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Cobra committee to discuss spy poisoning mystery



The Home Secretary will chair an emergency meeting of the Government’s Cobra committee as the Russian spy poisoning mystery threatens to become a security and diplomatic crisis.

Amber Rudd is coming under pressure from senior MPs to launch an inquiry into claims that 14 suspicious deaths in recent years are potentially connected to Russian intelligence services.

And as Sergei Skripal and his daughter fight for life in hospital in Salisbury, Theresa May is likely to be quizzed by MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions about the suspected poisoning and other deaths.

The Cobra meeting, which will be attended by senior Cabinet ministers, police and intelligence chiefs, comes less than 24 hours after a hastily-arranged meeting of the National Security Council in Downing Street.

The crisis has also plunged Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson into a major diplomatic row with Vladimir Putin after he told MPs Russia was “malign” and suggested England could boycott this summer’s World Cup.

Specialist counter-terrorism officers are helping police in Salisbury investigate an incident that has left a Russian man who was exchanged in a high-profile “spy swap” and a woman critically ill.

Police are continuing to try to establish what the substance was that Sergei Skripal, 66, and a woman in her 30s were exposed to in the Wiltshire city at the weekend.

Russian spy ‘caught on CCTV’ in Salisbury

The MP for Salisbury, John Glen, attempted to reassure alarmed constituents in the normally tranquil cathedral city by tweeting: “My thoughts and prayers this evening are with my constituent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

“We still do not know all the facts but we do know that a terrible human tragedy took place on the streets of Salisbury on Sunday.

“The Government is now doing all it can to find out exactly what happened.

“The National Security Council met today (Tuesday) and the Home Secretary is chairing the Cobra committee tomorrow morning.

“No stone will be left unturned in the investigation and bringing those responsible to justice.”

:: Who is Russian double agent Sergei Skripal?

The call on the Home Secretary to order a probe into earlier suspicious Russian-linked deaths comes from senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Composite of Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Julia who are in a critical condition
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Julia are in a critical condition

In a letter headed “Review of deaths with allegations of state responsibility”, Ms Cooper steps up pressure on the Government for an inquiry following exchanges with the Foreign Secretary in the Commons earlier.

“I asked the Foreign Secretary to discuss with you a review by the National Crime Agency (NCA), or another appropriate entity, into 14 deaths that have not been treated as suspicious by the UK police, but have – reportedly – been identified by United States intelligence sources as potentially connected to the Russian state,” Ms Cooper writes.

“The Foreign Secretary agreed to discuss this with you, and I am writing to request a response on these matters as soon as possible.”

:: Burgers and tea: How poison is hitman’s weapon of choice

In her letter, Ms Cooper quotes a report claiming US intelligence has informed the British Government that a Russian whistleblower – Alexander Perepilichnyy, who died in Surrey in 2012 – was likely killed under orders by the Russian state.

Sergei Skripal was a colonel in Russian military inteligence
Sergei Skripal was a colonel in Russian military intelligence

She also suggests that a further 13 people, including an associate of Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, were also likely killed on British soil.

But she complains: “Yet the UK authorities have ruled out suspicious circumstances in these cases, often concluding that suicide or natural causes was the explanation.”

:: Boris Johnson called pathetic over 2018 Russia World Cup threat

:: Is spy ‘poisoning’ Russia vendetta or rogue mission?

Ms Cooper points out that the Foreign Secretary noted the Perepilichnyy case in his answer to her question in the Commons, calling it one of a number of “deeply troubling cases”.

And she adds: “You will be aware of reports of considerable concerning evidence about many of the 14 cases that raises serious doubts about the decisions made in each case to treat them either as suicides, natural causes or accidents.

“This reported evidence raises questions over the robustness of the police investigations.

“Surely a review of all these cases and the decisions made on them, in light of this further reported evidence, carried out by the NCA, would be a prudent course of action to ensure that – as the Foreign Secretary said today – no attempt on an innocent life on British soil should go un-investigated or unpunished.”

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Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony was ‘respectful, hopeful but sombre night’ | World News



Olympic opening ceremonies are something of a unique art form. Playing to a global audience but with the host nation wanting to make the night their own.

