Skripals poisoning ‘highly likely’ staged by British intelligence – Russian Foreign Ministry

The UK’s behavior after the Skripal incident suggests that the attack was organized by the British spy agencies or was at least beneficial for them, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

“It was highly likely that the false-flag incident with the poisoning of the Russian citizens in Salisbury was beneficial for, or perhaps organized by, the British intelligence services in order to mar Russia and its political leadership,” Zakharova told a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, markedly using the same phrase regarding probability as London officials and their allies.

 
A destroyed street in Douma in Eastern Ghouta on April 16, 2018 © Louai Beshara

Such a false-flag operation would perfectly fit into the “general Russophobe course of the [UK] Conservative government to demonize our country,” the spokeswoman stated, adding that the UK has “frequently committed such acts in the past.”

The “National Defense Strategy of the UK and the banquet speech of PM Theresa May at the end of last year,” also contribute to such version of events, according to Zakharova. The document and May’s speech have clearly envisioned “countering Russia” as one of the main priorities for the UK.

London’s actions in the aftermath of the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4 in the town of Sailsbury have raised many questions in Moscow. Russia says the UK did everything possible to disrupt the investigation and conceal facts, while squarely pinning the blame on Moscow. Russia has vehemently denied the allegations and repeatedly urged the UK to show some proof, or at least make information on the incident publicly available.

“The firm refusal to cooperate with Russia on the Salisbury poisoning investigation, London’s violations of the consular convention, reluctance to cooperate with the OPCW and concealment of the basic data to conduct a transparent investigation are the shining proofs of that,” Zakharova concluded.

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‘Julian Assange could die in Ecuadorian embassy’ – Pamela Anderson

Anderson appeared on Tuesday’s installment of ‘Good Morning Britain,’ hosted by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid. Having complemented the former Playboy model on her looks, and asked her if she had dressed up for his benefit, Morgan got down to more serious matters.

“He’s awful. It’s terrible,” said Anderson when asked how her friend Assange was doing. “They’ve cut off internet access. He’s a political prisoner in the heart of London. It’s very surprising. Cut off from everybody.”

Asked if she “feared he was going to die in there,” Anderson replied: “He could. He’s human and I don’t know who could tolerate this, he’s a political prisoner and he’s a hero so we need to support him.”

Anderson confirmed she can no longer communicate with the man for whom she has previously expressed her love. “No, nobody can visit him right now. His lawyers possibly.” Anderson went on to say that she had visited him every time she was London up to now but that is no longer possible and she is very concerned about his health.

“I’m very, very, very, concerned, deeply concerned for him. He’s one of the most important people on the planet right now,” she said. “He’s exposing all of these war crimes and truths and we really need him at this moment. And it’s not a coincidence that he is being silenced at this time.”

Anderson believes it’s possible her relationship with Assange is being investigated. “Probably, gosh, I wouldn’t be surprised,” the Canadian address admitted before reiterating her concerns for Assange and calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to do something.

“The UK is being so stupid they have to make a decision, they keep on passing the buck no-one wants to take responsibility and they want to extradite him to the US, 100 percent, and that would be life in prison or worse,” Anderson continued.

“There’s so much going on in the world right now, I want to know what he’s thinking.”

Anderson went on to say that Assange is being “abused” and that it’s a human rights issue.

When Reid suggested that many people feel Assange should face “justice,” Anderson replied: “For what? Telling the truth and exposing war crimes. He’s not the culprit, just the messenger. You should know you’re journalists, it’s the same thing.”

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Assange: Claims UK Court Arrest Warrant Upheld 'Fake News', Hearing Is Underway

In January, Julian Assange's advocates made an application to the court, explaining that his breach of former bail conditions was no longer valid as Sweden had withdrawn the European arrest warrant and proceedings against Assange had ended.

Julian Assange has dismissed the allegations suggesting that a UK court upheld an arrest warrant against him as "fake news," adding that the hearing was still underway.

"Wall to wall fake news stating … the government won today's hearing. Nothing of the sort has happened. The hearing is still happening. Only one point has been ruled on," he posted on his Twitter account.

