson presents a speech on Islamist terrorism to an audience of academics, diplomats and members of the media at the Foreign Office in London on December 7, 2017.
Victoria Jones / POOL / AFP

Britain’s foreign minister arrived in Iran on Saturday to press for the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amid accusations at home that one of his gaffes has seriously harmed her case.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s visit was the first by a top British diplomat since 2015 and he was also due to discuss that year’s landmark nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, whose future has been thrown into doubt by US President Donald Trump.

“I will stress my grave concerns about our dual national consular cases and press for their release where there are humanitarian grounds to do so,” Johnson said ahead of the visit.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen, was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, after visiting relatives with her young daughter.

Iranian authorities accused her of links to mass protests in 2009, which she denies, and sentenced her to five years in jail for sedition. They do not recognise dual nationality.

Last month, they filed additional charges of “spreading propaganda” and will present her in court again on Sunday.

Her case has become highly politicised, especially after a “slip of the tongue” by Johnson last month when he stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran, which has been used by the Iranian authorities to help justify the new charges.

Husband Richard Ratcliffe, who had lobbied to join Johnson on the visit, has raised concerns about his wife’s mental health, citing the mounting toll of her prolonged incarceration in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

Johnson is on a three-day trip to the region, stopping in Oman on Friday and moving on to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

It unfolds amid mass protests across the Muslim world over Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“Iran is a significant country in a strategically important, but volatile and unstable, region which matters to the UK’s security and prosperity,” Johnson said.

“While our relationship with Iran has improved significantly since 2011, it is not straightforward and on many issues we will not agree.”

Britain severed diplomatic relations in 2011 after protesters stormed its embassy in Tehran in response to sanctions over the nuclear dispute.

The embassy was reopened in 2015 and full relations restored last year.

AFP