Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinkings bottles- by collision. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a trash dump in Japan. Scientists have now uncovered the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests presented they had unknowingly attained the molecule even better at breaking down the PET( polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles.” What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock ,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research.” It’s great and a real seeing .”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speed up the pace even further and become a viable large-scale process.

” What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic ,” told McGeehan.” It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment .”

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest proportions, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood.” It is unbelievably resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific ,” said McGeehan.” It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well .”

However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be was transformed into opaque fibers for garb or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a route to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

” You are always up against the fact that petroleum is inexpensive, so virgin PET is cheap ,” told McGeehan.” It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even to continue efforts to recycle. But I believe there is a public driver here: perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these .”

The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, began by determining the exact structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10 bn hours brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to investigate this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.

” It is a modest improvement- 20% better- but that is not the point ,” said McGeehan.” It’s incredible because it am saying that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It devotes us scope to use all the technology being implemented in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme .”

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Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 hours faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

One possible improvement being explored is to transplanting the mutant enzyme into an” extremophile bacteria” that they are able survive temperatures above 70 C, at which point PET changes from a glassy to a viscous state, stimulating it likely to degraded 10 -1 00 periods faster.

Earlier work had shown that some fungis can break down PET plastic, which attains up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.

Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said:” People are now searching vigorously for those working .” PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating glitches might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

” I suppose[ the new research] is very exciting work, indicating there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing trash problem ,” told Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.

” Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in big quantities by microorganisms ,” he said.” There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable.[ But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction .”

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, concurred the enzyme could be helpful but added:” A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem- trash- at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions .”

* This article was revised on 17 April 2018 to make clear that PET becomes viscous above 70 C. Its melting point is above 250 C.

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US says it has proof Syria carried out Douma gas attack

White House and state department say with very high confidence that regime was responsible

The US has said it has proof that the Syrian regime carried out a chemical weapon attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday, rejecting a Russian assert that it had been staged by British intelligence.

Both the White House and state department announced on Friday that the US had” a high level of confidence” about the regime’s culpability for the use of poison gas in Douma.

The declaration marked a transformation from a statement by the defence secretary, James Mattis, on Thursday, that the US was still looking at the evidence. But the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the security council that the Trump administration had still not decided on a military response.

The UK denounced as” a blatant lie” Russian claims that the country’s intelligence services were responsible for staging” the fake chemical weapons assault” in Douma, as a pretext for launching a wider military assault on the Syrian regime forces.

Moscow has hitherto said there was no traces of any chemical assault in Douma. Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) are due to visit the scene on Saturday. However, France, UK and the US have said their own proof already points to Damascus.

Western diplomats would not rule in military action while the OPCW is on the ground, but said their capitals would try to avoid a situation in which inspectors could be vulnerable to harm or being taken hostage.

Asked about the Russian accusation against the UK, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders said:” Our intelligence tells us otherwise … We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible “.

The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, told:” We can say that the Syrian government was behind this attack … We know there are only certain countries, like Syria, that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons .”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he had obtained documentary evidence showing that” special services of a country, which is now seeking to be in the first ranks of the Russophobic campaign, were involved in this staged event “. The UK Foreign Office said the claims were preposterous.

Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to London, told reporters the UK-funded Syrian civil defence forces, the White Helmets, were responsible for staging fake chemical attacks by the Syrian army in an attempt to mislead the world. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defence ministry spokesman, went further saying:” We have … evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organising this provocation .”

He said Russia had proof that London put pressure on the White Helmets to stage the attack. The White Helmets is a humanitarian organisation made up of 3,400 volunteers who rescue civilians from the rubble after airstrikes.

Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, described the claims as” grotesque, bizarre and a blatant lie “. She added:” I want to country categorically … that Britain has no participation and would never have any participation in the use of a chemical weapon .”

A Foreign Office spokesperson told:” Russia has wielded its UN security council veto six days since February 2017 to shield the Assad regime from scrutiny for its use of chemical weapons. These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no assault ever happened.

The accusations plunged the two countries’ intelligence agencies into yet more conflict, and came as the first each member of a UN weapons inspectors fact-finding mission arrived in Damascus to see whether evidence remained to prove a chemical weapons assault had passed, as photograph, blood samples and accounts from witness have shown. The inspectors are expected to be given access to Douma on Saturday.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, insisted labour inspectors from the OPCW must be given full and unfettered access to witnesses and houses.

Russia, in conjunction with the forces of the Syrian chairperson, Bashar-al Assad, is in charge of the Douma area.

At another highly charged session of the UN security council on Friday, Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia repeated the claim that the two attacks was staged. Hayley, his American counterpart, said she was ” in awe” that Nebenzia could make such asserts “with a straight face”.

Pressed outside the UN chamber on when the US would decide whether to launch a military ten-strike, Haley said:” You don’t hurry-up decisions like this .” She added that if there was haste,” you make a mistake “.

On Thursday Trump called Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and the two agreed” it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not run unchallenged “. But the US delay in taking action appears to be caused by divisions between the White House and Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, on the viable targets that could be struck in an effort to wipe out Syria’s alleged chemical weapons stores and factories.

The hesitation in Washington devoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, a chance to consult with Vladimir Putin to see whether they can construct a compromise that will avoid a military attack but still satisfy western demands that Russia stops protecting Assad’s breaches of the chemical weapons conventions.

