Russia: UK’s novichok interview allegations ‘absurd’

It is absurd to accuse Russia of lying about the two men accused of poisoning the Skripals in Salisbury, the Kremlin has said.

Commentators have expressed incredulity after Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov told the Kremlin-funded TV channel Russia Today that they were in Salisbury on 3 March as tourists to visit the cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

The Kremlin added that it would consider a British request to interview the two men, but had not received one.

Mr Boshirov (left) and Mr Petrov were named as suspects by the UK © Other Mr Boshirov (left) and Mr Petrov were named as suspects by the UK Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any request would be looked at “in strict accordance with Russian law” while denying any Russian involvement in the poisonings.

Britain has charged Petrov and Boshirov with attempting to murder Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia by spraying the nerve agent novichok on his door in the Wiltshire city.

Novichok suspects. Pic: Russia Today © Other Novichok suspects. Pic: Russia Today The two men have suggested they are the victims of a “fantastical coincidence” and would like an apology from the real prisoners.

British intelligence found the novichok was stored in a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle, but the two suspects said that would be a ridiculous way for them to transport poison, which they denied having, as it would be “silly for decent lads” to have women’s perfume.

Downing Street has rubbished claims that they simply wanted to see the sights of Wiltshire, describing them as “lies”.

Theresa May’s spokesman said the suspects’ comments were “an insult” and “deeply offensive”.

“The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview given to a Russian state-sponsored TV station are an insult to the public’s intelligence,” he said.

“More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack.”

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two men had been identified by the Kremlin and insisted they were civilians and “not criminals”.

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Hurricane Helene: “Danger to life” warning for the UK as the major storm packing 80mph winds threatens travel chaos

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A “danger to life” wind warning has been issued for parts of the UK with the remnants of former hurricane Helene expected to slam into the country early next week.

Currently a tropical storm, Helene is bringing 80mph gusts that could send debris flying, disrupt travel and cut power to thousands of homes and businesses.

The Met Office said: “Storm Helene is expected to push north-east towards the UK late Monday, before clearing quickly to the north of Scotland through Tuesday morning.

“There remains large uncertainty in Helene’s exact track, however a spell of very strong winds is expected, initially for parts of south-west England and west Wales, then later south-west Scotland and the south-east of Northern Ireland.

a close up of a map: A wind warning has been issued for the areas in yellow © Credits: Met office A wind warning has been issued for the areas in yellow

“Winds are likely to gust to 55-65 mph quite widely in the warning area, with possible gusts of 70-80 mph in exposure.”

It said the dangers are:

  • Injuries and danger to life from flying debris are possible.
  • Road, rail, air and ferry services may be affected, with longer journey times and cancellations possible.
  • Some roads and bridges may close. Fallen trees may be an additional hazard.
  • There is a small chance that injuries could occur from large waves and beach material being thrown onto seafronts.
  • There is a chance that power cuts may occur, with the potential to affect other services, such as mobile phone coverage.

As of Friday morning, the wind warning is in effect from Monday at 6pm to Tuesday at 12pm for the following areas:

  • North West England: Blackpool, Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside
  • Northern Ireland: County Down
  • SW Scotland, Lothian Borders: Dumfries and Galloway
  • Strathclyde: East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire
  • South West England: Cornwall, Devon, Isles of Scilly, Somerset
  • Wales: Bridgend, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, dIsle of Anglesey, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Swansea, Vale of Glamorgan

On Friday morning, Tropical Storm Helene was bearing down on the Azores Islands in the Atlantic.

The government of Portugal had issued a tropical storm warning for the archipelago.

a close up of a map: A map showing Helene's probable wind speeds © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited A map showing Helene’s probable wind speeds

The US National Hurricane Center said: “A turn toward the northeast is expected over the weekend. On the forecast track, Helene will pass near or over the Azores late Saturday or Sunday.

“Maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts. Little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours.

“Gradual weakening is expected after Helene becomes a post-tropical cyclone over the weekend.