@JulianAssange Wall to wall fake news stating stating the government won today's hearing. Nothing of the sort has happened. The hearing is still happening. Only one point has been ruled on. https://twitter.com/JulianAssange
 
@JulianAssange Here's Canada's state TV pumping out fake news. The hearing is still on right now. We only lost the first of four points. I was never charged. My asylum was over US extradition and Sweden dropped its so-called "preliminary investigation" a year ago. https://twitter.com/CBCAlerts/status

Being afraid of extradition to the United States over his whistleblowing organization's exposure of classified documents, Assange has been living at Ecuador's embassy in London since summer 2012, being granted political asylum, thereby breaching his bail conditions.

READ MORE: 'Brilliant Idea' on Assange, Ecuador and Britain: Is the Matter Headed to ICJ?

In December 2017, Ecuador granted naturalization (the legal process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire its citizenship) to Assange. Ecuador's Foreign Ministry explained the move by saying that they feared third party states may threaten his life.

The UK issued a warrant in 2012, and he would have been arrested for skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden to face an allegation of rape if he attempted to leave the embassy. Despite the fact that the Swedish case has been dropped, the British authorities consider that he breached his bail conditions.

Julian Assange has been in hiding since he released thousands of classified US military documents and diplomatic cables on his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in 2010.

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Assange Granted Ecuador Citizenship to Secure 'Human Rights'

Espinosa said that the government continues to work with the U.K. to “explore alternatives and options to resolve the case.”

After the surprising news was released two days ago, the Ecuadorean government confirmed in a press conference this morning that it WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was given citizenship in the Andean nation.

RELATED: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Granted Ecuadorean Citizenship

In a press conference held today Ecuador’s foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa reaffirmed that Julian Assange was granted Ecuadorean citizenship Dec. 21, 2017. Assange, who has been sheltered in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 19, 2012 when he was granted political asylum, began the application in September.

She stressed several times that Ecuador is following all national and international laws and is “dedicated to protecting the human rights” of Assange in this “delicate case.”

Despite the confirmed citizenship status, Espinosa said that the government continues to work with the U.K. to “explore alternatives and options to resolve the case.”

The foreign ministers said that her government tried to obtain diplomatic status for the Wikileaks founder within the United Kingdom on Dec. 20, but that the British government immediately denied the asylum seeker such status.

Earlier this week Ecuador's foreign ministry released a statement that read: "Julian Assange received international protection from the Ecuadorean government in August 2012.

"The current government inherited this issue and it's looking for solution alternatives, with full respect of national and international law, as well as human rights... in coordination with the United Kingdom, with which we have the best friendship and cooperation relations."

Assange is committed to not "intervening in issues non-related with his asylum condition," as requested by Ecuadorian government, the statement continued.

The Foreign Office in the UK has confirmed that Assange continues to face arrest for breaching bail conditions if he leaves the embassy premises. He fears that if arrested by UK authorities they he will be extradited to the United States whose government is looking to prosecute Assange for publishing thousands of U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents via his Wikileaks page.

Rumors about Assange's condition were sparked Jan. 1 when he tweeted a 60-character code and a link to the song "Paper Planes" by British singer MIA. The Ecuadorean government has since insisted that "nothing has happened."

In a picture posted Wednesday on his personal Twitter account, Assange appears wearing a jersey from Ecuador's national football team.

The Australian activist now appears in Ecuador's Civil Registry database and holds an identity document: 'Julian Paul Assange' is registered in the Internal Revenue Service with document number 1729926483.

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How Taylor Swift almost had 2017's biggest album

When is the year's best-selling album not the year's best-selling album? When it's by Taylor Swift.

The star outsold every other artist in the US last year - shifting 1.9 million copies of her fifth record, Reputation, in just seven weeks.

But her decision to withhold it from streaming services until December damaged its chances in the chart of 2017's most popular albums.

That's because 1,500 streams now count as the equivalent of one album sale.

Swift accumulated 280,000 "streaming equivalent albums" in the four weeks Reputation was available on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and other services. But that wasn't enough to put her ahead of Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran's chart behemoth ÷ (Divide) was the year's most popular album overall, according to Nielsen Music, which compiles the US charts for Billboard magazine.

The star accumulated 2,764,000 "equivalent album units" - a measure which combines pure sales, streaming equivalent albums and track equivalent albums (where 10 individual downloads count as one album).

Compton-born rapper Lamar took third place, with his fiery, multi-Grammy-nominated album, DAMN.

