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UK military research boss on nerve agent made in Russia

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After the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent on European soil since World War Two, Britain blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attempted murder, and the West has expelled around 130 Russian diplomats.

Aitkenhead said the British government had “other inputs” it could use to determine the origin of the nerve agent, some of them intelligence-based.

“It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is – we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured,” Aitkenhead added.

He reiterated that the substance could not have come from Porton Down. Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov noted in an interview with the BBC last month that the British research lab is only eight miles (11 km) from Salisbury, insinuating that may have been the source.

The Foreign Office has said there was “not an ounce of truth” in his implication the nerve agent could have been linked to Porton Down.

Skripal’s daughter Yulia is getting better after spending three weeks in critical condition due to the nerve toxin attack at her father’s home in Salisbury, the hospital where she is being treated said last Thursday.

Her father remained in a critical but stable condition.

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Stocks waver as Wall Street goes for its first weekly gain of the month

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Stocks were little changed on Friday as Wall Street tried to recover from another sharp sell-off in major technology names. The market was also on pace for its first weekly gain of the month. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 31 points, or 0.1%. The S&P 500 was flat and the Nasdaq Composite climbed by 0.3%.

Friday’s moves come as a series of individual stock, ETF and index options are set to expire. This could lead to volatile trading as small and large investors alike unwind these positions ahead of the expirations. 

Shares of Facebook rose 1.4%. Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet were all higher as well. Oracle, meanwhile, slipped 0.3% after the U.S. government said it will block all TikTok and WeChat downloads in the country on Sunday. Oracle is trying to finalize a partnership deal with TikTok-parent ByteDance.

Big Tech struggled in the previous session, dragging down the broader market and adding to its steep September drop. Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have all lost at least 10% month to date. 

Investors also remained on edge about the outlook on further coronavirus stimulus as well as the timing of a viable vaccine. Republicans and Democrats are still struggling to agree on how much aid to continue to provide in a follow-up bill to the previous $2 trillion package. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he liked “the larger numbers,” urging GOP lawmakers to go for a bigger coronavirus stimulus, but his comments left Republicans skeptical.

“The signs point to a decelerating U.S. economic recovery and increasing thematic risks,” analysts at MarketDesk Research said in a note. “It feels as if the bullish market narrative is changing in real time. Given all of the headline risks, we would error on the side of caution in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, the path to a Covid-19 vaccine, which is critical to the economic recovery, still seems unclear. Health officials said vaccinations would be in limited quantities this year and not widely distributed for six to nine months.

“A safe and transparent vaccination process is critical to encouraging widespread inoculations once effective vaccines are identified and tested.” Mark Haefele, UBS Global Wealth Management’s chief investment officer, said in a note. “In our central scenario, we expect widespread vaccine availability by 2Q21.”

Still, the major averages were set to snap two-week losing streaks despite the uncertainties surrounding the market and economic outlook. Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were up about 0.5% week to date heading into Friday’s session. The Dow was up 0.85% for the week. 

“‘Buying weakness and selling strength’ has been the only trustworthy trend over the last two weeks,” said Frank Cappelleri, executive director at Instinet, in a note. This trend, Cappelleri said, has kept the S&P 500 moving in a range of about 100 points recently. 

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‘Pandemic fatigue’ leads to resurgence of coronavirus in Europe

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Coronavirus live updates: Israel locks down again ahead of High Holidays; EU strikes vaccine deal with Sanofi, GSK

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The coronavirus has infected more than 30.2 million people globally as of Friday, killing at least 946,685 people so far.

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