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Putin demands inquiry into nerve agent attack

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Russian president Vladimir Putin says he wants an inquiry into the Salisbury nerve agent attack, citing a Sky News interview with the boss of Porton Down.

Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, said they had not been able to establish where the novichok nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made.

Speaking in Ankara after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Putin claimed novichok could be made in 20 nations.

Given the lack of precise information about the nerve agent’s origin, he also lamented “the speed at which the anti-Russian campaign has been launched”, adding that it “causes bewilderment”.

Russia has vehemently denied accusations from Britain that it was behind the poisoning.

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Multi-million pound cannabis haul found in shipping container in Dublin | World News

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Cannabis worth an estimated €7m (£6.4m) has been found in a shipping container in Dublin.

The container had 352kg of herbal cannabis and had arrived in the Irish city port from Spain.

Three men, aged 31, 47 and 49, have been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking offences.

They were taken to Garda stations across Dublin for questioning on Friday as searches continued.

The operation was part of investigations by the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau and Revenue Customs officers into illegal activities of organised crime groups.

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Donald Trump ploy backfires as Benjamin Netanyahu swerves invitation to criticise Joe Biden | World News

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An attempt by Donald Trump to secure an election endorsement from the Israeli prime minister has backfired during a White House photo call.

With reporters gathered in the Oval Office to mark the signing of a historic US-brokered peace deal between Israel and Sudan, the US president asked Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on speakerphone, if Joe Biden could have secured such a deal.

“Do you think ‘Sleepy Joe’ could have made this deal, Bibi? ‘Sleepy Joe’? Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow I don’t think so,” Mr Trump asked Mr Netanyahu.

Dodging the invitation to knock Mr Trump‘s presidential opponent, the Israeli leader replied: “Uh, well, Mr President, one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America.

“And we appreciate what you have done enormously.”

The two leaders were marking the brokering of an Israeli-Sudanese peace deal
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The two leaders were marking the brokering of an Israeli-Sudanese peace deal

The two leaders were speaking at an event celebrating the beginning of normalisation talks between Israel and the Arab-African nation of Sudan.

Mr Trump had put the Israeli prime minister on speakerphone in front of the gathered media, and saw an opportunity for a moment of electioneering.

More from Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli leader has been accused in the past of interfering in American elections. In 2012, he met Republican nominee Mitt Romney during the election campaign and attacked the policies of Barack Obama.

This time though, with the polls suggesting a win for Mr Biden, a more cautious Netanyahu chose a more diplomatic tone.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a face mask, looks on while standing inside the court room as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court
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Benjamin Netanyahu has previously been accused of interfering in the US elections

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There is no question that a Trump victory would be preferable for Mr Netanyahu, whose policies in the Middle East have been backed, and, to a large extent, driven by the Trump administration.

Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of the Obama-brokered Iran denuclearisation deal was roundly welcomed by Mr Netanyahu.

Historic diplomatic normalisation deals with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and now Sudan have been forged with significant White House input and – while none of the deals has yet been completed – they represent a huge shift in regional relations.

The global diplomacy has formed a key part of Mr Trump’s re-election campaign as he seeks to prove that he is a successful deal-maker.

A Trump win would be preferable for Mr Netanyahu - although his relationship with Mr Biden spans decades
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A Trump win would be preferable for Mr Netanyahu – although his relationship with Mr Biden spans decades

It’s not clear quite how policy in the Middle East would shift under a Biden presidency.

While it’s unlikely that any of the Trump-brokered deals would be unpicked, it is probable that greater attempts would be made to bring the Palestinians back into the fold.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Biden do have a relationship which spans back decades.

Mr Biden was frequently asked by then-president Obama to take the lead in trying to further peace in the region.

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Coronavirus: US could have 500,000 COVID-19 deaths but universal mask use may save 130,000 lives – study | US News

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The number of coronavirus deaths in the US may reach half a million by the end of February – but universal mask wearing could save nearly 130,000 lives, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Washington looked at non-pharmaceutical ways of minimising COVID-19 fatalities.

Their analysis examined how the disease has spread in different states, and projected the effects of varying levels of social distancing and mask use from mid-September 2020 until the end of February 2021.

The risk from coronavirus and the strain on hospitals will stay high through the winter under all scenarios, they said, especially in populous states such as Florida and California.

But if 95% of people were to wear a mask in public, researchers say 129,574 lives could be saved – or 96,000 lives if 85% of people take it up.

Trump dons masks in visit to a military medical facility
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President Trump eventually began wearing a mask in public after first saying he wouldn’t do it

More than 223,000 coronavirus-linked deaths have so far been recorded in the US since the crisis began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“Our findings indicate that universal mask use, a relatively affordable and low-impact intervention, has the potential to serve as a priority life-saving strategy in all US states,” says the research – published in the Nature Medicine journal.

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The authors quote one recent study that suggested only 49% of Americans said they “always” wear a mask in public.

However, citing a New York Times article, they add that 95% mask use had already been observed in some neighbourhoods of the city.

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Final US presidential debate – highlights

Donald Trump famously shunned the use of masks earlier in the pandemic, but eventually began wearing one.

His election rival, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, has stressed the importance of face coverings, insisting that “masks matter” and “save lives”.

Clashing with Mr Trump during the final presidential debate on Thursday, Mr Biden waved his black face mask as a prop and stated: “If we just wore masks, we could save 100,000 lives.”

In the UK, face coverings were made mandatory in many public settings after initial conflicting reports over their effectiveness.

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