Storms Florence (left), Helene (right), Isaac and Joyce are seen in a satellite image taken a million miles from Earth  © Credits: REX/Shutterstock Storms Florence (left), Helene (right), Isaac and Joyce are seen in a satellite image taken a million miles from Earth 

“Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140 miles (220 km) from the centre.”

The warnings were issued as Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the US East Coast, flooding homes with a 10ft storm surge.

ISRO to set up its first overseas ground station at North Pole

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is drawing up plans to set up its inaugural overseas ground station at the North Pole.

The objective of the plan is to increase the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) operations that are critical not only for civilian needs like disaster management but also for the armed forces. China has already had a functional ground station at the North pole.

GSLV MK-III © ISRO GSLV MK-III

ISRO has full-grown IRS programme with a constellation of earth observation satellites. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad has the responsibility of data acquisition and processing, data dissemination, aerial remote sensing and decision support for disaster management.

Speaking to The Times of India one of the scientists from ISRO said that “So far as the station at the North Pole goes, ISRO is serious about it. But the plan will take some time to materialize as it involves huge logistical challenges, international approvals, and co-operation. But we will surely have it.”

The weather conditions are extremely harsh and cold in this region and are considered even more difficult than the South Pole, any hardware installation is a challenging task.

The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. © NSF The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica.

The scientists stressed on the need for the 14-orbit coverage and said that the technological advancement in the high-resolution satellite programs of IRS has resulted in a multi-fold increase in the complexity, including the enhanced role of ground stations.

The scientist added that “high-resolution satellites need frequent visibilities with larger processing power, data storage capacity onboard, data downlink of stored image to ground stations for meeting the global and Indian user requirements.”

ISRO meets its global requirement through NRSC’s IMGEOS at Shadnagar which was made functional and commissioned in 2011 and Antarctica based AGEOS which was commissioned in the year 2013 and partially through SVALBARD ground station which is not an ISRO property.

 

Meanwhile, the plan of installing the second data reception antenna at the AGEOS in Antarctica this year has been delayed and expected to be done sometime next year. The AGEOS which is situated in Antarctica, at Bharati Station, Larsemann Hills, is receiving IRS data from satellites like Resourcesat-2, Risat-2, the Cartosat family of satellites, Saral and Oceansat, and further transmitting the same to Shadnagar.

Canon announces EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera

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Canon has announced its first full-frame mirrorless camera and lens system, both called EOS R. Coming shortly after rival Nikon announced its own full-frame mirrorless cameras, the announcement of the EOS R means both Japanese camera giants are now taking high-end mirrorless seriously after years of putting out half-hearted responses to the likes of Sony and Fujifilm.

As previously leaked, the EOS R camera is built around a 30.3-megapixel full-frame sensor with an ISO range of 100-40,000. The sensor uses dual-pixel autofocus and is paired with Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor. There’s a fully articulated touchscreen as well as an OLED electronic viewfinder and an information panel on the top of the camera.

While the camera basically looks like a slimmed-down DSLR, the EOS R system breaks away from Canon’s traditional control scheme in a few ways. Most notably, all the lenses have a dedicated control ring as well as the dials for zooming and manual focus; this lets you adjust settings like aperture from the lens itself. There’s also a sliding left-right control bar on the back of the camera that can be used for various other features.

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The first EOS R lenses are a 24-105mm f/4 L, a 50mm f/1.2mm L, a 28-70mm f/2 L, and a 35mm f/1.8 macro. Canon is also releasing three lens mount adapters for EOS SLR lenses, including one with the EOS R control ring and another that can be used with drop-in filters. The camera will be available body-only or with the 24-105mm lens in late October.

We’re at Canon’s EOS R event in Tokyo and will bring you more news and impressions soon.

Black Venus – the South Korean spy who met Kim Jong Il

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Before meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Southern spy “Black Venus” was told to stay up late, shower, and dress neatly. He also hid a micro recorder in his p***s.

Few spies have ever got as close to the leader of an enemy state — let alone one as reclusive as the isolated North — as Black Venus, real name Park Chae-seo.

