Russia’s spy chief has claimed the Salisbury nerve agent attack was “staged” by Britain and the US, ahead of an emergency meeting of an international watchdog.
The top body of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will meet on Wednesday morning, at Moscow’s request, to discuss the attempted murder of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last month.
The OPCW’s executive council, made up of countries’ representatives, will hold an extraordinary gathering in The Hague with the Salisbury attack the only item on the agenda.
Russia demanded the behind closed-doors talks after the UK Government accused Moscow of being responsible for use of a military-grade chemical weapon in the Wiltshire city.
The UK Government said Russia was using the meeting to “undermine” the work of the OPCW.
Ahead of the OPCW meeting, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency chief Sergei Naryshkin claimed the current tensions between Moscow and the West mean “it’s possible to speak of a return to the dark times of the Cold War”.
However, Mr Naryshkin suggested not all European countries would continue to follow Britain’s lead in blaming Russia for the Salisbury attack.
Speaking at a security conference in the Russian capital, Mr Naryshkin claimed the Skripals’ poisoning was a “grotesque provocation rudely staged by the British and US intelligence agencies.”
He added: “Some European governments are not following London and Washington blindly but are instead choosing to carefully make sense of what happened.”
Last month, EU leaders agreed there was “no plausible alternative explanation” other than Russian responsibility, which came before the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from European capitals.
However, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has since cast doubt on continuing international solidarity with the UK’s position.
Armin Laschet, one of five deputy chairmen of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, posted on Twitter on Tuesday: “If one forces nearly all NATO countries into solidarity, shouldn’t one have certain evidence?
“Regardless of what one thinks about Russia, my study of international law taught me a different way to deal with other states.”
His remarks came in response to the head of the laboratory where the substance found on the Skripals was tested, telling Sky News they were not yet able to prove it was made in Russia.
Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, said his team could not yet pinpoint the “precise source” of the nerve agent, but had identified it as “military grade” novichok.
He also confirmed the substance required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the Sky News interview as he attacked “the speed at which the anti-Russian campaign has been launched”, adding that it “causes bewilderment”.
Downing Street later highlighted how other intelligence sources have also been used, together with the work at Porton Down, to draw the conclusion of Russian responsibility.
Ahead of the OPCW meeting, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “Russia has called this meeting to undermine the work of the OPCW, which, fully in accordance with the chemical weapons convention, is providing the UK with technical assistance and evaluation through independent analysis of samples from the Salisbury attack.
“Of course, there is no requirement in the chemical weapons convention for the victim of a chemical weapons attack to engage in a joint investigation with the likely perpetrator.
“This Russian initiative is yet again another diversionary tactic, intended to undermine the work of the OPCW in reaching a conclusion.”
Afghanistan: Youngsters protest online against order telling girls not to go to school | World News
Afghan girls and boys have joined a social media protest against a decision by the Taliban to prevent young females going to school.
Putting their own safety at risk, many have created makeshift banners to make their points, opposing an edict by the Taliban government that female middle and high school students should not return to school for the time being, while boys of the same age can resume their studies this weekend.
It comes as the interim mayor of Kabul is telling female city authority employees to stay home, with only those whose jobs cannot be done by men allowed to work.
The moves are further evidence the Taliban, which overran Kabul last month, is enforcing its harsh interpretation of Islam despite initial promises that it would be tolerant and inclusive.
Among the slogans on the banners displayed by the youngsters are statements like: “What is our crime that we are prevented from education?” and “I won’t go to school without my sister. I support my sister. We are equal.”
Sky News has blurred the faces of some of those protesting, as there are fears they could be at risk in a country that appears to be clamping down on the right of expression.
On Sunday, just over a dozen women staged a protest outside the new ministry, holding up placards calling for the right of women to participate in public life.
The protest lasted for about 10 minutes before a short verbal confrontation occurred with a man and the women got into cars and left, as members of the Taliban watched from nearby cars.
Kabul’s new interim mayor, Hamdullah Namony, told his first news conference that, pending a further decision, most of the 1,000 or so female city authority employees would be required to stay home.
He said exceptions would only be made for women who could not be replaced by men, including some in the design and engineering departments and the attendants of public toilets for women.
Mr Namony added: “There are some areas that men can’t do it, we have to ask our female staff to fulfil their duties, there is no alternative for it.”
During its previous rule between the mid 1990s and 2001, the Taliban had forbidden girls and women from schools, jobs and public life.
