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Navalny, who fell ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow last month, is being treated at a Berlin hospital.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said toxicological tests on samples taken from Navalny had been carried out at a German military laboratory, providing “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent” from the Novichok group — Soviet-era chemical weapons.

In a statement, Seibert said it was “startling” that “Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia.”

“The federal government condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms,” the statement said, adding: “The Russian government is urged to explain itself regarding the incident.”

In a press conference Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the test results proved that Navalny had been the victim of a crime.

“Alexey Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group,” Merkel said. “This poison can be detected without a doubt in the samples.”

“This means that Alexey Navalny is definitely the victim of a crime,” she added.”They wanted to silence him and I condemn this in the strongest possible terms, also on behalf of the entire Federal Government.”

“There are very serious questions now which only the Russian government can and must answer,” Merkel said. “The fate of Alexey Navalny has received a lot of attention worldwide. The world will wait for an answer.”

Novichok was used in a March 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, both fell seriously ill after the attack. They survived but Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old woman who was accidentally exposed to the military-grade nerve agent, subsequently died.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the Kremlin had not received any information from Germany that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was waiting for a German response to a request from the Russian Prosecutor General regarding Navalny’s treatment and diagnosis, TASS reported.

Attack ‘outrageous,’ says Johnson

In the wake of the Skripal case, the British government openly accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the attack and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats from the country; more than 20 of the UK’s allies followed suit. The US and EU also imposed sanctions on Russia.

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “the Russian government must now explain what happened” to Navalny.

“It’s outrageous that a chemical weapon was used against Alexey Navalny. We have seen first-hand the deadly consequences of Novichok in the UK,” Johnson said in a tweet. “We will work with international partners to ensure justice is done.”

What is Novichok? Nerve agent is rare, dangerous and sophisticated

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that Novichok had again been deployed against a leading Russian opposition figure.

“The Russian government has a clear case to answer,” Raab said. “It must tell the truth about what happened to Mr Navalny. We will work closely with Germany, our allies and international partners to demonstrate that there are consequences for using banned chemical weapons anywhere in the world.”

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also condemned the attack.

“This is a despicable and cowardly act — once again,” she posted on Twitter. “Perpetrators need to be brought to justice,” she added.

In addition to the EU, Seibert said Merkel would also inform NATO and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about the results of the investigation.

Navalny in intensive care unit

Navalny, 44, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became ill en route from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. Dramatic video footage from the plane showed a man groaning in apparent agony.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned, Berlin hospital says

The flight made an emergency landing in Omsk, and Navalny was transferred to a hospital there, before his wife and supporters pleaded for him to be taken to Germany for treatment.

The anti-corruption blogger was flown to Berlin two days later, and taken to the city’s Charité Hospital.

A hospital spokesperson said Wednesday that Navalny remains in a “serious” condition and that doctors treating him were in close contact with the Kremlin critic’s wife.

“Alexey Navalny is still being treated in an intensive care unit and mechanically ventilated. A longer course of the illness is to be expected,” the statement read. “Long-term consequences of severe poisoning cannot be ruled out.”

The statement added that the critic’s condition was improving and that his symptoms from being poisoned were declining.

Critics point finger of blame at Putin

Following the German government’s announcement on Wednesday, Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, tweeted out a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature. In the accompanying text, Volkov wrote that the act of poisoning Navalny with Novichok was akin to leaving an autograph at the scene of the crime.

The director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, also tweeted on Wednesday, writing that Novichok could only be used by “the [Russian] State,” referring to the country’s intelligence institutions. “This is beyond any reasonable doubt,” Zhdanov added.

Former Soviet chemist shares details of the nerve agent Novichok

Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, told CNN: “The identification of the poison as being one of the family of Novichok agents points extremely strongly towards the Russian government being responsible for this outrage.”

“The Russian government has the motivation for it, but also the track record on multiple levels,” Sella said. “It shows both their ruthlessness but also their level of impunity. It is clear that they care little about international opinion and are prepared to act because they know that the consequences are extremely small.”

Navalny’s spokesperson has previously said the opposition leader had drunk black tea shortly before falling ill.

When asked by CNN if Novichok could have been ingested with the tea, Sella said it was “possible,” adding: “It’s not water soluble so perhaps [it’s] tricky. Orally you’d expect it to be fast.”

Sella said another possibility was that poisoning occurred through contact with the skin, as in the Skripal case, where the method ensured a delayed impact.

“But it’s a less efficient means of delivery,” he added. “Oral ingestion might have been possible if the materials were formulated in a way that delays the effects. There are plenty of pharmacological precedents for such a formulation.”

Novichok agents are both lethal and highly unusual, so much so that that very few scientists outside of Russia have any real experience in dealing with them.

Novichok means “newcomer” in Russian. The chemical weapons were first developed in secret by the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s.

