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Salisbury Attack Suspect Identified as a GRU colonel by British Investigative Group

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Salisbury Attack

On March 4, 2018, a former Russian Spy became a victim of the Salisbury attack. The British Intelligence identified the two suspects — Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov — as members of the Russian military intelligence service (GRU), an accusation which was fiercely denied by Moscow.

However, on Wednesday, an investigative group, Bellingcat, in Britain said that it has identified one of the two suspects as a highly decorated colonel in the GRU.

The group informed that the suspect, whose passport name was Ruslan Boshirov, is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. In 2014, he was awarded Russia’s highest medal– the Hero of Russia.

As a proof, the report didn’t had anything beyond a photograph from the 2003 passport file of Chepiga resembling Boshirov. No other evidence proving that the both are the same person, were provided.

Britain has charged two both the suspects, Boshirov and Petrov, against an attempt to kill the ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal (66) and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury. It has said that the attack received approval “at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Denying all the accusations, the Russian President Vladimir Putin had stated the there was nothing criminal about both the suspects.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, rejected the claim of the group. She said on Facebook that it is part of an “information campaign” against Russia.

The investigative group, Bellingcat relies on open sources and social media for conducting its investigations. The group has comprehensively focused on Russia, exposing its military activities in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the two suspects of the Salisbury attack appeared on the state-funded RT channel, and stated that they had visited the city as tourists and had nothing to do with the Skripal poisoning. Both men denied the British claim that they were Russian military intelligence officers, and said that they work in the nutritional supplements business.

In its report, Bellingcat said that it had received tips from former Russian military officers and examined pictures of graduates of Russian military academies. As they found a man resembling Boshirov in a group shot, they searched through leaked official databases to find personal details.

Later, the group identified the man as Chepiga and eventually tracked down his passport file, dated 2003, which had a picture displaying a strong resemblance to Boshirov.

According to the group, Chepiga served several stints in Chechnya, where Russian forces were fighting Islamic rebels. Besides, his passport file recorded his service with a Russian military unit, which was part of the GRU’s Special Forces.

Regarding its finding on Chepiga’s Hero of Russia award, the group said that it signalled that he probably had received the medal for his actions in eastern Ukraine.

Although the investigative group has identified one of the two suspects of the Salisbury attack, the evidence doesn’t seem enough. Whether or not the allegations of the British government are true, still remains a question.

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MPs Support Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal, but not Deadline

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Brexit Deal

Ever since it came into notice that the UK-EU’s negotiators succeeded in achieving a new Brexit deal, many government supporters started to have faith in Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his strategies, while some others waited for the unexpected outcome of the deal in the House of Commons.

Though Johnson won the backing of MPs in the House of Commons for his Brexit deal on Tuesday, his plan of Britain’s exit from the EU on deadline October 31 was still opposed by them. Since, the MPs wanted more time to scrutinise the legislation, a snap election was back on the agenda.

The EU Council President Donald Tusk, who was earlier the Prime Minister of Poland offered his Brexit extension proposal to Johnson, whose allies think that it’s won’t be fruitful. They believe that instead of Brexit delays, the prime minister would push for a general election in the country.

One of the important benefits of the general elections is that it would put an immense pressure on the Labour officials to either back an early poll or agree a tight new timetable to pass the Brexit legislation. Johnson’s supporters believe that he would definitely succeed in getting the Brexit deal done this time.

But it has to be noted that under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, Johnson would need two-thirds of MPs to back a motion calling for an early election and Johnson has previously tried twice without any success to call an election.

Since former Prime Minister Theresa May failed in getting enough support from the MPs during her time, it became a big reason for Brexit failure, which later led to her resignation. While in case of Johnson the MPs have convincingly backed his Brexit deal in principle by voting for the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement bill by 329 to 299.

The Labour MPs supporting Brexit Deal formed a pro-deal coalition with Eurosceptic Tories, which supported Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill with a large majority except that his “do or die” Brexit deadline was disregarded by MPs, who rejected the motion by 322 votes to 308.

Though Johnson was disappointed with MPs disapproval over UK’s exit from EU on deadline, he is still hopeful that he would soon find some or the other way out of the mess by pausing the legislation to see how the EU responds.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s allies have threatened to pull the legislation and hold an election if the EU proposed an extension of more than 10 days to get the Brexit Deal done. Amid all the hassles, at least the country is no more moving towards a No-Deal Brexit, which is a sigh of relief for many Brexit supporters.

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Julian Assange Denied a Delay to Full Extradition Hearing

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Julian Assange

Supporters of the WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange were calling out for his release outside the London court, when Judge Vanessa Baraitser declined a request to delay proceedings of the full extradition hearing by three months by his lawyers.