In the 1990s he posed as a disgruntled former South Korean military officer turned businessman looking to film commercials for Southern companies in scenic Northern locations.

Along the way to meeting Kim, he claims to have sold antique ceramics for millions for members of the North’s ruling family and seen Northern military officials counting huge bribes paid by Southerners in political plots.

Now his story has been turned into a book and a film that shine new light on the murky connections — some financial, some political — that run across the Demilitarised Zone dividing the peninsula.

With North and South engaged in a rapid diplomatic rapprochement, “The Spy Gone North” has been an instant bestseller and box office hit, the film attracting five million viewers in just its first three weeks on release — around 10 percent of the South’s entire population.

“It was extremely stressful living as a spy,” Park, 64, told AFP in a rare foreign media interview. “I might be exposed by the slightest mistake, like a s****d slip of the tongue.”

But unlike Northern agents sent south, he was not issued with suicide pills to ensure a quick end if captured.

Instead, he explained, “we were trained to kill ourselves with our own fingers” using “some critical points in the body”.

Fake Rolex 

Park started in military intelligence in 1990, tasked with gathering information on the North’s nuclear programme, then in its early stages.

He befriended a Chinese nuclear physicist of Korean ancestry who — in exchange for a million-dollar payment — later revealed that the North had made two low-level nuclear weapons.

When he joined the South’s spy agency in 1995, then known as the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), he was assigned the codename, Black Venus.

Based in Beijing, he worked for a South Korean company importing Chinese agricultural products, disguising them as tariff-exempt North Korean goods, and built up a network of North Korean contacts and other informants.

He also bribed his way towards higher North Korean authorities, once providing the acting head of Pyongyang’s spy agency with top-quality counterfeit Rolex watches when he visited Beijing.

His big break came, he says, when he allegedly helped arrange the release of a nephew of Jang Song Thaek — the influential uncle of current leader Kim Jong Un who was executed as a traitor in 2013 — from a Chinese prison by helping pay off $160,000 of debts the nephew owed to Chinese traders.

A grateful Jang family invited Park to Pyongyang and he seized the chance to sign a $4 million deal between his advertising company and a North Korean tourism agency to film TV commercials at locations including Korea’s spiritual home, Mount Paektu, and Mount Kumgang, where the two sides hold reunions of divided families.

At the time North Korea was in desperate need of funds, with its socialist economy falling apart following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main funder, and millions of its people starving.

Park says he helped members of the Kim family sell antique pale green glazed celadon ceramics unearthed in the North to rich South Koreans, and visited a cache of hundreds more hidden near Mount Myohyang, accompanied by a South Korean expert who valued them at more than one billion dollars.

In 1997, after several trips to the North, he was taken to the Paekhwawon Guest House in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il was as usual working by night, for a 30-minute meeting with the leader himself, the recorder hidden in his urethra.

Kim did not bother to shake hands when he entered the room for the 30-minute meeting, Park said, which focused on cashing in the ceramics.

“His voice was a bit husky,” said Park. “Far from being nervous for fear of being exposed, I felt rather relieved because it meant I had won the North’s complete trust.”

North Wind 

Kim also expressed a keen interest in the South’s upcoming presidential poll, according to Park.

Cross-border military crises have tended to occur in election years in the South, helping shift undecided votes toward conservatives, a phenomenon known as “the North Wind” in the South.

North Korean agents blew up Korean Air flight 858 over the Andaman Sea, killing 115 people, less than three weeks before the South’s 1987 presidential election.

And ahead of the 1997 presidential poll, Park says, North Korean officials told him three supporters of conservative candidate Lee Hoi-chang had asked them to mount an armed attack days before polling.

In a Beijing hotel room, Park claims, “with my own eyes, I saw the North Koreans counting wads of dollars in their hotel room that they received from the South Koreans”, allegedly in exchange.

“There were 36 bundles, each of them $100,000.”

He reported his findings to his ANSP bosses and the campaign of liberal candidate Kim Dae-Jung, which made them public. In the end, there was no incident and Kim secured a narrow victory.