In recent days, Taliban officials told female university students that classes would take place in gender-segregated settings, and they must abide by a strict Islamic dress code.
Under the previous US-backed administration, before it was deposed by the Taliban in August, men and women had sat alongside each other in universities, for the most part.
On Friday, the Taliban shut down the ministry for women’s affairs, replacing it with a government department responsible for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice”, with the job of enforcing Islamic law.
Amid deteriorating conditions for ordinary Afghans, many of whom previously relied on international aid, witnesses said an explosion targeted a Taliban vehicle in the provincial city of Jalalabad, the second such deadly blast in as many days in an area where Islamic State militants are said to dominate.
The Taliban and IS extremists are enemies and battled each other before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month.
Initial reports said five people were killed, with a child among the two civilians said to have died. The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.
Boris Johnson tells world leaders he is growing ‘increasingly frustrated’ at their efforts to tackle climate change | Politics News
Boris Johnson has criticised other world leaders over their efforts to tackle climate change, telling them he is growing “increasingly frustrated” that their commitments are “nowhere near enough”.
Speaking during a meeting at the United Nations in New York, the prime minister said the gap between what has been promised by industrialised nations and what they have so far delivered remains “vast”.
Co-hosting a discussion on the issue at the UN General Assembly, Mr Johnson urged fellow leaders to renew their efforts to meet a key financing pledge to help developing nations.
The PM wants to get countries to commit to giving $100bn (£73bn) a year in support to developing nations to cut their carbon emissions and shield themselves against climate change.
But he earlier told reporters there was only a “six out of 10” chance of this target being met before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November – which he then said will be “a turning point for the world” and “the moment when we have to grow up and take our responsibilities”.
He told Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby: “We have been here before, we have all heard lots of positive noises, let’s see where we get to.
“We are not counting our chickens.”
However, Joe Biden’s climate envoy sounded upbeat when questioned by Sky News.
“I think we’re going to get it done by COP and the US will do its part,” John Kerry said.
Asked if the US president will announce more money this week, he replied: “I’m not hoping… I’m telling you to stay tuned into the president’s speech and we’ll see where we are.”
Chairing the climate discussion on Monday, Mr Johnson noted that “everyone nods and we all agree that something must be done”.
“Yet I confess I’m increasingly frustrated that the ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough,” he continued.
“It is the biggest economies in the world that are causing the problem, while the smallest suffer the worst consequences.
“And while progress is being made all over the world, the gulf between what has been promised, what is actually being delivered, and what needs to happen… it remains vast.
“Too many major economies – some represented here today, some absent – are lagging too far behind.”
And the PM warned countries there would be consequences if the financing target is not met, saying: “If you say that the lives of their children are not worth the hassle of reducing domestic coal consumption, will they vote with you in fora such as this?
“Will they work with you, borrow from you, stand with you if you tell the world that you don’t care whether their land and their people slip below the waves?
“To be merely a bystander is to be complicit in their fate – yet that is exactly what you will be if you fail to act this year.”
Ahead of the UN meeting, Downing Street said developed countries had “collectively failed” to meet the target.
Figures released last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that $79.6bn was mobilised in 2019, more than $20bn off the target.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 6.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.
Serbians block roads in Kosovo in protest over license plate restrictions | World News
Protesters have blocked roads in northern Kosovo after authorities stopped cars with Serbian plates from entering the country.
Serbia, which lost control of Kosovo in 1999, does not recognise Kosovo and has stopped cars with Kosovo license plates from entering the country.
Almost 50,000 Serbs who live in the north of Kosovo and share a border with Serbia, refuse to recognise Pristina’s authorities and as restrictions came into force on Monday, cars and trucks blocked roads in protest.
Police in Kosovo deployed riot gear and armoured vehicles as the blockades built up and Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, said the move was not taken to harm drivers but was a retaliation measure against Belgrade.
“Today there is nothing illegal or discriminatory,” Mr Kurti said in parliament.
“Just as yesterday, today and tomorrow, Serb citizens will move freely and safely.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the situation is very “serious and difficult”.
“When you are dealing with people who are not responsible, it is difficult to find a solution,” Mr Vucic said.
The two countries began talks in 2013, mediated by the European Union, to resolve the issues, but little progress has been made.
Kosovo is recognised by around 110 countries, including the United States, Britain and most western countries, but Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally, does not recognise it.
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