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Russian envoy seeks meeting with Boris Johnson

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Conservative MP Boris Johnson speaks as he visits Bristol on May 14, 2016 in Bristol, England.

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Conservative MP Boris Johnson speaks as he visits Bristol on May 14, 2016 in Bristol, England.

The Russian embassy in London has sent a request for a meeting of its envoy, Alexander Yakovenko, with British foreign minister Boris Johnson to discuss the investigation of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter poisoned in Salisbury, the RIA news agency reported on Saturday.

“We hope for a constructive response from the British side and are counting on such a meeting in the very nearest future,” the agency cited a spokesman for the Russian embassy saying.

The British Foreign Office confirmed it had received the request.

“We will be responding in due course,” a spokeswoman said.

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Boris Johnson says variant from India more transmissible

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street on February 22, 2021 in London, England.

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LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Friday that the coronavirus variant first discovered in India has the potential to derail the lockdown easing currently underway in the country.

The U.K. will now accelerate second doses of vaccines for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable due to concerns over the variant from India.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Johnson said the variant looked to be more transmissible than other variants, but cautioned that it wasn’t clear by how much. England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson, added that there’s “confidence” it’s “more transmissible” than the strains already circulating in the country.

Whitty said: “Earlier this week we said that we thought that it was as transmissible as B.1.1.7 and possibly even more so. There is now confidence … that this variant is more transmissible than B.1.1.7.”

The B.1.1.7 variant, known as the U.K. or Kent strain, has an unusually high number of mutations and is associated with a more efficient and rapid transmission of the coronavirus. British scientists first detected this mutation in September last year and by April it had become the dominant strain in the U.S.

Johnson added that there was currently no evidence that the variant would evade the vaccines that are being deployed across the country.

“But I have to level with you, this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.

“And I must stress that we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe.”

Data on the new variant published Thursday by Public Health England showed that the number of cases across the U.K. had risen from 520 last week to 1,313 this week, with most cases concentrated in northwest England and a few clusters in London.

The U.K.’s vaccine rollout has been one of the fastest in the world, with almost 70% of the adult population having received at least one shot. Vaccines are available to anyone over age 38, but the government has said they could be made available to younger people living in multigenerational households.

The next phase of England’s exit from lockdown is scheduled for Monday, when indoor socializing, hospitality and entertainment will resume.

—CNBC’s Elliot Smith contributed to this article.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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COP26 president says ‘coal must go’ if planet to meet climate targets

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Justin Merriman | Bloomberg Creative Photos | Getty Images

This year’s COP26 climate change conference must consign coal to the past, according to the U.K. lawmaker who will lead formal negotiations at the summit.

In a wide-ranging speech delivered on Friday, COP26 President-designate Alok Sharma sought to emphasize the importance of ending international coal financing, an ambition he described as “a personal priority.”

“We are urging countries to abandon coal power, seeking the G-7 to lead the way,” he said. “At the same time, we are working with developing countries to support their transition to clean energy.”

“The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past, and in the past they must remain,” he went on to state.

Sharma said the science was clear that “coal must go” in order to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The above target was laid out in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was agreed at 2015’s COP21 summit in the French capital.

Described by the United Nations as a legally-binding international treaty on climate change, the accord aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”

The COP26 summit is set to be hosted by the U.K. and held in the Scottish city of Glasgow between Nov. 1 and 12, 2021. It was originally due to take place in Nov. 2020, but was rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.K.’s official website for COP26 states it will “bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

In his remarks on Friday, Sharma went on to state: “The reality is, renewables are cheaper than coal across the majority of countries. The coal business is, as the UN Secretary General has said, going up in smoke. It’s old technology.”

“So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, whilst of course supporting workers and communities to make the transition, by creating good green jobs to fill the gap.”

While some will view Sharma’s ambition as laudable, coal still supplies more than one-third of the planet’s electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency.

According to analysis from the IEA, worldwide coal consumption dropped by 4% in 2020, but this fall “was concentrated mostly in the early months of the year.”

“By the end of 2020, demand had surged above pre-Covid levels, driven by Asia where economies were fast rebounding and December was particularly cold,” the IEA adds.

In the U.S., coal still plays a significant role in electricity production. Preliminary figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that natural gas and coal’s shares of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020 were 40.3% and 19.3% respectively.

Sharma’s comments come at a time when plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, a county in the northwest of England, have proved to be extremely controversial in some quarters.

The proposed development has generated a great deal of debate, not least because the U.K. will host COP26 in November. The project’s fate is still to be determined. 

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Biden urges end to violence

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President Joe Biden pauses while speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 10, 2021.

Chris Kleponis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday called for a de-escalation of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip as attacks intensify and more people are killed.

The president told reporters in the White House that he expects to have additional conversations with leaders in the region.

Israeli ground forces have been bombing and sending troops and tanks to the Gaza border after Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel on Thursday.

At least 103 people have been killed, including 27 children, in Gaza in the past four days, according to Palestinian medical officials. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a soldier and some civilians, amid airstrikes and rocket attacks between the Israeli military and militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.

A picture shows the explosion after an Israeli strike targeted a building in Gaza City on May 14, 2021.

Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images

Israel said it is deploying troops to the Gaza frontier ahead of a potential ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled territory following four days of continued cross-border conflict. The increased military response has also followed violence among Arab and Jewish mobs in the streets of Israel this week, which led to dozens of arrests.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a televised speech that the escalating conflict has put Israel in two fighting campaigns — in Gaza and in Israel’s cities —and reiterated his promise to deploy military to combat violence in the cities.

“I again call on the citizens of Israel not to take the law into their own hands; whoever does so will be punished severely,” Netanyahu said. “We will act with full force against enemies from without and lawbreakers from within in order to restore calm to the state of Israel.”

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A ground troop invasion of Gaza has not yet been announced. Some world leaders and lawmakers have condemned the conflict and urged against violence they argued could escalate into an all-out war.

Israel President Reuven Rivlin urged against a “senseless civil war” amid unrest in towns and cities. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an “immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” in the region.

“Too many innocent civilians have already died,” Guterres wrote in a tweet. “This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.”

Palestinians assess the damage caused by Israeli air strikes, in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, on May 14, 2021.

Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee, urged a ceasefire in the region as quickly as possible to prevent more civilian deaths.

“Ground operations will not stop the rockets falling on Israel, or solve the fundamental security challenges that Israel faces,” Murphy said in a statement on Thursday. “Only a ceasefire in the short-term, and a real path to a viable two-state future in the long-term can do that.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Wednesday that the U.S. is sending Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to urge Israelis and Palestinians to de-escalate the violence.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday also raised its travel advisory to Israel, citing armed conflict and civil unrest, and told people not to travel to Gaza due to Covid-19 and conflict.

— Reuters and Associated Press contributed reporting

Israeli soldiers of an artillery unit gather near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, on its Israeli side May 14, 2021.

Amir Cohen | Reuters

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