1. UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
Former Russian-UK double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition after being discovered slumped on a bench in Salisbury on the 4th of March. The UK authorities claim that they were poisoned with a Soviet-engineered nerve agent called Novichok.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May suggested a set of measures to retaliate against Moscow.
What are they?
- Expelling 23 diplomats
- Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
- Freezing Russian state assets in the UK
- Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the FIFA World Cup in Russia later this year
- Suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
- Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against “hostile state activity”
May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”.
The mass expulsion is the largest since 1985 when 31 were expelled after double agent Oleg Gordievsky defected.
What is Russia saying?
Quoting Russia’s Foreign Ministry:
The British move is “an unprecedentedly rude provocation, which undermines the foundations of a normal dialogue between our countries.”
…The British government chose confrontation with Russia” instead of completing the investigation and using international formats “including those in the framework of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon.”
…It’s obvious that by opting for unilateral and non-transparent methods of investigating this incident, the British authorities have once again tried to unleash an indiscriminate anti-Russian campaign.”
…Of course, our response is forthcoming.”
What are others saying?
Mrs May welcomed support from allies including the US, NATO and the EU, and said Britain would be pushing for a “robust international response” at the UN Security Council.
“This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury – nor just an act against UK. It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.”
What is happening at the UN?
Russia’s envoy to the UN has demanded proof of Russia’s involvement in the incident in Salisbury. He also asked members to think who would benefit from these accusations.
Vasily Nebenzya said the UK dragged the case to the UN rather than addressing a relevant international body, because it is scared of a professional probe. Most of the UK’s claims are in the form of “highly likely.”
“We were given 24 hours to confess to a crime. We do not speak the language of ultimatums.”
NATO allies expressed “deep concern” at the use of a nerve agent and said it was a “clear breach of international norms and agreements”.
What does it mean for the Russian and British citizens?
We don’t know yet, but definitely nothing good. One thing for sure, it would be harder for Russians now to get a British visa, and vice versa.
2. Scientists, politicians and actors pay tribute to world-known physicist Stephen Hawking.
The British scientist, famed for his work on black holes, died peacefully at his home in Cambridge at 76.
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees described his life as a “triumph”.
The University of Cambridge, where Prof Hawking completed his PhD and went on to become Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, described him as “an inspiration to millions”.
Queues formed at Gonville and Caius College, where Prof Hawking was a fellow for more than 50 years, to sign a book of condolence.
Buckingham Palace said the Queen will be sending a message of condolence to Prof Hawking’s family.
Quoting Prof Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim:
“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world.
He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’.
We will miss him forever.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said
Prof Hawking’s “exceptional contributions to science and our knowledge of the universe speak for themselves”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also paid tribute to the physicist:
He “inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos” and “showed breathtaking courage to overcome life’s adversities”.
Former US President Barack Obama tweeted a photo of them both with a comment:
“Have fun out there among the stars”.
Prof Hawking’s theories “unlocked a universe of possibilities”.
Celebrities also shared their tributes.
Quoting Katy Perry:
“There’s a big black hole in my heart”.
Comedian Dara O’Briain called Prof Hawking “a hero of mine”.
“I asked him once: “How have you lived so long?”
And he said: “How can I die when I have so much of the Universe to explore?””
Others described him as a “unique individual” whose death “has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.
What made him unique?
Prof Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 22 and was told he had only a few years to live.
And yet, that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the greatest scientists of all times.
He was known for his theories on black holes and relativity and published several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.
What did he discover?
- With the Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose, he showed that if there was a Big Bang, it must have started from an infinitely small point – a singularity
- Black holes radiate energy known as Hawking radiation, while gradually losing mass. This is due to quantum effects near the edge of the black hole, a region called the event horizon
- He predicted the existence of mini-black holes at the time of the Big Bang. These black holes would have shed mass until they vanished, potentially ending their lives in an explosion that would release vast amounts of energy
- In the 1970s, Hawking considered whether the particles and light that enter a black hole were ultimately destroyed if the black hole evaporated. Hawking initially thought that this “information” was lost from the Universe. But the US physicist Leonard Susskind disagreed. These ideas became known as the information paradox. In 2004, Hawking conceded that the information must be conserved
Rest In Peace, Stephen!
3. Italy police break up macrobiotics slavery ‘sect’.
Police in Italy broke up a “psycho sect” that enslaved members by forcing them to adhere to a strict macrobiotic diet and cut off contact with the outside world.
What is a macrobiotic diet?
- Developed in the 1920s by a Japanese philosopher called George Ohsawa
- Draws ideas from Zen Buddhism
- Focuses on reducing animal products, and choosing organic foods
- Some people only eat whole grains such as brown rice, bean products and fresh fruits and vegetables
- Also includes lifestyle recommendations, such as only eating when hungry and only drinking when thirsty, and avoiding microwave ovens and electric hobs
- Suggests avoiding flavoured, caffeinated or alcoholic drinks
- Claimed to help treat or cure cancer. However, there is still no official evidence to support this
Who is behind the crime?
Five people are under investigation over allegations including maltreatment and tax evasion.
Among the suspects is a well-known Italian macrobiotics entrepreneur, Mr Pianesi. Apparently, he gave long speeches promoting the doctrine of his “miraculous” diet and brainwashing followers.
What did they do?
According to investigators, sect leaders specifically manipulated people with mental health problems, persuading them to turn away from traditional medicine.
As well as having to pay for the diet and give donations, members were coerced into working long hours with no pay.
As a result of following the rigid regime, the weight of one woman dropped to 35 kg.
The allegations include criminal organisation with the aim of reducing people to slavery.
So far, the accused have not responded publicly.
What do you think? Is macrobiotic diet good for you? Should those propagating it be punished?
We welcome your opinion in the comments!