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2017 (US)

Artist / TitleTotal unitsAlbum salesTEA unitsSEA units
1) Ed Sheeran, ÷ 2,764,000 1,102,000 581,000 1,081,000
2) Kendrick Lamar, DAMN 2,747,000 910,000 217,000 1,620,000
3) Taylor Swift, Reputation 2,336,000 1,903,000 153,000 280,000
4) Drake, More Life 2,227,000 363,000 149,000 1,715,000
5) Bruno Mars, 24K Magic 1,626,000 710,000 320,000 597,000
6) Post Malone, Stoney 1,564,000 128,000 174,000 1,262,000
7) Migos, Culture 1,438,000 134,000 156,000 1,149,000
8) The Weeknd, Starboy 1,408,000 275,000 189,000 945,000
9) Various, Moana Soundtrack 1,254,000 709,000 197,000 348,000
10) Khalid, American Teen 1,220,000 147,000 124,000 950,000

Divide, which was released in March, has spent 43 consecutive weeks in the US top 20, and was also the UK's most popular album on every available format - CD, vinyl, downloads and streaming.

Here are some of the other headlines from the US music industry's year-end report.

ALBUM SALES KEPT FALLING

A total of 169.15 million albums were sold in the US last year - down from 205.54 million in 2016.

But some formats bucked the trend. Vinyl sales rose for the 12th consecutive year, as fans bought 14.32 million LPs.

The most popular album on vinyl was the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 with 64,175 sales.

Surprisingly, cassette sales also shot up - from 42,098 in 2016 to 99,393 in 2017, according to BuzzAngle music.

STREAMING CONTINUED TO SPARKLE

People streamed twice as many songs every day (1.67 billion on average) as they downloaded across the entire year (563.7 million).

Despacito became the first ever song to break the one billion-stream mark in the US - racking up 1.1 billion streams on video and audio platforms.

But Kendrick Lamar's Humble beat the Spanish-language hit on audio-streaming services, with 555.2 million streams over the year.

Almost one in five US adults (19%) now pay for a streaming subscription, according to BuzzAngle Music.

PEOPLE REALLY LOVED DRAKE

He might not have released a proper album in 2017 (More Life was billed as a "playlist") but Drake was the most-streamed artist for a second year in a row.

The Canadian star achieved more than 6 billion streams - putting him far ahead of his closest competitor, Future, who had 4.2 billion streams.

WE LISTENED TO THE SAME SONGS OVER AND OVER AGAIN

According to BuzzAngle, the top 10% of songs on streaming services accounted for 99.2% of all listening.

Or, in other words, 90% of all the songs on Spotify and Apple Music were hardly ever played.

ROCK WAS THE MOST POPULAR GENRE

Rock music represented the largest share of album purchases in the US last year: an impressive 34.6% across all formats, and 54% of vinyl sales.

Once streaming was taken into account, however, rock's market share dropped to 22%.

The younger audience who dominate streaming tend to choose urban and pop music over rock. Of the top 1,000 most-streamed songs of 2017, 50% were classified as urban music.

SHAPE OF YOU WAS THE YEAR'S BIGGEST RADIO HIT

Ed Sheeran's Shape of You dominated the US airwaves - spending 12 weeks as the most-played song on the airwaves, the longest run at number one since Uptown Funk.

According to Nielsen, the song collected 5.8 billion audience impressions, ahead of the second most-heard track of the year, Bruno Mars's That's What I Like, with 4.5 billion impressions.

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UK Publishing House Celebrates 20 Years of First Harry Potter Book

London, Jun 6 (Prensa Latina) London's publishing house Bloomsbury celebrates today with a special collection the 20 years of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first of seven fantastic novels written by J. K. Rowling.

Since May 31st, readers in the United Kingdom can choose a copy of the book according to the color of each house of the Hogwarts School of Magic and Witchcraft, which became one of the main sites of the books.

The new editions are available in red for Gryffindor fans, yellow for Hufflepuff fans, blue for Ravenclaw fans and green for Slytherin fans, as well as other character profiles and illustrations for important students who have stayed in each house.

In June 1997, when it was still a small publishing house, Bloomsbury agreed to publish a first and small print run of 500 copies of Rowling's work, which had been rejected by 12 other publishing houses.

By mid-2013, some 450 million copies of the seven books had been sold and translated into more than 65 languages.

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Ariana Grande Returns to England Ahead of ‘One Love Manchester’ Concert: Pics

Ariana Grande returned to England on Friday, June 2, days before her “One Love Manchester,” benefiting the Manchester terror attack.