The trio of Lee supporters was later convicted of breaking the South’s National Security Law, which bans contact with the North, but was acquitted on appeal to the Supreme Court after Park refused to testify.

 Final exposure 

His cover blown, Park was fired by the spy agency and moved to China, spending much of his time on the golf course.

The ANSP, now known as the National Intelligence Service, declined to comment on Park’s allegations.

After South Korea’s Conservatives returned to power, they brought in a new spy chief and Park was arrested in Seoul in 2010 and convicted of passing classified information to the North, despite insisting he conveyed only low-level intelligence to win Pyongyang’s confidence.

“I was in solitary confinement for six years,” he said, calling his imprisonment politically motivated.

His story provides a glimpse into a “suspected but so far inaccessible truth” in inter-Korean relations, film critic Lee Yong-Cheol wrote in Cine21 magazine.

And if the winds of geopolitics once again shift and leave him on the wrong side, Park has an insurance policy — the recordings he made of his meetings with Kim Jong Il, Jang Song Thaek, and other officials.

He says they were not available when he was suddenly arrested in 2010.

But now he is keeping them safe “somewhere in a foreign country”.

Novichok poisoning probe: Russian suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to face string of charges over nerve agent attack in Salisbury

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Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism today revealed there is sufficient evidence to charge two Russian nationals as part of the probe into the Novichok poisoning probe in Salisbury and Amesbury.

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov could be charged with offenses including conspiracy to murder over the Salisbury nerve agent attack, Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service have announced.

Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu said it is likely the names are aliases and Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names. They are believed to be aged around 40.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the nerve agent attack on UK soil © PA Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the nerve agent attack on UK soil Sue Hemming, CPS director of legal services, said: “Prosecutors from CPS Counter Terrorism Division have considered the evidence and have concluded there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and it is clearly in the public interest to charge Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who are Russian nationals.”

Alexander Petrov seen on CCTV at Gatwick airport at 3pm on March 2 © Metropolitan Police Alexander Petrov seen on CCTV at Gatwick airport at 3pm on March 2 Those offences include conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal; the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey; the use and possession of Novichok contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act; and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey.

‘Ruslan Boshirov captured in the same CCTV at Gatwick © Metropolitan Police ‘Ruslan Boshirov captured in the same CCTV at Gatwick “A realistic prospect of conviction means the CPS is satisfied on an objective assessment that the evidence can be used in court and that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury hearing the case, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict these two individuals of the charges,” Ms Hemming said.

CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station at 16:11hrs on March 3 2018. © PA CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station at 16:11hrs on March 3, 2018. “It is of course for a jury to decide whether the evidence is enough for them to be sure of the suspect’s guilt.

CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov (on Fisherton Road, Salisbury at 13:08hrs on March 4 2018. © PA CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov (on Fisherton Road, Salisbury at 13:08hrs on March 4, 2018. “We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of these men as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals.

Handout CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Heathrow airport security at 19:28hrs on March 4 2018. © PA Handout CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Heathrow airport security at 19:28hrs on March 4, 2018. “Russia has made this clear following requests for extradition in other cases. Should this position change then an extradition request would be made.

CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov on Wilton Road, Salisbury at 11:58hrs on March 4 2018. © PA CCTV image issued by the Metropolitan Police of Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov on Wilton Road, Salisbury at 11:58hrs on March 4, 2018. “We have, however, obtained a European Arrest Warrant which means that if either man travels to a country where an EAW is valid, they will be arrested and face extradition on these charges for which there is no statute of limitations.”

Yulia Skripal was poisoned alongside her father Sergei

© PA Yulia Skripal was poisoned alongside her father Sergei Yesterday independent investigators confirmed the toxic chemical that killed Dawn Sturgess in Amesbury was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal three months earlier.

Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in Amesbury

© Getty Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in Amesbury The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said its team had confirmed the findings of the UK, which concluded in July that the substance used was Novichok.