Macron, who on Thursday said he had proof of use of chemical weapons by Syrian regime- also called for dialogue with Russia.

But the glimmer of hope for diplomacy came alongside continued planning for a military assault. Britain’s military chiefs have been working on a range of scenarios over the last few days. The focuss of an attack would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons research and storage facilities.

Other targets under consideration by the Ministry of Defence, working in coordination with the US and France, include Syrian command and control centres as well as airbases, airliners and helicopters.

An attack on Assad’s presidential palace in the hills above Damascus has been ruled out as a step too far. May will be challenged by MPs to spell out her military schemes on Monday, if no weekend assault has been launched.

The planners are anxious to avoid destroying Russian equipment or killing Russian personnels based in Syria, potentially eliciting a reaction from Moscow. They insist weapons and intelligence are better than in the 1991 Iraq war in which the Amiriyah bomb shelter was made killing more than 400 civilians, or the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

A spokesperson for the French defense ministry, chiming with MoD partners, told Macron had specified there would be no targeting of Russians in Syria and the focus would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons capabilities.

A prime target is the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, west of Damascus, which the US has claimed have engaged in the preparation of chemical weapons.

Targets could include airbases where the chemical weapons are alleged to have been stored, as well as aircraft which have allegedly been used attacks.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an expert who led the UK and Nato chemical weapons reply squads, said it was highly unlikely that an attack on Syrian chemical facilities risked spreading the poison.

” The best style to destroy chemical weapons is to blow them up ,” he said.

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Caribbean nations demand solution to ‘illegal immigrants’ anomaly

High commissioners from Caribbean Commonwealth nations call for more compassionate approach by UK government

Caribbean envoys have condemned the Home Office’s treatment of many long-term Commonwealth-born UK residents as “illegal immigrants”.

They have called on the UK government to resolve an immigration anomaly that has left many people being denied health services, prevented from working, and facing destitution, detention and possible expulsion despite having lived in the country for decades.

At an unprecedented session of high commissioners from all the Caribbean Commonwealth nations, envoys called on the UK government to adopt a more compassionate approach to individuals who arrived from Caribbean countries as children in the 1950 s and 1960 s and were never formally naturalised. Thousands are encountering serious immigration problems because they have no documents.

Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, told:” I am dismayed that people who devoted their everyone to Britain could be apparently discarded so matter-of-factly .”

As preparations are made to mark the 70 th anniversary of the Windrush generation of people who moved from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government, he told:” It is regrettable to find people who came in that era facing a struggle to remain in this country, which should be their right. It’s an nasty predicament.

” Seventy years after Windrush, we are again facing a new wave of aggression. “Its about” people saying, as “theyre saying” 70 years ago,’ Go back home .’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this .”

At next week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London, the Caribbean nations are expected to call on the UK government to act with” urgency and compassion” to procure a permanent solution to the situation of pre-1 971 undocumented Caribbean-born UK residents, who are now being treated as “illegal immigrants”.

The Jamaican high commissioner, Seth George Ramocan, told since these cases began to attract media attention last year, a number of people had contacted the high commission to ask how they could get their situation regularised. He told most were afraid of contacting the Home office directly.” They are afraid of taking it to the authorities to get onto sorted out since they are worry they won’t get help but will be told they are illegal ,” he said.

He said he had dealt with cases of people who had lived all their adult lives in the UK, who visited Jamaica for a parent’s funeral and then saw they were refused entry back into the UK. The vast majority of people in this situation still “d no idea” they were likely to experience difficulties under the newly stiffened immigration regime, he told.” That’s the tragedy of it. These are people who have been here since childhood and have no sense that they are not British. These are law-abiding people .”

The problem has its roots in a decision 70 years ago to invite” British topics” of former colonies to come to help address acute labour shortages in the wake of the second world war. Between 1948 and 1973, about 550,000 West Indian( virtually 15% of the population) migrated to the UK. According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, 50,000 Commonwealth-born people currently in the UK, who arrived before 1971, may not yet have regularised their residency status. Many left the Caribbean when their islands were still British colonies and considered themselves to be British.

Diplomats and immigration lawyers suggested that the UK government could resolve the issue by announcing a window during which people in this situation could be fast-tracked to get their papers. Devoted that naturalisation fees can cost more than PS1, 000, prohibitively high for people who have been told they cannot work or claim benefits, they proposed that this process should be offered for free.

They also suggested that the burden of proof on individuals in this situation should be reduced; currently people are advised to provide several documents as evidence for every year they have lived in the UK, which can be very hard to gather.

Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said there was a” significant discriminatory part” to the problem.” These people are the most high-profile victims of the hostile environment and the extension of immigration checks into everyday life ,” he said.” Landlords, nurses, hospital administrators are being asked to to be implemented by the functions of an entry clearance officer as well as their own obligations, without the expertise.

” It’s a horrible situation to put them in; they have to use some sort of proxy. Typically those proxies will be your name, your skin colour, your accent. So we find people of Caribbean origin who have lived here perfectly legally for 50 years are asked to demonstrate that they have the right to be here, and they simply don’t have the paperwork .”

Singh said it was not enough to tell people with very concerned about their status to contact the Home office because many were afraid of what the consequences might be:” There needs to be an unequivocal assure from the governmental forces that people who approach the Home office to seek help in get their paperwork will not be subject to some of the imaginatively cruel therapy that our immigration system metes out. People should not be hurled into detention .”

