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UN security team in Douma targted by gunfire while working with chemical inspectors

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A United Nations security team working with international chemical weapons inspectors has been targeted by gunfire and a small explosion in the Syrian town of Douma. 

According to the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the team had been deployed to the location of the alleged chemical attack when they were targeted.

Speaking at an emergency session of the OPCW at its headquarters in The Hague, Ahmet Uzumcu said the team had deployed to Douma to carry out a security assessment of the area ahead of the inspectors’ visit.

The Syrian government had told the team that they could not accompany them because a ceasefire agreement prevented them from entering the area.

Russian military police are understood to have escorted the UN team to Douma but at the first of two areas visited they were confronted by a large crowd and decided to move on.

Mr Uzumcu said: “At Site 2, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus.

“The UNDSS (the UN security team) will continue to work with the Syrian National Authority, the local councils in Douma, and the Russian Military Police to review the security situation.

“At present, we do not know when the FFM team can be deployed to Douma. Of course, I shall only consider such deployment following approval by the UNDSS, and provided that our team can have unhindered access to the sites.”

:: This is what happens during a chemical weapons inspection

The OPCW team arrived in Damascus at the weekend to investigate the alleged poison gas attack attributed to the Syrian regime which is said to have killed at least 70 people.


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On Tuesday, Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said: “Today the UN security team entered Douma… in order to assess the security situation on the ground and if this United Nations security team decided that the situation is sound in Douma then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow.

“The Syrian government did all that it can do to facilitate the work of this mission.”

The head of the OPCW said on Monday that its investigators had been prevented from going to the scene by Syria and Russian authorities. Both deny this.

France says it is “highly likely” evidence was disappearing from Douma before weapons experts arrived in the area.

The US, UK and France launched airstrikes against suspected chemical sites operated by President Assad’s government in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack.

:: Syria airstrikes: What did military action hit?


A child is treated following an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria. Pic:



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OPCW chemical weapons investigators enter Douma

Prime Minister Theresa May insisted it was morally and legally right to target three sites that stored or researched deadly chemical weapons.

However journalists who were escorted to the site on Monday by Syrian government authorities filed differing accounts of what happened in the alleged attack.

Some reported having spoken to locals who said that the chemical attack had been staged, claiming there had been a conventional attack which produced a huge amount of dust.


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According to some people said to be eyewitnesses, unknown people then entered the bombed building where victims were being treated and shouted “gas, gas”. Amid panic, water was then poured on the victims.

Other people, speaking to different media outlets including the Associated Press and CBS News, said there was a chemical attack and that they experienced the symptoms of such an attack.

Video widely circulated on the internet showed numerous dead bodies – adults and children – inside a building foaming at the mouth and nostrils and with dilated pupils – symptoms consistent with a chemical attack but also consistent with asphyxiation by other means.


A Syrian man walks down a street past destroyed buildings on March 25, 2018, in Douma



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Chemical weapons inspectors say they have been refused access site of alleged attack

The US, France and the UK all say open source information and intelligence prove that the Syrian government was behind the attack.

It is also understood that blood samples from victims provided to on-the-ground partners of the World Health Organisation indicate chemical poisoning.

It is the objective of the OPCW investigators to determine the truth. They hope to collect samples from the dead and speak to survivors.

The Syrian government said it was able to make a small number of eyewitnesses available to the inspectors in Damascus but the OPCW will want to seek out its own eyewitnesses.

Chemical experts have told Sky News that a successful investigation by the OPCW is made harder as more time passes.

If chlorine was used in the attack as alleged by the western alliance then much or maybe even all of it will have evaporated in the ten days since the incident.

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North Korea troops shot dead South Korean official and burned his body, Seoul claims | UK News

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A South Korean government official was shot and killed by troops in North Korea who set his body on fire over fears he might be carrying coronavirus, officials in Seoul have claimed.

The South’s defence ministry said the 47-year-old government official had been killed and his corpse burned after disappearing from an inspection boat in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday.

South Korea‘s President Moon Jae-in called the killing a “shocking” and “unpardonable” act and demanded the North punish those responsible.

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South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called the killing a ‘shocking’ and ‘unpardonable’ act

North Korea sent staff in gas masks aboard a boat near the man to find out why he was there on Tuesday afternoon, South Korea’s Defence Ministry said.

Later in the day, a North Korean navy boat arrived and opened fire at him, they added.

Sailors from the boat, wearing gas masks and protective suits, then poured petrol on his body and set it on fire, the ministry said, citing intelligence gathered by surveillance equipment and other assets.

It is unclear what caused the official’s death and whether he died after being shot.

Citing intelligence sources, the South’s military said the unidentified man appeared to have been questioned at sea – north of the border and around 24 miles from where he went missing – before he was executed on an “order from a superior authority”.

If confirmed by the North’s officials, it would be the first time that North Korea has killed a South Korean citizen in its territory since 2008.