Ms Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley fell ill at his home in Amesbury, near Salisbury, on June 30.

Military personnel at the scene in Salisbury after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned

© PA Military personnel at the scene in Salisbury after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned Ms Sturgess, a mother-of-three, died in hospital eight days later having never regained consciousness.

© Andrew Matthews/PA It is believed they were exposed to a military grade nerve agent from a perfume bottle discarded by those responsible for the attack on former Russian double agent Mr Skripal and his daughter in March, which also saw Wiltshire police officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey caught up in the attack.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia both survived the nerve agent poisoning

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia both survived the nerve agent poisoning The OPCW on Tuesday evening said: “The results of the analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that intoxicated two individuals in Amesbury and resulted in one fatality.

Ministry of Defence handout file photo dated 09/03/18 of soldiers removing a contaminated police car from the Accident and Emergency entrance at Salisbury District Hospital in Wiltshire. © PA Ministry of Defence handout file photo dated 09/03/18 of soldiers removing a contaminated police car from the Accident and Emergency entrance at Salisbury District Hospital in Wiltshire. “The toxic chemical compound displays the same toxic properties of a nerve agent.

“It is also the same toxic chemical that was found in the biomedical and environmental samples relating to the poisoning of Mr Sergei Skripal, Ms Yulia Skripal, and Mr Nicholas Bailey on March 4 in Salisbury.”

The OPCW said it was not possible to conclude whether the nerve agent used in the two incidents was from the same batch.

In July, Mr Basu said test results from Porton Down on the Amesbury poisoning had shown the victims to have been “exposed to the nerve agent Novichok”.

Samsung Galaxy X to have FOUR rear cameras and launch in 2018

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The Samsung Galaxy X looks like it has just had its camera system leaked online and, at face value, it looks like an optical system in advance of that installed on the best Android phone in the world, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Why? That’s because the new Samsung phone looks like it is equipped with four rear cameras, which sees it double up on the Note 9’s two-camera rear setup.

A four-camera rear setup would also see this new Samsung phone also outgun the mighty Huawei P20 Pro and its Leica-brand triple-rear camera, which remains one of the best smartphone camera systems in the world.

The four-camera reveal comes courtesy of Samsung leakster-in-chief Ice universe, who has a very reliable track record of breaking specs and feature news for the South Korean maker’s upcoming devices, and recently stated that:

 

Now, despite the brevity of these Tweets, if you put them all together they actually deliver a clear picture of what is being alluded to.

Firstly, the new Samsung phone being hinted at here is “not [the] S10 or Galaxy F“, which are rumored to be the South Korean maker’s much-wanted upcoming flagship and folding phones, which are predicted to be landing in early 2019.

Unless, therefore, this is a brand new phone we currently know nothing about, it has to be the Samsung Galaxy X, which recently has been reported as Samsung’s incoming gaming phone.

Secondly, this new Samsung phone is coming in “2018”, meaning that we should at least see a reveal this year if not a full launch. This again seems to indicate that this phone is not the Samsung folding phone (reported as both the Galaxy X and Galaxy F) or Galaxy S10 flagship, which are due in 2019.

And, thirdly, the new iPhone rival will have four cameras (“camera camera camera camera”) and they will be positioned facing “all back”.

a close up of electronics: Samsung Galaxy S10 © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Samsung Galaxy S10

These details naturally raise the question of why the new Samsung phone, which as we’ve elaborated on at this point looks like it will be the Galaxy X gaming phone, need four rear cameras?

The answer could lie in the phone’s next-gen AR gaming capabilities, or even VR powers in-sync with the new Samsung Gear VR headset.

Indeed, a flagship-spec new Galaxy phone from Samsung tailored to take on the best gaming phones on the market, such as the Honor Play and Razer Phone, but with crazy-advanced AR/VR capabilities as well, would really help separate Samsung’s hot new gaming phone from the rest of the pack.

A pixel-pushing powerhouse new Android phone with mad AR and VR capabilities that is set to land before the end of the year? Color us excited!