Herman Ouseley, the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, said there was racism at the root of the questions, with people” being targeted because of the colour of their scalp “. He said:” People are staggered to know that this country is treating people who have been here for 50 years in this route .”

Rev Wilfred Wood, who was the first black bishop in the Church of England, said the therapy of this group of people was a” disloyalty of Commonwealth immigrants in Britain”, adding that in order to be allowed to” now find themselves hunted, uprooted and deported like common criminals, comes close to being a crime against humanity “.

The award-winning author, Andrea Levy, whose father came to Britain on HMS Empire Windrush, told:” For Britain to treat its former colonial subjects in such a way is a violation of natural justice and of its historical responsibility. Beyond the individuals concerned, it sends a cold through entire communities. It indicates no one , not even your grandmother, is safe .”

A Home Office spokesman told:” We value the contribution made by former Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK. We want to assure individuals who have resided in the UK for an extended period but feel they may not have the correct documentation corroborating their status, that there are existing solutions available. They can come forward at any point to regularise their status.

” With regards to confirming their status in the UK, the Home Office working in cooperation with people to build an proof basis rather than requiring them to submit specific documents .”

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Google loses landmark ‘right to be forgotten’ case

Businessman wins legal action to force removal of search results about past conviction

A businessman has won his legal action to remove search results about war criminals conviction in a landmark” right to be forgotten” occurrence that could have wide-ranging repercussions.

The ruling was make use of Mr Justice Warby in London on Friday. The magistrate repudiated a similar claim brought by a second industrialist who was jailed for a more serious offence.

The claimant who lost, referred to only as NT1 for legal reasons, was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990 s; the claimant who won, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications. NT1 was jailed for four years, while NT2 was jailed for six months.

Granting an appeal in the case of NT1, the judge added:” It is quite likely that there will be more claims of this kind, and the fact that NT2 has succeeded is likely to reinforce that .”

Both men demanded that Google remove search results mentioning the cases for which they were convicted. These include links to web pages published by a national newspaper and other media. Google refused their request and the men took the company to the high court.

The decision in NT2′ s favour could have implications for other convicted crooks and those who want embarrassing narratives about them erased from the web. Warby ruled out any injuries payment, however.

Explaining his decision, the judge said NT1 continued to mislead the public, whereas NT2 had shown repentance. He also took into account the submission that NT2′ s conviction did not fear actions taken by him in relation to” consumers, clients or investors”, but rather in relation to the intrusion of privacy of third parties.

” There is not[ a] plausible suggestion … that there is a risk that this wrongdoing will be repeated by the claimant. The datum is of scant if any apparent relevance to any record-keeping activities that he seems likely to engage in ,” the magistrate added.

He said his key conclusion in its relationship with NT2′ s claim was that” the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability “.

In the case of NT1, however, the judge was scathing about the claimant’s stance since leaving prison.” He has not accepted his remorse, has misled the public and this court, and depicts no compunction over any of these matters ,” he said.

” He remains in business, and the information serves the purpose of minimising the risk that he will continue to misinform, as he has in the past. Delisting would not erase the information from the record wholly, but it would make it much harder to find .”

In 2014 the European court of justice( ECJ) ruled that “irrelevant” and outdated data should be erased on request. Since then, Google has received requests to remove at the least 2.4 m connections from search results. Search engine firms can repudiate applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.

At a high court hearing in February, Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing NT1, told the high court that the visibility of the articles on the search engine caused” distress and upset” to his client.

Tomlinson, who is also chairman of the press regulation campaign group Hacked Off, told the court the businessman was not a public figure and now made a living from commercial lending and funding a property developer.

” Before anyone gratifies a new person these days they Google them ,” Tomlinson told. He added that many people engaged in misdeeds when they were young and if the misdeeds were constantly brought to the attention of others then they would permanently have a negative effect.

NT1′ s sentence was now expend, Tomlinson continued, and the law was designed to allow for the rehabilitation of wrongdoers so they could go on to lead normal lives.

But Antony White QC, representing Google, argued the ECJ’s” right to be forgotten” ruling was ” not a right to rewrite history or … tailor your past if that’s what this claimant would like to use it for “.

White said the business malpractice that gave rise to NT1′ s sentence was ” serious and sustained “.

NT2, in a separate hearing, also argued that his conviction was legally spent and he therefore had a right to be forgotten. Google defied taking down search results linking to articles including reports on his financial affairs, his conviction and interviews given by him several years later containing his account of the circumstances surrounding his conviction.

A Google spokesperson said:” We work hard to comply with the right to be forgotten, but we take great care not to remove search results that are in the public interest and will defend the public’s right to access lawful info. We are pleased that the court recognised our efforts in this area, and we will respect the judgments they have built in this case .”

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US-Russia tensions build as Moscow hits back at Trump’s Twitter threat

Trump tells Russia to get ready for US missiles fired at Syria which Russia has vowed to shoot down

The US and Russia went significantly closer to a direct clash over Syria on Wednesday when Donald Trump fired off an incendiary tweet that told Moscow to “get ready” for incoming US weapons, which the Russian military has vowed to shoot down.

A standoff over a poison gas attack on a rebel-held suburbium of Damascus on Saturday has since spiraled into the most dangerous confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers since the high levels of the cold war, driven by Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising backing for the Assad regime in Damascus and the volatility of the US president.

” Russia vows to shoot down any and all weapons fired at Syria ,” the US president tweeted.” Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and’ smart !’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it !”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called for calm.