Novichok’s existence remained secret until the mid-1990s, when information regarding production was revealed as part of a deliberate leak by disgruntled Soviet scientist and whistle-blower Vil Mirzayanov. Even today, no country outside of Russia is known to have developed substances in the Novichok group.

CNN’s Darya Tarasova, Zamira Rahim and Angela Dewan contributed to this report.

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Operation Fox Hunt: China sent fugitive’s elderly father to America to coerce him into going home, US claims

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The case is believed to be part of the ruling Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives — often former officials or rich individuals suspected of economic crimes.

The US Department of Justice said Wednesday the charges included “conspiring to act in the US as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China.” Five people have been arrested, while three are believed to be at large in China.

In 2016, the group — which includes an American-licensed private investigator — is alleged to have embarked on an illegal campaign targeting a former Chinese government official, who has lived in the US since 2010. They are accused of recording and harassing his daughter, taping a threatening note to his front door and flying his elderly father from China — allegedly against his will — in 2017 to pressure his son to return to China.

The note on the target’s New Jersey home said in Chinese: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, US Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said the arrests sent a message that the US “will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”

“Without coordination with our government, China’s repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Chinese law enforcement agencies “conduct foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty.”

“The United States ignores the basic facts and uses ulterior motives to smear China’s work in pursuit of escaped and stolen goods. China firmly opposes this. We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes,” he said.

Operation Fox Hunt

The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens who were accused of corruption and had fled the country with large amounts of money.

Beijing authorities said at least 150 corrupt officials had fled to the US, and provided American counterparts with a list of “priority cases.”

Demers said such operations — regardless of whether the targets were guilty or not — were “a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms.”

“Rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity,” he said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference Wednesday that in a different Operation Fox Hunt case, the Chinese government had sent an “emissary” to the target’s US-based family warning that the person should “return to China promptly or commit suicide.”

Wray said that when Operation Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China, family members in their home country “have even been arrested for leverage.”

“These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead they’re more like something we would expect from an organized criminal syndicate,” Wray said.

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Van Drew’s defection to GOP haunts him in tight race

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Van Drew, like many of his Republican colleagues, now finds himself having to answer for an unpopular president, whose shaky handling of the coronavirus and inflammatory rhetoric has damaged the GOP’s standing nationwide, especially in the suburbs.

Van Drew currently trails in the polls to a well-funded Democratic challenger in Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher who married into the Kennedy political dynasty. Kennedy is leading Van Drew by five points among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll from earlier this month, though it’s within the survey’s margin of error. POLITICO’s election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.”

Democrats have tried to use Van Drew’s party change and sudden embrace of Trump as a cudgel, branding him as “switcheroo Van Drew” and accusing him of betraying his constituents for his own self interests. In one ad, Democrats even ribbed Van Drew for his taste for flashy suits in a bid to portray him as superficial and inauthentic.

“It felt like he was willing to do or say anything to keep his job,” said Kennedy, who decided to run for office after hearing Van Drew promise his unwavering loyalty to Trump. “There are a lot of people in the district who really respect someone who can be independent-minded, but that’s not what that felt like to them.”

In an interview, Van Drew defended his decision to abandon the Democratic Party, which caught his colleagues off guard and stunned Washington. Van Drew, a dentist who served in the state Legislature for over a decade, noted he was always a conservative-leaning Democrat. But Van Drew argued that the party abandoned its “big tent” principles and was no longer a good fit for him.

Yet despite pledging his fealty to Trump in an Oval Office sit-down, Van Drew now says he is not beholden to any leader — including the president. And Van Drew maintains that voters respect independent-minded politicians, especially in his south Jersey district just outside of Philadelphia, which went for Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“You vote for the person,” said Van Drew, who won his seat by eight points in 2018. “It’s not your job to vote for me, if you were in my district, because I’m a Republican. It’s your job to think about the two candidates and which candidate would do a better job for the district.”

“I didn’t betray anybody,” he added. “When people call me up and they need help, whatever party they are, I help them.”

The match-up between Van Drew and Kennedy — which has become one of the most hotly-contested races in the country — has drawn national attention, with outside resources pouring in. Democrats are not only eager to win back a seat they thought they had already seized in 2018, but also seek revenge for Van Drew’s high-profile defection.

Kennedy, who has notched endorsements from Obama and Joe Biden, has outraised and outspent Van Drew. Kennedy has spent $1.2 million on the airwaves, compared to Van Drew’s $367,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But Van Drew had roughly $600,000 more in the bank than Kennedy as of mid-October, according to the latest FEC reports.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to reward Van Drew for joining their ranks while also preventing the GOP from slipping further into the House minority. Since joining the party, Van Drew got a rally from Trump, desirable committee assignments from GOP leaders and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Notably, Van Drew’s campaign message has focused on calls for bipartisanship and putting country over party. He talks more about American exceptionalism on the campaign trail than he does about Trump, though Van Drew confirmed he plans to vote for the president, despite endorsing home-state colleague Sen. Cory. Booker (D-N.J.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

Van Drew has also tried to label his opponent as a liberal Democrat who supports sanctuary cities, open borders and defunding the police.