In June, a British court set a full hearing date regarding the extradition of 48-year-old Australian to the United States. It was reported that the five-day hearing will begin in February 2020, to which Assange’s lawyers have requested a delay. However, after the recent hearing, he will have to go ahead on same date.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) claimed that Assange was taken into custody on April 11 under a extradition treaty between Britain and Washington. In June, Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a formal request to send Assange to America, but the owner of the anti-secrecy website said he’d fight it.

Julian Assange, who has remained behind the bars since May, is serving his imprisonment of 50 weeks for jumping the jail in 2012. The US had issued an 18-count indictment against him, including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. It was asserted that if convicted, he could have to remain in prison for decades.

In the court hearing on Monday, his lawyer Mark Summers accused the US of attempting to “kidnap and harm” Assange. He also claimed that America had “intruded” on conversations between the WikiLeaks founder and his lawyers, when he was in the Ecuadorian embassy. Besides, the intrusions included “unlawful copying of their telephones and computers” and “hooded men breaking into offices”.

Earlier this year, he told a hearing that he feared he would be kidnapped by the US. Summers said that those fears are among “multiplicitous” reasons that call for the case to be delayed for three months. He also stated that the case requires a “mammoth” amount of planning, as it involves many facets. However, the request was denied by Judge Baraitser at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Julian Assange, whose deteriorating health conditions had kept him away from some of the past court hearings, appeared clean-shaven and wore a navy suit and a light blue jumper. In the court on Monday, he appeared to fight back tears and said, “I can’t think properly.” Besides, he mumbled and paused as he confirmed his own name and date of birth.

Assange’s barrister, Summers defended him saying that the extradition bid is “a political attempt” by Donald Trump’s administration to “signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information”.

“It is legally unprecedented,” he told the court.

Despite the hearing against him, Assange is being supported by several people, including the former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and John Pilger, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

As of now, nothing could be asserted about how the case will unveil in future. Where supports are against the extradition, only February’s five hearings will bring the final decision.

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As Brexit Deadline Looms, MPs Set to Cast Vote on Johnson’s Deal

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As Brexit Deadline Looms, MPs Set to Cast Vote on Johnson's Deal

Brexit deadline, as it once again reaches climax, faces a crunch test today. With MPs set to cast their crucial vote for the first time in 37 years to poll on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, the air of anxiety is rising in the nation.

Similar to the time of the former prime minister Theresa May, the scenario today is poised for an unexpected outcome, especially given that Labour MPs have continuously bashed the idea of leaving the European Union.

The PM Johnson has been trying to convince MPs to support, and with the Brexit deadline waiting to haunt this Halloween, a failure to pass the divorce agreement today can lead to severe consequences.

As reported, Johnson’s former DUP allies and parties in opposition are planning to vote down the new agreement. Nevertheless, at least nine Labour MPs are on course to defy that idea, while Johnson also foresees support from the MPs he sacked last month.

On Thursday, after reaching the deal with Brussels at the eleventh hour by agreeing to a customs border in the Irish Sea, Johnson’s Brexit deal now faces a new “deal or no deal” scenario. The new plan abandons the previously promised Irish Backstop plan, and will instead give way to implement a new customs border along the Irish sea.

Yet despite the changes, the Conservative and Labour MPs will table an amendment allowing the parliament to bar the deal’s approval until the legislation to Brexit has passed. The idea, which as per Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn would not block the deal, would mean that even if the withdrawal agreement is passed in Commons, the Brexit deadline would still not be October 31; courtesy Benn Act. The act that would legally oblige the prime minister to ask for an extension of Article 50 from the 27 European Union member states.

Writing in the Sun, Johnson said: “There have been any number of false dawns. Deadlines for our departure have come and gone. I ask everyone to cast their mind forward to the end of today – and imagine what it could be like if the new Brexit deal has been approved.” “A difficult, divisive and – yes – painful chapter in our history would be at an end,” he added as a plea to the MPs.

However, the idea was completely opposed by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who tweeted: “united in opposing” Mr. Johnson’s “sell-out Brexit deal”. Further stating that his party would “come together and reject it”.

Also, earlier in his letter to the party MPs, Corbyn argued that the new accord was a “worse deal” than the one put forward by Theresa May. He also conveyed these proposals “risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections”.

The risk of crashing out or leaving with a deal, doesn’t look safe for Britain. However, with a deal in hand, Britain will lest have a transition period up its sleeve to settle the conundrum.

Three years in, MPs vote on a really crucial decision about the future of UK once again. So, will the UK dawn to a new high on Saturday with the approval of the deal, or will it return to square one?

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Labour MP Accuses Leader Jeremy Corbyn of Promoting anti-Semitism

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anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is once again accused of promoting anti-Semitism and has been claimed dangerous to the secular and tolerant society of the country.

Dame Louise Ellman, associated with the Labour party for more than 50 years, has resigned from the party claiming that Corbyn is “a danger to the country” and a “danger to the Jewish community” since his election as the Labour leader.