” We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy ,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax.” We support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation .”

Despite the president’s menacing tweet, both the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, suggested a decision on military action was still pending.

” All alternatives are on the table and a final decision hasn’t been made ,” Sanders told.

Mattis said the US was ” still assessing intelligence” on Saturday’s attack on Douma, before attending a White House meeting of military and intelligence chiefs chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence.

In anticipation of an attack, Syrian aircrafts had been flown to three Russian airbases and senior Syrian government officials had been moved to safe house in Damascus, according to sources in Turkey.

A US naval battlegroup- including the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, and largely likely a cruise missile submarine, USS Georgia- was in place in the eastern Mediterranean on Wednesday night.

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France has a missile ship, the Aquitaine, in the eastern Mediterranean and Rafale fighters armed with cruise missiles in Jordan and Abu Dhabi. President Emmanuel Macron has declared that proven Syrian regime responsibility for chemical weapons use would traverse a red line for France.

In London, Theresa May summoned her cabinet for an emergency session on Thursday to discuss the next steps, after warning that the Douma attack,” could not go unchallenged “~ ATAGEND.

MPs are not due to return to Westminster from their Easter recess until next week; but the “ministers ” is under pressure to decide whether the UK will join coordinated military action.

Speaking on Wednesday, May pointed the thumb at the Assad government, and promised to ensure that those responsible were “held to account”. The employ of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged ,” she said.

” We’re rapidly reaching an understanding of what happened on the ground. All the clues are that the Syrian regime was responsible .”

It is not entirely clear what triggered Trump’s 7am tweet, but it came after news reports quoted the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warning that Russian forces-out in Syria would intercept any incoming US rockets, and return fire at their source, likely to entail US airliners or ships.

Russian air defence did not try to shoot down US Tomahawk cruise missiles the last hour Trump ordered punitive ten-strikes following a chemical weapons attack attributed to the Assad regime.

But the Russian chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, alerted last month that the next time could be different, and that Russia would use air defence and other weapons if its forces in Syria were threatened.

Zasypkin’s reported statements appear more sweeping, suggesting any incoming assault would trigger reprisal- whether or not there were Russian casualties.

Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst in Moscow, told the Protector that he believed the ambassador’s remarks were mistranslated, and noted that the Russian envoy had referred immediately to Moscow’s stated policy.

But with tensions rising, he said, he believed Putin are able to step in to restate Moscow’s policy.

” I suppose up to now they thought it would be good to keep the US in doubt about the real Russian reaction, but Trump has raised the stakes today ,” Frolov said.

The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, claimed that a US missile salvo could be used to destroy evidence of the gas attack, which Moscow asserts was staged. On Wednesday the Russian army said it was going to send military police into Douma to safeguard the site.

Their deployment seemed part of a plan proposed by Moscow to bring an expert from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) to the site of the reported assault. Western officials have warned that any Russian effort to control the visit could turn the inspection into a new flashpoint, rather than a potentialway out of the looming crisis.

Syria’s other main backer, Iran- which has signficant ground forces in the country- could also retaliate if its troops are hit on a fraught battlefield crisscrossed by tense rivalries between outside powers.

” It is hard to think of a more risky situation ,” told Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control advocacy group.” You have the US assaulting from the air against ground forces intermingled with Iranians and Russians. The chances of the US killing Russians or Iranians are quite high. Their reaction is unknown but it is certainly not going to be understanding .”

Less than an hour after advising Russia to “get ready”, Trump appeared to strike a less aggressive tone in a second tweet.

” Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this ,” he wrote.” Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race ?”

But there appeared little room for compromise between the two sides on the central question: the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The UN’s World Health Organisation, based in Geneva, said on Wednesday that it had received reports that 500 patients had been admitted to hospital with symptoms of a chemical assault.

But the Russian foreign ministry doubled down on its claim that no chemical attack resulted, saying at a briefing:” This is a total misrepresentation on a global scale .”

” Damascus has neither the motive to employ chemical weapons nor the chemical weapons themselves ,” Zakharova, the ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman, said.” There is no proof of their utilize by Damascus .”

The latest bellicose tone from the White House, and pressure from the military not to give Russia time to prepare its air defenses inside Syria, raises questions about whether the US will wait for a British parliamentary endorsement for action.

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Scottish police rescue metal fans mistaken for suicide pact members

Officers sent barges to island on Loch Leven in major reaction after false tip-off about campers

Emergency services mounted a full-scale rescue operation, including fire engine, ambulances and lifeboats, after a passerby think a group of heavy metal fans out camping were involved in a suicide pact.

The three humen were enjoying beers around a camp fire on an island in Loch Leven, Perthshire on Sunday night, as their children sleep in a tent, when they ensure the illuminates from police barges rushing across the water towards them.

” For some reason the police had received a tip that we might be in grave danger and they came to rescue us ,” told Panagiotis Filis, a lecturer at Aberdeen University and a founder of the Black Metal Brewery.” They genuinely did a great job of rescuing us, the only issue is that we didn’t need rescuing .”

Police had smashed the windows of one of the group’s automobiles, which was parked on the mainland, apparently searching for a suicide note. When interviewing the men, they said they had been concerned about a potential kidnapping.

The group was ferried across to dry land, where they reported find more than 20 emergency service vehicles and about 50 people waiting for them.” The sum of resources they threw at it was just ridiculous ,” told Ross Anderson, a civil technologist.