“I believe the future of the country depends upon not just my election — of course, I’m not an egomaniac — but on the direction that we take,” Van Drew said. “And the direction that my opponent would want to take is significantly different than the direction I would want to take.”

Switching parties has yielded mixed results in the past, so it was always going to be an electoral gamble for Van Drew, strategists say. He risks infuriating the Democrats who backed him in 2018, while there’s no guarantee Republican voters will trust him. And independents might be turned off by his tight embrace of Trump.

Nearly half of registered voters said they were bothered by Van Drew now running for Congress as a Republican, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Crossing the aisle may have looked like a safer bet for Van Drew during the height of impeachment, when there was widespread concern that swing-district Democrats could suffer at the polls because of the party’s efforts to oust the president.

Had he remained in the Democratic Party and maintained his opposition to impeachment, Van Drew would have likely faced a primary challenge from the left. Before he became a Republican, polling commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign showed just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters believed the congressman deserved to be reelected.

But the political landscape has changed vastly since then. Trump’s approval ratings have slumped both nationally and in Van Drew’s district. The sagging economy is further clouding the outlook for Republicans up and down the ballot. The Monmouth University poll has Joe Biden with a narrow, three-point lead over Trump in a “high turnout” election in the district.

“The president’s popularity has gone down. That hurts someone who pledged undying allegiance to Trump,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative and former adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, many frontline Democrats are actually well-positioned heading into November, defying expectations and fueling hopes that their party could actually pad their majority even further. And the election has largely been dominated by the coronavirus — not impeachment.

“No one cares about impeachment anymore. It seems like 10 years ago, not 10 months ago.” DuHaime added.

On the coronavirus, Van Drew has echoed Trump’s rhetoric. He railed against health restrictions dampening the economy, highlighted how Trump overcame the virus, criticized D.C. residents for wearing masks even alone in their cars and called on Washington to “go big” on a stimulus package.

“You know what makes people upset where I am in my district? The people that went out of business, the people that lost everything they own, the people that can’t even keep their homes, the people who work for the casinos,” he said.

Van Drew also said he has worked tirelessly on constituent services during the pandemic, which could help boost him in the race. And GOP strategists say Van Drew will likely once again attract some crossover voters — but it may not be enough.

“He has always won because people transcended party to vote for him. But is that enough in a year where Trump is so dominant on the ballot and affecting how everyone views everything?” DuHaime asked. “Now, just so many people this year are voting party-line to send a message to Trump.”

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The NHS Covid-19 App Has Only Had Half The Downloads NHS Advisors Say It Needs To Help Stop the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The NHS Covid-19 app has been downloaded over 19 million times (PA)


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The official NHS Covid-19 app has only been downloaded by 40% of adults with eligible smartphones—half the number researchers say is needed to effectively halt the spread of the virus.

Experts from the University of Oxford claimed in April that 56% of the general population, or 80% of current smartphone owners, would need to use a contact-tracing app for it to be effective in helping stop the coronavirus.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, Professor Christophe Fraser, a member of the modelling team which advised the NHS on the contact tracing app, said this was “a very ambitious target”.

But he added that the app would still have an effect if fewer people downloading it, with his team estimating that one infection could be averted for every one to two users.

The app, which tracks who a user has been in contact with using anonymous bluetooth data, has now been downloaded 19 million times since it went live on 24 September, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

These latest figures came alongside an announcement of the latest updates to the app, which included improvements to its accuracy and fixes to prevent incorrect exposure notifications.

Following its launch, some users complained that they had received notifications from the app telling them to self-isolated which later disappeared.

But, a DHSC spokesperson insisted such messages were “default privacy notifications from Apple and Google, who provide the underlying framework on which this and many other countries’ Bluetooth contact tracing apps are based.”

The most recent update has reportedly improved the app’s ability to judge the distance between users and so better estimate when there is a risk of infection. 

Gaby Appleton, director of product for NHS Test and Trace, said she hoped these changes would “make it as simple as possible to keep users and their loved ones safe”.

“We are thrilled that over 19 million people have chosen to download the app to help protect their loved ones while preserving their privacy, and that over 680,000 QR codes have been created by businesses to support digital contact tracing,” she continued.

The DHSC also announced that the NHS Covid-19 app, which currently only operates in England and Wales, will soon become interoperable with contact tracing apps in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar.

Under a proposed system set to be launched in November, users who test positive on any of the apps can choose to upload their anonymous Bluetooth key to all app users across the UK.

 

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