The pop star, 23, was photographed exiting a private jet in London with her parents and boyfriend, Mac Miller, morning. Grande was dressed casually in gray sweatpants teamed with a white zip-up hoodie and wore her hair in a high ponytail.

Ariana Grande seen arriving in the UK for the first time since the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester. Ariana Grande seen arriving in the UK for the first time since the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester. TheMegaAgency.com

The “Focus” singer has two days to prepare for her show, which will take place at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester on Sunday, June 4. The star-studded lineup for the “One Love Manchester” fundraising event includes Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Usher, Pharrell Williams, Little Mix, Take That and Niall Horan.

Earlier this week, the concert’s official Twitter account revealed that tickets for the show sold out in less than six minutes. “UPDATE: One Love Manchester is now completely sold out- and in under 6 minutes!” the tweet read on Thursday, June 1.

According to Ticketmaster, their site “was unsurprisingly met with remarkable demand for One Love Manchester tickets we had on sale this morning —140,000 fans were on the website and our call centre was buzzing. With over 450,000 searches on our site for One Love Manchester over the last 24 hours, demand was always going to be extremely high.”

Ariana Grande seen arriving in the UK for the first time since the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester. Ariana Grande seen arriving in the UK for the first time since the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester. TheMegaAgency.com

Proceeds from the concert will go to the families and loved ones of those who died in the suicide bombing at Grande’s Dangerous Woman world tour stop in Manchester on May 22, in which 22 people were killed and more than 50 were injured.

Grande, who was physically unharmed in the attack, took to Instagram on May 26 to share a message of hope with fans after the horrifying incident. “I have been thinking of my fans, and of you all, non stop over the past week. The way you have handled all of this has been more inspiring and made me more proud than you'll ever now. The compassion, kindness, love, strength and oneness that you've shown one another this past week is the exact opposite of the heinous intentions it must take to pull off something as evil as what happened Monday,” she wrote. “ … We will never be able to understand why events like this take place because it is not in our nature, which is why we shouldn't recoil.”

  • Published in Culture

Manchester attack: Ariana Grande to play benefit concert on Sunday

Justin Bieber, Coldplay and Katy Perry are among the stars who will join Ariana Grande at a benefit concert following the Manchester attack.

The One Love Manchester show comes less than two weeks after 22 people were killed by a suicide attacker as people left Grande's show at Manchester Arena.

The tribute gig will be held at the Old Trafford cricket ground on Sunday.

Those who were at the Manchester Arena concert are being offered free tickets by Grande.

Others performing include Take That, One Direction's Niall Horan, Miley Cyrus, Usher and Pharrell. The venue has a 50,000 capacity and the gig will be broadcast live on BBC TV and radio. Proceeds will go to the We Love Manchester emergency fund.

Seven children were among the victims who died when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb on 22 May.

Grande, 23, suspended her Dangerous Woman tour, including cancelling two shows at London's O2 Arena, following the attack.

But the US singer had promised to return to Manchester, saying: "I don't want to go the rest of the year without being able to see and hold and uplift my fans".

"I'll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honour and raise money for the victims and their families."

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/17AB3/production/_96274969_mediaitem96274968.jpgColdplay are among those to be performing

Earlier on Tuesday, Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins told BBC Radio Manchester: "When the idea of the concert came up, my first reaction was, we need to speak to the families of the victims and see what they feel.

"It's fair to say that the majority of them are very much in favour, there are some that clearly aren't and that is absolutely understandable."

After the attack, the singer posted her condolences on Twitter, saying: "Broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don't have words."

Fifty people injured in the attack were still being treated in hospital - including 17 in critical care.

Manchester Victoria station reopened on Tuesday. The station, which is connected to Manchester Arena, suffered structural damage in the incident.

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/16157/production/_96255409_17087027-3451-475a-8448-824dacff0cdd.jpg Well-wishers left tributes at St Ann's Square for the victims of last Monday's attack / Reuters 

Police say their investigation into the attack is "making good progress" and has around 1,000 people working on it.

In total 16 people have been arrested - but a woman and a 16-year-old boy were later released without charge.

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/FE3D/production/_96258056_ae8b11c7-2fb4-4347-8c9b-2e0e11099f1b.jpgFlowers and tributes lined St Ann's Square in Manchester on Monday / Getty Images

  • Published in Culture
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