” When we got on to dry land there was a police officer there and he had cuts all over his hand from transgressing both the windows on my auto ,” he said.” It felt to me that they were all pumped up and ready to take over something when there was nothing to take on .”

Speaking to the Scotsman, David Henderson, a modern languages teacher and member of the heavy metal band Nyctopia, told:” They kind of stimulated us feel as if we did something wrong, but we just like to go wild camping, drink beer and listen to heavy metal music .”

He said he guessed the incident had happened because the group was garmented in black and the children had face paint on.” Because we were all dressed in black and look like heavy metal fans, people sometimes assume we are dangerous ,” he said.

Following the ordeal, different groups- which included two 10 -year-olds, a seven-year-old and a dog called Jazz- were left along the shores with nothing but a police incident number. They were forced to sleep in their autoes because they were over the legal alcohol restriction to drive home.

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland told:” We were called considering a concern for a group of people on Sunday at around 19.00. Investigations were carried out, along with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and they were all traced safe and well at around midnight .”

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Syria gas attack: Theresa May condemns ‘barbaric’ targeting of civilians

Assad regime and Russia must be held to account if they were behind Douma attack, tells PM

Theresa May has said the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian backers must be held to account if found responsible for the chemical attack that killed dozens of people

The prime minister did not rule in joining international military action against the Syrian regime, but refused to elaborate on the range of options that might be available to the government.

During a visit to Denmark, she condemned the “barbaric” aimed at providing innocent civilians, including children, in the attack which is the subject of a meeting of the UN security council in New York on Monday afternoon.

Standing alongside her Danish equivalent, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, May told reporters:” If they are found to be responsible, the regime and its backers, including Russia, must be held to account .”

Later in Stockholm, where she was meeting with prime minister Stefan Lofven, May said:” We are running urgently with our allies to asses what has happened. But, we are also working with our allies on any action that is necessary .”

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, had earlier told his French equivalent, Jean-Yves Le Drian, that” a full range of options should be on the table” for the international community in response to the attack. This is understood to include airstrikes against military targets.

May has come under growing pressure in Britain to take action after the suspected poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma in Syria which killed at least 42 people.

The prime minister did, however, toughen her criticism of the Russian government, saying Moscow’s recurred employ of its veto at the UN had enabled international rules on chemical weapons to be broken and investigations hampered.” This must stop ,” she said.

When asked whether she had a direct message for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, she said the Kremlin should” appear very carefully at the position they have taken “.

May said the attack was part of a “troubling” wider pattern of aggressive acts and that Britain had consistently given a “very clear message” to Syria about “brutal” ten-strikes against its own people.

But when it came to concrete action she maintained her alternatives open.” This is a brutal regime that is attacking its own people and we are very clear that it must be held to account and its backers must be held to account too ,” she said.

” What we are urgently doing with our allies is assessing what has taken place. Patently, if this is a chemical weapons attack of the sort the initial reports suggest that it is, this is another example of the Assad regime’s brutality and the brazen way in which they have ignored the interests of their people .”

Britain has been locked in urgent talks with allies in Washington, Paris and at the UN before Monday’s meeting.

Johnson said in February that Britain should consider joining military action against the Assad regime if there is fresh “incontrovertible” evidence he has utilized chemical weapons against his own people.

However, following a sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun last April that left dozens dead, May rejected as “hypothetical” his suggestion that the UK would have to join action in the case of farther atrocities.

Earlier, Downing Street said the UK was working with its allies to come up with a rapid and unified response to the apparent chemical attack on Saturday in Douma.

A No 10 spokesman said Britain would consider” a range of options” if there was verified evidence of chemical weapons being used, but rejects to speculate on what these might be.

No 10 also cautioned Russia, which backs the Assad regime, against was striving to obstruct the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which has confirmed it has begun an investigation into the attack.

Government sources have expressed concern that if Britain were to had participated in any action taken to punish Assad it would have to be approved by parliament.

David Cameron suffered a serious jolt to his credibility when he lost a historic Commons vote in 2013 over launching airstrikes on the Assad regime to deter its use of chemical weapons, after the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, refused to accept his backing to the plan.

There is no legal requirement for the government to seek parliamentary approval before ordering military action but it has become convention to consult MPs.

Donald Trump told the Assad regime and its allies on Sunday that there would be a ” big price to pay “~ ATAGEND after shocking footage demonstrated victims, many of them young children, suffering from the attack.

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Aftermath of suspected chemical assault in rebel-held Douma in Syria – video

The US president demanded access be opened to Douma, the last of three besieged districts in the Ghouta area to remain under opposition control, to confirm what had happened. He issued a statement along with the French chairman, Emmanuel Macron, vowing to” co-ordinate a strong, joint answer “.

It went a year to the day since Trump ordered a US strike in which 59 weapons reached a Syrian airbase thought to be the origin of the attack on Khan Sheikhun. Since then, he has vowed to order another ten-strike if chemical weapons were used again.

Israeli warplanes on Sunday bombed a Syrian regime airbase east of the town of Homs, Russian and Syrian military forces said.

Syria denied that a gas attack had taken place, while Moscow cautioned the west against taking” military action on fabricated pretexts” which could have dire consequences.

But at home, pressure was growing on May’s Conservative party for tough action against the regime. The defense pastor, Tobias Ellwood, said the UK could not” maintain turning a blind eye” to the” barbaric and illegal” horrors of the conflict.

