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Australia expels two Russian diplomats over poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal

27 March 2018

VOA diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine has more from the State Department.

"The European Council agreed with the United Kingdom government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation".

At least 116 alleged agents working under diplomatic cover were ordered out by 22 governments, dwarfing similar measures in even the most notorious Cold War spying disputes, and marking a British diplomatic victory.

The impromptu protest underscored the residents' frustration with the official response to the tragedy: the local governor has not visited the site of the fire or met with the relatives, and Putin has not announced a period of national mourning.

Britain has accused Moscow of using the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok to poison Skripal, 66, a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted of spying for the United Kingdom, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33.

"We have done a check in New Zealand".

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As of Friday afternoon, only 15 whales were alive, and a rescue operation was under way to try to herd them back to sea. The largest stranding incident happened in 1918 on the shore of Chatham Island, almost 1000 pilot whales stranded.

Monday's wave of expulsions followed European Union leaders saying last week that evidence presented by May of Russian involvement in the attack was a solid basis for further action.

The strong support from the EU countries, as well as Ukraine, the USA and Canada followed a European Council meeting held in Brussels this week. Moscow has denied being behind it. Verhofstadt asked. "And at the same time asking, requesting for changes in the Russian Federation society for application of the rule of law for a democracy, freedom of speech".

The U.S. expelled 60 diplomats Washington said were working as intelligence officers, and ordered the closure of Moscow's consulate in Seattle.

Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle because of its proximity to a US submarine base and planemaker and defence contractor Boeing Co, a senior USA official said.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called the nerve-agent attack on Skripal and his daughter a "shocking and abhorrent" use of chemical weapons.

Czaputowicz said the Russian ambassador and three other diplomats were now considered "persona non grata", giving them until April 3 to leave the country.

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An airline spokesman said there were markets for both types of flights with price, timing and connections among the factors. Airline Chief Executive Alan Joyce hailed the development as a "game-changer".

The staff expelled by Washington includes 12 people identified by the United States as intelligence officers from Russia's mission to the United Nations headquarters in NY.

The Russian foreign ministry said the moves put allies on a "confrontational path", and described those who had acted as being "puppets".

She said that Australia has had strong sanctions in place since 2014 in response to Russia's threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesman said the West was making a "mistake" and that President Vladimir Putin would make a final decision about Russia's response.

US lawmakers largely welcomed Trump's move on Monday. "We will work on it in the coming days and will respond to every country in turn", the RIA news agency cited an unidentified Foreign Ministry source as saying.

The closure of the Seattle consulate is a significant blow to Russian espionage, according to one former high-level USA official who handled Russian intelligence.

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Australia expels two Russian diplomats over poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal