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Personnel in protective coveralls work at the site of the incident in Salisbury, England Personnel in protective coveralls work at the site of the incident in Salisbury, England  (AFP or licensors)

Russia denies poisoning ex-spy as Britain warns of possible response

Russia has denied its involvement in the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in Britain using a rare nerve agent.

By Stefan J. Bos 

British government officials were holding an emergency meeting as security forces, and other agencies continue to investigate the attack. They gathered Saturday after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned British allegations that Moscow was to blame.

The 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter Yulia, who is 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being exposed to a nerve agent.

Some 21 people were injured in the incident which took place in the sleepy southwestern English city of Salisbury where Skripal was found last Sunday, slumped on a bench with his daughter Yulia.

British warning

British Prime Minister Theresa May warned that her government would respond if evidence shows Moscow was behind the attack on Skripal, who served time in a Russian jail for spying for Britain before being released in a spy swap.

But Russian Minister Lavrov told reporters there was no evidence that Russia was involved in the attack and that the allegations are part of Western propaganda against Russia. "This is not the only accusation they have against us. They're leveling accusations against us for everything that goes wrong, according to our Western partners, on this very planet," he complained.

And he claimed that Russia had not "heard any single piece of concrete evidence" regarding Moscow's alleged involvement in the attack.  "In fact, what we see is only news reports saying 'if it is Russia than a response will be given to you'," Lavrov said.

"But Russia is going to remember forever. It is propaganda fair and square, and it is trying to raise tension," the top diplomat added.  However, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the attack "echoes" the 2006 poisoning in London of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Rising tensions

London blamed Moscow for that attack, but Russia has denied wrongdoing.

With tensions rising, Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd was to lead a meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee, comprising senior Cabinet ministers, as investigators continue to probe the attempted murder of former double agent Skripal.

Some 180 military personnel have arrived in Salisbury in southern England. They help police investigate several sites amid concerns over potential contamination, interrupting the peace in this usually quiet cathedral city.

Report by Stefan Bos
10 March 2018, 17:00