Mark Field, the Foreign Office minister, told the BBC the UK could support the US and Nato friends” if there were to be further action” against Syria.” I don’t think we are going to be able to rely upon a United Nations security council resolution, which is almost unprecedented given the gravity of what is being proposed here, simply because the Russians will veto such a thing standing behind their client nation, Assad ,” he added.

The Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said there was a legitimate example for using force, tweeting:” Standing by as kids are gassed isn’t pacifism, it’s tolerating evil .”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said he condemned the use of chemical weapons in any scenario, but did not place the blamed on Assad directly, instead calling for the UN to be able to access the area to investigate.

He added:” I call on all parties to cooperate urgently with the UN in conducting an inquiry into this so we can find out exactly who delivered the chemical weapon. The proof is significant and the use of international law is crucial to bring about a most peaceful world in the future.

” The misfortune and the terror of people’s lives in Syria can only aim by a political answer. That entails every country in the region, as well as Russia and the US, coming together to ensure there is a meaningful ceasefire, and there is a political process in bringing about a political solution to the conflict that has wasted so many lives in Syria .”

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Trump to decide on US response to Syria gas attack ‘within 48 hours’

President condemns heinous assault and vows to take action against those responsible

Donald Trump has condemned the ” heinous ” deadly chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburbium and said he will decide within the next 24 to 48 hours whether to launch a military reprisal against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

Speaking to reporters as he convened his cabinet, the US president told:” We cannot allow cruelties like that”, adding that “hes having”” not much doubt” about who was behind the poison gas assault in Douma that killed more than 48 people and affected hundreds more.

When asked if military action was a possibility, Trump said:” Nothing is off the table … If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out, and we’ll know the answers quite soon. So we’re looking at that very, very strongly .”

Trump, who has consulted his British and French friends, announced:” We will be building some major decisions in the next 24 to 48 hours .”

Later, with his new, hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, beside him, he suggested a foreshortened schedule, telling:” We’ll be constructing that decision very quickly, probably by the end of the day .”

Asked if the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, bore any responsibility for the most recent attack, Trump told:” He may, yeah, he may. And if he does it’s going to be very tough, difficult and challenging. Everybody’s gonna pay a price. He will, everybody will .”

His remarks echoed a tweet on Sunday in which he specifically criticised Putin for the first time, warning that he would pay a” big cost” for backing the Assad government.

Almost precisely a year ago Trump authorised a Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase within three days of a chemical assault deemed to have been undertaken by the Assad regime airforce. Russia in effect controls the airspace over Syria and operates its military operation from the Khmeimim airbase in north-western Latakia province and the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus.

The US defence secretary, Jim Mattis, visited the largest US military base in the Middle East in Qatar on Monday, and will have been briefed on the options for a US attack.

The US president’s comments came before a UN security council meeting. At the meeting, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley told the council:” The United States is determined to see the monster who fell chemical weapons on the Syrian people held to account . … History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty, or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria. Either route, the United States will respond .”

Washington is demanding that Russia aims its veto on a UN accountability mechanism that can determine persons responsible for chemical assaults. UN bodies can investigate whether a chemical attack has occurred but not point blame at any group or regime.

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Aftermath of suspected chemical attack in rebel-held Douma in Syria – video

Speaking in Stockholm, the British “ministers “, Theresa May, told:” We are running urgently with our allies to assess what has happened. But, we are also working with our allies on any action that is necessary .”

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke to Trump by phone and concurred a strong joint reply. In Paris, Macron held talks with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince who is one of the strongest backers of the Syrian opposition.

The Russian foreign ministry insisted there was no evidence of a chemical assault, let alone Syrian government involvement, adding the Syrian rebel fighters, branded by Moscow as jihadi terrorists, may have mounted a false flag operation to try to seduce a reluctant Trump administration deeper into the seven-year Syrian civil war.

The rebels had been mounting a last-ditch, and now abandoned, resistance to the Syrian government taking over Douma. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told:” Our military experts have visited this place and they did not find any tracing of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians .”

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The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told:” It’s necessary to examine very carefully what happened in Douma. And it goes without saying that without this information, making any allowances is wrong and dangerous .”

Russia also blamed Israel for intensifying the Syrian crisis by carrying out an overnight air raid on a largely Iranian running T-4 airbase near Homs inside Syria. Iran tells at least three Iranians were among the 14 dead in the Israeli missile attack. Israel had previously struck the airbase, in March last year and February this year.

Israel is determined to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and block the flow of arms to Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces close to the Israeli perimeter in south-west Syria.

The Iranian foreign ministry named the three members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps killed in the attack, and denounced Israel’s actions as” a violation of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria “.

Israel, according to US officials, forewarned Washington of its air raid, and Russia in a diplomatic turnaround outed Israel as being responsible for the attack, saying two Israel jets launched the overnight strike.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, conveyed deep concern about the chemical attack in Douma, saying it would launch an immediate investigation.

The OPCW told:” A fact-finding mission is in the process of gathering further information from all available sources to establish whether chemical weapons were used .”

The Russian military are also at the scene of the attacks, claiming there are no reports from physicians at local hospitals of a chemical attack, a suggestion that appears to be contradicted by graphic videos of children foaming at the mouth.

The OPCW only has powers to investigate whether a chemical attack has taken place but not to attribute responsibility. A UN-OPCW body, the joint investigative mechanism, did have powers to ascribe responsibility but was closed last year after Russia vetoed its renewal.