Japan chose sombre. It was a respectful, hopeful but above all sombre night. They didn’t want to show off when everyone has lived through such hardship – and while so many people continue to do so.

Their display using 1,824 flying drones combining like a swarm of giant worker bees to create a giant globe stood out.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron
Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the cauldron

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There were no Team GB fans at the 2021 summer olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo due to COVID-19 but Japan put on a stunning visual show regardless

So too Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka who was given the honour of firing up the hydrogen-fuelled Olympic cauldron.

But it was their courteous bow towards the pain of the pandemic that defined the evening.

Video montages of empty cities during lockdowns, and athletes cobbling together training regimes in their back gardens – it all made for an understated opening ceremony.

Outside, the protests in the streets continued among those still vehemently against the Games taking place while Tokyo remains in a state of COVID emergency.

More on Tokyo 2020 Olympics

There were also people outside who just felt drawn to the Olympic stadium – to come and wave to the very select numbers of VIPs and media going inside. It was as close as they could get to the Games that they had waited almost a decade for.

While these Olympics will feel unusual there were reminders too of the magic they can create.

There was a towering Tongan taekwondo player who strode into the stadium with his bare oiled chest puffed out as he carried his island nation’s flag like a warrior on a mission.

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Protests held outside Olympic stadium

The Olympics can still produce special moments like that and there will be plenty more over the coming weeks.

There will be more COVID-19 disruption too but the Games of 2020 are finally open, just one year late.

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Business leaders have ‘obligation to speak up’, ex-Unilever boss says amid Ben & Jerry’s row | Business News



Unilever’s ex-boss has said business leaders have an “obligation to speak up” after his former company became embroiled in a row with Israel over its Ben & Jerry’s business.

Paul Polman mounted a defence of the need to “fight for what is right” in remarks to Sky News after the ice cream brand said it would stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by consumer goods giant Unilever – whose array of brands ranges from Marmite spread to Dove soap – but has an independent board to take such decisions.

Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive
Current boss Alan Jope has spoken to Israel’s prime minister about the matter

Its announcement is one of the strongest steps taken by a well-known company over Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community.

The move drew condemnation from the Israeli government, whose new prime minister Naftali Bennett said this week that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal – including legal – on this issue” and that those taking such action “need to know that there will be a price to pay”.

Mr Polman, speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, said it would be inappropriate to say how he would have handled the issue had he still been in charge of Unilever.

But he added: “What is very important is if we want humanity to function for the long term we need to be sure that we fight for the basic values, the basic values of dignity, respect, equity, compassion.

“If we see these values being violated anywhere in the world I think we have an obligation to speak up.

“What we’ve seen in the US in the last few years – too few people, also from the business side, spoke up against things that then bit by bit moved the boundaries and put us in a very difficult situation.

Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there would be a “price to pay”

“So, fight for what is right and one of the few things we should fight for always is, these basic human rights.”

Mr Polman was speaking a day after current Unilever boss Alan Jope, in a conference call to discuss latest results, said the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel but gave no indication that Unilever would press Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the decision.

Mr Jope, who has spoken to Mr Bennett on the phone to discuss the matter, said that it was a “complex and sensitive matter”.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul | World News



An Algerian judo competitor has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after learning he could have faced an Israeli opponent.

Fethi Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible to compete against Tohar Butbul.

He told Algerian TV he would not “get his hands dirty” and his “decision was final”.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder”, he added.

Tohar Butbul of Israel
Tohar Butbul of Israel

The 30-year-old was drawn against Sudan’s Mohamed Asdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73kg class. If he had won that match, he would have faced Butbul, who has a first-round bye, in the next round.

Nourine also withdrew from the world championships in 2019 for the same reason.

At the time, his coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in Algerian media saying: “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

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Tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared in Jerusalem earlier this year causing the worst violence in the region since 2014.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Training Sessions - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during training sessions. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Judo training sessions take place at the Tokyo Games

The conflict between the two sides has been going on for decades and has seen athletes from Iran and Egypt also previously refuse to compete against Israeli opponents.

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The opening ceremony for this year’s Olympic games took place on Friday, with fans not allowed in the national stadium for the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media were allowed the witness the spectacular event.

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