This is not the first time Corbyn or Labour party has been accused of such racial controversies. Earlier, in February and July this year, the party took action against 350 members of the party with the action ranging from expelled to giving formal warnings or asking them to resign from the party.

The anti-Semitism accusations come at a very serious time when the Labour Party is looking to gain the support of common people, in case of general elections.

Moreover, the accusations have forced the common secular, tolerant Britons to consider the fact that if a party like Labour can have an ideology against one of the major communities of the UK, then how safe other communities are if Labour emerges as the winner in general elections.

The Jewish community majorly hails from the Middle East that migrated in an attempt to safeguard themselves from various factors like physical abuse, anti-Semitism, political instability, poverty, and forced expulsion.

Ellman, while announcing her resignation from the party, said, “There is certainly a possibility, if not a likelihood, that Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister, and this means I’ve had to face taking a decision.”

“In that situation I do not wish to stand as a Labour MP, asking people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. So I have come to the conclusion that I have to resign,” she added.

Last year, even former Prime Minister Theresa May claimed the same, saying if labour gains the majority in the parliament, it would be “national calamity”. Additionally, it won’t be wrong to consider the fact that it was the exact anti-Semitism thinking of the Labour party and its leaders that led to a decline in numbers of the community across the country, recently.

For a long time, the Britons have been successful in maintaining the air of harmony, secularism, and growth by working together and supporting every part of the community.

However, any such comments might lay waste to all those efforts and hard work of the citizens, adversely affecting the growth of the country, its economy, defence, trade and various other sectors on which the society and its entire section is completely dependent on.

The Home Affairs Select Committee should investigate the reason and truth behind such claims, ensuring that the Britons and the leaders do not commit the grave error, which Gulf region did a long time back.

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Johnson’s Government Struggles for Brexit Deal Prior to Withdrawal Date

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Brexit deal

In the wake of the Brexit deal that has been a heated topic for debates since its launch in 2016, the country is willing to reach a deal before the summit ahead, making concessions to its plans over Northern Ireland border that is considered to be a specific part of the UK.

Though the border is a key sticking point in the UK-EU deal talks, at a time when the government is ready for post-Brexit arrangements, yet its deal does not seem to be enough for the EU. The EU officials have been demanding more movement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself thinks that a “significant work” is still missing.

Prime Minister’s Early Attempts

With respect to the Northern Ireland border, Johnson earlier wrote a letter to the EU Council asking them to remove the Irish Backstop from the withdrawal agreement. He claimed that though Britain’s priority was to leave the EU with a favourable deal, it could only happen if the backstop was removed from the withdrawal deal as it was “anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state”.

However, in present Johnson is ready for negotiations. The decision comes days before the two-day summit in Brussels, where the Prime Minister would meet 27 EU leaders for Brexit deal negotiations.

Government’s New Agenda through Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech during the opening of new session of Parliament on Monday would set out the government’s legislative agenda, focusing on “people’s priorities”. Some of the proposals in the Queen’s Speech would include:

  • Measures to bring in a points-based immigration system from 2021
  • Scrapping the rail franchise system – the contracting out of services introduced when the rail system was privatised in the 1990s
  • Setting up an independent NHS investigations body with legal powers to improve patient safety
  • Updating the Mental Health Act to reduce the number of detentions made under it
  • Creating legally binding targets to reduce plastics, cut air pollution, restore biodiversity and improve water quality

UK-EU Talks Before Summit

While the UK and the EU’s negotiating teams continue to reach a deal before the scheduled summit on Thursday and Friday, the EU officials believe that there is a big gap over customs arrangements. During the weekend talks over the Brexit deal, the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK plans on the tracking of goods were unacceptable.

Barnier, in his briefing to the EU diplomats, added that the UK had dropped its proposals to include an up-front veto for Northern Ireland politicians in the Stormont Assembly before any arrangements for the country came into force. The UK is still seeking power for Northern Ireland to leave the arrangements at some point in the future.

The discussions between the UK-EU officials in Brussels would continue today with the prospects of an agreement in time for Britain to leave with a deal on October 31 in the balance. If the government succeeds in reaching an agreement at the summit it will again introduce a withdrawal agreement bill to be voted on next Saturday in a special Parliamentary session.

Conclusion

Though the government plans to use the Queen’s speech to describe its aims by bringing ideas of improved building standards, and increasing investment in infrastructure and science, the question at large is whether it would succeed in making the Brexit deal happen?  

The EU negotiators on the other hand seem to have “softened” their position, indicating they are prepared to keep talking until Wednesday – the eve of the summit. With the withdrawal date approaching, everyone awaits the bigger surprise of whether the UK would celebrate the Brexit deal success or would once again be drenched in the EU laws.  

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