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Russia must uphold the chemical weapons convention, tells UK- video

The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, said Russia as a permanent member of the security council had a special responsibility to uphold and protect the chemical weapons convention and international law.

The absence of a UN investigatory mechanism was a significant gap in the international architecture to prevent impunity for war crimes, she told. She added she was not holding her breath for Russia to drop its objections to an investigatory mechanism, pointing out Russia had vetoed the proposal twice before.

Britain’s Labour party also moved closer to blaming Assad for the attack. The darknes foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, told:” What has happened in Douma looks to be merely the most recent abhorrent attack in Syria use chemical weapons, a war crime for which[ the] Assad regime has been found responsible in the past and which we utterly condemn .”

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Dont let Brexit undermine Irelands peace | Hillary Clinton

Those who say the Good Friday agreement has run its course are wrong. Reinstating the Irish border would be an enormous setback, says Hillary Clinton

Twenty years ago, the Good Friday/ Belfast arrangement helped bring an end to decades of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. It was a watershed moment– the result of diplomatic efforts within the dormitories of government and extraordinary actions of ordinary women and men who reached across longstanding and bitter divides.

Today, the agreement stands not only as a local framework for shared understanding, but as a shining example of what’s possible when citizens come together to demand peace, and preserve it across generations. As the world celebrates this significant anniversary, we must also remain vigilant in protecting the agreement in the face of our current challenges- from the uncertainties heralded by Brexit to the hurdles posed by the impasse in devolved government in Northern Ireland- and do all we can to deliver on the unrealised aspirations of human rights and equality that were espoused that day in April 1998.

Even now, I can picture clearly my husband’s first trip-up to Northern Ireland as chairperson. On a cold wintertime night in 1995, Bill and I joined thousands of people at Belfast city hall for the lighting of the Christmas tree. As Catholic and Protestants alike came to that spot from their profoundly divided neighborhoods, there was no guarantee that violence wouldn’t break away; yet they came with a sense of hope, after so many seasons of darkness.

It was on that same trip that I first satisfied some of the women whose names are too often forgotten, despite their crucial role in the agreement. One of those women was Joyce McCartan, a Catholic mother whose 17 -year-old son had been shot dead by a Protestant gunman. Joyce invited me to join women from both traditions at the safe house she had set up in a local fish and chip shop. We sat around a small table, drinking tea out of an old aluminium teapot, while the women told me how they had first reached across their divides to band together to stop the price of their children’s milk from going to go. Along the route, they discovered that the deep-rooted causes of the violence- the terrors of sectarianism, the burdens of poverty, the desperation of unemployment- touched all of their lives. In the end, for them and for so many girls across Northern Ireland, love of family operated deeper than calls to hatred.

Though they may not have induced the headlines or the history books, those kitchen-table conversations were essential to the peace process. So were all the women who came together to form a alliance and claim a formal seat at the table- females like Avila Kilmurray, Monica McWilliams, Pearl Sagar, May Blood and so many more who moved mountains to help negotiate the Good Friday agreement years ago at Stormont.

There are some who argue that the agreement has outlived its usefulness. They are wrong. Countless people in Northern Ireland are alive today, rather than in early tombs, because of it. The last thing we can afford to do is become complacent, or delude ourselves into thinking our work is finished. In fact, 20 year later, crucial components of the agreement still have yet to be implemented. An integrated education system and support for community developing, the promotion of the representation of women, and a bill of rights for Northern Ireland are all promises that have yet to be realised. The fact that the Civic Forum has fallen by the wayside is especially tragic, since it would offer a venue to discuss many of the urgent issues facing Northern Ireland today, including the possible outcomes of Brexit negotiations.

These are difficult times for Northern Ireland, and for our world. As the Brexit debate rages on, I continue to believe in the value of the European Union, and of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. But no matter the outcome of these discussions, we cannot allow Brexit to undermine the peace that people voted, opposed and even died for. Reinstating the border would be an enormous setback, returning to the” bad old days” when communities would once again be set apart.

Two decades ago, it was acknowledged that just as the Troubles didn’t start overnight, peace was never going to come overnight. Now, as the world celebrates this important anniversary, the principles the agreement represented in the first place are more important than ever: a commitment to peace, prosperity and healing as the person or persons of Northern Ireland build a shared future. As Avila and Monica recently wrote, if short-term interests take precedence over resolving the long-term challenges that still exist in Northern Ireland,” then it is clear that the hand of history is likely to be both heavy and unforgiving “.

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Sergei and Yulia Skripal recovering as UK row with Russia intensifies

Lavrov: Ukraine loses a lot by dismissing cooperation with CIS – Belarus News( BelTA)

Ex-spys improving condition raises prospect he will be able to give vital clues to poison attack

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had now become caught up at the centre of an international scuffle between the UK and Russia following an announcement by physicians that the former Russian spy was getting better and was ” no longer in a critical condition “.

One month after the pair were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury in Wiltshire, having been poisoned with a deadly nerve agent, the hospital treating them said on Friday that they were both recovering.

Amid reports that Viktoria Skripal, Sergei Skripal’s niece, had been denied a visa to visit the UK, news of the improvement in his condition creates the prospect that he will be able to give police vital clues as to who might have poisoned him and why.