The South Korean government did not know how he came to have crossed the border, but a defence official said the man may have been trying to defect to the North.

The demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea
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The demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea

The official said the man was wearing a life jacket on a small floating object and that the military had obtained information that he wanted to go to North Korea.

“Our military strongly condemns such an atrocity, and strongly demands North Korea provide explanations and punish those who are responsible,” General Ahn Young-ho, who is in charge of operations at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

Officials believe that military in Pyongyang may have decided to kill the man in line with stringent anti-coronavirus rules that involve shooting anyone illegally crossing the border.

North-South relations are expected to sour further as a result of the killing.

In June, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its territory in protest against South Korean civilians sending anti-North leaflets across the border.

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Trump booed and heckled by mourners while paying respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg | US News

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Donald Trump has been booed and heckled while paying his respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death has triggered a political row.

The president and wife Melania, both wearing masks, stood a few metres behind the late Supreme Court Justice’s coffin in Washington DC as her body lay in repose at the country’s highest court.

On Friday, she will be moved to lie in state at the US Capitol – the first woman to receive such an honour, before being buried next week in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg honoured in Court ceremony
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A ceremony took place on Wednesday for Justice Ginsburg at the country’s highest court

Mr Trump has sparked controversy by planning to replace her on the court before November’s presidential election.

Moments after he arrived at the court, booing could be heard from some in the crowd who then briefly chanted: “Vote him out”.

He is set to announce on Saturday his nominee to fill the seat of the liberal-leaning justice and women’s rights champion.

The 87-year-old, also known as RBG, had sat on the Supreme Court since 1993 until her death on Friday due to complications from pancreatic cancer.

Her dying wish was reportedly that she would not be replaced until a new president was installed.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has accused Mr Trump of an “abuse of power” over his plans to replace her before the 3 November poll.

Mr Biden urged Senate Republicans to delay any vote on her replacement until after the election.

Democrats argue that voters should have their say first on election day and the winner of the White House battle should fill the post.

The procedure for appointing a Supreme Court justice allows the president to nominate a candidate and then requires the Senate to confirm them.

This would give Mr Trump the opportunity to expand the court’s conservative majority to 6-3, from 5-4.

It had previously been made up of an even balance of four liberal justices and four conservatives, with Anthony Kennedy considered a more neutral member of the court who would frequently become the swing vote in 5-4 decisions.

Mr Trump replaced him with conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh when he retired in 2018.

Democrats have pointed to the Republican Senate’s refusal in 2016 to act on then president Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

Conservative Antonin Scalia had died 10 months before that year’s election, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell then said the Senate should not act on a nominee during an election year.

It was Justice Ginsburg's dying wish to not be replaced until a new president is in power
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Justice Ginsburg was a liberal and a women’s rights champion

But McConnell has reversed his stance this time and is pushing ahead with plans to begin the confirmation process, vowing to vote this year on Mr Trump’s nominee.

It would take four Republicans to break ranks to keep Mr Trump’s nominee off the court.

The president has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses November’s election and said he believes the Supreme Court could end up deciding the result.

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Announcing a nominee on Saturday would leave less than 40 days for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote before the election.

No nominee has won confirmation that quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

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Coronavirus: Italy president fires back at Boris Johnson over COVID remark | Politics News

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Italy’s president has hit back at Boris Johnson after he suggested the UK had higher coronavirus infection rates because it was a more “freedom-loving country”.

In parliament this week, the prime minister was quizzed about why Germany and Italy appeared to have lower COVID-19 rates than the Britain.

Mr Johnson disputed a claim that the relative success of different countries’ test and trace schemes was a factor.

And the PM added that there was “an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world: our country is a freedom-loving country”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on the latest situation with the coronavirus pandemic.
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The PM had told MPs: ‘Our country is a freedom-loving country’

“If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country,” he continued.

“It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.”

Asked about Mr Johnson’s comments, Italian President Sergio Mattarella said on Thursday: “We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness.”

The Reuters news agency reported Mr Mattarella was asked about Mr Johnson during a private conversation, but his words were swiftly reported in the local media and his office confirmed the remarks.

According to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, the UK has been the worst-affected country in Europe from COVID-19 in terms of death, ahead of Italy, France and then Spain.



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Germany has suffered less than one-quarter of the number of deaths the UK has, according to the tally.

It is not the first time Mr Johnson’s comments have prompted a response from an Italian politician.

In 2016, Mr Johnson – then foreign secretary – was accused of “insulting” the country’s government by claiming Italy should support a generous post-Brexit trade deal in order to prevent a decline in its exports of prosecco.

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The prime minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, was this week photographed in Lake Como, northern Italy, with the Daily Mail website reporting she had been spending a few days with the couple’s baby, WIlfred, and friends.

Downing Street recently condemned “completely untrue” claims that Mr Johnson travelled through Perugia airport on a secretive trip this month.

And the president of the airport said on Monday there had been an “error” in a previous statement and that Mr Johnson did not recently land there.

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