The testimony of the Skripals would be crucial in establishing the credibility of the government’s assert that it was ” highly likely” the Russian country targeted them with the nerve agent novichok. Moscow has waged a furious media battle in an attempt to discredit this account and will probably want to bring Yulia Skripal back to Russia.

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Sergei Skripal reacting well to therapy, says Salisbury hospital- video

Dr Christine Blanshard, the medical director at Salisbury district hospital, exposed the Skripals’ improving condition on Friday afternoon.

In a statement that she told was built in response to intense media coverage, Blanshard said Yulia Skripal’s strength was improving daily and she would be leaving hospital soon.

She added:” I also want to update you on the condition of her father, Sergei Skripal. He is answering well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition .”

A Foreign Office spokesman said the government was pleased that the Skripals were in better health but added:” Let us be clear, this was attempted assassination using an illegal chemical weapon that we know Russia possesses .”

The Russian embassy to the UK tweeted:” Good news !”

According to the BBC, the government has refused to give a visa to Viktoria Skripal, who has induced repeated appearances on Russian state TV in recent days and has sought to travel to Britain. She has suggested that her relatives may have been the victims of food poisoning.

” It seems the Russian state is trying to use Victoria as a pawn ,” a government source told the BBC, adding:” If she is being influenced or coerced by the Kremlin, she has become another victim .”

In a telephone conversation apparently recorded by Viktoria Skripal in Moscow on Thursday, Yulia Skripal was asked about her father’s condition. She told:” Everything’s OK, he’s resting now, he’s sleeping. Everyone’s health is OK. No one has had any irreversible[ damage ].” She appeared to deterioration her cousin’s offer of a visit.

It is unclear if detectives have yet had the opportunity to interview Sergei Skripal about events leading up to his poisoning. On Thursday, his daughter released a statement through the Metropolitan police in which she said she was getting stronger by the day.

Russian envoys have been insisting they gain access to Yulia Skripal, who is a Russian citizen. Her father has a British passport following his arrival in the UK in 2010, as part of a snoop swap. On Thursday, Yulia Skripal described waking up to find herself at the centre of a global incident as” exceedingly disorientating “.

The Kremlin’s strategy has been to exploit flaws and incompatibilities in the UK’s case. It confiscated on a gaffe by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who claimed, incorrectly, that the governmental forces science facility at Porton Down had attributed the nerve agent to Russia. In fact, the attribution was based on intelligence and analysis of previous Russian nation hits.

Sergei
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, accused the UK government of engaging in” frantic and convulsive efforts to find debates to support their indefensible stance “. Photograph: Alexander Shcherbak/ TASS

On Friday, Russia’s foreign ministry opened a new and surreal front in its information war. Sergei Skripal’s two guinea pigs succumbed after the nerve agent assault from dehydration after his home was sealed off, the UK government told. The ex-spy’s cat was found in a “distressed” state and had to be put down.

” What happened to these animals? Why doesn’t anyone mention them? Their condition is also an important piece of proof ,” the foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook, adding:” The more we are aware, the worse the picture looks .”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused the UK government of engaging in” frantic and convulsive efforts to find debates to support their indefensible stance” instead of producing proof. Lavrov’s comments echoed those of Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, who on Thursday likened the UK’s claims to Alice and Wonderland and the Tv series Midsomer Murders.

The Skripal case bears comparison with the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by two Russian spy agency assassins with a radioactive cup of tea. Before he died, Litvinenko “ve been given” nine hours of evidence to sleuths. This proved invaluable to Scotland Yard’s investigation and shaped a public inquiry, which ruled that the Russian chairperson, Vladimir Putin,” likely approved” the operation.

Litvinenko’s father, Walter, blamed Putin for his son’s death. After living in exile in Italy, where he was broke and unhappy, he returned in 2012 to Russia, apparently having struck a deal with the state.

Last week, he appeared on Russian TV talk presents. He blamed the CIA for his son’s death and even shared a sofa with the alleged murderer Andrei Lugovoi, a deputy in Russia’s Duma, who has been commenting on the Skripal instance. At one point, Walter Litvinenko clasped Lugovoi warmly by the hand.

The international alliance that has expelled 342 diplomats in solidarity with Britain is holding firm. The UK’s stand against Moscow was boosted on Friday when members of the US Congress introduced a legislative initiative to target Russian financial institutions and to strengthen US support for the UK government.

Mike Turner, a Republican, and Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, said that they were introducing the bipartisan stand with UK against Russia violations bill in response to the attack on the Skripals.

” The Russian government-sanctioned attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Officer Nick Bailey last month on British clay violated international law and indicates Putin’s growing aggressivenes and neglect for international standards of conduct ,” said the two members of the House intelligence committee.

” It’s imperative that the United States stands with the United Kingdom and our international partners in signalling resolve with a strong response .”

They said the bill would target Russian financial institutions until Russia discontinued the practice of assassinating expatriates and dissidents outside of Russia.

Meanwhile, British and American authorities have been given several chemical analysisof a substance believed to be the nerve agent novichok produced in Russia’s closed Shikhany military facility.

Boris Kuznetsov, a lawyer who fled Russia in 2007, said he had handed British diplomats the police case files from the 1995 slaying of a Russian banker and his secretary with a toxic substance. Scientists have identified it as a product of the Soviet-designed Foliant programme.

Among the documents are the results of a mass spectrometry and an infrared spectroscopy of the poisonous substance. It was rubbed off a telephone receiver used by the businessman Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary. Both been killed in agony.

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